After missing the postseason for six consecutive years, the Sacramento Kings look to finally be on the right track. They've improved their roster, some of the team's younger players have continued to develop and the franchise is entering its first full season with coach Keith Smart at the helm. With those improvements, the Kings will be a much better team this season, but they won't result in a postseason berth for a few different factors.
For one, this is still a really young team. It's young in literal terms, with only two players (Francisco Garcia and John Salmons) being over 30 years old. But where this team is really "young" is in overall experience.
This team obviously hasn't had much success yet—that's to be expected when you've missed the playoffs six straight seasons. Because of that, they don't have a ton of experience closing out close games.
Now, if you watched the Kings last season, especially after Keith Smart took over as head coach, you saw they were in a lot of close games. But inevitably their inexperience would show in the fourth quarter and they would end up losing a tight contest. Being in those situations last season should help them have more success when faced with the same scenarios this season.
But making a jump into the postseason is a whole different animal. Look at it this way: Last season, the Kings were 16-23 in games decided by 10 points or less. That's a .410 winning percentage.
Just looking at the playoffs from last season, no team in the Western Conference qualified with a winning percentage less than .545. In order to attain a playoff spot, the Kings would really have to turn around their ability to pull out tight games. They should certainly be better than the .410 they posted last season, but they'd have to make a serious leap to earn a postseason berth.
It'd be different if the Kings had signed some experienced veterans this offseason. Then they'd have some leaders on the team who had been through it before, who know what it takes to get it done. But the players Sacramento added from the outside (Aaron Brooks and James Johnson) aren't players that have played on many successful teams.
Therefore, they can really only turn to the same guys who were in the locker room last season. And expecting them to make that big of an improvement in tight games just isn't realistic.
Also going against Sacramento is the difficulty of the Western Conference. As was previously mentioned, it took a .545 winning percentage to qualify for the playoffs last season. Of the eight teams that qualified, none of them appear to have taken a giant step back. They should all still be in the hunt.
You can also say the same of the non-playoff teams that finished ahead of the Kings, with the exception of Portland and Phoenix, and even then, neither of those teams figures to fall off dramatically.
Portland is going with a youth movement. Its roster consists of six players either in their first or second year. They're talented young players, but they're young nonetheless. Portland should take a step back.
The Suns, meanwhile, don't have a team that looks much worse on paper than last year's squad that finished 33-33. But the Suns have a lot of new faces on their team, and as such, it might take them a while to become cohesive. Not to mention, their leader, Steve Nash, is now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers and won't be a guiding light for the Suns' offseason additions.
So while bringing in Luis Scola, Michael Beasley and Goran Dragic gives the Suns three quality starters, that might not immediately translate to success on the court.
The same can be said of the one Western Conference team that finished behind Sacramento last season (New Orleans). The Hornets added No. 1 overall pick Anthony Davis and No. 10 pick Austin Rivers in the draft and brought in Ryan Anderson and Robin Lopez in trades. They should also have Eric Gordon for the majority of the season, after the guard only played in nine games last year. So, they figure to be better.
Ultimately, the Kings will be much better than they were last year. Their 22-44 record equates to a .333 winning percentage. In a past article, I wrote that the Kings need to win at least 40 percent of their games this season. Over an 82-game schedule, that comes out to 33-49.
But realistically, this team should be even better than that. Given its 39 games of experience in close games last season, it'll be better in those situations...not good enough to make the playoffs, but certainly better.
The roster has also improved from a season ago with the additions of James Johnson, Aaron Brooks and Thomas Robinson. Johnson is the lockdown defender the team desperately needed last year. Brooks is a quality backup at point guard who should play considerable minutes. Robinson—the No. 5 pick in the draft—is a player with insane athleticism and an incredible motor. His upside is through the roof.
The Kings also have an anchor in DeMarcus Cousins. We kind of knew that entering last season and certainly saw it as the season went on, but now there's no doubt about it. He's the lead man on this team and at 22 years old, he's up to the task.
This will be an exciting season for Kings fans. It's one that will see this team return to respectability. And if the team progresses as expected, this should be Sacramento's last season watching the playoffs from home.
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