Opening tip-off is still two months away, and while Dave Joerger and his staff still have time to get this young core ready for the regular season, one obvious point was reinforced for Sacramento after the NBA released the 2018-19 schedule—being a rebuilding team in today’s Western Conference is going to be a brutal challenge.
The strength of the conference—which was further blustered this summer when LeBron freaking James decided his East dominance had run its course and joined the Lakers—will be amazing to watch as a basketball fan, and terrifying to watch as a Kings fan. If you need convincing that the west really is going to be that tough on Sacramento, take a look at Las Vegas’ over/under win predictions (which lists the Kings at 25.5); Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) developed an implied strength of schedule (SOS) following these predictions, and found Sacramento at the top of the list.
Implied strength of schedule for each NBA team based on Las Vegas O/U for their opponents. pic.twitter.com/CjrcXW3bbH— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) August 10, 2018
These numbers are obviously skewed by the Kings being such a lowly-ranked team—the SOS rank for a bad team will be high when every team is considered better than they are—but the predicted worst team in the league, the Atlanta Hawks (Vegas over/under of 23.5) are ninth on the SOS list, highest of the Eastern Conference teams. The Kings will face a much rougher schedule than the Hawks purely because of their location in the west.
There’s absurdity in trying to predict win totals this far out before the starting lineup is even set. There’s also some absurdity in predicting the Kings to win 32 games—which, after going game-by-game through the schedule, is the number I came up with. On the surface, that seems far too high for this rebuilding team... but even with that common sense, there’s always the chance that this is the year—this is the team—that takes the big step forward. And sadly, the most absurd thing of all might be that 32 wins would feel like a serious step forward for this roster.
Even if the win totals aren’t high, this season offers plenty of intrigue in Sacramento, and the Kings will keep us watching through early April. Here are five takeaways from the Kings schedule.
Opening Gauntlet. Dave Joerger said in April that “the training wheels are going to come off right away” into this new season – and thanks to a tough October/November schedule, we’ll get to quickly see just how coordinated this young Kings team can be.
Including their opening contest against Utah, the Kings will play 10 times in the first 19 days of the regular season, and 7 of these games will be on the road. After the Jazz, Sacramento will have a three-game road trip against New Orleans (10/19), Oklahoma City (10/21), and Denver (10/23). Six days later, they will head out east for a wicked four-game streach that includes the Florida two-step in Miami (10/29) and Orlando (10/30), a quick trip to Atlanta (11/1), and a matchup with the Bucks in Milwaukee (11/4). It doesn’t get easier from there, as the Kings next ten contests include EIGHT games against 2018 Playoff teams—San Antonio (11/12), Houston (11/17), Oklahoma City (11/19), Utah twice (11/21 and 11/25), and Golden State (11/24)—and one of those non-playoff opponents is the newly engineered Lakers squad (11/10). This means that in the first 40 days of the 2018-19 NBA schedule, 14 of the Kings 20 contests will be against playoff teams; 11 will be road contests; and 7 will be road contests against playoff teams. That’s one hell of an opening salvo.
Fox Against the World. Playing point guard for a Western Conference squad means that De’Aaron Fox will be matching up against a high-caliber rivals on most nights, but his sophomore season will test Fox’s summer development immediately. In the Kings first six games, Fox will duel Donovan Mitchell/Ricky Rubio, Jrue Holiday, Russell Westbrook, Mike Conley, John Wall, and a pissed off Isaiah Thomas. He’s also got a hilarious stretch in mid-to-late November, when he will likely face Conley, Chris Paul, Westbrook, Mitchell/Rubio, Stephen Curry, and Mitchell/Rubio again.
Speaking of rivals, the Kings’ first contest against the Lakers is in Sacramento on November 10. That gives Lonzo Ball 87 days—and 134, 137, and 221 days for the other three Kings/Lakers contests—to come up with excuses for why he can’t possibly play. And if you like your Fox rivalries with a bigger jolt of energy (and with double the “what if” questions, considering their last two draft picks), the Kings first match-up with Dennis Smith Jr. and the Mavericks comes on December 16 in Dallas.
Small Forward Mania. Hey, I’m not sure if this has been discussed yet, but the Kings have some issues to figure out at the Small Forward spot. And whether Joerger’s solution is to start Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson, or whichever of his two best players who he doesn’t start at shooting guard, a five game stretch in mid-December will give a real test to that starter at guarding high-end/elite Small Forwards. From December 12 through the 19, the Kings will host Minnesota (Jimmy Butler) and Golden State (Kevin Durant), play at Dallas (Luka Dončić) and Minnesota, and finish up at home against Oklahoma City (Paul George).
Big Man Barometer. I’ve said for the last few months that the centers in this rookie class could have a huge impact on the value of the position going forward. The Kings NEW young big building blocks (Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley) will hopefully get extended minutes this season... if they can beat out the LAST combination of young big building blocks (Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein). But whomever of the four start, the match-ups against the other four rookie centers of note—Jaren Jackson Jr. and Memphis (10/24, 11/16, 12/21, and 1/25), Mo Bamba and Orlando (10/30 and 1/7), Deandre Ayton and Phoenix (12/4, 1/8, 2/10, and 3/23), and Wendell Carter and Chicago (12/10 and 3/17)—are neatly spread out to provide us regular barometers for the development of Sacramento’s bigs compared to their young piers.
Fire and Fury to End the Season. If you thought that opening stretch of games was tough, check out the Kings closing schedule. Sacramento will play 11 times in the final 18 days of the NBA regular season; home for Phoenix (3/23) and in Los Angeles the next night against the Lakers (3/24), followed by a 4 game Texas/Louisiana road-swing against Dallas (3/26), New Orleans (3/28), Houston (3/30), and San Antonio (3/31). They then return home for Houston (4/2) and Cleveland (4/5), before ending the year at Utah (4/5), home for New Orleans (4/7), and at Portland (4/10). Those last eight games—from at New Orleans through the end of the year—are all against teams who made the playoffs a year ago.