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The Kings are living and dying by the three

Sacramento is relying on the three ball way too much for comfort.
By | 48 Comments | Dec 27, 2023

Dec 4, 2023; Sacramento, California, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Huerter (9) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans guard CJ McCollum (3) during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Last night’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers was probably Sacramento’s worst loss of the season. For a team with playoff aspirations like the Kings, losing to a well-below .500 team in that fashion is not acceptable.  De’Aaron Fox (43 points) and Domantas Sabonis (34 points) both showed out, but nobody else on the Kings stepped up or even scored in double digits. Fox and Sabonis shot 66.6% from the field. Every other King shot a combined 15 of 48 (31.3%). De’Aaron Fox was also the only King who shot well from three, making 7 of his 15 attempts. The rest of Sacramento’s roster shot just 3 for 27 (11.1%).

Sacramento’s horrendous three point shooting wasn’t the only reason the team lost (the defense and rebounding were both awful), but it is indicative of a problem that this team seems to have and why the Kings either seem to blow out teams or get blown out and nothing in between. The Kings are relying on the three ball more than ever, and when they’re falling life is great, but when they’re not, the Kings offense flounders and the defense isn’t good enough to keep them in games where that’s happening.

The Kings are shooting 41.4 threes a game this season, up from 37.3 last year which was already the most in franchise history. Only the Dallas Mavericks and Boston Celtics put up a higher rate of threes than the Kings this season. In Sacramento’s 17 wins, the Kings average an excellent 39.9% from three and average 125.6 points a game. In their 12 losses however, that three point percentage plummets to 31.1% and the Kings only score 105.8 points. For comparison, the NBA’s worst offense this season has been the Memphis Grizzlies and they average 107.3 points per game.

Two players in particular seem to stand out for the Kings when you look at how they perform in wins vs. losses: Keegan Murray and Kevin Huerter, two of Sacramento’s highest volume three point shooters. Murray is a second year player getting used to a different role in the offense, and his shooting has been on an uptick as of late aside from yesterday’s 1 of 7 performance, but his splits in wins and losses are very noticeable: Keegan has averaged 43% from three in wins and just 26.5% in losses.

Huerter is having a rough year by any standard. Last season, he averaged a career-high in 3P% at 40.2% as a featured part of Sacramento’s DHO offense and averaged 15.2 points a game. This year, he’s averaging a career-low at 35.2% and is only averaging 10.6 points, the least since his rookie year. In wins, he’s shooting 42.9% but in losses that drops down all the way to 23%.

De’Aaron Fox has definitely been a success story with his three ball this year, as he’s shooting more than he ever has from distance (8.6 a game to lead the team) and knocking down 39.6% of them. Some of those threes come from the reduction of midrange shots he was taking in years past, but it’s also coming at the cost of drives to the rim where he has thrived in the past. Only 13.6% of Fox’s FGA are coming at the rim, a career-low, down from about 17.1% last season. That reduction in attempts at the rim isn’t just relegated to Fox either. Here’s some other major rotation pieces showing their shot frequency at the rim compared to last season:

  • Domantas Sabonis: 42.2% of his shots at the rim, down from 48.3% last season.
  • Harrison Barnes: 18.5% of his shots at the rim, down from 25.5% last season.
  • Keegan Murray: 12.3% of his shots at the rim, down from 17.9% last season.
  • Kevin Huerter: 11.9% of his shots at the rim, down from 13.5% last season.
  • Malik Monk: 16.6% of his shots at the rim, down from 21.6% last season.
  • Trey Lyles: 21.3% of his shots at the rim, down from 27% last season.

One of the reasons the Kings might not be getting as many attempts at the rim this season is fewer opportunities for fast breaks. The Kings are just 27th in the league in Fast Break points at 12 a game, compared to 7th last season at 14.9 a game. Given that the team features two of the fastest guards in the game in De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk, as well as a big who can grab rebounds and run the break himself, this is perplexing.

Fewer shots at the rim also means fewer free throws, and the Kings are averaging about two fewer free throws a game this season. Harrison Barnes in particular was one of Sacramento’s best foul drawers last season, averaging 5 free throw attempts a game, but this season he’s mostly been relegated to being a spot up shooter and hasn’t been driving or posting up as much as he has in the past. As a result, his Free Throw rate has almost halved.

