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What the Kings losses this season tell us

Let's take a look at what the four teams that beat the Kings are doing well and what that means for Sacramento later this season.
By | 49 Comments | Dec 15, 2023

Dec 4, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings guard De'Aaron Fox (5) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) during the third quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings are 14-9, 5th in the Western Conference and coming off a solid win at home against the third place Oklahoma City Thunder. Yet, like so many I remain curious as to why they have struggled to win against four specific teams. The team’s 9 losses have all come from:

  • New Orleans Pelicans
  • Los Angeles Clippers
  • Houston Rockets
  • Golden State Warriors

So, the question is: What are these teams doing against the Kings that the teams in the 14 wins couldn’t do?

The length and athleticism of these teams certainly is part of the reason. Outside of De’Aaron Fox, the Kings starting five isn’t particularly athletic or filled with long wingspans. This also is a big key: The Pelicans, Clippers, Rockets and Warriors defend the three at a very high level. All four teams are in the top 6 in opponent field goal percentage. The Portland Trail Blazers are second in the league in opponent field goal percentage, and it took the Kings overtime to beat that young team in early November. Meanwhile, the Kings attempt the third most three point shots per game (41.6). In the 9 losses, the Kings did not shoot higher than 35% from three and in the majority of the games it was well under that.

Mike Brown said it best following the loss to the Clippers earlier this week.

“Everybody knows we’re a three-point shooting team. But the reality of it is if the threes aren’t going in …. we’ve got to figure out a way to get to the rim, get to the free throw line because we’re not going to always be able to rely on three,” he said. “It’s usually when we’re not shooting the ball well and it’s when a team is extremely physical with us the entire game, and we have to do a better job or rely on our defense more so than our offense.”

The Kings shot 40 percent from three in Thursday’s win over the Thunder.

The Clippers and Rockets are top 6 defensive rating teams. The Pelicans and Warriors are top 15. The Clippers and Pelicans are top 10 in deflections and steals (examples of length and physicality). The Warriors defeats might be a little more in the mentality department given the playoff series last season, but we can’t ignore the matchup between Domantas Sabonis and Kevon Looney, and how Looney seems to be able to take him out of his game. (And taking Sabonis out of the dribble hand off game also knocks the Kings out of their rhythm.)

For a team that gained its success last season on movement and three-point shooting, if an opponent can push them off their spots offensively, things tend to crumble. Throw in size, athleticism and shots not falling, and it can get ugly real fast.

Interestingly, none of these four teams or the Kings are top 10 in offensive rating, but the Kings have a better record than the Clippers, Pelicans, Rockets and Warriors. This probably makes all of this OK in the regular season, but when it comes to the playoffs, it is clear why Brown since training camp has talked about how defense is going to take this team from good to great.

And he is correct.

Over the last 20 years, every team that won an NBA championship finished in the top 15 in defensive rating. Even more, only two finished outside the top 10 – last season’s Denver Nuggets at 15th, and the 2018 Golden State Warriors (11th). A whopping 13 of the last 20 NBA champions finished with a top 5 defensive rating. Last season’s Nuggets team had an offensive rating of 5th. The 2018 Warriors were 3rd. Right now, the Kings have an offensive rating of 14th and a defensive rating of 19th  (they have been bouncing around 17th to 20th for much of this season).

What does that mean?

Well, if you go based on the historical numbers of past champions, the Kings need to be more in the range of first or second in offensive rating to have a good chance at getting close to that level if their defensive rating doesn’t improve drastically. I do think the Kings have the talent and cohesiveness to get close to an offensive rating of 5th (they were first last season, after all) and defensive rating of 15th like last season’s Nuggets, but even that team was probably an outlier because of the freakish goodness of Nikola Jokic.

