The NBA’s Board of Governors voted to approve the league’s plan to bring 22 teams, including the Sacramento Kings, to Orlando for an eight-game opportunity to compete for a playoff spot, or play-in spot.
The Kings, who are 3.5 games back of No. 8 seed, are in prime position to be one of those teams, but there a few questions that hover over the time as they prepare for their postseason push.
Is Marvin Bagley ready?
There are two ways this question can read, and they’d both be correct.
The first is whether or not Bagley is physically ready to play. Bagley hasn’t made an appearance for the Kings since Jan. 20 due to a left foot sprain. In total, he’s played just 13 games this season, and with only eight games left on the regular season schedule, he could end his sophomore season having played just 21 games.
Granted, we still don’t know much about where Bagley is in his progression, but it’s not unreasonable to assume he’ll be able to resume basketball activities after nearly four months of rest. That brings us to our next question: Is Marvin Bagley ready?
In the 13 games Bagley’s played this season, he’s averaged 14.2 points per game on 46.7% shooting from the field, in addition to 7.5 rebounds per game. On paper, he’s not much better than he was last season, when he averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, but the sample size isn’t big enough to say that he definitely didn’t improve. It’s also not big enough to say that he didn’t fit into Luke Walton’s system, especially because his role wasn’t defined in the games that he did play.
Bagley probably won’t look like a star if he plays, and it’s worth debating whether or not he should even start, but if the Kings are going to make a run for the No. 8 seed (or the play-in No. 9 seed spot), they’re going to need everything Bagley can give them this season. If that’s just shot-blocking, or just rebounding, or just shot-making, then so be it.
Will the Kings actually play fast?
During the 2018-19 season, the Kings played really fast, and they did it well. Of the teams that finished ranked in the top-three in pace that season, the Kings finished with the best record (39-43). That didn’t result in a playoff berth for them, but it was a blueprint for the team’s success going forward, or so we thought.
This season, under Luke Walton, the Kings have slowed down, and are ranked 23rd in the NBA in pace (99.08). Their decision to slow things down at the beginning of the season made some sense considering the biggest question mark going into the season was whether or not Walton was capable of running an offense in the half court. While the answer to that question is still a light shrug, there’s been growth throughout the season.
Now, it’s time to take the training wheels off.
The Kings started to pick up the pace before the season was suspended. In their last 15 games, the Kings ranked 17th in pace (100.9) and, as a result, both their offensive and defensive efficiency notably improved. They also jumped from 18th to 15th in fast break points (14.3 PPG), which isn’t a huge improvement, but it’s worth noting.
If the Kings are going to make their last eight games count, they need to continue to pick up their speed, and hand the keys of the offense to De’Aaron Fox. It might get ugly, but the idea is that the Kings’ young legs can give them an advantage over some of the more veteran-heavy teams they’ll be competing against.
What does the front court rotation look like?
Due to the plethora of injuries the Kings have faced this season, Luke Walton has rolled out 11 different starting lineups, and a majority of the changes have been a result of the team’s banged up bigs. Now that everyone is expected to be healthy, Walton will have his work cut out for him with the rotation.
The Kings have three players on their roster that have logged more than half of their minutes at power forward this season, according to Basketball Reference: Harrison Barnes, Jabari Parker and Nemanja Bjelica. They also have four players that have spent more that 80% of their time at center: Marvin Bagley, Harry Giles, Alex Len and Richaun Holmes.
Of those seven players, Barnes and Holmes will likely have a place in the starting lineup alongside De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic. Nemanja Bjelica will also play a big role, whether he’s starting or not. What Walton will have to figure out is which players work together, which is hard to do when a few of the players have only been with the team for a dozen games, and others haven’t been available much this season because of injuries. Oh, and did I mention they only have a four-week training camp to try and figure it all out?
The next few months won’t be easy for the Kings, but they have a unique opportunity to apply everything they’ve built this season. Let’s hope they make the most of it.