It's probably safe to say the Sacramento Kings will not make the playoffs this year.
There are several issues with this team, but none are impossible to fix. And with a loaded 2014 NBA draft, there's a tiny window of hope for Kings fans.
But we're not there yet—we still have the rest of the season to play. With that being said, here are five things the Kings can improve upon before the season ends.
Common logic would be to save your best for last, not the other way around.
There have been several games this season in which the Sacramento Kings saved their worst defensive performances for the fourth quarter, the most important frame of the game.
For example: Monday's loss to the New Orleans Pelicans saw the Kings unable to get a stop in the fourth quarter. They allowed the Pellies to score 36 points and former King Tyreke Evans to frolic in the paint on his way to 25 points and 12 assists, despite only making two shots from long range all year.
Head coach Mike Malone looked disgusted and fed up with his team after the game.
“We are a bad basketball team, that’s the bottom line," he said. "We're a bad basketball team right now."
He's right. Bad teams give up nearly 40 points in the final quarter and find ways to lose. What's bad is the fact that this wasn't the most the Kings have given up in the fourth quarter this season.
They allowed 39 points to the Atlanta Hawks Dec. 18 and 44 to the Phoenix Suns on Nov. 20, though the latter ended with a Kings victory. Sacramento has also given up 31 points in the fourth twice this year, once to the Suns on Dec. 13 and the other to the Los Angeles Clippers on Nov. 1.
The fourth quarter is when close games are won and lost. It's when a team must play its best basketball.
Unfortunately for the Kings, they tend not to do that. If they're to improve this year, they have to play better in the final quarter more often and not allow so many points.
Since being selected with the 12th overall pick in the 2008 NBA draft, Jason Thompson has had five head coaches in his six seasons with the team.
The Rider power forward is the longest tenured player with this franchise, but this season is shaping up to be his worst statistical season. He's averaging 7.3 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, both career lows.
Thompson is turning the ball over on 15.4 percent of Sacramento's plays, which is a career high. He's also contributed 0.4 wins to his team's campaign, according to BasketballReference.com, which is by far the worst of his career.
What is J.T. doing this season that has made his performance dip?
It's the system head coach Mike Malone is using. With DeMarcus Cousins camped down in the post and producing excellent results, Thompson has been forced into shooting the mid-range jump shot at the top of the key. After playing most of his career in the post, this is a big change.
Like James Ham said in this Cowbell Kingdom piece, Thompson is learning a completely new style of play this season. He just needs some time to get comfortable.
Out went Keith Smart. In came Mike Malone.
Out went Greivis Vasquez, Patrick Patterson, John Salmons, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute and Chuck Hayes. In came Rudy Gay, Derrick Williams, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray.
The Sacramento Kings are in a constant state of upheaval right now—it's about as unstable as it gets. How can chemistry form when players and coaches keep coming and going?
General manager Pete D'Alessandro should probably hold off on more player transactions the rest of this season. Give the current players the rest of the season to figure each other out and see how they fare. Gay and Co. need more than a couple practices to truly feel comfortable playing with each other.
Take the Dec. 15 106-91 win against the Houston Rockets as an example of how to play smart, effective perimeter defense.
The Rockets were 7-of-27 from three-point land, and James Harden was the most successful shooter from that distance, making 3-of-9. The Kings made the effort to close down shooters and contest their shots.
Perhaps they got up for that game specifically. It's no secret the Rockets like to launch the three-ball. But what about all other games this season?
Per BasketballReference, the Kings have allowed opponents to make 246-of-612 from behind the three-point line, which ranks them No. 28 in the NBA. That also calculates to a .402 shooting percentage from three, which is good for a No. 30 rank in the league.
To have a better chance at winning games, the Kings should focus on not leaving shooters open from long range. They should play perimeter defense the rest of the season like they did against the Rockets, and less like they did against the Atlanta Hawks on Dec. 18, a game in which Kyle Korver connected on 8-of-10 shots from three on the way to scoring 28 points.
But really, perimeter defense is all about effort; you have to want to sprint at a shooter to close out and disrupt the shot. The Kings will keep losing if they keep dogging on this part of defense. Three-point shots are worth more than everything else, yes?
The answer to all the problems for the Sacramento Kings probably won't show itself this season; it definitely will in the 2014 NBA draft, however.
Two superstar point guards have "Sactown Bound" written all over them: Marcus Smart and Australian Dante Exum.
They're exactly what the Kings need: big, physical point guards who'll play defense. Stopping the ball when the opposing point guard is coming down the floor is basic defense, and it's something the Kings struggle with. Either Smart or Exum will excel in that area.
Kings fans should be crossing their fingers for either of these guys; if they end up with a pick in the top five, they should have a shot at both along with Julius Randle, Andrew Wiggins, Jabari Parker and Joel Embiid.
The light at the end of the tunnel is the 2014 draft.