As this goes to press, rumors are flying all around NBA Twitter of Buddy Hield seeking a max extension after his rookie deal expires this year. De’Aaron Fox, meanwhile, will surely be in the same camp if he has another season like his breakout year in 2018-19.
So it looks like the Sacramento Kings have big aspirations, but they’re going to have to prove it on the court this year if they’re really going to be able to say—with their wallets as well as their words—that they have the next big superstar backcourt on the West Coast to rival the Warriors and Trail Blazers.
Vegas, meanwhile, has an opinion, as it always does, and its projection of 37 wins for a team that went 39-43 a year ago and hung around the playoff conversation all the way up to the All-Star Game suggests that they’re not sold and don’t think enough of the betting public is sold either to move that line.
So let’s get into the numbers and figure out just what Sacramento’s got. Is it gold? Or fool’s gold?
2018-19 record: 39-43
2019-20 over/under: 37
Last year, the three best players, in order, according to VORP on the Kings were Willie Cauley-Stein (2.3), Hield (2.1), and Fox (2.0).
But wait a minute, that’s a bunch of guys above the Mendoza Line! Surely, even if Fox and Hield are both savagely overrated and not worth anywhere near a max deal (Fox might be if he breaks out this year, Hield not so much), that’s still everything you need to put together a solid 40-45 win team, right? More than 37 at any rate!
Hield hit 42.9 percent of his 7.9 attempts per game from long range. Fox shot 37.1 percent on 2.9 attempts per game. And Harrison Barnes, as bad as he is on the advanced stats (.084 WS/48 and 0.2 VORP in Sacramento, a massive bump up from his negative-VORP season he was barfing out in Dallas before he got traded), still hit 40.8 percent of his threes in a Kings uniform while averaging 4.6 attempts a game.
Sacramento, as a team last year, was a lot like the Pacers, Clippers, and Spurs. Low 3PAR (.321, sixth-lowest) but super high-efficiency (37.8 percent, fourth-best in the league.)
So let’s not sleep on that Fox/Hield connection just yet.
Cauley-Stein isn’t on the team anymore. He was, by advanced stats, their best player, but it’s hard to take stats seriously that overvalue big men as much as WS/48 tends to when trying to compare a center to a guard. That’s just a quirk of NBA math you can easily fool yourself with (Clint Capela. Look him up on Basketball Reference. Or Boban Marjanovic for that matter…dude’s got more career WS/48 than Michael Jordan.)
So the question becomes “do you believe in Harry Giles?”
Giles, in 14.1 minutes per game as a rookie, posted 17.9 points and 9.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, but his advanced stats were not kind—a dreadful minus-3.0 offensive BPM, a 0.0 VORP, and just .056 WS/48…for a big man, with all the caveats about that stat I just gave.
In other words…possibly a dumpster fire.
But he’s entering his age-21 season, so there’s room to grow. He’d better, because right now he’s a one-man five-win regression out there.
On the Other Hand…
Bagley is also a year older, and his advanced stats were decent for a rookie just learning the system on a bad team.
If he makes the leap in Year 2 the way Fox did last year, there’s Sacramento’s five wins back.
By the gods, Sacramento even made a serviceable NBA player (not a good one, but a modestly decent one, as opposed to “complete trash”, which he was before) out of Harrison Barnes.
I know Dave Joerger’s not coaching this team anymore, Luke Walton has those responsibilities now, finally liberated from the malebolge that is the Los Angeles Lakers.
But I’ll say flat out that Walton is not to be blamed for having a roster of crap his first year and LeBron James‘ attitude problem in Year 2. The dude coached Golden State to the longest winning streak to start a season in the history of not just the NBA but all of professional sports—the record had stood from MLB since the 19th century.
So the coach is at worst a wash. The roster is young guys getting better, one guy departing with the most WS/48 and VORP on the team but being replaced in a sense by an up-and-coming second-year player, while the backcourt, already excellent, plays for a big-money contract next year.
That’s supposed to only win 37 games?
Do I think the Kings will make the playoffs? Probably not.
Do I think they’ll at least win the 39 they won last year? Absolutely.
Are they good? Plausible and I’m taking the over.
NEXT: Los Angeles Clippers.