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Dewayne Dedmon’s performance has been puzzling

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The veteran center has struggled in multiple areas despite playing a similar role for the Kings.

Portland Trail Blazers v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Sacramento Kings inked Dewayne Dedmon to a three-year, $40 million deal at the onset of free agency, many envisioned him as a pivotal element in Luke Walton’s starting lineup. By no means was Dedmon a star who would pile up the points for the Kings; rather, he was a seemingly perfect support for Sacramento’s most important players. His ability to knock down three-pointers would stretch opposing defenses for De’Aaron Fox’s drives and allow Marvin Bagley III to operate in space, while his rebounding and rim protection would provide some relief on the defensive end of the floor. Thirteen games into the season, half of that very expensive equation has yet to appear.

When Dedmon joined the Atlanta Hawks in the summer of 2017, Head Coach Mike Budenholzer offered him a unique challenge: become a floor space for the offense. That plan may have seemed odd at the time, as Dewayne had only attempted and missed one three-pointer in his entire career, but the gamble paid off for Budenholzer. Over the next two years, Dedmon knocked down 37.2% of his 358 long-balls, the fourth-best mark of any center who attempted at least 150 shots from beyond the arc in the span, better than known three-point threats like Brook Lopez, Kelly Olynyk, Marc Gasol, and Nikola Vucevic. He developed into a bona fide sniper.

Thus far in the 2019-2020 season, that smooth shooting stroke has completely abandoned Dewayne. He’s knocked down a disappointing 22.6% of his attempts from deep, while failing to sink a three-pointer in eight of his 13 appearances to date. And it hasn’t just been Dedmon’s accuracy from beyond the arc that’s failed to ignite early in the year; his effectiveness on the offensive side of the floor is down across the board.

Outside of his role as a stretch-big, another factor that made Dedmon such an attractive player was his efficiency around the rim and as a target in the pick-and-roll. With Trae Young as his backcourt partner, the veteran center scored 1.28 points per possession when rolling to the hoop last season, ranking in the 83rd percentile. A large part of that success was found in his ability to convert tough shots around the rim, despite his lack of a vertical threat, as he sunk 67.3% of his attempts in the restricted area, more accurate than 80% of the league. As those numbers went hand-in-hand in Atlanta, so have they been linked in Sacramento. Dedmon is shooting just 54.5% in the restricted area with the Kings, worse than three-quarters of the NBA, while his points per possession in the screening game have dropped to 0.93, sitting in the 29th percentile. Quite literally every aspect of his shooting ability has escaped him this season, from his field goal percentage (down 11%) to his three-point percentage (down 15.6%) to his true shooting percentage (down 13%).

As frustrating as those numbers may feel, some comfort can be found in the truth that it’s highly unlikely that a historically good shooter and efficient paint scorer has suddenly forgotten how to put the ball in the bucket. A more probably explanation is that Dedmon has simply missed makeable shots while adjusting to a new offensive game plan. Over his last half-dozen contests, Dewayne has converted 31% of his three-point attempts and 41% of his field goals, still not anywhere close to his capability, but a massive improvement from his 17% accuracy from deep and field goal percentage of 36% over the first seven games.

If a shooting slump was the only aspect of Dedmon’s game that was hurting, he would still provide an immense amount of value for this team due to his rebounding and defense, but another problem is currently plaguing his production and eviscerating his on-court effectiveness: turnovers. Although he’s always been a mistake-prone player, typically ranking toward the bottom of centers in turnover rate, Dewayne’s errors have reached an inexcusable level. According to Cleaning the Glass, Dedmon leads the NBA in turnover percentage. Let’s say that again. Dewayne Dedmon leads the NBA in turnover percentage: not James Harden or Luka Doncic or Trae Young or any of the ball-dominant players in the league. Dewayne Dedmon.

His rate of coughing up the rock has nearly doubled from season to season, increasing from 14.3% in his final year with the Hawks to an otherworldly 27.4% in Sacramento. For a player who ranks 153rd in usage rate in the league, that simply can’t happen. Perhaps most maddeningly of all is how those turnovers have come about. They’re almost all completely unforced.

Types of Turnovers

Type Occurences
Type Occurences
Offensive Foul 6
Travel 5
Pass Out of Bounds 5
Stolen Pass 5
Stripped Ball 2

Here are a few of his most egregious turnovers:

It’s those mistakes, not the poor shooting, which have rendered Dedmon nearly unplayable, even in the wake of Marvin Bagley’s injury and the questionable impact of Harry Giles. For inexplicable reasons that will continue to baffle anyone watching, he’s turned into a turnover machine who surrenders multiple live-ball possessions to the opposing team. Until Dewayne can clean up that part of his game, he’ll continue to see his minutes decline as the coaching staff looks for other on-court solutions.

One silver lining to these struggles has been Dedmon’s continued effort despite his shooting struggles and his habit of turning the ball over a quarter of the time. He’s second on the team in rebounding percentage at 14.9%, trailing Richaun Holmes by less than a single percent, and his rim protection has been the best of anyone on the squad. Among centers who have defended at least 80 shots this season, Dewayne’s -6.7% defensive field goal percentage differential ranks sixth in the NBA, trailing only Anthony Davis, Ivica Zubac, Goga Bitadze (I don’t know who that is, either), Rudy Gobert, and Bam Adebayo. When defending shots within six feet of the hoop, he reflects a similar success rate of -5.9%, a step above Holmes’s differential of -4.4%.

There’s no debating the fact that Dewayne Dedmon has experienced an awful start to his tenure in Sacramento. He can’t knock down open three-pointers, the one facet of his game that makes him a unique weapon, while his decision-making has been inexcusably poor, to the point of an almost historic turnover rate for a player of his usage. Those issues, while maddeningly frustrating for anyone watching the game, should theoretically resolve themselves with time, as a sample size of 13 terrible games in Sacramento doesn’t negate the much larger evidence pool of two successful season with the Atlanta Hawks. If Dewayne does continue to shoot poorly and cannot resolve his turnover issues, the Kings may find themselves in an uncomfortable position, as Marvin Bagley’s return looms large on the horizon, and no other sensible frontcourt partner exists for the sophomore stud. It’s certainly encouraging that Dedmon’s impact on the glass and on defense hasn’t waned in spite of his horrible performance, but his teammates and the coaching staff desperately need his production to start matching his effort levels.