The Kings have good shooters, and they’re going to shoot a ton of threes no matter what. But I would like to see them maybe return to the levels we had last year where they were a bit more selective and attacked the basket a little more so they aren’t as one dimensional offensively. Right now the Kings have the net rating of a 14-15 team, not a 17-12 team, and terrible offensive performances are just as much to blame as bad defensive ones. Sacramento’s defensive issues might be harder to fix (and will probably require some trades), but the offense is something that we know can be better, especially after what we saw last season.

 

 

 

 

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48 Comments
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RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 10:47 am

I noted this in the post game thread, but it seems relevant here:

One thing that I have noticed is that there is a palpable downturn in the Kings D when they are not making their 3s. It does not all fall under the official column of “transition points,” but the defense seems to be a lot less set and does a lot more scrambling after missing a 3 – the eye test says the give up more 2nd chance picks after missing 3s, too.

Now, this is not close to the entirety of what is wrong with the defense. But it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. In both the Minny and Portland games we witnessed this. Had the Kings shot current season average of .364 from 3 in each of those games, the deficits would have shrunk from 12 and 18 to 0 and 3, and that does not take into account the positive impact that it would have had on the defensive end. I posit that had the Kings shot their season average (and note, the .364 is the number after going 18 for 75 (24%!) over the past two games).

This is not to say that making 3s is the only issue, as this team does need to figure out a way to win games when they are not converting from deep. And while it is easy to say that they should shoot fewer 3s in the moment, 3s are a big part of this team’s DNA, and you don’t know that you’re going to miss them until you’ve taken them. And for the most part, they are getting good looks from beyond the arc.

It seems to me that the team may need to put its collective nose to the grindstone when it comes to playing defense overall, especially on those nights when the 3s aren’t dropping, and specifically immediately after missed 3s.

RikSmits
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December 27, 2023 11:07 am
Reply to  RobHessing

That’s a good point. I think part of that is that long shots often creates long rebounds, which often is a good starting point for a fast break.

Another issue I have with trading away paint shots for 3 point shots is that you draw fewer fouls. Last year, we were 4th in the league in drawing fouls. This year, we’re 18th. Last we were ranked 3rd in the league in FT’s made, this season we’re ranked 20th.

Last edited 6 months ago by RikSmits
Adamsite
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December 27, 2023 2:19 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

EDIT

Last edited 6 months ago by Adamsite
SavageBeast
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December 28, 2023 7:32 am
Reply to  RobHessing

It really does go both ways. Better defense gets more fast break opportunities, which trend to be shots in the paint. But also more made baskets make it way easier to set up on the defensive side. The problem is that when our defense isn’t clicking, our offense tends to jack up more threes. And when we’re not hitting our threes our defense is back on its heels. Like you said it’s why we seem to be playing all or nothing basketball so often.

RobHessing
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December 28, 2023 12:03 pm
Reply to  SavageBeast

Great point.

ScottyPop
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December 27, 2023 11:14 am

Can’t score fast break points at the rim, in transition, if you never get stops.

RPO
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RPO
December 27, 2023 11:28 am

What bugs me most is that the team doesn’t seem to realize, or maybe doesn’t care, that they’re shooting too many threes. They also don’t seem to realize (or care) that they’re not a particularly good three point-shooting team. More than a third of the way through the season and there’s been no course correction. Makes me concerned for how the rest of the season will turn out. Maybe a loss to Detroit will finally shake things up.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 2:35 pm
Reply to  RPO

Coach Brown if you have heard when you’re open for a 3 shoot, shoot, shoot.

andy_sims
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December 27, 2023 3:47 pm
Reply to  RPO

Man, you must really think the team doesn’t care.

Sacto_J
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December 27, 2023 11:38 am

This team is all over the place this year. First, they were sacrificing some offensive flow for their collective defense. Which was fine while it seemed to be paying off. Now, though, the defense has fallen to shit and the offense only seems capable of jacking 3s or dumping it in to Sabonis and hoping for the best. And everything in between is trending towards chaos.
The positives are that we have Fox and Sabonis. Monk and Lyles are usually consistent off the bench. Murray is turning out to be an all-star in the making.
The negatives are that there are 2 starters who contribute bench level stats at best on any given night. The defense has more holes in it than swiss cheese despite a focused effort towards improving. The offense isn’t getting the job done like it used and, in fact, has regressed to Buddy Hield levels of fk it, chuck it and smile. And outside of Fox and Sabonis, the team hasn’t learned how to deal with adversity (strength and length, specifically) at all.

