Offseason Additions and Improved Play From Younger Players Have Turned The Kings Into Playoff Contenders And Has Added Great Hope For The Future

Updated: February 6, 2019
de’aaron fox pic

The Sacramento Kings have been one of the feel good stories of the season. Following years of being one of the main laughing stocks of the association, the Kings franchise seems to have finally found a positive direction to follow and are knocking on the playoff window furiously. If that were to come to fruition and the Kings would once again be in the postseason, it would break Sacramento’s 12 year playoff drought – the longest playoff dry spell in the league currently.

The 538 playoff projections predict that 43 wins would be enough to occupy the 8th seed in the Western Conference. The Kings, currently sitting at 26-25, would have to go 17-14 for the remainder of the season to tie that mark. Obtaining or even eclipsing that mark in the remaining 31 contests is definitely in the realm of possibility. Sacramento has had the 10th most difficult schedule according to basketball reference’s strength of schedule statistic. The rest of the year will, or at least should be a much calmer drive.

What has led to this massive turnaround in just one season could be massively attributed to change in the style of play. Rather than being a slow paced, grind it out squad that Sacramento was in the previous season (ranked #30 in pace), coach Dave Joerger went with a different, more fast paced approach to the way that his coached team plays the game of basketball (rank #2 in pace this year).

And, frankly, it makes much more sense. The roster consists of a ton of young players that thrive in transition. Why take their biggest strengths away and force them to play a brand of basketball that they probably do not even like in the first place, and one that doesn’t play to their strengths? The coaching staff has learned from their past mistakes and the results speak for themselves.

It’s still weird seeing the same Sacramento franchise that was mocked for being clueless be over .500 as we’re past the halfway mark of the season. What’s more bizarre is that Sacramento has done so without making any ground shaking moves in the offseason. Other than Marvin Bagley, the #2 pick, who is a talented player that has shown flashes of brilliance, and Nemanja Bjelica who was the team’s biggest acquisition during the free agency period. A signing that at that time didn’t make that much sense, but has now become an offseason addition that is looking better and better with each game.

The story of Bjelica’s 2018 offseason adventures is quite an interesting one. After allegedly accepting a deal from the Philadelphia 76ers, the Serbian backed out of the agreement and was seriously thinking of returning to Europe. Nearly two weeks later, the sharpshooting power forward signed a contract with the Sacramento Kings worth 21 million dollars over the course of 3 seasons. There was more controversy and drama surrounding this move rather than a discussion on how it would help the Kings, which was understandable, the saga was a bizarre one.

However, with the way that the sweet stroking 4 man out of Serbia has played so far and how well he compliments his new team, this signing is looking like one of the better deals that transpired in the 2018 offseason. It is crazy to think that none of this would have happened if Bjelica actually returned to Europe. Luckily for the Kings, that did not happen. Nemanja’s great stroke from beyond the arc has stretched the floor, which has allowed Sacramento to play more up tempo. The player that has benefited the most from the acquisition of Nemanja has been the 2017’s #5 pick of the NBA Draft – De’Aaron Fox.

The leap that De’Aaron Fox has made in the 2018-2019 season has been well documented. The second year point guard went from one of the most talented but inconsistent players in the league during his rookie campaign to becoming a very good player and invaluable contributor who is playing at an all-star level in his sophomore season. Had Fox been playing in the Eastern Conference instead of the western one, his chances of becoming a first time all-star would have been greatly increased.

Increased intensity, focus, and understanding has helped turn De’Aaron from a meh defender, into an above average one. The improvements in the jump shot are clearly visible and have given the 6’3 Fox another tool to utilize and burn opposing defenses with. The other aspect which has improved is the free throw rate, something which has jumped up by a massive 13.5%. Driving is still the bread and butter of De’Aaron’s game and will most likely be what defines him.

Despite how explosive Fox is, driving lanes are still required to have an opportunity to showcase that dynamite-like athleticism. Barrelling into a defense which can afford to hover around the paint due to a lack of floor spacing is not exactly the wisest decision. This is where Bjelica and his skill set come into play.

Last season, Zach Randolph was the starting 4 and was playing alongside Willie Cauley-Stein in the frontcourt. The spacing was essentially nonexistent as both of those players were not threats to let it fly from the perimeter. That, although not being the main reason, was what attributed to Fox having such an underwhelming and inefficient season. This year, however, it’s a completely different story. Bjelica has helped De’Aaron play like De’Aaron wants to play.

In a sit down with Chris Haynes on his Posted-Up podcast, De’Aaron himself stated the importance of Bjelica and what he means to him.

“I think [Nemanja Bjelica] spreads the floor so well and that’s what opens up my lanes, that’s what opens up driving lanes…”

The stats back up what the sophomore point guard claimed, the driving lanes are much more available than they were in Fox’s first

– Last year – Fox had 614 total drives, 41.0 FG% on those drives in 2026 minutes

– This season – 632 total drives, 48.4 FG% on those drives in 1572 minutes

Still not sold on Nemanja’s positive impact in Fox’s game? Take a look how De’Aaron’s efficiency metrics looks with and without the 6’10 Serbian on the floor:

De’Aaron’s efficiency metrics with the starting lineup (Fox, Hield, Shumpert, Bjelica, Cauley-Stein): 51.7 eFG%, 55.8 true shooting percentage

De’Aaron’s efficiency metrics with the starting lineup minus Bjelica (Fox, Hield, Shumpert, __, Cauley-Stein): 43.7 eFG%, 50.6 true shooting percentage.

While not the main part of the jump that Fox has made, what Bjelica has done and brought to the team has been vital in the point guard’s performance. Nemanja is locked up for two more years after this season. Sacramento’s front office has done a terrific job with this deal and should definitely receive props, even if they lucked into this. Nemanja, although not a player that exactly fits Sacramento’s timeline, will be a valuable contributor for the remainder of his deal.

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