I think what this tells us is the Kings, if they can stay relatively healthy, are going to keep winning enough games to make the playoffs again this season. As of right now though, they aren’t showing quite enough on both sides of the ball to take that next leap – winning one or two playoff series and getting into the “great teams” category that repeatedly compete for a title. Should they run into the Pelicans, Clippers, or Rockets in the playoffs, which is a real possibility, can they withstand that three-point defense, physicality and length for a 7-game series with this current roster? Maybe, but as of right now, it would have to be a probably not.

This is why Brown is doing all he can in the regular season to try to get his team physically and mentally prepared to withstand the grind of a playoff series, so it isn’t such a shock to the system when postseason begins. This also falls on general manager Monte McNair to shake things up before the playoffs begin and bring in some reinforcements to help.

It shouldn’t be lost on us, of course, that just a few seasons ago there seemed to be no hope for this franchise, and making the playoffs in back to back seasons would be awesome. If we are moving into a phase of hoped sustained playoff success with a strong foundation, however, the writing is on the wall for what it is going to take, and those nine losses tell the story.

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TerzoM
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December 15, 2023 9:09 pm

Defensive rating… last season’s Denver Nuggets at 15th

comment image
Great article – I see now what coaching staff is trying to do on defense. However with this roster it seems too challenging. We need changes – let’s go Monte

scottymusprime
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December 15, 2023 9:22 pm

Fun fact in this vein —

Our two lowest drating players this year for guys who’ve played at least 15 minutes a game are Davion Mitchell and Harrison Barnes! Our team defense is overall better than it’s been in a while, and I’d be interested to see what our numbers our outside of garbage time when the team is already decimated. This, combined with the information about how porous we’ve been in the second quarter gives good insight into what the team needs.

For obvious reasons, my hope is that the kings get OG or maybe Siakam (though I like his overall fit and timeline a little less). Though another target that’s intrigued me recently is Lauri Markkanen. Danny Ainge is in full on asset collection mode methinks, and while Lauri is valuable, it’s hard to see his value going up right now. I have a couple of friends who are Jazz fans, and I proposed the following idea to them that they liked.

Kings get Lauri Markanen (from Jazz) and Dennis Smith Jr. (Nets)
Nets get Harrison Barnes and a 2nd from the Jazz.
Jazz get Royce O’Neal (nets), Davion Mitchell and one of the 1RP players from the nets this year who are riding the pine (likely Dariq Whitehead) + 2-3 1RP from the Kings.

The Salaries for Barnes and Markanen match up really well so there are variations on this trade with other teams who’d prefer Barnes and give up salary filler or fodder for him.

The Jazz get more picks, a couple interesting young pieces and cash out high on Lauri.

Kings get a player with with a better defensive rating than Barnes or Davion right now, (fifth on the Jazz, would be worst rotation player just below Monk on the Kings).

He’s a legit third all-star, he plays solid defense for his position (he’s not the problem in Utah) and he’d be the mega version of Sasha/Trey/Harrison right now. And he’s 26.

scottymusprime
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December 15, 2023 9:24 pm
Reply to  scottymusprime

Other versions of this trade include the Jazz going for a young Pistons piece (Ivey? Cade?) and sending picks their way, or seeing if there’s another contender who Harrison Barnes fits the bill for. But I think there’s a lot of reason to like a trade centered around Harrison + Picks for Lauri.

PretendGhost
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December 15, 2023 11:14 pm
Reply to  scottymusprime

Hard to say no to a trade that lands you an elite shooting 7 footer without giving up any high-impact rotational players. Which is also why it could be easy for the Jazz to say no.

Markkanen takes the pressure off both Sabonis and Murray to put up big points, and allows Murray to take on more of an Aaron Gordon role (something I think he can do well). If we can dupe the Jazz into taking it, we have to do so — but I don’t think our picks will have nearly enough value to warrant that unless they’re for many years down the line.

The sad reality is, we probably have to give up one or more of Monk, Huerter, or Murray to land anyone of real value — and all three of those give me real pause.

Jack
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December 16, 2023 6:42 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

My choice would be Huerter.

