Two years ago this month, the Sacramento Kings ended the DeMarcus Cousins experiment. It was a relief for everyone involved. Cousins was always a flawed talent. He was spectacular in offensive sets, unguardable, a scorer’s heart and ego, a competitor who had trouble with composure and maturity, a big that could drop 30 in a second and go on runs, skilled enough to finish at the rim and win games for you, and a talent who could lose games for you because he was too into his feelings. The Sacramento Kings sun revolved around the moodiness of their All-Star and finally they cut the cord and called their experiment a failure. They never made the playoffs. They were close to the playoffs- never but I suppose it was some kid of moral victory when they won 33 games in 2015-16. Already, the rebuilt Kings have won 30 games and are jostling for the 8th seed with the Clippers. That will end a grand playoff drought that lasted 9 coaches. (Erick Musselman, Paul Westphal, Keith Smart, Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, George Karl, and the current coach Dave Joerger). One arena was put to bed and another built. The ghosts of Chris Webber, Mike Bibby and Peja Stojavic are no longer visible in the dog days of another Kings failure. The Kings are back.
Not Western Conference back but back in terms of relevance. De’Aaron Fox in year two is showing he has all the makings of a top-5 point guard. Buddy Hield is shooting the lights out the ball. Willie Cauley Stein has gotten better each and every year. The Kings push the ball at a hectic pace, draining threes, running up and down and reminding the faithful of their glory years, but doing it in a different kind of way because they are so young.
They rank 9th in scoring, assists and steals. 4th in 3-point percentage. 1st in fast break points. 4th in bench scoring.
Teams such as the Lakers, Orlando, and Phoenix have struggled with rebuilding so how has it happened so fast for the Kings?
- When they flipped Boogie they got rookie Buddy Hield. Most teams (and fans) put way too much emphasis on a shooter’s first year. That is his apprenticeship. Look at year number three, traditionally when players talent rises to the top. Buddy is averaging 20 ppg and is shooting 44% from three. Every team needs a talented three point shot guru and the Kings traded for one who is 26 years old.
- They drafted well out of the lottery. Willie Cauley Stein was a 6th pick. De’Aaron Fox was a 5th pick, Marvin Bagley was a number 2 pick.
- They changed their identity. Last year, they were 30th in pace. This year they are 4th.
It has been a long while since the Kings were a fun watch on any night of the week and a threat to turn the page, finally, from the good old days. Losing an All-Star was supposed to continue their slide but the opposite has happened. Hield and Fox average 29 shots total which is a James Harden stat line many a night. The Kings are unselfish and move the ball.
If they don’t make it to the playoffs, it is their defense that will keep them home. They score less points than they allow, more than a point more. That is a recipe for being the 9th seed. Their guards who do all the scoring are their worst defenders and in the west that is going to get you humbled on many nights.
But they haven’t been this good this late, record wise, since the last year they made the playoffs. At the break in 2006, they won 29 games. This year, they have won 30 games.
12 years without a postseason. George Bush was president when the Kings lost in the first round to the Spurs, a 6 game series. In 4 of the 6 games, they didn’t score 100 points. Things are a changing in Sac-town. Scoring is what Sacramento does best. Scoring will get them a shot at the Warriors in late April (if the defense holds serve).