The Sacramento Kings surprised everyone last season by hitting the ground running — or perhaps more accurately — sprinting. They won six of their first nine games in large part due to their scorching pace of play. They were consistently near the top of the league in that statistic up until the All-Star break.
They slowed down toward the end of their year, however. And their wins came a little more slowly as well. The team’s worst stretch of the season came at the very end, where the Kings fell down to league average pace, and lost seven of their final ten games.
With the pace of play trending down and Sacramento adding some older veterans in free agency, it might feel safe to assume that the days of the super speedy Kings are gone. However, when looking a little more closely at the roster, it seems the Kings could be just as fast as ever.
De’Aaron Fox has established himself as the engine of this Kings team. He is one of the fastest players in the league, and is certainly the quickest starting point guard around right now. At only 21 years-old, that is unlikely to change anytime soon. What could change, however, is his ability to stay in control during those explosive bursts. No player can hit their true top speed while handling the ball, but as his handle tightens and his court vision improves, he may be able to inch even closer to it. And the more efficiently he plays at full speed, the more often his coaching staff will let him loose.
New backup point guard Cory Joseph played for the Indiana Pacers last year. They finished only 24th in pace, but Joseph recorded the 3rd highest average speed on the team according to NBA tracking stats. In fact, he was top-20 across the whole league. So while he is an eight year veteran, he is still very much in his physical prime at 28 years-old. And the third string PG, Yogi Ferrell, is a bit of a speed demon himself. He ranked 35th in the league at average on court speed. All this is to say that there should be no slowing doing for the Kings at the point guard position this year.
De’Aaron Fox’s biggest competition for fastest man in the NBA is right here in Sacramento. Buddy Hield was number one in average speed in the entire NBA. And while he suddenly aged two years in one season, there’s still no doubt that the “dash bros” will be in full effect again next season.
Bogdan Bogdanovic could take a step forward athletically now that his two knee surgeries are a full year in the past. In addition to that, a much improved supporting cast could help Bogi to start and finish fast breaks, and take some of the burden off of him in the half court, where he can now run off ball and cut a lot more.
We don’t know how much playing time that rookies Justin James and Kyle Guy will see in Sacramento. But it would be hard to imagine that any minutes they get would slow things down considering their fresh legs and eagerness to impress.
If pace issues are going to come up, they’ll probably appear at the three. That said, their starting small forward won’t be the problem. Harrison Barnes isn’t the fastest or most athletic guy at his size, but he’s also far from the least. By most metrics, he is likely to end up in the middle of the pack. Fortunately, his scoring efficiency in transition has always been high, so even if he functions as a trailer at times, his fit in a fast system is just fine.
Trevor Ariza presents the biggest concern for the Kings when it comes to pace next season. The 34-year old veteran of 15 seasons has a ton of miles on him. He has logged over 30,000 regular season minutes and another 3,000 in the playoffs. Ariza was one of only 50 players in the league to clock in with an average speed of under four miles per hour last season.
Once again, the four is a position that the Kings can really run with as long as their starter is on the court. Marvin Bagley is every bit as fast and explosive as any big man in the league. It might take him a little while to learn how to stay in control when going full speed, but he is an ideal fit on this roster next to Fox and Buddy, who will be looking for a big target for lobs in transition. Bagley can immediately fill the role of athletic dunker that Willie Cauley-Stein vacated.
Similar to the other forward spot, however, it might be difficult to keep the pace up when the bench unit comes in. Nemanja Bjelica was one of the slowest Kings last season, and is only getting slower with age. He’s 31 now and has been given strategic rest in the FIBA World Cup in order to help with an issue in his knee. Fortunately, the Kings never used him as a force in transition, but rather as a catch and shoot machine from distance.
Here we have the last two additions to the Kings rotation. Sacramento has done well in adding a new starting center that is acclimated to playing in a high speed offense. The Atlanta Hawks finished first in pace last season, so fitting in should be no problem for Dewayne Dedmon. Last season the Kings had to sacrifice speed for shooting with Bjelica on the court, but this year they’ll have a big man that can do both.
Richaun Holmes isn’t exactly a speed demon, but he can hold his own despite his 6’10”, 235 pound frame. When you consider that he is essentially the replacement for Kosta Koufous, it seems as if a drop off in athleticism at the backup center spot is unlikely.
It’s also worth mentioning Harry Giles here, though it’s hard to identify which of the big man positions he falls under. It’s also hard to know exactly what Giles will give the Kings on the court this year. When healthy, he’s a sight to behold, but the massive ice packs he straps to his knees when on the bench give us pause. With no reported setbacks this summer, it’s possible that this is the year that Giles breaks out and gives the Kings yet another explosive big man to add to their arsenal.
The easiest way to answer this question is by looking at the changes to the roster. Dewayne Dedmon is replacing Willie Cauley-Stein, Richaun Holmes will step in for Kosta Koufos, Trevor Ariza is taking Corey Brewer’s spot, and Cory Joseph allowed the Kings to move on from Frank Mason III. In terms of pace and athleticism, that feels pretty much like a wash.
The other notable move is that Marvin Bagley will likely play starter minutes while Bjelica moves to the bench. That might provide the biggest swing of all.
Bjelica and Ariza feel like they keys to keeping the pace up next season, as they’re the only players who are likely to struggle with an uptempo offense. Deploying both as trailers in transition is a common sense solution. You don’t need all five guys on the court to be fast in order to play fast. Both can follow the break and space out for an open look. Staggering them so they don’t share the floor often is also worth strongly considering.
All in all, the Kings are still very much built for speed. They’ve got two of the fastest players in the league and another explosive 20-year old joining them in the starting lineup. You take that core and surround it with knockdown shooters, and you’ve got a team that can easily finish top five in pace again, if not first overall.