All that said, we still manage to keep winning enough to stay in the playoff picture. So there’s that; it could be worse. But man, do these kinds of losses make it tough to see us doing a whole lot of damage in the post season. These guys really need to figure some shit out because they are trending in the wrong direction at present.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 2:41 pm
Reply to  Sacto_J

They better figure it out soon. Not the best defenders in the league but good we have only 2 as starters Fox and Murray. I do feel sorry for Sabonis as he has to take the brunt of all those others who cannot stop straight line drives to the rim.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 2:43 pm
Reply to  Jack

Nobody helps on the weakside rim protection. Murray sometimes and Lyles but nobody else. In correction I have seen Sasha do it but he doesn’t play enough,

RikSmits
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December 27, 2023 10:43 pm
Reply to  Jack

I think we have a bit of an ‘in the land of the blind’ issue when we claim that Keegan and Fox are good defenders. They show glimpses but are way too inconsistent and show too many defensive weaknesses to be considered good (yet).

That’s why I doubt that one good defender will transform the defensive outlook of this team. We are too porous at the Point of Attack, and not physical and athletic enough.

We have physical guys (Sabonis) and athletic guys (Fox) from a defensive perspective, but not high-end players (with consistent enough offense) that are the whole package.

Last edited 6 months ago by RikSmits
Sacto_J
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December 28, 2023 7:58 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

I think Sabonis is a bit underrated as a defender, especially considering how porous the defense is at the top of the key. Our rotations are not the best, our length isn’t the best and sometimes the hustle factor / urgency is lacking.
The team D is a hot mess but I think one good defender absolutely could make a difference. Someone who could actually be a ball stopper or at least a solid on ball defender or wing defender, could absolutely change this defense. Why do you think that’s what they’ve been trying to get Murray to do this season?

Inthestarz
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December 27, 2023 11:38 am

Not sure it stands to the point of the article that only the Celtics and Mavs are putting up a higher ratio of threes? Do the other teams leading the league in 3 pt ratio tend to be good?

Greg
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December 27, 2023 12:10 pm
Reply to  Inthestarz

Akis noted the Kings stats:

In Sacramento’s 17 wins, the Kings average an excellent 39.9% from three and average 125.6 points a game. In their 12 losses however, that three point percentage plummets to 31.1% and the Kings only score 105.8 points.

Here are Boston and Dallas’:

Boston in wins: 41.8% from 3, 122.5 ppg
Boston in losses: 35.2% from 3, 110.7 ppg

Mavs in wins: 41% from 3, 127.1 ppg
Mavs in losses: 36.5% from 3, 107.7 ppg

Dallas is just a half game better than the Kings, so them having a similar disparity in ppg between wins and losses seems reasonable, even though their bad three point games aren’t nearly as bad as Sacramento’s.

Boston also doesn’t have as significant a dip in their losses, and their ppg are not as dramatically different. That tells me that either Boston finds ways to score consistently even if threes aren’t falling, or that the shooting swings aren’t what determines wins and losses for the Celtics. I think it’s probably a bit of both.

Inthestarz
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December 27, 2023 2:10 pm
Reply to  Greg

Right. So its more like the consistency of the certain players taking the threes (who can be replaced) than the offense (shooting a lot of threes can still be advantageous)?

Last edited 6 months ago by Inthestarz
BeTheBall
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December 27, 2023 3:56 pm
Reply to  Inthestarz

Replacing them with upgrades, with our collection of “assets”, is easier said than done.

TerzoM
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December 27, 2023 1:11 pm

I did notice last year when we struggle from perimeter we would go to Barnes to post up. Why not continue that this year?

UpgradedToQuestionable
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December 27, 2023 1:32 pm

:My Hot Take:
Are the Kings a playoff team?

In this parity driven League atm, Sacramento is “in the mix. You have your Championship contenders (Denver, Boston, Milwaukee)
Your always dangerous (Miami, LAL see last playoffs)
Your bottom dwellers (Detroit, Charlotte, Washington in the East. San Antonio, Portland in the West)
Your in bottom inbetweeners- Toronto, Houston, Utah.

Everyone else.

For Sacramento, it’s all about the playoffs for “a successful season”. 4 wins instead of last year’s 3. Period.

With their dependency on the 3- is that realistic? Even as Play-In team, 7 or 8 seed -whatever- can we fans expect this team to win a first round playoff series?

Defenses are up in the post season, offenses are down (ask Don Nelson). Can a 3 pointers need to drop team win in the playoffs?

I don’t think so. To me, that’s what matters. The regular season exits to figure out post season advancement.

RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 1:51 pm

No disagreements in what you have written here. I want to focus on your close:

The regular season exi(s)ts to figure out post season advancement.

