It's been a crazy year for the Kings. They're improving in some areas and getting worse in others.
The more we get into sports, the greater the emphasis we put on statistical analysis. This is a trend that started in Major League Baseball, but it is also now gaining momentum in the other major sports.
The NBA is no different. With the league upgrading its statistical database on NBA.com and the rise in popularity of sites like Basketball-Reference.com and hoopshype.com, among others, we have more and more information at our fingertips than ever before.
We can examine trends, like a team's performance in a particular building, at a certain point in a game or on a specific side of the ball. Sometimes the numbers verify what we're seeing with our eyes; other times, they illuminate things we may have missed.
After watching the Sacramento Kings for nearly a full season, we have a mountain of evidence to tell us all we need to know about the team. Of which, here are the most startling statistics from the season so far.
From Sacramento Kings PR statistician Darryl Arata:
Kings have dished out 20 or more assists in 14 of last 15 games.
— Darryl Arata (@kingsnotesguru) March 22, 2013
As Arata points out with this stat, the Kings have really improved their ball movement on offense. Too many times early in the season, the team would go through prolonged droughts on offense, and it was usually because it would play too much one-on-one basketball. That's no longer the case.
The Kings are doing a much better job of sharing the ball. The encouraging thing is that it's not just the point guards who are getting assists. Isaiah Thomas (3.8), Tyreke Evans (3.5), John Salmons (3.1), DeMarcus Cousins (2.9) and Toney Douglas (2.8) are all averaging more than 2.5 assists per game.
Not surprisingly, it's resulting in a much more explosive offense than the one we saw earlier in the season...
More from Arata:
Kings have scored 100 or more points in 17 of the last 19 games, including last 10 home games.— Darryl Arata (@kingsnotesguru) March 22, 2013
As you can see, the Kings are starting to fix most of their problems on the offensive end. Their scoring has been much better of late. This has had an overall effect on the season stats. For example, the Kings are now up to 12th in adjusted offensive rating.
The team is also 10th in points per game at 99.7. Yet it's averaging 110.0 points since the All-Star break, so the Kings are clearly rising in the rankings.
But while the offense may be steadily improving, the same can't necessarily be said for the defense...
Unfortunately, the defense has been downright awful.
For one, no team gives up more points on average than the Kings. With an opponent average of 104.7 points per game, Sacramento is far and away the easiest team to score on. The Charlotte Bobcats rank 29th in this statistic, and they give up an average of 103.0 points.
Opponent points per game can sometimes be misleading.
If a team has a high pace rate, then its opponent is going to have more possessions. More possessions leads to more points. That's why statistics like defensive rating and opponent field-goal percentage can be more effective in measuring a team's defense. The Kings also struggle in those areas.
Sacramento ranks 29th in defensive rating at 111.2. Only the Charlotte Bobcats are worse at 111.7. The Kings are also 28th in opponent field-goal percentage at 47.0 percent. The Cleveland Cavaliers (47.8 percent) and the Bobcats (47.1) percent are the two teams that are worse.
No matter how you cut it, this is one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA. That's not surprising considering how bad it was on defense last season, but if you were looking for improvement, not much can be found.
If you look at the Kings' performance during each individual quarter, you'll see the team has a negative plus/minus ratio all across the board. However, it's particularly bad in the second quarter.
Overall, the Kings are minus-149 during the second quarter. This is far and away worse than any other period. The fourth quarter is actually their best quarter, as the team's only minus-nine. It's also minus-101 in the first and minus-60 during the third quarter.
What's even more troubling about the struggles in the second quarter is that you can't point to one particular thing. It's not like the offense really drops off or the defense becomes lackadaisical—statistically speaking, both components are near their worst.
The team has an offensive rating of 98.6 in the second quarter. It also has a defensive rating of 108.7. In terms of offensive rating, that's the worst of any period (not including overtime periods). As for the defensive rating, only the fourth quarter is slightly worse at 110.2.
Despite an overall record of 25-46, the Kings have actually been a pretty good team when playing at home. They're 19-16 in games played in Sacramento. Where they really struggle is games on the road, as the team is a lowly 6-30 away from its home court.
It's not unusual to see teams play much better in their home building. For example, the Philadelphia 76ers (20-17), Washington Wizards (18-17) and Minnesota Timberwolves (16-16) all post a record of .500 or better at home. Yet none of those team boasts an overall win percentage greater than .382.
Where the Kings are unfortunately different from those teams, and every other team in the NBA, for that matter, is the level of their struggles on the road.
The team's 6-30 road record is worse than any team in the league. The Bobcats and 76ers each only have six road wins, but each of those teams has less than 30 road losses.
Part of Sacramento's struggles on the road can be attributed to uninspired play on offense. While the Kings score an average of 104.8 points at home, they only average 94.8 points on the road. The discrepancy between the points allowed at home (104.1) versus the points allowed on the road (105.2) is much smaller, showing the issues are related to breakdowns on the offensive end.
This one could be included in the last slide as a potential reason for the team's success at home. But along with playing in their home building, it also seems there's a direct correlation between fan attendance and the Kings' performance.
Check out what Kings VP of ticket sales and service Phil Horn posted on his Twitter account:
Kings 7-3 w/ 14k+ avg crowd last 10 gms. 7-0 w/ 15,200+ fans this year. We need U Sun vs. Philly & 3/30 v. LAL. Use the force!
— Phil Horn (@PhilKingsTix) March 22, 2013
Whether it's the crowd noise messing with the flow of opponents or Sacramento feeding off the fans' energy, clearly the more people that show up to games, the better the Kings play.
Everyone performs better with a little encouragement. Apparently the Kings are no different.
Follow me on Twitter: @SimRisso.