Dorde34
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December 17, 2023 4:10 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

Easy choice. Huerter, Barnes, Mitchell, picks. All easy. Anyone else would be tough.

RikSmits
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December 16, 2023 6:27 am
Reply to  scottymusprime

No offense, but is one of your Jazz friends Vlade Divac?

Why would Ainge trade “a legit third all-star” for a fringe starter, a fringe rotation player and two picks that will be in the teens-twenties area?

Jack
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December 16, 2023 6:55 am
Reply to  scottymusprime

I like your idea. IMO we still need more defense in the starting 5. A suggestion would be Huerter for Lugentz Dort. One of the best defenders in the leagure and his stats are almost the same as Huerters. Starters would be Fox, Dort, Murray, Markkanen and Sabonis. Now you have offense and defense.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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December 16, 2023 9:01 am
Reply to  scottymusprime

Any discussion on a trade for Lauri will begin and end with Keegan being mentioned. I’m in the camp that says a hard no on including Keegan for anyone other than a legit two way all-star. Lauri is great and all, but I’m not trading the teams best defender and rising star all while still on his rookie scale contract.

If you think the Kings defense needs work now, I’d hate to see what happens with a front line of Sabonis and Lauri.

scottymusprime
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December 16, 2023 11:16 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Lauri is — at this moment — a better defender than Barnes according to D-Rating.

Some surprising (to me) facts in this vein.
Harrison Barnes hasn’t posted a D-Rating in Sacramento below 117.6 since his first year here. He’s better this year than last year, but not by much.

Lauri has, this year, a drtg of 117.5. (the lowest of his career). He’s still a top 5 defender on the Jazz and other than the last two years in Utah has posted a drtg of between 110-112 every year of his career. This year that would make him The best defensive player on the Kings other than JaVale McGee. (Fun fact, Sabonis is second for players with meaningful minutes).

He’s never averaged fewer than 5.5 RPG and the last two years in Utah he’s been at 8.5. He’s hitting a career high 39% from 3 the last two years even with volume, and he’s bigger and more physical than you’d think. I’m not concerned about him being a defensive anchor becuase he’s going to have to guard the second best wing on any given night — already Barnes’ role, but he’s going to do it so much better.

As far as the comments about my friends being Vlade are concerend:

Utah fans right now are flummoxed. They’re always .500 or better. They’re not usually much better, but the believe in Danny Ainge (BYU!) and his tear it all down strategy. Lauri, as you say above, doesn’t seem to be valued as a 2-way player — but he is. He’s probably at peak value and he’s had nagging big man injuries (back and hamstring) that mean he’s not going to go up much in value. What In 3-4 years when Utah is relevant again, he’ll be 30. He doesn’t fit their timeline, and he’s the best dangling asset they have to continue to stock upon picks and young players. Defense is their calling card so a young nets piece and (in theory) Davion fits that bill, plus picks. They think they’ll make a big swing for someone disgrunted like Luka (or did before the season) and they see themselves as OKC lite as they seek for young pieces.

That’s also why in my discussions with them, they had various trade ideas for young pieces like what’s in Detroit or from some other teams in flux as the return. I don’t think they’re going to extend Lauri and would rather have some young pieces.

NowLoveThemOnceAgain
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December 16, 2023 9:09 am
Reply to  scottymusprime

Heading to Jazz game tonight with my buddy who’s a Jazz fan (we’re not local so it’s a big deal for us!)…will evaluate Markkanen in detail. (I still don’t know how the Jazz ever let Donovan Mitchell go, so anything’s possible.)

NorCalKingsFan
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December 15, 2023 11:50 pm

Based on the blueprints, we still need our own version of Aaron Gordon.

PretendGhost
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December 16, 2023 1:06 am
Reply to  NorCalKingsFan

I think odds are pretty good that Keegan Murray might be that guy, given his IQ and meteoric improvement on defense.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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December 16, 2023 9:03 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

This. Kings have their third star in Keegan. What they need is an ancillary piece that can bring some hard nose defense to the wings and not leave Keegan on an island.