And to that end, the team, as currently constructed and performing, would need to be an effective 3 point shooting team 4 out of 7 games to move on (provided they avoid the play-in). This may be easier against some teams and more difficult against others. The roster construction appears to be thin at the wing, which is an area that opposing teams with better wing depth/talent have exploited.

With a team at this level, I think that you are looking more at tweaks than wholesale changes. And I don’t think that I would change much on the offensive end. However, if you are going to continue to put up copious amounts of 3s, you have to be realistic to understand that you are going to have off nights, and you have to have a remedy for that. Unfortunately, you probably don’t realize that you are having an off night until you are too far into it, so adjusting the offense on the fly of the game would be difficult, if not impossible. The change, I feel, needs to come in the form of placing more urgency in setting your defense after every missed basket. Defensive transition is the key, in my opinion.

With that, a marginal change to the roster that would add wing depth – especially defense-oriented wing depth – would balance the roster and make the task of defensive transition at least a little better. And a little better could greatly enhance the chances of getting to the 2nd round.

I think that I am largely in agreement with you here, in that we’re not talking babies and bathwater. We are talking incremental improvement, one that could flip a few of these nights where the 3s aren’t finding the bottom of the net. And if one of those flipped games happens in game seven of the 1st round playoffs, even better.

peyroux
December 27, 2023 2:26 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

With a team at this level, I think that you are looking more at tweaks than wholesale changes.

Would this presume a roster reconfig since trades seem out of the question for the near future. I’m curious if the idea of putting both monk and lyles in the starting lineup has ever been considered by the coaching staff.

fox –> ellis –> mitchell
monk –> huerter –> duarte
keegan –> barnes –> colby
lyles –> sasha –> toscano/edwards
domas –> mcgee –> len

Last edited 6 months ago by peyroux
RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 2:38 pm
Reply to  peyroux

I don’t think that shuffling the current deck changes much. And as much as I like Lyles, he has been pretty bad since making his way back from injury. That said, top-of-his-game-from-last-year Lyles would be an interesting fit next to Sabonis. However, you’re square peg / round holing it a bit with Lyles if you do that. A guy like Thybulle or Finney-Smith seems like a more natural fit for what the Kings are lacking.

The return of Len might help a minor, minor amount. His usage (small sample size approved) was 12.9% before he got hurt, while old Tips McGee weighs in at a robust 22.6%. Simply stated, McGee handles way too much when he is in there.

RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 2:42 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

Also, the net rating numbers when both Fox and Monk are on the floor are a lot worse than one would presume, and I think that configuration minimizes Murray to an extent. Small doses, closing games seems to be the small burst where Fox / Monk / Murray / Fox can all share the floor together effectively. Really, with Fox and Sabonis on the floor, and with Murray handling a little more, a spot-up guy like Huerter is a really good fit offensively…when he is on.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 3:02 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

IMO we need not only but one a defensive 4 who can help Sabonis on rebounding, weakside rim protection and defending threes and fours. Murraydoes some of this but not enough. The rest like Barnes and Lyles(this year) simply don’t do this. Examples look at last nights offensive rebounds the Blazers got. Need to address this soon. The other is defense on the perimeter. Look at all of the straight line drives given up last night. If we are to address issues the biggest is defense period.

RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 3:05 pm
Reply to  Jack

The drives need to be stopped at the point of attack, not at the rim. It’s the perimeter wing defense that is killing the Kings, not the at the rim defense.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 3:13 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

I agree but if Sabonis is getting blocked out at the rim we need somebody to help.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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December 27, 2023 3:21 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

This, which is why I prefer a all around wing defender like Thybulle or Caruso over rim protecting stretch 4.

Sabonis’ job would be a lot easier if he didn’t have to deal with so many down hill drives. It just sets the entire defensive scheme on it’s head when the other team has so many easy paint touches.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 5:25 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

What if we could get Caruso and possibly another densive wing or stretch 4?

Adamsite
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December 27, 2023 6:21 pm
Reply to  Jack

I feel Thybulle is the most gettable for the lowest cost. PDX is going to be sellers by the deadline and looking to build around their youth of Simons, Sharpe, Ayton, and Scoot. Thybulle and his contract is the odd man out. I bet they also try and move Grant. One problem is Thybulle currently has a no-trade clause, but I’d image a move to Sac and the possibility of a starting role would intrigue him.

RikSmits
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December 28, 2023 5:29 am
Reply to  RobHessing

This.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 2:49 pm

There are more teams this year who have a better chance of getting to the playoffs. Youknow who they are so I won’t go into that now.

