On Friday morning, Kirk Goldsberry of ESPN tweeted out an interesting, depressing, and mildly unsurprising fact. The best offensive team in the NBA is whoever happens to be playing the Sacramento Kings on any given night.
Who has the best offense in the NBA so far?
Nope, it's not the Bucks or Nuggets.
It's whoever is playing Sacramento.
The Kings have the worst defense in the league, allowing 118.2 points per 100. That's a bigger mark than Milwaukee's league best offense puts up, which is 118.1
— Kirk Goldsberry (@kirkgoldsberry) January 15, 2021
Of course, it’s been no secret that the Kings roll with Rhett Butler’s philosophy when it comes to that end of the floor: Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn, but the results are probably worse than anyone imagined.
As noted above, Sacramento is posting the worst defensive rating in the league, 118.2, leading to the most points allowed per game as well, at 122 a night. And it’s not as if the Kings had a rough start to a weird season and have been influenced by some anomaly. They’re getting worse. Over the last six contests, Sacramento has allowed an astounding 130.7 points per game, going 2-4 in that stretch. Whatever slight amount of defensive acumen and tenacity that was celebrated over the first few games of the season has all but disappeared.
There also isn't one major area of concern to be found for Sacramento. Every area is a major area of concern. Opponents are shooting 49.5% from the floor, the highest mark in the league and 3.4% better than average. The Kings also rank in the bottom-5 in opponent field goal attempts, field goals made, three-point attempts, three-pointers made, three-point percentage allowed, forced turnovers, and steals. It should come as no surprise that offensively-minded teams like the Portland Trail Blazers can come back from multiple, massive deficits when they're allowed to get into such perfect scoring rhythms anytime the Kings are faced with the slightest hint of adversity.
All of those areas of weakness have culminated to push the Kings from merely their regular sense of bad to historically bad on the defensive end of the floor. Over their first 12 games, the Sacramento Kings have surrendered 1,464 points. That's the most of any team over their first twelve games in the last 25 years of NBA basketball. 750 seasons worth of data, and this team hasn't been better than a single one. That's a condemnation of both the players and the coaching staff, not one or the other.
One of the primary issues for the Kings, and what makes some of this feel rather unfixable, at least to a certain extent, is the construction and talent level of their roster, which was never really designed to win, despite the surprising 3-1 start. Of the 139 NBA players who defend at least 10 field goal attempts per game, Marvin Bagley still ranks last in defensive field goal percentage differential, allowing his opponents to increase their average field goal percentage by 11.3%. Of the 139 NBA players who defend at least 10 field goal attempts per game, Buddy Hield ranks third-worst in the league, allowing his opponents to increase their average field goal percentage by 10.8%. The Kings choose to start two of the most incompetent defenders in the league, a philosphy that isn't going to get them very far in the win-loss column.
However, the burden of the horrific defense can't be put solely at the feet of those two players. Frankly, aside from Tyrese Haliburton, Richaun Holmes, and occasionally Harrison Barnes and Cory Joseph, none of the players show any propensity toward putting in any effort on the defensive end of the hardwood. De'Aaron Fox can show out at times, but as the leader of the team, his habit of letting opposing guards blow by him in the hopes that Richaun Holmes can save the day is developing into a tiring act. Hassan Whiteside somehow blocks a bunch of shots without jumping, but he won't take two steps toward the perimeter or chase a guard around the key. Go down the roster and outside of a few exceptions, the results are the same: would-be talented defenders who dont' put in regular effort or bad defenders who don't put in regular effort.
The Kings were never expected to be very good, especially on defense, but putting up historically bad numbers is simply unacceptable. De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and the rest of the squad need to redisover that defensive pride that was found in the first few games of the season if they hope to make any sort of push toward the playoffs this year.