Jack
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December 16, 2023 1:02 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Tari Eason

NorCalKingsFan
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December 16, 2023 5:19 pm
Reply to  Jack

Agree, Tari Eason is my choice for a team-changing player who is actually attainable this trade deadline without having to give up any of our core players (he’ll still be expensive).

Until Keegan gets a little older and stronger, I don’t think he can be sustainably play the PF role for us. To keep the analogy going, I believe Murray is our Porter Jr., a jump-shooting maestro with back problems. So IMO, we need the strong, long, and athletic defender in the PF position.

That would be a lineup that could even contend in the playoffs; opposing teams wings would be defended by Murray and Eason.

Ifeanyi
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December 16, 2023 7:24 am
Reply to  NorCalKingsFan

Yup, athletic 4s with defensive versatility are pretty hard to come by. What’s the temperature on guys like Vanderbilt these days?

Adamsite
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December 16, 2023 9:04 am
Reply to  Ifeanyi

I feel one of Rui or Vanderbilt will be available come the deadline. The Lakers will be buyers looking for more reliable veteran help. I could see Barnes wearing Laker yellow by then.

Jack
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December 16, 2023 10:38 am
Reply to  Adamsite

I agree

cloudyeyes
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December 16, 2023 12:45 am

Dillon Brooks would have been a nice add in the off season if he came over at a lower salary. That Barnes contract is going to look ugly pretty fast. Perhaps we could trade off Barnes plus a pick or something for 1 year rental of OG or Siakam, then see how the dice roll in the off season?

Sacto_J
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December 16, 2023 9:28 am
Reply to  cloudyeyes

Hard pass on the Brooks circus. That dude hurts my eyes to watch.

9sac8
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December 16, 2023 6:31 am

We were bullied in all 9 losses and those other teams knew to take advantage. We have to get tougher and we absolutely HAVE to give more effort on the SNBTB.

RikSmits
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December 16, 2023 6:31 am

If we can’t add a defender without messing up our core, and Huerter and Keegan won’t start consistingly hitting 3’s, I really hope Brown has a backup plan.

Adamsite
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December 16, 2023 9:06 am
Reply to  RikSmits

I’m surprised he hasn’t tossed Edwards out there more often. Maybe the kid just isn’t reliable enough.

Sacto_J
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December 16, 2023 9:30 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Hard to say when you never see him play, which seems a bit odd to me, he played really well last year.

Jack
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December 16, 2023 10:42 am
Reply to  Adamsite

I think we could get Tari Eason for Mitchell and Edwards and a second or two.

NorCalKingsFan
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December 16, 2023 5:55 pm
Reply to  Jack

Eason for Mitchell straight-up works money-wise.

Release the protections on the FRP owed to Atlanta now since its going to convey anyway (lottery protected). My offer would be:

SAC
T. Eason ($9MM/2yr, RFA in 2026 [$8MM QO])
2 Rd Pick (Houston 2025)
(Additional players if needed for salary filler like Duarte [$4MM], Len [$2MM], or Edwards [$2MM])

HOU
D. Mitchell ($5MM/1yr, RFA in 2025 [$8.7MM QO])
2025 1 Rd Pick (Sacramento 2025)
(Additional players if needed like Holiday ($2MM) or Marjanovic ($2MM), but they also have $3MM trade exception for Eric Gordon)

Hobby916
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December 16, 2023 6:33 am

This team does really well when they get to the rim. The 3 ball can’t be relied upon to save the offense. Drive and kick to create better shots. Getting to the rim generally will result in a positive outcome (make a bucket, draw a foul, collapse the D for an open 3).

More made shots will help the defense as they can get back and set the defense instead of scrambling in transition.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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December 16, 2023 6:54 am

very much enjoyed this analysis, Blake.

