Dave Joerger

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

Frustrated Kings enduring most disappointing season in over a decade

SACRAMENTO -- The last thing the Kings needed Wednesday evening was a visit from Luka Doncic. The budding superstar, who the team passed on during the 2018 NBA Draft, ran over Sacramento on the way to his NBA leading 12th triple-double of the season. 

Adding to the frustration of the night, with a 127-123 loss, Sacramento fell 11 games under .500 and finished the first half of the season at 15-26. They currently sit five games behind last season’s 20-21 record at the midway point and they are in 14th place in the Western Conference standings.

The Kings are lost. They are 3-12 over their last 15 games and they are about to hit their longest road trip of the season, beginning Saturday in Utah. 

If ever there were a soft spot in an NBA schedule, the Kings just went through one. They played 10 out of 12 at home with seven of those games against sub-.500 teams. They went just 2-8 at home over the stretch in front of near-sellout crowds. 

Fans booed during Monday’s loss against the Mavericks. It’s not the first time they’ve made their displeasure known this season and the way things are heading, it won’t be the last.

“Everybody is frustrated, it’s not even them, we’re trying to figure it out too,” Buddy Hield said following the loss. “But it’s the home team and we get booed...we don’t agree with it, but they’re going to voice their opinion.

“I understand their frustration, but like I said, I’m going to keep shooting the ball,” Hield continued. “When I make a three they like me, when I don’t, they hate you. That’s how Sacramento fans are, man, so you’ve got to embrace it.”

Hield is wrong. This is not how Sacramento fans are. They are loyal to a fault and at this point, they are being tested. 

Fans are voicing their angst because they feel like they were sold a “Super Team, just young” and now the Kings are neither super, nor young.  

After watching one of the most exciting teams in basketball last season, management made the decision to fire their coaching staff and start over. Instead of building on the success, the players were forced to learn a new system and terminology during an abbreviated training camp due to a trip to India. 

On Opening Night, the injury bug hit the Kings and hasn’t let up the entire season. The team looks disjointed and out of sync, although they have enough talent to make every game close.

This isn’t a Luke Walton issue, despite the fan rhetoric. Yes, he has an over-reliance on a few veterans, but he’s also had his core of Hield, De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Harrison Barnes, Richaun Holmes and Bogdan Bogdanovic healthy for just one game this season. 

Not only has this group of players missed a combined 59 games, they rarely have practiced together or had time to build any continuity in a new system. Getting everyone healthy is only going to create its own set of issues.  

We can talk about the 19 games decided by five points or less. We can talk about the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report. We can talk about missed draft picks or bad free agent signings. There is a litany of issues that are either reasons or excuses for the Sacramento Kings.

The fact is, this is the most disappointing first half to any season since 2006-07 when the Kings’ streak of missing the postseason began. Watching Doncic tear through the team was just salt in an open wound.

[RELATED: Holmes back at practice, but weeks away from Kings return]

These are the questions facing a Kings franchise in complete disarray. 

Is it too late to turn the season around? 

No, but the clock is ticking.

How does this situation get better? 

Luck, better health, and an epiphany moment where the core players understand the system, play extended minutes together and find a rhythm.

Is it possible that moment comes this season? 

Yes, but a lot of damage has been done. The record is one issue, but the confidence of the team would have to completely change. They may not have the leader behind the scenes to fight through the adversity they are currently facing.

Were expectations too high?

Absolutely not. This is the most talented roster the Kings have had in over a decade. They have four top-seven draft picks in their starting lineup and enough role players to fill in the gaps. They won 39 games last season and that number would have been closer to 42 if they didn’t collapse in the final week of the season.

When do people start losing their jobs over this?

It doesn’t sound like that’s happening anytime soon.

This isn’t how anyone saw the first half going for the Kings. They are on pace to win 30 games this season and finish outside the postseason picture for a 14th consecutive season. They have not only lost massive amounts of time due to injury, but also major development time for some of their young players.

The team needs a solid second half to the season to assess where they are moving forward. If they post one similar to what we’re seen through the first 41 games, someone needs to be held accountable.