Malrock
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December 27, 2023 1:58 pm

Even great teams have some bad losses that make no sense. Epically bad shooting nights can strike an entire team at once. It occasionally happens. I think we shouldn’t overreact to a single really bad game vs the blazers. If it becomes consistent then that is a different story, but the team was discombobulated all night long other than Fox and Ox. Monk seems like he isn’t quite 100% from that foot injury, and Keegan had one of his worst nights defensively in some time. His play usually sets the tone for the team and when he was off felt like the whole team suffered a lapse.

Mike Brown might want to get them to practice shooting 3 pointers to end practice or start forcing them to only shoot a 3 once the ball has touched the paint, only exception to that rule atm seems to be Fox.

Greg
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December 27, 2023 2:06 pm
Reply to  Malrock

We’re looking at data that represents over a third of the season. There’s nothing about this that is reacting to a single game.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 3:17 pm
Reply to  Greg

Look at the Rockets games. Also the Pelicans and Clippers to some extent.

andy_sims
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December 27, 2023 3:52 pm
Reply to  Greg

He may have been referring to us, and if so, has a point. The mood yo-yos in direct correlation with any given game’s three-point percentage.

Jack
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December 27, 2023 3:16 pm
Reply to  Malrock

Don’t you think he does it already.

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December 27, 2023 2:54 pm

What the hell has happened to the DHO? Is it just me or have the Kings gone away from it more this year? I felt like the Kings ran it to death last year, especially with Huerter at the top of the key, but now I’m hardly seeing it. I feel like the new favorite go to is a high horn set with Fox to get him going down hill. Have other teams adapted or have the offensive sets changed?

RobHessing
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December 27, 2023 2:59 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

Sabonis’ usage and assist rate are both up this year (22.3 to 21.3 and 32.0 to 30.4), and Huerter’s getting up about the same number of 3s per 36 (8.2 to 8.3). But, Huerter’s percentage has dropped from 40% to 35%. Lyles has dropped from 36% to 31%. Murray from 41% to below 37%.

Last edited 6 months ago by RobHessing
Adamsite
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December 27, 2023 3:17 pm
Reply to  RobHessing

But are they running as much DHOs? I don’t have any data, but I just feel like I’m not seeing it as much as last season.

It is interesting that Sabonis’ assist rate is up while the Kings are shooting a bit worse from 2 but are near identical from 3. Last year the Kings were 36.9% from three while this year they are at 36.4%, however they are at around 4 more attempts per game.

To me the issue isn’t the shooting and scoring. Averages have a way of evening out, it’s that they just can’t get stops and the blowouts are soul crushing.

Greg
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December 27, 2023 5:30 pm
Reply to  Adamsite

I’m going secondhand on this, because looking up play-type data is not my forte, but from what others have said the Kings are running less DHO than last year. I think it’s due to a combination of the Kings adding new looks to the offense, and also because teams know how to disrupt Sacramento when the Kings run DHO.

Adamsite
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December 27, 2023 6:30 pm
Reply to  Greg

NBA.com stats show the DHO is happening just as much (they track hand-offs) but I’m not seeing it the way it was so obvious last year.

A lot of the numbers thus far don’t seem to be too concerning. The Kings are hitting threes at nearly the same percentage as last year, while taking 4 more attempts per game. Sure, Huerter and Keegan aren’t hitting at the same rate, but Fox has not only increased his percentage but his attempts. He’s leading the team in attempts!

Long story short. Barnes is hitting his 3s, Fox and Monk have drastically improved on their shot, Sabonis is the same, but Keegan and Huerter are off from last year. It’s basically a wash.

The defense is statistically better, but the losses look so bad. Weird.

RikSmits
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December 28, 2023 5:33 am
Reply to  Adamsite

In what categories is the defense statistically better?

discocricket
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December 27, 2023 3:17 pm

The team feels undercoached this year as compared to last. That’s not going to show up explicitly in percentages, but maybe that’s what is coming through in all these bad losses. The bench group in particular is not strong enough to just freelance (outside of Malik).

I am not loving the results from Akron Ellis lately. Maybe it’s time to try Davion again, especially if we want to trade him.

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December 27, 2023 4:21 pm
Reply to  discocricket

The way Davion shoots it, playing him is counterintuitive to goosing his trade value.

HongKongKingsFan
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December 28, 2023 5:15 am
Reply to  discocricket

I would rather play C. Jones in front of Ellis / Davion…

He is a long-term project, better give him more playing time.

MillersCornrows
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December 28, 2023 11:44 pm

This is a brilliant article. Thanks!

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