It’s a fun time in Sac where we fans get to relax a bit after the 17 seasons of incompetence.

The Mings have competence. The have a solid GM, a solid Head Coach and with 2 All-NBA starters and an up and comer in Keegan, a 6MotY candidate in Monk.

Lots of pieces. This next area is – how do they make it work better?

Keep bringing this wonderful Blake.

I will add one positive note for stability. It is my guess that not messing with the pieces “too much” will aid in advancing both the defense and the offense.

Becoming a good team is a process.
Then to become a very good team to becoming a contending team is a level that takes many seasons. The journey has begun.

Jman1949
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December 16, 2023 7:49 am

The Mings have competence.

Now if only they can become merciless!

comment image&ct=g

RikSmits
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December 16, 2023 8:43 am
Reply to  Jman1949

Yao’d!

UpgradedToQuestionable
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December 16, 2023 4:01 pm

I am an awful editor.

Apologies.

Though a Mings Dynasty would be an interesting time for the NBA

NowLoveThemOnceAgain
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December 16, 2023 9:06 am

Excellent analysis. Live by the 3, die by the 3.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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December 16, 2023 9:18 am

Good stuff, Blake.

It seems pretty clear to me the Kings need serious help on the defensive side of the ball, especially when the shots aren’t falling. Getting some stops can alleviate some missed shots, but when you are trading your missed threes for easy transition buckets by the other team, things go down hill fast..see the blowout losses to the 4 teams of the apocalypse.

Monte and co. seem to have recognized the problem by signing JTA and Stockton acquiring the rights to Stanley Johnson (which seems to have gone nowhere). Both are apparently know for their defense, but are also on the NBA fringes of relevance. I don’t think the Kings need to acquire a “star” 3 and D player, but rather someone that is still a productive team player at or near their peak in reliable rotation minutes. Go get the Alex Caruso, Josh Hart, Isaac Okoro, or Saddiq Beys of the league.

Just get a tough two-way rotation player that you are fine with taking an open shot now and again.

RikSmits
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December 16, 2023 9:52 am
Reply to  Adamsite

Wasn’t there someone recently who was sure that Stanley Johnson was like the missing piece to get us the championship, or am I remembering wrong?

Adamsite
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December 16, 2023 10:01 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Lol, maybe the idea of Stanley Johnson, as in a 27 year 3 and D wing taken #8 overall sounds nice.

It’s much like the idea of acquiring the #2 pick from 2011 who ended up being compared unfavorably to a coke machine.

I think it’s just an attempt by Kings brass to kick the tires on players who once fit the description of solid wing defenders. Finding a diamond in the blood of a turnip, I guess?

Hobby916
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December 16, 2023 10:01 am
Reply to  Adamsite

In terms of stats, aren’t Saddiq and Harrison fairly similar? I haven’t seen Saddiq play much, so maybe he is more impactful in games outside of the stats?

Adamsite
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December 16, 2023 10:27 am
Reply to  Hobby916

Saddiq rebounds at near double the rate of Barnes, their shooting is pretty similar, but Bey is also 7 years younger. HERE is a comparison of their stats this season.

Hobby916
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December 16, 2023 10:47 am
Reply to  Adamsite

So a younger, better rebounding version of Barnes. Better than Kessler and Duarte.

Adamsite
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December 16, 2023 10:51 am
Reply to  Hobby916

Basically, yes.

Jack
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December 16, 2023 10:48 am
Reply to  Adamsite

The trouble is Bey makes around 4 mil. Barnes makes 4 times as much. If we couln’t get Eason with say Mitchell and Edwards plus a second ot two then I serious would go afrer Bey. At one time Monty wanted him,

UpgradedToQuestionable
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December 16, 2023 4:04 pm
Reply to  Jack

Just chuckin’ out names, to chuck out names…

With Ja Morant returning and Marcus Smart not doing much in Memphis…

NorCalKingsFan
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December 16, 2023 5:46 pm
Reply to  Jack

IMO, Bey is an okay offensive player but he is a below-average defender at best (he worse than HB) and plays smaller than his size (he has a mostly perimeter game). Bey is a quality wing but IDK that he provides anything we don’t already get from other players already on the roster.

