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Searching for positives in a winless start for Sacramento

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There’s nowhere to go but up. We hope.

Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings have had a downright putrid start to the 2019-20 season. They’ve trailed by double digits in the second half of each game so far, and have lost their four contests by a combined margin of 78 points.

Kings bloggers, analysts, and fans alike have been presented with an overload of problems to dissect. We’ve got injury issues, poor play from individuals, a lack of team cohesiveness, and many questions about rotations and scheme.

There is a growing temptation to throw our collective hands in the air and declare everything a disaster. Thankfully, a respectable showing at home against the Denver Nuggets has staved off a full rebellion, yet still the Kings remain winless at 0-4.

But instead of wallowing in misery, I’m pushing past the obvious shortcomings in an attempt to find reasons to be optimistic. The slight glimmers of hope that I uncover could turn out to be fool’s gold, but for now, they’re all we’ve got.

De’Aaron Fox’s longball

It’s easy to forget when watching him now, but one of the biggest questions about De’Aaron Fox as a prospect was how much his range would limit him in the NBA. He averaged less than two attempts per game in his one year in college, and only connected on only 24.6% of them.

His shot looked relatively passable as a rookie, but didn’t fall often at a rate of just 30.7%. However, Fox’s game was unlocked in a breakout 2018-19 season where he saw his conversion rate soar to 37.1%. A jump like that is truly an outlier in the NBA, which means one of two things — a massive amount of growth or a statistical anomaly.

While the sample is small, Fox’s performance thus far suggests the former rather than the latter. He has gone 7-for-18 from deep across the first four games of the season, which equates to a healthy 38.9%. More importantly, Fox is now at 4.5 attempts per game, up from 2.9 last season. If he continues to show volume and accuracy, Fox could improve his own scoring while opening up the floor for his teammates with improved spacing.

Richaun Holmes is a bargain

Even before his explosion of 24 points and 13 points in a ferocious effort against the Nuggets, it was clear that Holmes was one of the few bright spots in Sacramento’s early season. He was already the team leader in blocks and field goal percentage before facing Denver, and his grip on both categories only tightened on Monday night.

Sacramento has a new fan favorite, as proved by the “M-V-P” chants that rang through Golden 1 Center in the fourth quarter. Much of Kings nation is clamoring for him to take over the starting job, including some of our writers here at Sactown Royalty. A poll put out on twitter Monday night showed that 89% of 1,779 respondents want him to take the job from a struggling Dewayne Dedmon.

So far, Holmes is playing well above his $4.8 million pay grade. While he won’t get 20 and 10 every night, theres a chance Holmes ends up playing a lot of minutes and providing a lot of value for Sacramento. If the Kings get starter level play for bench player money, that will be a much needed win for this franchise.

Potential to protect the rim

We haven’t seen it come together entirely just yet, but it’s obvious that the Kings have more defensive firepower at the rim than they did last year. Holmes has been a revelation there, posting 5 blocks in just 80 minutes so far, but he’s not the only one putting up solid numbers.

Dewayne Dedmon, despite all his struggles so far, is putting up a block rate that is every bit as good as any King did last season. The blocks leader for last year’s team, Marvin Bagley III, is sidelined with an untimely injury. But when he returns, Sacramento will be three deep with functional rim protectors.

A interesting candidate for a fourth contributor is Nemanja Bjelica, who swatted three shots against the Nuggets. No one expects him to start rejecting dunks from the league’s most athletic players anytime soon, but if Bjelica’s intelligence, length, and craft can continue to bolster this Kings defense, they might get to a league average level in blocks per game for the first time since 2010-11.

The schedule is getting easier

Each of Sacramento’s last three games have come against opponents who won 50 games in the stacked Western Conference last season. In contrast, three of their next five contests will come against teams that missed the playoffs in the much less competitive East.

The Charlotte Hornets, the New York Knicks, and the Atlanta Hawks are all beatable teams. Even the Toronto Raptors, who are the defending NBA champions, should theoretically be vulnerable with Kawhi Leonard’s departure.

While a rematch against the Utah Jazz looms later this week, the context of their matchup is much more favorable. When they face Utah on Friday night, they will be at home and they will not be coming off a back-to-back. In fact, Sacramento won’t face another back-to-back set until the week of Thanksgiving, and they should have plenty of rest until then with only 10 games across the next 25 days.

The bottom line

As nice as some of these silver linings may be, and as easy as the Kings schedule may get, none of it will matter if the Kings can’t break their losing streak. Individual players can shine all they want, but if the rest their team can’t get it together, it will be for naught.

Fortunately, the most favorable matchup on the schedule is up next. The Kings will face the Charlotte Hornets at home on Wednesday night, where they are currently massive favorites to win.

Optimism is nice, but it can only go so far. If Sacramento doesn’t make the most of this potential ‘get right’ game, there will be no more excuses left to make.