Kings 20 Questions: Why did team go away from frenetic pace of play?

Kings 20 Questions: Why did team go away from frenetic pace of play?

Editor's note: This is the eleventh installment of NBC Sports California's "20 questions facing Kings" series that will look into pressing matters for the team once the NBA returns.

The 2018-19 Sacramento Kings were must-see TV. Win or lose, they played at a frenetic pace that turned heads around the league and led to the franchise’s best record in over a decade.

With De’Aaron Fox pushing the tempo and the team bombing away from the perimeter, the Kings, under head coach Dave Joerger, were in the playoff chase well into March, before falling off late.

Joerger was shown the door following the 39-win season and general manager Vlade Divac tabbed Luke Walton as his replacement. After posting one of the fastest paces in the NBA with the Lakers during the 2018-19 season, Walton looked like a perfect fit for the Kings’ roster.

Something went wrong in the transfer of power. After leading the NBA in pace for most of the previous season, before finishing fifth overall, the Kings came out of the gate looking like a completely different team. Gone was the flare and tempo. Gone was the identity the team had developed and thrived under.

What happened to the pace? A deeper dive shows a complex set of circumstances that compounded and made the Kings offense grind to a halt.

Shortened preseason

During the summer of 2018, Joerger turned up the heat during training camp. Veteran Iman Shumpert said he hadn’t run like that since high school. Buddy Hield reminded everyone that he was a track star, as well as a basketball player growing up.

Joerger’s club hit the ground sprinting. Even after made baskets by their opponents, the Kings would have the ball inbounded and across half-court in a few short seconds. It was gimmicky but effective as the Kings turned from the slowest pace the previous year to a team that oftentimes looked like a blur on the court.

[RELATED: Kings 20 Questions: Is team in better place since Vlade Divac hired?]

Sacramento didn’t have the same type of training camp in the summer of 2019. A trip to India was an amazing experience for the team, but it also interrupted the normal flow of camp. Walton tried to balance implementing his system by preparing his team for the rigors of an 82 game schedule, but there wasn’t extra time to run his team like Joerger had the previous year.

By the time the season opened, Walton spoke on multiple occasions about the risks of turning up the pace early in the season. Without a conventional camp, his players weren’t fully prepared to hit the ground sprinting and he was worried about potential injuries.

Injury woes

Despite Walton taking a cautious approach to the team’s pace, injuries piled up anyway. Marvin Bagley broke his thumb in the final moments of the team’s season opener in Phoenix. That was the first of a series of injuries to the 2018 No. 2 overall pick.

With Bagley on the bench, Walton turned to veteran power forward Nemanja Bjelica to eat minutes. While very skilled, Bjelica doesn’t play with the same speed and athleticism that Bagley does. Bagley posted a pace factor of 104.19 last season when healthy for much of the season. While Bjelica played at a pace of 105.31 last season, his pace has dipped to 99.12 this season.

In addition to Bagley, Fox went down with a severely sprained ankle before the Kings’ 10th game of the season. This injury caused Fox to miss 17 games and Walton filled his minutes with veteran Cory Joseph.

While Joseph kept the Kings from completely falling apart, he also plays at a completely different pace than Fox. On the season, Fox runs at a pace of 102.07, down from his 105.57 last season. Joseph posts an overall pace of 99.35 on the season, but as a starter in Fox’s absence, that number drops to 97.16.

The pace issue isn’t all on Bjelica or Joesph, but it is one of many contributing factors. Walton played to the strength of the players he had to work with. Losing Bagley for all but 13 games of the season and Fox for a 17 game stretch forced the team to rethink their strategy.

Walton also lost the services of Bogdan Bogdanovic for 11 of the first 41 games due to a series of leg issues. Outside of Fox, Bogdanovic is the Kings’ best playmaker. Losing him for stretches hurt the Kings’ ability to run a fully functional offense.

Philosophical changes

Walton wants to push the tempo, as was seen by his Lakers squad the previous season. But he was also brought in to implement a new sustainable offensive and defensive system that would help the Kings get through the ups and downs of a long season.

Joerger had the same plan, but he understood that in his third season in Sacramento, he needed wins in order to remain the team’s coach. The plan to play with pace was always going to be a staple because it plays to the strength of the personnel, but as the Kings players matured, Joerger planned to build in more failsafes and structure.

Before the season was put on ice, the Kings ran a pace of 99.08, but they posted a 100 pace or better in each of the last three months with Fox healthy and back at the helm.

It’s possible that the pace would have continued to pick up in the final 18 games as the Kings fought for a potential postseason spot.

[RELATED: NBA rumors: Kings get Orlando hotel assignment, protocols for restart]


There is hope that the Kings will get back to the exciting brand of basketball they played during the 2018-19 season, but it’s not as easy as it sounds. They will have an eight-game window to finish off the current season in Orlando, with an opportunity to make it to a play-in game or two and possibly a postseason berth.

The easy answer would be for the Kings to come out in their eight games and run teams off the court, but once again, there is a very short window to get the players into the type of shape they would need to be in to implement this plan.

While the 2020 offseason will be shortened and there are major potential changes coming to the Kings’ roster, the focus for Walton should be on continuing to build a base that is sustainable in Sacramento. Hopefully, that comes with an increased focus on pushing the tempo and playing to the strengths of the roster.

