The Kings are back! Tell your parents. The Sacramento Kings are suddenly relevant for the first time in nearly two decades when they were trotting out lineups like Vlade Divac, Chris Webber, Peja Stojakovic, Doug Christie and Mike Bibby.
The same Kings team whose 16-season playoff drought is the longest in NBA history is now the second seed in the West and one of the most watchable teams in the league.
This seemingly happened overnight. Last time I checked they were getting ripped to shreds for essentially trading Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis last year. Now they are lighting up scoreboards with the most improved offense in NBA history.
The Kings are averaging 118.7 points per 100 possessions this season. It's the highest offensive efficiency in NBA history. However, seven of the top 14 marks in league history are from this season.
While that stat loses some of its shine due to the NBA's offensive explosion, what doesn't is Sacramento's improvement. They ranked 24th last season. Their 23-spot jump is the largest year-over-year improvement by any franchise in NBA history.
Kings NBA ranks over the last two seasons
Assists per game
Threes made per game
Credit the coaching staff led by Mike Brown and a mostly overhauled roster for the complete 180.
Five of their top seven scorers this season are in their first full season with the team. That includes Sabonis, who played 15 games with the Kings last year after the Haliburton trade. It also features three of their top four 3-point shooters.
Kings PPG leaders this season
Domantas Sabonis ***
Kevin Huerter ***
Malik Monk ***
Keegan Murray ***
Trey Lyles ***
|*** First full season on Kings|
Brown's emphasis on ball movement and shooting has been the catalyst for the historic turnaround. They've gone from a bottom 10 to a top 10 team in three-point shooting. Kevin Huerter, acquired via trade from the Hawks, and Keegan Murray, the fourth overall pick in last year's draft, have played a big role. There are eight players with 150 made 3-pointers and at least 40% shooting from three this season. Huerter and Murray are both in that group.
They rank fourth in the league in assists per game after ranking 22nd a year ago. They are top five in shortest average touch length and fewest dribbles per touch. Sabonis is at the center of a well-oiled machine that uses the most handoffs in the NBA. That's one reason he leads the team in assists per game and ranks top five in the league in passes per game.
Pace and space. NBA buzzwords that are music to De'Aaron Fox's ears. One of the NBA's most explosive players has capitalized on the Kings' opened-up offense. He has the highest field goal percentage at the rim among point guards this season (77%) per Cleaning the glass. He ranks top ten in the NBA in both scoring and field goal percentage off drives this season according to NBA.com/stats.
He also sparks a Kings offense that doesn't tighten up late in games. Fox leads the NBA in clutch time (final five minutes, score within five points) scoring this season (171 points). He has the most points per 36 minutes (45.8) in the clutch since Damian Lillard in 2020-21.
He took full advantage of a rare Kings game on national TV to show some of that explosiveness and clutch factor to the world against the Knicks last Thursday night.
DE'AARON FOX IS COOKING🔥 pic.twitter.com/X2fpvGU7dK— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) March 10, 2023
His move to seal the game was electrifying.
DE'AARON FOX IS A PROBLEM. 🔥🔥— Hoop Central (@TheHoopCentral) March 10, 2023
Fox has led the charge for Sacramento's entire offense late in games. They have the second-best offensive rating (128.7) by any team in clutch time in a season during the play-by-play era (since 1996-97). Only last year's Suns were better.
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Highest Offensive Efficiency in Clutch Time Since 1996-97
2020-21 Trail Blazers
It all adds up to the Kings being one of the most entertaining teams in the NBA. They score a lot of points, play fast, move the ball, hit 3-pointers and are built around a couple of young All-Stars. That's absolutely a team worth rooting for, especially when they are on the cusp of making the playoffs for the first time since the George W. Bush administration.
Celebrate them while you can. This is a playoff team but probably not much beyond that thanks to one of the NBA's worst defenses. They rank 25th in defensive efficiency. The last team to win a playoff series with that bad of a ranking was the 2017-18 Cavaliers, who made the Finals because of LeBron James.
They can become the first team to rank top two in field goal percentage and bottom two in field goal percentage allowed in over 40 years. The three teams to do this since the 1976-77 NBA-ABA merger all lost in the first round (1976-77 Spurs, 1979-80 Spurs and 1981-82 Nuggets).
Sobering news but not enough to kill the buzz on one of the best stories in the NBA this season. After 16 straight seasons missing the playoffs, the Kings are back!