After 14 years of not making the playoffs, 2019 seems to be the year for the Sacramento Kings to defy all the odds. The Western Conference playoff race seems to be perhaps the closest it’s ever been, with one or two games being the difference between the eighth and the ninth seed and between the ninth and the tenth seed. In an amazing turn of events, as of Feb. 24, 2019, there are three teams with the same record that come one after the other.
One of them, the Utah Jazz, was not even in the standings for the playoffs early in the season but managed to turn the season around and is now the sixth seed. What does this tight race mean for the Kings? This close race may mean that it’s easier for some teams to lose the playoff race, but it could also serve as a last saving grace that could get the Kings into the long-sought-after eighth or seventh seed. Much like the Minnesota Timberwolves experienced in 2017-2018, when their playoff spot came down to the last game of the season against the Denver Nuggets. After a win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Saturday night, the Kings are now one and a half games behind the current Western Conference eighth seed.
That eighth seed, the Los Angeles Clippers, just traded away their best player. So, it’s unlikely that the Clippers, without a superstar, can be consistent enough to make the playoffs. What about the Los Angeles Lakers, who are two games behind the Kings and just got LeBron James back from an injury? The Lakers have been experiencing a sharp decline since the early success at the beginning of the season. When LeBron went out for injury, the young core of the team was floundering to find success. Tensions seem to be rising in Los Angeles because this year’s trade deadline revealed which players were expendable and which were long term. A good amount of the starting lineup was in trade talks to get Anthony Davis. The fact that these trade talks did not result in a trade left the team morale very shaken. Though the Lakers are still very much a wounded team, they have LeBron James, and LeBron is still LeBron. However, it’s very much up in the air if the Lakers will even make the playoffs.
Something more consistent that will push the Kings to the playoffs is that the team is at the forefront of the NBA’s massive increase in pace. The league’s pace has gone up by 2.7 since last year, which is the fastest pace average the NBA has experienced in recent years. The Kings’ offensive tactics are very beneficial to this upwards trend in pace being that they have the second fastest pace in the league with 104.32 possessions per 48 minutes.
The team’s leader and point guard De’Aaron Fox is among the fastest players in the league and has had a 5.6 points-per-game increase in only his second year in the league. Fox’s field goal percentage is up by 4.8 percent from 41 percent to 46 percent and his 3-point shooting has improved as well, as he is above league average with 37 percent, a seven percent increase from his rookie year. Fox’s speed, good chemistry with his teammates and his increase in point output pairs very well with his partner in crime, Buddy Hield.
Hield is also having a career year. Hield is averaging a career-high 20 points-per-game on a career-high field goal percentage of 48 percent. Hield’s real value to the team comes from his fantastic ability to make the shot from the 3-point line. He is averaging a career high of 45 percent from the three-point line while taking eight 3-pointers per game. Hield’s ability to force NBA defenses to cover him from everywhere on the floor creates great space for his counterpart, Fox, to drive the ball to the basket and draw a foul or get the shot.
Not to be overlooked is the spark plug off the bench, Bogdan Bogdanovic, the second-year forward that is changing the basketball culture of the Kings. Bogdanovic serves as the last minute help when Hield and Fox are not making shots and need a break. He has become somewhat famous in the league for his ability to make clutch shots during crunch time. All these positives for the Kings’ offense do not come without drawbacks. If the Kings manage to make the playoffs, good NBA teams will exploit the lackluster defense that the Kings have. The Kings play a very fast game of basketball, but this effort is not always there on the defensive side of the ball. Luckily, there have been hints of potential for good defenders on the team. But this is most definitely one of the biggest roadblocks to the Kings playoffs dreams. This young core could mature and become one of the best teams in the league in the coming years. Don’t forget about this dark horse playoff contender.