The Sacramento Kings flaws are apparent in their losses

Dec 15, 2023, 2:41 PM | Updated: 4:04 pm

LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives during the NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and t...

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 12: LA Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard (2) drives during the NBA game between the Sacramento Kings and the Los Angeles Clippers on December 12, 2023, at Arena in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

More than a quarter through the 2023-24 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings own a 14-9 record, ranking them fifth in the crowded Western Conference. Somehow, they have only lost to four teams throughout their first 23 games.

They fell twice to the Houston Rockets, Golden State Warriors, and Los Angeles Clippers and on three occasions to the New Orleans Pelicans — including a high-stake In-Season Tournament matchup.

At the same time, they’ve taken a game from each of the four teams above them in the standings: Minnesota Timberwolves, Denver Nuggets, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks.

So, what is it about those matchups that cause the Sacramento Kings to struggle? The first number that stands out is their 120.2 offensive rating in wins compared to 105.5 in losses. The current lowest offensive rating in the league, per NBA Stats, is 106.0, which the San Antonio Spurs own.

Also, the Rockets (2), Clippers (6), Pelicans (13), and Warriors (15) all have defensive ratings in the top half of the league. Sacramento has scored less than 100 points in four of their nine losses and never converted more than 46.5 percent from three.

Houston’s two consecutive road losses are somewhat of an outlier in this conversation. The Kings were playing without star guard De’Aaron Fox, who has emerged as their clear best player and could find himself on some MVP ballots if he keeps it up. Of course, that led to their offense in those games taking a massive hit in production — and the Rockets have been better than anticipated.

That’s not to take anything away from Houston, who were the more physical team in both matchups, but the Kings didn’t look like themselves without Fox. Three of their primary stylistic focuses this season are to play fast, physically, and together, which did not happen during their trip to Houston.

As for the Pelicans and Clippers, they have roster construction similarities, littered with large, versatile wings and forwards. New Orleans has Zion Williamson, Brandon Ingram, Trey Murphy III, Herb Jones, Naji Marshall, and Dyson Daniels. As for the Clippers, they have two star forwards, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Defensively, those players have been able to bother Sacramento’s tertiary pieces. Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Malik Monk have had fairly consistent production no matter the opponent, but Keegan Murray and Kevin Heurter seem to be more up-and-down.

In wins, Murray averages 15.2 points and 6.0 rebounds on 44.7/34.6/87.5 shooting splits. Conversely, those numbers fall to 10.3 points and 4.9 rebounds on 36.1/23.4/83.3 shooting.

As for Huerter, he’s tallied 13.8 points and 4.3 rebounds on 47.5/44.0/83.3 shooting in their wins. In losses, he’s recorded an average of 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds on 32.9/23.1/80.0.

The difference in their conversion rates is dramatic. Fox and Sabonis benefit from the ideal spacing their surrounding players often provide, but shots have not gone down at their typical rate to start the season.

Ironically, the Sacramento Kings have managed to create more ‘wide-open’ looks (no defender within six feet) for their shooters this season than the year prior, per NBA Stats. They just haven’t been knocking them down from there.

In 2022-23, they attempted 19.8 ‘wide-open’ triples per game and converted 39.0 percent of said looks. This season, their average has jumped to 22.9 attempts per game, but the conversion rate has fallen slightly to 38.5 percent, placing them right around the middle of the association.

Now, that’s not to place the blame entirely on Huerter and Murray, which would be unfair. As a team, the Sacramento Kings rank 18th in three-point percentage (36.3 percent), which factors into their worsened offensive rating.

Their conversion rates are the primary standout offensive statistic that varies in their wins and losses. It’s also worth noting that the Kings have lost all three of their second nights on back-to-back games, with two coming against the Clippers.

In those showings, there were notable differences in the consistency of their pace and defensive physicality that affected all aspects of their performance. The unideal offensive rates led to more transition attempts for the opposition, allowing them to avoid facing a set halfcourt defense in those moments.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that their defensive statistics also look significantly worse in losses. Their 111.2 defensive rating in wins slips to 120.9 through nine losses.

Teams have shot 50 percent or better from the field on eight occasions this season, with the Kings losing six. The fact that a handful of their shortcomings were blowouts may cause concern, but it’s tough to pinpoint a specific reason.

Maybe it’s the size that the aforementioned teams offer. Back-to-backs certainly play a factor, as do good shooters failing to knock down open looks (which should naturally even out over time).

After catching the league off guard with their stellar offense last season, the opposition is now well aware of the Sacramento Kings’ strengths, weaknesses, and playstyle every night. As head coach Mike Brown likes to say, they’ve gone from being the hunters to the hunted.

When asked about their wide margins of defeat, Brown pointed towards the 2017-18 Golden State Warriors, who lost nine games by 15+ points en route to a 58-24 regular season record that ended with them raising the Larry O’Brien trophy as NBA Champions. That’s not to say that this iteration of the Sacramento Kings is on par with those legendary Warriors’ teams, but more so an attempt to lessen any sense of panic.

So, while the Sacramento Kings recording four 15+ points losses a quarter into the season isn’t ideal, it’s viewed internally as a learning opportunity. They’ve bounced back after each loss, showing a remaining sense of composure.

Defensively, the Kings lack the personnel to excel, just as they did last season. The increased emphasis on improving that end via physicality has likely affected their offensive production at times, but every team goes through an adjustment period at the start of a new season.

The fact that Sacramento has been defeated by four teams in 23 games may be a coincidence and/or a product of scheduling. Or, something about those rosters and playstyles genuinely causes trouble. No matter the reasoning, it would be tough to continue losing by notable margins as the year progresses.

Suppose their typically high-caliber shooters can find a rhythm again while the group continues to make marginal defensive improvements. In that case, the Sacramento Kings should win plenty of games in the 2023-24 NBA season, no matter the opponent.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will continue its six-game home stand on Saturday night when they face the Utah Jazz for the first time since opening night.

Harrison Barnes’ season-high 32 points led the Kings to a 130-114 win over the Jazz in Salt Lake City on October 25th. Sacramento has won four of their past five games against Utah since the start of last season.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Jazz coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from Golden 1 Center.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Saturday, December 16th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7:00 PM PST
  • Monday, December 18th – Sacramento Kings vs. Washington Wizards – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, December 20th – Sacramento Kings vs. Boston Celtics – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, December 22nd – Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, December 23rd – Sacramento Kings vs. Minnesota Timberwolves – 7:00 PM PST

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