NorCalKingsFan
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December 16, 2023 5:27 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

It’s my hope that they signed JTA as a depth wing piece in anticipation of a trade where at least one wing goes out (Huerter/Duarte/Barnes/Edwards) to bring in a defensive difference-maker.

If they’ve determined JTA can still play, I think he’s a decent pickup as he knows Brown’s system from his time at GSW and would be an end-of-bench addition to the team on a minimum contract (I don’t know the terms, but I imagine its a vet-minimum, partially-guaranteed contract).

Sacto_J
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December 16, 2023 10:14 am

Good analysis, Blake. On one hand, having all 9 of our losses come at the hands of 4 teams says maybe we’re not that bad after all.
On the other hand, it feels like we’re not learning and growing from those losses.
I don’t think the JTAs and Duartes of the league are going to help us a ton. The issue isn’t the rotational pieces, at this point. I think there’s a lot of season left, there’s likely not a lot moves on the horizon, much as we like to rosterbait, and this team’s progress is going to have to come from within.
Kinda confused by some of the comments, tho. You’d think this team was in 12th place or something, the way some folks talk. The reality is we’re in 5th place in the toughest division and unlike the rest of the West, we’ve played all of 2 games against the inferior Eastern Conference teams. Is there a template for beating the Kings? Maybe. But its not a template too many teams have the luxury of rolling out and I think the Kings can learn how to break that template if they want to. We may not win a chip this year with this roster as currently constructed. But I think we’ll keep making progress thanks to a really solid core and a good front office. If we can add a little luck to that…

Last edited 7 months ago by Sacto_J
discocricket
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December 16, 2023 4:16 pm

It’s a roster issue. We need to upgrade at least 2 of our top 8 to be a real contender. Unfortunately the Barnes deal isn’t starting off well and this will be the best year of that contract. We lack length, athleticism, and shot creation (outside of Fox and Monk). Does Monte have what it takes to build a contender? It remains to be seen…..

ajonez81
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December 16, 2023 10:06 pm

I want Brogdon and 1 of Finnisher, OG, Spicy P. Let Monte Cook!

Sacto_J
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December 18, 2023 9:07 am
Reply to  ajonez81

Nobody wants spicy P, even if they do make a pill for it.

Corneroffense
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December 17, 2023 10:34 am

Great post Blake. Probably the best of the year, and probably will be all season long. I go back to the Rik Smits motto for this bunch, ‘live by the 3, die by the D’. You could use that to mean the Kings’ lack of D or their vulnerability to the opponent’s physical D. I also go back to what a summer camp coach told me and 100 other kids back in the day. You have to improve your weaknesses enough that they don’t keep you off the court and improve your strengths enough that the coach can’t afford to keep you on the bench. The same holds for teams. I read this post right after DVR watching the Keeganpalooza, so I believe that last year’s offense is can be back by playoff time. The challenge on that end of the floor for the playoffs is to work on second, third, and fourth options to keep scoring when defenses bottle you up for 20-plus seconds, to get to the line, and to make your damn free throws (Fox and Sabonis). On the other end, they need good transition D, good defensive rebounding, and the occasional gimmick (traps, etc.) to just make a dent in the other guys enough to get to the middle of the pack as you suggest. It’s a lot of little improvements. It’s unfortunate that the comments were about 95% hypothetical trades. Deadline trades can upset the offensive rhythm. I don’t consider them a cure-all. I think we have to assume that Monte was well aware of this team’s vulnerability to fast, big, physical opponents and that he and Mike were counting on internal improvement, working on ‘live by the 3, die by the D’ from both ends as that old coach told us many years ago. I’m counting on it too.

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