Kings

Is there a pathway to success for the Sacramento Kings?

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AP

Is there a pathway to success for the Sacramento Kings?

Great teams dictate the action in an NBA game. They push their opponent into rushed, low percentage shots. They control who gets the bulk of the shots and where on the floor those shots come from.

It’s no secret, but through 10 games, the Sacramento Kings are not a great team. They lost seven straight before stunning the Oklahoma City Thunder on Tuesday evening and they sit at 2-8 on the season. It’s a young and inexperienced team with eight new roster pieces, including five rookies. Losing 10 days of training camp and preseason was the last thing this group needed.

Unfortunately for Sacramento, that means they often get bullied, not just on the defensive end or on the glass, which both have been an issue, but also when and where they take their shots.

It’s a small sample size, but the stats show the abuse the Kings are taking. Here is a look at the three biggest areas of concern.

SHOTS AT THE RIM

The NBA average field goal percentage for shots at the rim is roughly 60 percent. Since a basket is worth two points, that means that the league average for shot attempts in the circle is 1.2 points per possession. This is the best shot in the NBA and getting to the basket has a secondary effect. The team that attacks the rim usually racks up the free throw attempts as well.

Sacramento isn’t bad when they get in the restricted area, the issue is that they don’t get there very often. Through 10 games, the Kings have taken just 230 shots in the circle. Only the Chicago Bulls have taken less. They’re hitting 65.7 percent of those shots, which ranks 10th in the league, they just aren’t getting nearly enough.

In addition, the Kings are getting to the line just 15.7 times per game, which ranks 30th in the league. Free throws are easy money in the NBA. Kosta Koufos, who shoots just 55.6 percent from the line, still averages 1.11 points per possession. Unfortunately for Sacramento, Koufos is second on the team in free throw attempts per game at 1.8, just behind De’Aaron Fox’s team leading 2.2 attempts per game. DeMarcus Cousins attempted 10 free throws per game last season for Sacramento, more than the top five Kings combined so far this year.

3-POINT ATTEMPTS

Like points at the rim, the Kings are faring well percentage-wise from behind the arc. They hit 35.4 percent of their shots from long range, which is good enough for 17th in the NBA. They just don’t shoot enough.

Both Buddy Hield and Garrett Temple are averaging 4.2 3-point attempts per game to lead the team. Sacramento is last in the league in 3-point attempts at 212 and 29th in makes at 75 on the season. It’s hard to compete when you allow 33.5 attempts per game and shoot only 21.2. Through 10 games, the Kings have been outscored 375-225 from distance.

Like a shot at the rim, the corner three is worth 1.2 points per possession on average. For the Kings, they’re a little below average at 1.13 points per possession from the corner, but they’ve shot just 55 triples from that spot on the floor, tied for eighth worse in the league.

And similar to free throw attempts, corner 3-pointers are often directly correlated to shots in the restricted area. The Kings aren’t doing a good enough job of attacking the rim, which frees up the corner for wide open looks.

MID-RANGE JUMPERS

To recap, quality teams usually score in bunches at the rim and from behind the arc. For example, the Houston Rockets are third in the league in attempts in the restricted area (302), seventh in free throw attempts (254) and first in 3-point attempts (390). They’ve shot just 52 mid-range jumpers on the season, which is the lowest number in the league. Houston is an offensive juggernaut, but they give a clear picture of where the league has been heading for years.

Sacramento has taken the third most mid-range jumpers in the league at 230 attempts. Like most teams in the NBA, they hit roughly 40 percent of those shots (39.6 percent) which is worth 0.8 points per possession. Some of this is by design. They have shooters that excel in the midrange, but it’s easy to see how a team would fall behind when their opponents are outscoring them dramatically with higher point per possession shots.

CONCLUSION

The first 10 games have been an adventure for the Kings to say the least. While they have a few holes with regards to personnel, the Kings are clearly settling for what NBA defenses are giving them. With more experience, Sacramento will hopefully figure out how to get to the rim more often, increase their free throw attempts and take more 3-pointers.

Some nights it will work. Sacramento took just 24 3-point attempts and 12 free throw attempts against the Thunder and pulled out the win. But OKC also shot just 33.7 percent from the floor and still had a shot to win the game in the final two minutes. The Kings made shots and did a nice job on the defensive end and the Thunder couldn't buy a bucket.

It’s a process. Dave Joerger and his staff are working to refine the offensive playsets and the team is getting more comfortable. But the NBA doesn’t wait for anyone. 10 young players, 10 fewer days of training camp and a frantic schedule have played into the struggles. The hope is that the Kings will show growth in these areas as the season progresses.  

Statistical numbers used in this article were provided by NBA.com/stats and Basketball-reference.com.

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

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AP

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

Rinse and repeat. After shocking the Portland Trail Blazers Friday evening at Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings hopped on a plane where they’ll face the same team on the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back.

Dave Joerger shook up his lineup on Friday, installing De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kings responded with their best defensive effort of the season. Cauley-Stein went off for 22 points and 10 rebounds with the second unit and his defensive effort was next level.

