There are teenagers in Northern California who have never seen the Sacramento Kings qualify for the playoffs in their lifetimes. And that is an eye opening fact that isn’t lost on anyone with the Kings, from star guard De’Aaron Fox to general manager Vlade Divac to owner Vivek Ranadivé.
With the 2019-20 NBA season kick-off just a few short weeks away, the Sacramento Kings enter the year with renewed optimism and a burning desire to end the franchise’s lengthy playoff drought. League-wide respect was earned a year ago, but now the Kings covet more.
King of the Rosters
Divac has led a tremendous revitalization of the roster in a short period, accruing multiple tantalizing prospects in De’Aaron Fox, Marvin Bagley, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harry Giles and Harrison Barnes. He has restocked the roster with a complimentary mix of shooting, athleticism, and skill.
This past offseason, Vlade realized what he had with the aforementioned young core and opted to spend his abundant cap space on multiple role players who on paper should fit right in and help in numerous areas.
The free agent group of Cory Joseph, Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza and Richaun Holmes aren’t sexy and won’t get any headlines, but they are all proven NBA veterans who by and large come from winning organizations and are willing and able to fit in to their specific roles around the incumbent young roster.
The season has yet to start, but on paper the Kings’ roster makes sense. Third-year point guard De’Aaron Fox leads and orchestrates an offensive attack that reached a new peak last season, with breakneck pace and running at every turn. Surrounded by dynamic three-point shooting and athletic bigs, who line up both rims, the Kings hope to utilize their unique style to become a playoff contender this season.
Marvin Bagley returns for his second year, more than ready to build on a promising rookie campaign. Bagley has all the tools to be a 20 & 10 guy for the next 10 years plus. Still only 20-years-old, Bagley is a tremendous offensive talent, skilled on both blocks and extending his jump shot to the NBA 3 point line. He is also an outstanding rebounder, consistently attacking the glass and gobbling up rebounds outside of his area.
It’s hard to believe this will be Buddy Hield‘s fourth season, but it is. The Oklahoma alumnus has improved steadily each year, become a model of durability, and is unquestionably one of the premiere shooters in the league. He is viewed as a perfect complement to De’Aaron Fox in the backcourt, with each of their styles and skills contrasting beautifully with the other.
Sacramento vs. The West
A season ago, the Kings snuck up on the league and wildly outperformed expectations. They finished at 39-43 (their best record in 14 years) and remained in the thick of the playoff race for the majority of the season. They won’t be afforded the luxury of sneaking up on anybody this year, and the Western Conference as a whole continues to be a nightly gauntlet.
Kawhi Leonard signed with the Clippers and brought along Paul George. Anthony Davis was dealt to the Lakers. Rookie phenom Zion Williamson was drafted by the Pelicans. Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis have formed a daunting duo in Dallas. Utah added Mike Conley, and the Warriors lost Kevin Durant but acquired All-Star guard DeAngelo Russell. All of those moves are in addition to the other teams considered locks. The Nuggets, the Blazers, the Rockets, etc.
To put it bluntly, it has never been more difficult to make the playoffs.
The offseason also saw a coaching change. After three seasons at the helm, Dave Joerger is out, and Luke Walton is in. Divac made the controversial decision of removing Joerger and his staff after a season where the Kings outperformed expectations. Walton is seen as a bright X’s and O’s guy, a progressive thinking coach who has embraced the propensity of a high volume of threes and a very fast-paced offensive attack. Seemingly, that is a perfect match with this roster.
Luke Walton guided the Lakers to improvements in his first and second years as head coach, before the Lakers massively disappointed a year ago. There is plenty of blame to go around for those failures, from LeBron James, to LeBron’s agent Rich Paul with the incessant distractions of the Anthony Davis trade saga, to Magic Johnson to Luke himself. He comes to Sacramento thrilled to inherit the talented young core and a fresh start.
Fox, Hield, or Bagley?
For Sacramento to build on last year and take that next step to the 42-47 win mark, it is my view that they will need Fox, Hield or Bagley to make the leap into All-Star caliber player. The Kings have a talented roster, but haven’t secured that one player who gets the ball at the end of a close game. The best of the best have that guy. Think LeBron, Giannis, Harden, Curry, Leonard, Lillard.
Given their youth, the consistent improvement and tireless work ethic Fox, Hield and Bagley shown, it is entirely plausible that any one, or all three, of them can make that leap.
Personally, I do think this is the year the Kings break through into the playoffs. With the strong group of free agent role players to supplement the break out potential of the core, I think Sacramento has enough pieces to be a 45 win team, play into late April, and have the Golden 1 Center host its first playoff action.
Western Conference Standings Prediction:
- LA Clippers 58-24
- Utah Jazz 53-29
- Houston Rockets 52-30
- Denver Nuggets 52-30
- LA Lakers 51-31
- Golden State Warriors 47-35
- Portland Trail Blazers 46-36
- Sacramento Kings 45-37
- San Antonio Spurs 43-39
- Dallas Mavericks 40-42
- New Orleans Pelicans 37-45
- Minnesota Timberwolves 35-47
- Oklahoma City Thunder 34-48
- Phoenix Suns 28-54
- Memphis Grizzlies 24-58
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings