Few relationships are more symbiotic than that of an NBA coach and his, or hopefully soon to be her, players. For the Sacramento Kings, as Dave Joerger goes, so do the players, and as the players go, so does Dave Joerger’s job security. The responsibility to create sensible game plans and utilize proper rotations to lift the talents of the roster falls on the coaching staff, while the players must execute those schemes at a high level to grow from average to good or from good to great.
Last season, Dave Joerger often failed to maximize the impact of his depth chart, prioritizing entitlement minutes for veterans over logical rotations, inefficient shots over three-pointers and layups, and offensive sets that didn’t highlight the strengths of his personnel. He didn’t perform as expected. And while those flaws have been adequately explored, another part of the equation also needs to be sorted, the implementation of those plans from the players under his tutelage. The depth chart was chock-full of rookies and sophomores, and those developing prospects were expected to make many, many mistakes, but the upcoming season will present oodles of opportunities for the roster to improve their on-court execution to compliment the needed adjustments their Head Coach should be making.
Likely the biggest burr under the saddle for fans last season was the undeserved minutes parsed out to underperforming vets, particularly Zach Randolph. The sluggish power forward averaged 26 minutes per game, more than Buddy Hield, Skal Labissiere, Justin Jackson, or Frank Mason, and started the third-most games, a tragedy on a team bursting with youth. Z-Bo’s usage rate also exploded to 27.6%, leading the team and also ranking 19th in the entire NBA, despite his poor performance. Dave Joerger deserves every ounce of criticism for his overuse of the ineffective big man.
When he was on the court, Randolph was frequently a focus of the offense, part of which can be blamed on the coaching staff, but his teammates also utilized him as a safety valve quite often. When the guards were struggling to penetrate the lane, or Skal or Cauley-Stein was bumped off of the block, the default was to toss it into the post and hope Zach could find a bucket. Everything ground to a complete halt once Randolph wrapped his mitts around the ball: no further screens were set, no one dived to the rim to find a seam in the defense, and the team stood and watched the play develop, rather than helping it to continue.
The blame for gifting minutes to Z-Bo over more qualified players rests solely on Dave Joerger’s shoulders, and he must rectify that during the 2019 campaign, but the rookies and sophomores from last season also can’t fade into the background when Randolph does occasionally step onto the court. Someone, or several someones, needs to step up and become the primary, aggressive scorer for the team moving forward.
Another easy to loft and highly warranted critique of Sacramento’s scoring blueprint was their severe lack of three-point shooting. It’s been well documented that the Kings were the third most accurate team from deep, yet they attempted the third fewest shots from beyond the arc last season. The era of efficiency seemed to pass the team by, as they relied far too heavily on mid-range jumpers and ineffective post-ups, rather than the easiest shots in the game.
Zach Randolph’s post play, and the ugly attempts by Kosta Koufos and Willie Cauley-Stein to back their defender down and score at the rim needed to be a much smaller part of the offense; however, the Kings guards and bigs also developed an inexplicable aversion to open three-pointers last season. In an odd twist, some of the best shooters on the team regularly shunned quality shots from deep, and swapped those attempts for a pump fake, one or two dribbles, and a much more difficult and much less efficient eighteen footer.
Anyone who regularly viewed games last season watched this unexpected phenomenon occur on a nightly basis. Snipers like Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic, as well as solid shooters such as Frank Mason and Skal Labissiere, need to simplify their decision-making by taking the open shot as it’s presented to them. As an imaginative child avoids the ground, hopping from couch to sofa to chair, so do the Kings need to pretend the midrange is lava next season: something to be avoided at all costs.
That passivity on offense often resulted in another area of weakness for both the coaches and the players: ineffective passing. Dave Joerger commonly favored a high-post offense, with the ball running through a forward or center at the top of the key, and that approach simply didn’t favor the talents of his personnel. Sacramento dominated every other team in elbow touches, with 20.4 per game, but ranked dead last in their passing performance, recording an assist just 11.6% of the time. Joerger’s plan to use the high-posts as a crow’s nest to pick apart the defense failed spectacularly.
Likewise, a depressingly familiar site last season saw De’Aaron Fox or Bogdan Bogdanovic or Buddy Hield pass up an excellent outside shot to move the ball around the key ad nauseam.
The graph above demonstrates how often and effectively the Kings passed the ball last season. Sacramento actually moved the rock more than most, ranking seventh in the league with 316 passes per game, yet they averaged the seventh fewest assists and the lowest adjusted assist to pass percentage. The ball continued to swing around the court, but with far too few buckets to show for those passes.
That overpassing frequently morphed into another problem for the team: desperation scoring. The Kings took the most field goals late in the shot clock last season, a total of 778 attempts, which was 154 more than the league average. Their eFG% plummeted from 53% with 7 – 15 second remaining, to 45% with 7 ticks or fewer. Selfless players are certainly more valuable than volume chuckers, but non-aggression can be just as taxing as a Carmelo Anthony approach to the offense end of the floor.
There is no doubt that the Kings have another tough season ahead of them. Free agency was mostly a bust, as no starting caliber players were added, and the biggest infusion of talent will come from a lottery pick and a red-shirted rookie. On most nights, a severe deficiency in talent will be the first of many challenges the team must overcome to find their way to victory. If Sacramento has any hope of success next year, the coaching staff must make some much-needed changes to the game plan, and the young Kings must be ready to take the reins from the veterans, execute the established strategies correctly, and identify a foundational player to lead them on a nightly basis.