Sacramento is very much in the playoff race 20 games into the schedule.
The Sacramento Kings beat the New Orleans Pelicans 118-109 on Monday for their fourth win in their last five outings. The Kings are 9-11 after 20 games and are sitting 1.5 games out of the No. 8 seed.
The organization underwent several changes during the offseason, jettisoning former GM Vlade Divac in favor of Monte McNair. Sacramento also let Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles, Kent Bazemore and Alex Len walk in free agency.
McNair signed Hassan Whiteside, Glenn Robinson III and Chimezie Metu to help round out the rotation, but his most significant addition came at the 2020 NBA Draft. Tyrese Haliburton fell to the Kings at No. 12, and he is in contention for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.
The 20-year-old is averaging 10.7 points, 5.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds per game while shooting a tidy 40.9 percent from beyond the arc. Haliburton’s impact goes beyond the numbers. He gives Walton another playmaker on the offensive end and is doing well holding his own on defense.
Walton’s record through 20 games is similar to what it was during his inaugural year with the team. Here is how Sacramento’s numbers compare through 20 games from last season to this season. (All stats per NBA.com)
2019-20: 8-12 record, 104.9 points per game (opponents scoring 108.8), 35.1% shooting from the 3-point line, 41.9 rebounds per game.
2020-21: 9-11 record, 113.4 points per game (opponents scoring 119.2), 37.7% shooting from the 3-point line, 43.4 rebounds per game.
Here are some of the advanced from the last two seasons:
2019-20: 106.3 offensive rating, -3.7 net rating, 98.31 PACE (possessions per game), 55.1 true shooting percentage.
2020-21: 111.8 offensive rating, -5.8 net rating, 100.85 PACE, 57.6 true shooting percentage.
One of the things Walton said he wanted to improve is how fast the Kings play. The team is averaging 2.54 more possessions this season and shooting at a better rate. The emergence of De’Aaron Fox has helped with this as well. Fox appears to have taken the next step in his career and is more comfortable pulling up from deep.
Offensively, Sacramento has been better through 20 games in every category. The team’s assist percentage has improved by 2.6% this season, illustrating that the Kings are doing a better job sharing the ball and finding teammates in better scoring positions.
Haliburton’s shooting has helped Sacramento become a top-10 team from beyond the arc. Buddy Hield has rediscovered his shooting touch, while veteran Harrison Barnes is more aggressive attacking the basket.
The defense has taken a step back compared to the 2019-20 campaign. The Kings are giving up 2.1 more points per 100 possessions and giving up 10.9 more points per game. Playing at a faster pace has increased scoring opportunities for the opponents, but Sacramento’s perimeter defense is a big reason why the team gives up the second-most points out of any NBA team.
The Kings are surrendering 4.7 more points in the paint per game this year. The wings are getting beaten too often on penetration, while big men like Holmes, Richaun Holmes, and Marvin Bagley III are doing a decent job of rotating, the second rotation has often been too slow, resulting in some easy buckets for opposing big men. The team is scrambling too often on the defensive, which is allowing their opponents to hit 39.2% of their three-point attempts, fourth-highest in the NBA.
The good news is that they have been doing much better on the defensive end over the last five games. Sacramento is surrendering 107.6 points over its last five and has won four of those outings.
One thing that has carried over from last season is inconsistency, with both editions of the team going through poor stretches early in the schedule. The 2019-20 squad lost five in a row to begin the season, then went 4-1 in the following five games. The team was 7-8 before losing four out of their next five.
This year’s edition has also had its ups-and-downs. They started 3-1 and followed that up by a 1-5 stretch. The Kings then lost four in a row before their recent 4-1 run.
The Kings have enough talent to hang around the playoff picture. Hopefully, the next 20 games don’t send any postseason hopes out the window, similar to how things went last season.
With Fox and Bagley missing long stretches due to injuries, Sacramento went 7-13 and sat 15-25 after 40 games last season. The Kings haven’t had to deal with any serious injuries to their best players, and if they can continue to stay healthy, the team has an excellent opportunity to be in the playoff race after 40 contests this season.
Sacramento has a tough four-game stretch coming where each opponent has a winning record. Things will get easier before we hit the mid-way point of this season’s schedule. The Kings will face teams who currently have a losing record six times in 10 games between Feb. 12-28 before playing the Los Angeles Lakers and Portland Trail Blazers prior to the break.
What are your thoughts on the Kings’ first 20 games of the season?