Kings might have made playoffs last season in NBA's proposed changes

Kings might have made playoffs last season in NBA's proposed changes

Change is inevitable. Whether it’s a playoff recalibration or an in-season tournament, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is looking for an update according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski.

Any rule changes the NBA makes, whether it’s reducing the schedule to 78 games, having a play-in to get into the postseason or reseeding the playoffs based on record and not conference, needs NBPA approval and wouldn’t take place until 2021-22, the league’s 75th anniversary season.

There is a lot to be hashed out between now and then. A long list of items could get pared down to one or two major changes, or the league could go for broke and see what works and what doesn’t.

One of the more interesting items on the list that might affect the Kings is the potential for a play-in series to get into playoffs.

According to Wojnarowski, teams with the seventh and eighth-best records in each conference would battle to see who gets the seventh seed. At the same time, a second game would take place between the ninth and tenth place teams. The loser of the seventh-eighth game would then play the winner of the ninth/tenth game to see who would land the eighth seed in the playoffs.

Under this design, the Kings actually would have had an opportunity to make the postseason last year. They finished with a record of 39-43 and would have faced off with Luke Walton’s Los Angeles Lakers. The winner of that game would have gone on to play the loser of a game between the San Antonio Spurs and Los Angeles Clippers.

It’s an interesting concept that might have actually led to better basketball by the Kings and other teams down the stretch of the season. Would Minnesota have fought to catch the Lakers or the Kings? Would LeBron James have sat out seven of the final eight games for LA? Would Dave Joerger have pulled his starters in the second half of the team’s final game of the season in Portland?

Major League Baseball has a similar play-in setup in which two wild-card teams play a single game to see which advances to the playoffs. After 162 baseball games, it hardly feels right to watch everything come down to one game, but it might work in basketball.

[RELATED: Why injured Kings should give Giles a look to boost offense]

A playoff play-in could also solve at least some of the league’s issues with tanking. Teams would be incentivized to at least try to stick in the race down the stretch, although there likely would still be a group that is eliminated early from playoff contention.

All of these proposed changes are intriguing. It’s hard to project whether they might impact a future season for the Kings, but if there is a chance of increasing a postseason berth for the team, owner Vivek Ranadivé and his group should vote yes when all of this comes up at the board of governors meetings.

Kings player profile: De'Aaron Fox can make another leap in third year

Kings player profile: De'Aaron Fox can make another leap in third year

When Kings general manager Vlade Divac selected De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 selection in the 2017 NBA Draft, he was all in on the point guard out of Kentucky. Divac is looking like a genius just two years into Fox's career.

Fox took a massive leap in his sophomore season, and his improvement helped lead the Kings to their best win total in more than a decade.

Even more exciting for Kings fans is that Fox isn’t even close to his ceiling, and he could jump into the upper echelon of NBA point guards after another summer of growth. 

Expectations remain high for Fox. He quickly is becoming the floor general that the team has been searching for, and his potential is off the charts.


Fox is the fastest player in the league, and there is no question that then-Kings coach Dave Joerger designed his entire offense around the 6-foot-3 guard last season. Joerger is gone, but Fox is still the centerpiece to what the Kings hope to accomplish. New coach Luke Walton has an offense tailor-made for Fox and a fleet of shooters to surround him.

When Fox is at his best, he’s running downhill and attacking the defense. Opponents slowly adjusted to the Kings’ hurry-up offense last season, but Fox still managed huge statistical increases across the board. In his second NBA season, he posted 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 31.4 minutes per game.

A slasher by nature, Fox shot an impressive 68.7 percent at the rim, and that was four percentage points better than his rookie campaign. In fact, Fox improved his shooting percentage from every area on the floor. That included a 37.1 percent rate from beyond the 3-point line, up from his 30.7 percent he shot the year before.

As a passer, Fox posted a 7.3-to-2.8 assist-to-turnover ratio, a huge improvement over the 4.4-to-2.4 he posted in his first season. Fox’s assist percentage jumped from 24.6 as a rookie to 33.2 in year two, while his usage rate barely spiked from 23.4 to 24.5.

In short, Fox improved on the offensive end in almost every conceivable way in year two. Still just 21 years old, there is no reason to believe he won’t take another stride forward in year three.

