While the offseason isn’t officially over, it’s certainly in it’s final stages before the September ramp up to the season. And when August hits it’s time for ESPN’s annual analytics projections for team wins (Insider). Last year ESPN’s model predicted the Sacramento Kings would finish with 27.1 wins. The Kings finished with 27 wins. This year the model projects an even worse year, with the Kings expected to win 25.4 wins. This would place the Kings as the worst team in the NBA next season. The Atlanta Hawks are projected at 25.9 wins, and the Phoenix Suns are projected to be two games better than the Kings.
There are a few factors to support this projection. First is that the Kings did not add any significant talent this offseason. Marvin Bagley III had a rough summer league, and although he could end up having a fine season there’s no reason to believe he’ll be the type of impact rookie to elevate the team’s win substantially. Similarly Nemanja Bjelica and Yogi Ferrell are fine free agent additions, but neither is the type of addition to push you to an extra five wins in a season.
The Kings are relying heavily on any win improvements coming from young players developing. It’s not a longshot that one or more of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Justin Jackson, Skal Labissiere, Willie Cauley-Stein, or Harry Giles could take a big step up this season. But for a statistical model it’s nearly impossible to predict anything more than gradual improvement. ESPN’s model is also dependent on estimated minutes for each player. Given the Kings roster construction, that’s a difficult projection to make.
Of course the model is also factoring in that nearly every team in the West improved this offseason, and even the ones that didn’t improve could very likely remain far better than the Kings (for example, the Portland Trail Blazers).
Personally I expect the Kings to beat this projection by a few wins. With no 2019 first round pick, the Kings will likely pick up a few wins down the stretch against tanking teams. Whether those wins will be worth celebrating is certainly something we’ll be discussing around here come March and April.
This model, of course, also assumes that roster remain stagnant. We know this is unlikely. Trades will happen throughout the league. The Kings roster could look very different after the trade deadline this year. For all we know the Kings roster could look very different by the time the season starts. But barring changes or player development surprises, we could be in for a very long season.