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.
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.
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.
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.