After going on a 7-1 stretch, the Sacramento Kings have fallen on hard times, losing seven consecutive games. The team has been thoroughly outplayed during its downward slide, losing by an average of 10.4 points.
The Kings are 12-18 through 30 games, and the pressure could be mounting on head coach Luke Walton. The second-year bench boss is tied with Detroit Pistons’ head coach Dwane Casey as the favorite to be the next NBA head coach to be fired, per Sportsbook.AG.
Walton is in the second season of a four-year contract he signed with Sacramento during the 2019 offseason. The Kings are 43-59 under Walton, who survived the regime change when Vlade Divac and co. were let go last year.
New general manager Monte McNair hasn’t given any indication that Walton’s job in jeopardy, but he could want to bring in his own guy if the lackluster play continues from the team.
The Kings have been bit by the injury bug in recent weeks. Harrison Barnes has missed the past three games with a foot issue, while the team has also been without De’Aaron Fox and Richaun Holmes at different points.
Walton brought in veteran Alvin Gentry to join the staff prior to the season, but the team hasn’t made the step some were hoping to see. Sacramento has lacked consistency on both ends of the floor over the past two seasons, and some of that blame falls on the head coach.
Here is where the team stands in a few categories compared to last season:
2019-20: Scoring (22nd), 3-point percentage (12th), PACE (19th), points against per game (17th), defensive rating (19th).
2020-21 (30 games): Scoring (12th), 3-point percentage (14th), PACE (11th), points against per game (30th), defensive rating (30th).
Gentry’s arrival has helped the offense. Walton said during the offseason that he wanted the squad to play faster, and they’re doing precisely that. Although Fox has struggled a bit during the losing streak, he has done a good job running the offense. The Kings have enough weapons that scoring won’t be an issue for the duration of the season.
The big issue has been on the defensive end. A mix of slow rotations and second chances have allowed opposing teams to get a ton of easy looks. The Kings rank dead-last in opponents’ field goal percentage and 29th in opponents’ 3-point percentage, and are giving up 52.9 points per game in the paint, the most of any NBA team.
Walton has been reluctant to change things up on defense. He should mix in some zone to help slow the other team down or look at setting up some different schemes that will make it more difficult on opponents. Sacramento allows 21 made field goals from within 6 feet per game, which leads the league.
The lack of adjustments has carried over from last season and has been a staple of Walton’s time as an NBA head coach. In the loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo bullied the Kings with little pushback. The Kings rarely double-teamed Giannis and couldn’t keep him from penetrating the paint at will.
The silver lining to the 12-18 start is that the Western Conference standings have a bunch of teams packed like a can of sardines. The seventh-seeded Denver Nuggets are only four games up on the No. 14 seed, the Houston Rockets.
Sacramento currently sits 12th, only two games out of a play-in position. The upcoming break will be nice for the Kings as they try and get back to full health. But if the team wants to end its 14-year playoff drought, it needs to change things up on the defensive end.
Given the league’s economic positioning due to the pandemic, owner Vivek Ranadive may be hesitant to fire Walton during the season and be on the hook for his salary for two more seasons.
But if the team continues to falter as it has been in recent weeks, it would be hard to justify keeping Walton much longer.
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