Kings set to join NBA's Orlando bubble, leave loved ones behind

Kings set to join NBA's Orlando bubble, leave loved ones behind

The NBA’s Orlando bubble - it’s a concept that somehow we have begun to normalize.

Later this week, the Sacramento Kings and 21 other NBA teams will travel via private jet to Disney World where they will be under lock and key for a minimum of five weeks.

On paper, it doesn’t sound all that bad. Five-star accommodations, tons of food options, a golf course, bowling alley, ping pong tables. The only thing that is missing are the players' families, who won’t be allowed to join the bubble until after the first round of the playoffs, somewhere around August 31.

NBA players and staff are normal people, just like everyone else. The bubble concept is a way for the league to survive and save at least some of the revenue stream that has all but disappeared due to the coronavirus pandemic. But the league is asking its players to walk away from their families for an extended period of time.

“There’s no way around the fact that this is a sacrifice,” Harrison Barnes said. “Whether you’re being away from your family, whether you’re not going to be able to see your parents, your siblings, whatever it may be. And not having an end date too, definitely adds an extra bit of focus to you, that if you’re going to be away from your family for this long, you want to make it work, you want to make it something that you’re completely locked in and focused on and giving your all to, or else it’s a waste of time.”

Barnes is married, but does not have children. He might be in the minority on that front on the Kings roster.

[RELATED: Harrison Barnes keeps word, won't shave beard until Kings hit .500 record]

Nemanja Bjelica’s children can be seen on the court in pregame. Buddy Hield’s daughter waits for him after most home games. Richaun Holmes and De’Aaron Fox both have little ones.

Kent Bazemore has been known to post pictures of his little boy on twitter and his wife has another one on the way due later this year.

“It’s tough,” Bazemore said earlier this week during one of the Kings Zoom media calls. “It’s tough on being a husband and a father. I cried like a little baby when I left to head out here a couple weeks ago — just seeing him and my wife standing on the front porch as I’m leaving, and he has absolutely no idea I’m gone as long as I’m going to be gone.”

“It’s definitely tough, especially him being such a young age,” Bazemore added. “It’s pivotal as a child to kind of have that stable foundation, and my wife is also pregnant with a little girl coming in September, so the realistic front is very tough.”

A week ago, Corey Brewer was out of the league wondering if he would get another shot at age 34. The 12-year vet will get that opportunity with the Kings, but again, it will come at a cost.

“That’s probably the hardest part for me,” Brewer said. “I have small kids. One’s 6 and one’s 3 months, so it was tough to leave them, but they understand I’m getting older. Any chance I get to play basketball, I have to take it. They’re happy. My son’s happy I get to play again, and we FaceTime every day for like five hours, so we still see each other.”

Modern technology has made the world a smaller place, but there is nothing that can replace physical contact.

“In your 20s and 30s, you make a lot of sacrifices, but I’m in a position to really set up my legacy and really help those behind me,” Bazemore said. “So It’s a tough decision and it’s something my wife and I are diligently working on, trying to stay connected, you know, phone calls, videos, FaceTime, doing everything we can to stay connected.”

[RELATED: Kings' Kent Bazemore could envision staying for 'next couple of years']

There is a human element that is being missed. Players aren’t just going to Orlando and risking infection by playing a sport. They are leaving everything behind for a month or two and perhaps longer.

This is a complex situation with real life consequences for players and their loved ones. Adding to the issue is that these aren’t normal times and that the world is in the midst of a pandemic.

The league is hopeful that they can limit the exposure to coronavirus by running a tight ship, but the families of the players will not be afforded that same luxury while at home.

There is no perfect solution, but fans should keep in mind that while they want to see NBA basketball and regain some of the escapism that professional sports provides, there might be times when players' minds are not 100 percent focused on the game at hand.

Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov announced as Fenerbahçe Beko head coach

Kings assistant Igor Kokoskov announced as Fenerbahçe Beko head coach

While Kings assistant coach Igor Kokoskov will travel to Orlando with the team, he has a new gig awaiting him after the NBA season concludes.

European basketball powerhouse Fenerbahçe Beko Istanbul announced Saturday that Kokoskov will be there next head coach.

Kokoskov has agreed to a three-year contract with Fenerbahçe, according to their press release.

ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski first reported Thursday that Kokoskov would take over Fenerbahçe. A league source confirmed to NBC Sports California's James Ham that Kokoskov would remain with the Kings through the completion of their 2019-20 slate.

Kokoskov, 48, has been an NBA coach since the 2000-01 season. He spent time as an assistant with the Los Angeles Clippers, Detroit Pistons, Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers, Utah Jazz and Kings. He also spent the 2018-19 season as the head coach of the Suns, where he amassed a 19-63 record.

The 2019-20 season was Kokoskov's first on Luke Walton's staff.

Kings guard Bogdan Bogdanovic, who plays for Kokoskov on the Serbian National Team, congratulated his coach on his new job.

[RELATED: Bazemore open to Kings return]

Kokoskov and the Kings are scheduled to arrive in Orlando this upcoming week for the restart of the NBA season. They will participate in three scrimmages before playing eight seeding games. If they can remain within four games of the No. 8 seed, Sacramento would force play-in games for the last playoff seed in the Western Conference.

If the Kings can find a way into the playoffs, they can send Kokoskov out with a bang.