Are the Sacramento Kings this Year’s Version of the 2023 Miami Heat?

Are the Sacramento Kings this Year’s Version of the 2023 Miami Heat? article feature image
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(Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images). Pictured: Domantas Sabonis #10 and De’Aaron Fox #5.

Last season, the Miami Heat proved that a play-in team can make it to the NBA Finals. But what if I told you there's another team in a similar situation this season that could also make a run at a conference title?

For almost two decades, the Sacramento Kings were essentially an afterthought in the Western Conference, with 16 straight losing seasons. Sacramento's ineptness prompted a shake-up in its front office, with Monte McNair replacing Vlade Divac as general manager and president of basketball operations before the 2020 season.

But McNair had yet to hire his own coach since he had inherited Luke Walton from the previous regime. Walton went just 68-93 (.422) as Kings head coach and was fired after a 6-11 start to the 2021 campaign.

Alvin Gentry took over on an interim basis for the remainder of the season but did little to distinguish himself after posting a 24-41 record. McNair then hired Mike Brown in 2022, and the Kings went on to win 48 games last season en route to the third seed in the Western Conference. Sacramento hosted the defending champion Warriors in the first round and took a 2-0 lead in the series before losing in seven games.

This season, the West is even more competitive. The Kings have 36 wins through 62 games compared to 37 last year, but this time, they're currently the sixth seed and just three-hundredths of a point ahead of the seventh-seeded Suns.

Nonetheless, there are some striking similarities between this Kings team and Miami's squad from a season ago, which could point to a reason for optimism come playoff time.

Beat the top teams in your conference

While there's no question Miami has an ultra competitor come playoff time in Jimmy Butler, it already laid the foundation for a deep playoff run last year after holding its own against the best teams in the Eastern Conference during the regular season.

Against the top four seeded teams in the East last year (Bucks, Celtics, 76ers and Cavaliers), the Heat went 8-7 and didn't have a losing record against any of them. Moreover, Miami had a 4-4 mark on the road against those teams.

Through 62 games, Miami's 33-29 record was even three games behind Sacramento's current record this season. Per NBA.com, Miami had a -0.6 net rating at that point in the season, while the Kings are almost an entire point better through the same amount of games this year with a +0.5 value.

According to SportsOddsHistory.com, Miami's odds of winning the conference in March last year were +3000, while Sacramento's current odds to win the Western Conference range from +3000 to +4000.

The Kings have also shown an ability to punch above their weight. Against the current top four teams in the West (Timberwolves, Thunder, Nuggets and Clippers), the Kings are 8-5 and 4-3 on the road.

My list of contenders also includes the Lakers, who many regard as a dangerous team despite currently being the 10th seed. Even the possibility of facing the Lakers in the first round had Denver's Nikola Jokić questioning whether winning the No. 1 seed is worth it.

"If you're the top seed, and you're not playing good, I think that's not good, and you [can] lose in the first round, especially [with] how the West is really tough," Jokic said to reporters after a recent win. "Nobody wants Lakers in the first round."

However, one team that might not mind facing the Lakers is the Kings, given their 3-0 edge in the season series.

Although Sacramento is just a few percentage points ahead of the Phoenix Suns, it has the softer remaining schedule. According to Tankathon.com, the Kings' remaining opponents have a combined .517 win percentage. In contrast, the Suns have the most challenging remaining slate in the league with an opponent win percentage of .570.

Therefore, the Kings should have the edge in staying out of the play-in tournament.

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Kings remain overlooked to win the Western Conference

Below is a list of Western Conference odds at Caesars, which I'll convert to percentages to determine their implied probabilities. An implied probability is essentially the likelihood of an outcome occurring based on the odds offered by the sportsbook.

However, sportsbooks include an added margin called an overround in their odds to increase their likelihood of profitability regardless of the outcome. We know the margin exists because when we add up the probabilities, we'll find they're greater than 100%.

TeamOdds to Win Western ConferenceImplied Probabilities
Nuggets+18535.09%
Clippers+23529.85%
Thunder+55015.38%
Suns+9509.52%
Timberwolves+14006.67%
Lakers+15006.25%
Mavericks+16005.88%
Warriors+20004.76%
Pelicans+22004.35%
Kings+40002.44%
Rockets+800000.12%
Jazz+800000.12%
Grizzlies+2000000.05%
Spurs+2500000.04%
Trail Blazers+2500000.04%
                     Overround  =120.57%

Thus, the implied probability or likelihood of an event occurring is skewed toward the sportsbooks' benefit. To get the actual likelihood or true odds of winning our bet, we divide our implied probability by the sum of all implied probabilities.

After performing the calculation, we'll find that the Kings' true odds to win the Western Conference are 2.02% (2.44%/120.57%).

However, I project Sacramento's true odds to be closer to 3.5% because I think the market is too high on the Suns, Warriors and Mavericks. Phoenix is 2-5 against the top four teams in the West, Dallas is 3-8 against those opponents and Golden State is 2-12.

Determining a team's future value is not a perfect science. As a result, bettors can have a bit more latitude because the process is entirely subjective.

This exercise hopefully demonstrates that Sacramento has had better success against the top teams in the conference than those with even shorter odds. More importantly, it's shown an ability to win on the road.

While I recognize that the playoff atmosphere is entirely different from the regular season, there's certainly a path forward for the Kings to win the West after what we saw Miami accomplish as a lower seed a season ago.

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Nick Sterling
May 21, 2024 UTC