- The Sacramento Kings have started the season 5-3, covering the spread in six of their eight games.
- De'Aaron Fox's play is the biggest driving force behind the Kings' surprising leap so far this season.
This column is not about believing in the Kings.
After poring over the NBA for the past 10 years, you start noticing things — such as when a team has that “it” factor early on (2010-11 Mavericks) or when a team’s chemistry seems off.
And you learn that sometimes you buy in with clear eyes and full hearts and you lose in October and November. There are always teams that burst out of the gates in the first 45 days of the season only to eventually become what we thought they were to start the season.
I refer to these as “mirror teams.” They play one way until early-to-mid December, and then it seems like they catch a reflection of themselves and realize, “Oh, we suck. I remember now.”
The Magic have done this to me a handful of times. You learn not to buy in.
So while this Kings’ start — 5-3 straight up and 6-2 against the spread — is encouraging, we must remain cautious. This could end at any moment.
Hope is the most fragile flower for the Kings, and the wind could blow it right out of their hands at any moment, straight into the industrial-grade shredder of the West.
That said … boy are they playing well (for them). And that part is key. If the Kings were No. 1 in a bunch of categories, I’d be able to pass this off more easily. Instead, they’re a middle-of-the-pack team with middle-of-the-pack stats with a middle-of-the-pack resume.
If you get past that they are The Kangz, there’s reason for (extremely cautious) optimism.
THE GOOD-NOT-GREAT KINGDOM
The Kings are currently 14th in Offensive Rating, 15th in Defensive Rating and second in pace according to NBA.com. They’re playing fast and, after an unreasonably hot start, have cooled off but not sunken to the bottom of the offensive ocean.
They are seventh in Basketball Reference’s SRS, which factors strength of schedule and point differential. What’s wild is that they have only one bad loss on the books: their early season devastation in Denver.
I was at that game, and it stands as a great example of what beat writers and national media can fall victim to, the anecdotal evidence fallacy.
The Kings were awful that game. Nemanja Bjelica, who has been terrific this season, was a disaster. De’Aaron Fox was 2-for-8 and a minus-22. The Kings shot 52% from the field and 42% from 3-point range and still lost by 14 and were never really in the game.
Other than that contest, they hung with the very good Jazz in the opener, lost to the then-red-hot Pelicans, and have four straight wins, including victories over playoff hopefuls Miami and Memphis. They even won on a back to back in Orlando.
The point here is that the Kings haven’t been world beaters. They are simply outperforming the very low expectations set for them by, well, everyone.
FOX AND HIELD HOUNDING
Fox is the biggest change year over year. He’s shown so much more control.
“(The game slowing down for me) started to happen last year,” Fox told The Action Network last week. “But going into the summer and thinking about the game and things I could get better at, I feel like the game is much easier for me. I’m seeing things I didn’t see last year.”
Here he spots Goran Dragic take two steps over and immediately switches and rifles an overhand pass. His placement on this ball is great, even if Iman Shumpert winds up taking a slightly contested 3.
Fox is averaging 1.5 steals per game, top 20 in the league so far. He’s just a smarter, better player, and having a guy like that driving the weapons they have is huge.
If Fox is crafty, Buddy Hield is just overpowering. He’s launching fast-break 3s and converting at a high rate, shooting a 71% effective field goal percentage in transition.
He’s shooting 84.6% (!) as a spot-up shooter. He’s filling the gaps and that’s huge.
Those two combined with Willie Cauley-Stein — who clearly added a lot of muscle the past two years and has generated an inside-out pick-and-roll force that’s tough to beat — provide some nice building blocks.
The Kings are favored in Atlanta as a road team for the first time in almost a year; the last time was December of 2017. The Hawks are pesky and fast. This will be an up-and-down game.
But as we look forward, the Kings aren’t blowing the doors off people, and that might be the best sign yet that this is actual growth and not just a hot start. Fingers crossed, the Kings may finally be getting it together.