SACRAMENTO -- Established teams have a look and a feel to them that comes with experience and chemistry. They have refined systems, and while the players might vary from one season to the next, there is a style of play that is maintained.
Sacramento hasn’t been that type of team since the golden age of Kings basketball from 1998-2006. Every season it feels like they are starting over and searching for a new identity.
While two games is an extremely small sample size, we are beginning to see trends form within this Kings team that are encouraging to say the least.
In the Kings’ 106-103 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Saturday, two huge stats jumped off the box score and they might point to a new mentality for Sacramento.
For the second straight game, the Kings outrebounded their opponent and attempted more than 30 free throws. They are playing with a physicality that has been missing from this squad for a long time, which is one of the reasons they have started the season 2-0.
“We want to attack that rim, we want to constantly put pressure on the rim, we want to be a disruptive defensive team and the only way to do both of those things is to be physical,” coach Luke Walton said following the win.
The Kings made it a focus coming into training camp that they were going to play a tougher brand of basketball. The hope is that by playing defense, attacking the rim and hitting the glass, the Kings can stay in games, even when shots aren’t falling.
“We made it a point to be more aggressive, especially coming into camp and things of that sort,” Richaun Holmes said. “Those are points of emphasis.”
Against the Nuggets in the opener, the Kings held a 54-46 rebound advantage in the overtime victory, which was surprising for a team that finished 27th in the league in rebounding last season.
In the team’s win over the Suns on Saturday, then Kings dominated the boards in a similar fashion. They buried Phoenix on the glass by a margin of 56-40.
It wasn't one player who dominated the rebound totals for Sacramento. Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley each grabbed 11 boards, while Richaun Holmes added nine and Hassan Whiteside chipped in eight.
“We feel like a team that can get stops and the next level of that is securing the ball and right now, we’re doing a great job of that,” De’Aaron Fox said. “The boxing out, the being able to gang rebound, it was great tonight and that’s something that we have to keep going forward.”
In addition to crashing the glass, the Kings got to the line a shocking number of times in their first two games. After finishing 28th in average free-throw attempts per game (20.3) last season, Sacramento has made it to the line a total of 64 times through two games.
“Guys are getting to the basket, we’re finding other ways to score the ball,” Fox said. “Games where we make 15 threes, it will look great, but these type of grind-it-out games where we have to get to the free-throw line and a team makes you play inside the 3-point line, being able to win a game like that is definitely big for us.”
Is the current style of play sustainable for the Kings? That’s the million-dollar question.
The early trends are promising. The aggressive play is a tremendous improvement over what the Kings managed last season, but they have to continue on this path.
Sacramento will have another opportunity to further establish its new brand of basketball on Sunday against the same Suns team on the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back.
There is plenty of room for improvement, but developing this type of personality as a team is a valuable first step in becoming a competitive basketball team.