The Sacramento Kings only have 20 games remaining in what has been a turbulent season. At 22-40 and now three and a half games out of the final play-in spot, getting into postseason play isn’t impossible but is unlikely.
Even with no postseason play in the cards for a record-setting 16th straight season, there are still some reasons to pay attention to this squad over the next month and a half.
With such a new roster and more extensive changes potentially on the horizon this summer to the coaching staff and team, a lot can and will be determined over the next month and a half.
Here are four questions I have about this team going forward that hopefully get answered in the final 20 games.
Can Sacramento build a good defense with this core?
The Kings acquired an elite talent at the trade deadline in Domantas Sabonis. In doing so, they have more top-of-the-line talent on their roster. Unfortunately, the deal didn’t address the team’s putrid defense. Just as they were before the deadline, Sacramento is still mostly bad on that end, with a 115 defensive rating since the Sabonis trade.
Looking at Sacramento’s core, it’s hard to see this changing for the rest of this season and potentially beyond. With the team built around Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox, two-below average defenders for their position, it begs the question of whom you should surround those two with going forward.
Sabonis is in the right place a lot of the time on defense and is intelligent on that end, but for a center who can’t protect the rim or switch onto guards, It’s hard to see how he can ever anchor a good defense. He can hold his own on defense against certain guys (Nikola Jokic), but he is physically outmatched on a lot of nights.
Fox is a guy that doesn’t have the same physical limitations weighing him down. Still, for whatever reason, Fox just flat-out isn’t very good on defense. I’ve chronicled Fox’s defensive struggles, and quite frankly, not much has changed for him on that end since that was written.
Elsewhere on the roster, Harrison Barnes has quietly taken a step back defensively this season and has the fourth-worst defensive rating in the NBA among qualified players. You do have Davion Mitchell, who has been Sacramento’s best defensive player as a rookie, but at just over 6 feet, he won’t be able to single-handedly make the team good on defense.
Long term, if your three best players (Sabonis, Fox and Barnes) are negatives defensively, where does that leave you going forward?
Can Davion Mitchell find some consistency on offense?
However you felt about the Davion Mitchell pick on draft day, you can argue that you were right to this point.
On some nights, when his jumper is falling, he looks like the next Jrue Holiday, and then on other nights, he can’t seem to throw it in the Sacramento River. Heading down the stretch of the season, getting Mitchell to hit his shots consistently will be crucial for him and his upside as a player.
To give Mitchell credit, he has certainly been trending upward over the past month and starting to see some jumpers fall. He has also been the Kings’ best defensive player as a rookie, which is no small feat for a rookie.
At 23-years-old, it is clear that Mitchell will have a long career in the NBA due to his defensive prowess alone. But is he a bench guard that locks guys up and shoots in the low 30s from three, or is he a guy with legitimate offensive upside?
Does Richaun Holmes have a future in Sacramento beyond this season?
Holmes has had the rockiest of his three seasons in Sacramento this year. Having to overcome multiple freak injuries, off the court, and getting supplanted in the rotation by Sabonis, it can’t have been the season he or anyone else imagined.
Holmes hasn’t looked like the athletic force of nature in the pick and roll for at least the last month for the Kings. It’s hard to know which of the aforementioned factors could be affecting him.
For both the Kings and Holmes’ sake, it makes sense to play him more minutes to see whether he and Sabonis could ever fit in the frontcourt long term. It is also worth it from a trade value perspective. Holmes, who is on a bargain of a contract, could be the Kings’ best trade chip this summer, and if he doesn’t play, then that might go out the window.
Is Alvin Gentry going to be in Sacramento next season?
This one feels like a pretty obvious no, but Gentry reportedly has clauses in his contract that would keep him around after the season if the team achieves certain marks. It seems possible that reaching the play-in is one of those marks, but with the team three and a half games back of the final play-in spot, it’s hard to see that happening, barring an incredible run.
Nothing against Gentry, who has a wealth of experience coaching in the NBA, but it would probably benefit the Kings to bring in a younger voice with a more recent track record of success.
My guess is Monte McNair has already made his decision on Gentry, but could the final 20 games of the season change that?
Kings fans have gotten used to many meaningless ends to the season where members of the fanbase debate the merits of tanking versus building a winning culture.
This year, though, these games could be more predictive for who this team is long-term with not that many young guys to develop and gift minutes to.
Even though it will likely be the 16th straight season with no postseason for Sacramento, it is still a final 20 games worth watching.