Fox made strides on the defensive end as well, although he still has occasional lapses. When he’s locked in, Fox has the ability to stay in front of any player in the league. He has gotten bigger and stronger, which will help him fight through screens and hold his position.

He plays the passing lanes well, and Fox finished ninth in the league in steals at 1.6 per game last year. He even managed to block 45 shots last season from the point-guard position.


In year two, Fox took a hammer to his weaknesses from his rookie campaign. He clearly was stronger in his second season, and he had a much better gameplan coming into each contest. Fox also improved his assist-to-turnover rate and, he found his range from long distance.

While he took strides, his shot chart still looks like a shotgun spray pattern. This is an issue common with young players that should improve with time.

One of the glaring issues he had on the floor was from three-to-10 feet of the basket where he took 280 attempts. Fox hit just 35.7 percent of those shots. That was his lowest percentage from any spot, but the area accounted for his second-most attempts. He could use a floater in this range, or just lower his volume.

While Fox did greatly improve on offense, he still needs to be more aggressive and perhaps even a little more selfish. He has an opportunity to be an elite scorer and distributor, but he needs to break down his opponent more often to collapse the defense and create easier opportunities for his teammates.

Fox increased his free-throw attempts from 195 to 417, but still shot just 72.7 percent from the line. As he gets established in the league, he is going to get a lot more attempts based on his style of play and overall improvement. Fox needs to capitalize on those chances.

As a defender, Fox has moments where he lets off the gas, which is understandable when you consider the pace that he plays on the offensive end. He needs to continue to build strength to fight through screens and he’ll need to use his length and quickness in Walton’s switching defense this season.

Fox took a huge leap on the defensive end, but there is another step he can take as an on-ball defender. Learning from a veteran like Cory Joseph might help him develop even further.

Path to Improvement

To steal a line from last season’s profile, “pick a spot, any spot.” Fox slightly refined his shooting areas on the floor, but still needs to hone in on three or four hot spots on the floor to rely on. At the rim, a floater in the lane, a pull up 17-18-foot jumper on the left side and the elbow 3-pointer are good places to start.

Fox is continuing to get stronger and grow into his role as a leader. With USA Basketball this summer, he played at roughly 10 pounds heavier than last season, but Fox needs to find a way to maintain his body throughout the rigors of an 82-game schedule. 

His spike in 3-point percentage last season was remarkable, but Fox needs to continue to refine his perimeter shot to keep defenses honest. If he can knock down 40 percent of his shots from behind the arc, he can become an elite offensive player.

There is a very good chance that Fox will see a major uptick in foul calls this season just from the officials learning his game and his added weight and strength. Fox needs to continue to attack the rim, but also improve his free throw shooting. If he knocked down 83 percent instead of 73 percent from the stripe last year, it would have equated to an additional half-a-point per game.

A look into Fox’s field goal percentages showed a fourth-quarter dip and also a slump in January and February building up to the All-Star break. Added strength and stamina should help with both of these issues. Playing in the same up-tempo style for a second season should allow him to better pace himself as well. 

Willie Cauley-Stein was a major target for Fox in the pick-and-roll during the last two seasons, but he now is a member of the Warriors. Fox needs to quickly build a rapport with newcomers Dewayne Dedmon, Richaun Holmes and Marvin Bagley III, who will see an increased role this season.

[RELATED: Kings fan Hasan Minhaj uses Vlade to make fine-print point]


Fox looks like a budding star, and he has the potential to be a top-three point guard in the NBA. How long it takes him to achieve his potential is up to him.

The Kings have surrounded Fox with shooters and an elite post scorer in Bagley. Fox should have plenty of running lanes to break down the defense and create for others.

Expect Fox to take another substantial leap in his third NBA season. He has improved his jumper, worked on his strength and spent time with the national team, having legendary San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich demand that the budding star attacks the basket.

In his third season, Fox has the potential to jump into the 20-point, nine-assists, five-rebound range, which is in line with his per-36 minute numbers from last season. He likely will get more calls from the officials, and another summer of preparation should help his fourth-quarter numbers.