5 Areas Sacramento Kings Must Upgrade This Offseason
When you finish with a 28-54 record, as the Sacramento Kings did, there are always areas in need of improvement. Whether it's bringing in a player who fills a particular schematic need or getting the current ones to focus on specific areas, making strides is well within reach.
For the Kings, their overall defense progressed from where it was in 2012-13. The team finished 23rd in defensive rating this past season, compared to 29th the prior year. But other areas, such as three-point shooting, took a step backward.
The key is isolating the problem and then finding a solution to fix it. That's what we'll do in this slideshow—find areas in which the team needs to improve and provide answers for how it can address them.
Despite their record, the Kings are on the right track. In order to assure that's still the case next season, here are the areas they must upgrade this offseason.
5. Rim Protection
While the team's overall defense was trending upward throughout the season, one area that's still a concern is defending the basket.
The Kings don't have a bona fide shot-blocker. DeMarcus Cousins, who is the closest thing to one, averaged 1.3 blocks per game. While that's an improvement on the 0.7 blocks-per-game average he posted a year ago, it's still not very good.
It's not just Cousins, though. This is a team-wide problem. The Kings were 27th in blocks this past season, averaging 3.87 blocks per game. Only the Minnesota Timberwolves, the Charlotte Bobcats and the Brooklyn Nets were worse.
Beyond blocking shots, simply affecting shots is also a good way to protect the rim. Unfortunately, the Kings struggled in that area as well.
According to NBA.com, the Kings allowed opponents to shoot 62.6 percent within five feet of the rim. That's 29th in the NBA, with the Timberwolves as the only worse team. So not only do the Kings struggle to block shots, but they're also not very effective when it comes to altering them.
Adding a shot-blocker would help. With DeMarcus Cousins entrenched as the team's center, adding a capable backup with shot-blocking skills would go a long way.
Sacramento could also bring in a power forward who can block shots, although with Jason Thompson, Reggie Evans and Carl Landry all under contract for next season, that seems unlikely.
It's also fair to point out that it doesn't necessarily need to be a shot-blocker, although that would help. The Bobcats and the Nets both had fewer blocks than the Kings but finished in the top half of opponent field-goal percentage within five feet.
Whatever route they go, shoring up their rim protection is a necessity.
4. Defend Three-Point Shooters
Beyond struggling to defend the rim, the Kings also have issues stopping three-point shots.
Opponents shot a sizzling 38 percent from downtown against the Kings, which was 29th in the league. The Milwaukee Bucks—who allowed opponents to shoot 38.2 percent from three-point range—were the only worse team.
Furthermore, it's not like Sacramento's opponents just happened to get hot on the occasions when they shot from deep. The Kings also gave up 696 three-pointers, which ranks 25th. So not only did the team's opponents display efficiency from downtown, but they also hit three-pointers frequently.
A large part of this can be remedied by better awareness. One game, in particular, comes to mind as an example.
Against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 5, the team allowed Steve Novak to hit three treys during the fourth quarter. It wasn't so much that his output was noteworthy. What did stand out, however, was who did it.
Novak's only discernible skill is three-point shooting, yet Ben McLemore, who was guarding him, kept leaving him to help double-team elsewhere. With a little awareness, McLemore would have realized that Novak is the one guy you don't leave open in that situation.
The Kings ended up winning that game, so it didn't come back to haunt them that night, but it has on other occasions. On Feb. 28, the Lakers' Jordan Farmar hit eight three-pointers in a Sacramento loss.
Adding better perimeter defenders would help, but that's not necessary. The Kings just need to be more aware of their surroundings when they provide help defense. Part of that should improve with more time in head coach Mike Malone's system and with more experience from players such as McLemore.
3. Three-Point Shooting
The Kings allow their opponents to hurt them from downtown, but they're not so good at returning the favor.
On top of being one of the worst defensive teams when it comes to three-point shooting, Sacramento is also one of the worst at converting from three-point range.
The team is 27th in three-point percentage, converting only 33.3 percent of its attempts. On top of that, it's 28th in three-pointers made, knocking down 497 treys throughout the course of the season.
A big part of the problem is the fact that the Kings don't have many capable outside shooters. On their current roster, Ray McCallum (.373) and Travis Outlaw (.350) are the only two players who hit at least 35 percent of their attempts from downtown.
The Kings had a capable shooter in Jimmer Fredette, who hit 49.3 percent of his triples before being bought out midway through the season. Simply having one more capable shooter in Fredette on the team, Sacramento converted 34.4 percent of its threes.
After Fredette appeared in his last game for the Kings on Feb. 19, Sacramento's three-point percentage dropped all the way to 30.4 percent. That's last in the NBA over that span.
As you can see, adding only one more capable shooter would make a pretty big difference. Of course, current players such as Ben McLemore and Isaiah Thomas could improve their percentages and help out, but adding a capable shooter through free agency on a cheap contract wouldn't hurt either.
2. Effective Ball Movement
Instead of relying on passing and teammates to set up a quality shot, the Kings rely on one-on-one basketball too often.
But it's not just about passing the ball—it's about passing the ball effectively. That means making smart passes and avoiding turnovers. On the occasions when they do pass the ball, the Kings also struggle to protect it. Their assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.24 is tied with the Suns for worst in the league.
Part of the problem is the fact that the Kings don't have a true point guard. As good as Isaiah Thomas is—and as much as he's improved, even as a facilitator—it's still not an ideal role. While his assist percentage (32.2 percent) was a career high, the same can be said of his turnover percentage (14.3 percent).
The team's other point guard, Ray McCallum, is substantially better at ball security than Thomas is. He averaged only 1.6 turnovers per 36 minutes, compared to 3.1 for Thomas. However, the rookie doesn't tally as many assists (4.8 per 36 for McCallum; 6.5 for Thomas), which is also a problem.
The responsibility of facilitating the offense shouldn't fall solely on the point guard. Other players need to get more involved as well. But adding a pass-first floor general would help. The Kings thought they were getting one with Greivis Vasquez, but the team cut bait when he struggled a bit out of the gate.
What happens with Thomas' impending foray into restricted free agency will be a big determining factor in what direction the Kings go at the point. However, depending on the contract he receives and whether he stays, having Thomas come off the bench as a scorer and bringing in a facilitator is one solution. We already saw him do it effectively in the early part of the season.
1. Closing Out Games
Despite losing a lot of games, the Kings were actually within striking distance in many contests. However, they struggled to close them out.
In clutch situations, which are defined as the last five minutes of a game with the teams within five points of each other, the Kings were one of the worst teams.
Offensively, the Kings were pretty consistent in late-game situations. In fact, their offensive rating marginally improved (104.6 in clutch; 102.9 overall). However, it was on the defensive end that Sacramento really dropped off. The team allowed a whopping 113.4 points per 100 possessions in clutch situations. That's 26th in the league.
Overall, Sacramento posted a net rating of minus-8.8 in clutch situations. Only seven teams were worse.
Improving in this area is something that will come with experience, both in the NBA and in Malone's system. As a team, the Kings don't have a lot of experience to draw on when it comes to closing out games. It's a process. The same can be said of learning the coach's expectations, which is also a process.
One thing is clear, however: This is a necessary step for the Kings to make a substantial improvement. Of the top 15 teams in net rating in clutch situations, 13 of them made the postseason.
Sacramento isn't going to start blowing out its opponents, so it will have to learn how to close out tight games.
If you want to talk Kings basketball, hit me up on Twitter @SimRisso.
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