The Blazers have become a two-man wrecking crew. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum score the bulk of the team’s points on a nightly basis, but coach Terry Stotts is still searching someone who is ready to step up and help. Jusuf Nurkic is part of the puzzle, but the Blazers need more consistency from the other 12 players on the roster.

BETTING LINE:
Blazers by 12

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
De’Aaron Fox vs. Damian Lillard -- Fox put on a defensive show against Portland at Golden 1 Center. The rookie came into the league with high-end potential as a two-way player and he showed it against Lillard, holding the All-Star point guard to 29 points, but on 9-of-25 shooting. Lillard loves to hoist up shots. If Fox can't provide the same pressure, the Kings will struggle to keep up with the Blazers.

WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 4-11, fifth place in Pacific

Trail Blazers: 8-7, third place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT:
Kings: SG Buddy Hield (sprained ankle) out, F Vince Carter (kidney stones) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.

Trail Blazers: F Al Farouq Aminu (ankle) out, G C.J. Wilcox (knee) out, PG Wade Baldwin (thumb) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
CONSISTENCY -- You can’t show flashes of brilliance and then take a step back. The Kings defensive effort and overall intensity won the game on Friday night. It’s a place to build from.

FINDING A ROLE -- Joerger shook up everything when he turned to Fox and Labissiere. Offensively, both players struggled, as did Bogdanovic off the bench. This group of young players needs to find a role and figure out a way to help the team, even when the shots aren’t falling.

GET DEFENSIVE -- Portland didn’t know what hit them Friday evening, but they’ll have a few hours to make adjustments. Sacramento’s bigs showed on every high screen and roll. The guard and wing play was aggressive and spot on. The Kings are young and energetic. If they can focus that energy on the defensive end night in and night out, they might have a chance to build something.

SERIES HISTORY:
Sacramento leads the season series 1-0 after Friday night’s win. The Blazers lead the all-time series 129-78 and they own the Kings during the Sacramento-era 88-47.

QUOTE:
"Whether you think the sky is falling or not, we are 3-3 in our last 6 games." - Dave Joerger

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

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USATSI

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

SACRAMENTO -- Faced with demotion, you have two options, sulk or come out swinging. Willie Cauley-Stein chose option two Friday evening at Golden 1 Center.

After starting all 14 games to begin the season, Cauley-Stein found himself relegated to the second unit against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 7-footer looked energized by the move and made one play after another as the Kings came away with the 86-82 victory.

“I felt free - period,” Cauley-Stein said following the win. “Both offensively, defensively. I’m quarterbacking on defense. I’m getting to make plays on offense. I just feel liberated. I feel like it’s unlocking.”

The third-year big began the 2017-18 campaign with back-to-back double-doubles, but hadn’t notched double-figures in rebounds since. Over his previous eight games, the Kings’ starting center was averaging just 4.3 boards per game.

Against Portland, Cauley-Stein played sparkling defense, hit 9-of-17 from the floor for a team-high 22 points and hit the glass for 10 boards. He skied above the Blazers bigs for a rebound with 3.4 seconds remaining and his second free throw attempt sealed the win for a Kings team in desperate need of a win.

“Willie’s a hell of a player, obviously,” veteran big Kosta Koufos said. “He’s really athletic, he’s a special talent.”

Koufos and Cauley-Stein made a devastating defensive duo for Sacramento. Both bigs showed on the high pick-and-roll and avoided fouling the Blazers high-powered guards.

“That’s a crazy defensive lineup right there, me and Kosta play really well together,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve been waiting for that lineup since we started.”

Damian Lillard scored 29 points, but he shot just 9-of-25 from the field and 5-for-14 from long range. C.J. McCollum knocked down 8-of-15 from the floor, but he missed all four of his 3-point attempts as Sacramento closed out and pressured the shooter all night long.

Cauley-Stein wasn’t the only starter to find himself on the bench to start the game. Dave Joerger turned to a dual point guard backcourt, using De’Aaron Fox and George Hill side-by-side, while bringing rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic in with the second unit.

Playing off the ball for long stretches, Hill responded to the move with 14 points and five assists in 27 minutes. Fox had a quiet offensive night, but his defense on both Lillard and McCollum was inspired.

“We can both attack and he’s a great shooter so that really helps me,” Fox said of Hill. “He’s a mentor on the court. It’s a lot easier to play with him then to watch him play.”

Sacramento held Portland to just 37 percent shooting overall and 28 percent from behind the arc. They pressured the Blazers in the backcourt and slowed the game to screeching halt.

With the win, the Kings snapped their three-game losing streak and improved to 4-11 on the season. They jumped a plane for Portland following the game where they’ll face the same Trail Blazer team Saturday in a rare back-to-back against the same team.

The Kings likely be without the services of shooting guard Buddy Hield, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle. Hield limped into the locker room on crutches following the victory and the initial indications point to him missing the rematch.