Sacramento has come out to a surprisingly competent start after years of being awful. They’re 4-1 through their first 5 games, they’re only loss coming to the Warriors, who are leaving a scorched earth trail through the rest of the league. Aside from the team that’s violating an imagined version of the Geneva Convention with their quality play, the Kings have squared off with two other playoff teams – the Trailblazers and the Clippers, as well as a not-untalented Denver squad.
So it’s not a case of crap competition artificially inflating the win total, does that mean Sacramento is for real? And how, after spending the offseason actively shedding talent by letting Isaiah Thomas walk only to replace him with Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions while making no other non-draft moves, are they doing this?
A lot of the roster is playing somewhere between mediocre and bad, and they’re collectively hitting a blistering *30%* on threes, so that’s not doing anything for them. Starters Ben McLemore and Jason Thompson are both currently rocking PERs below 4 (say what you will about PER, but “below 4” does now and will always indicate bad play). The thing that’s both saving the team and propelling them to unexpected new heights is the excellent play of the teams two “stars”, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.
Gay is playing fantastic basketball, but it’s bolstered by some unsustainable shooting percentages. He’s putting in over 50% of his 3s, which obviously won’t continue, but that actually shouldn’t be too big of a problem as he’s only taking about 20% of his shots from out there. The biggest sign of encouragement is the sheer volume of free throws he’s generating. Thus far Gay’s taken 46 free throws.
We’ve always known that Cousins could play so long as he could stay on the floor, he’s putting up some amazing numbers even by his standards. In the second matchup against Denver he fouled out after 22 minutes. Other notable stats he racked up in those minutes were 30 points on 14 field goal attempts and 11 rebounds. In 22 minutes. Holy crap. He’s also been getting to the line, and he’s been doing it at a slightly higher rate than even Gay.
Those two have both averaged 24 plus points per game, which is good, but it’s not overwhelmingly surprising either. The player’s stats that can cause a double-take so far is Collison. He’s also getting to the line, almost 7 times per game, and even though his usually trusty jumper isn’t falling he’s managed to parlay the trips to the line into decent scoring numbers while also dishing a solid number of assists. Reality be damned, Collison’s presence has resulted in a better offense than the team had with Thomas. Who cares about talent?
The offense is ranked 12th, but the defense might be an even bigger story, ranking 9th in spite of starting Collison, who looks pretty good so far. The Kings have generally been terrible on that end for years, leading to Mike Malone being brought in previously to right the ship. That hadn’t happened until now, but that 9th overall ranking, even through 5 games, is a big step in the right direction. If they can sustain that, Sacramento might actually stay in the playoff hunt for a while.
The schedule hasn’t been easy so far, but it’s about to get a whole lot worse. There’s an extended run of playoff or playoff-hopeful teams coming up. The easiest one on the docket for the next 10 days is the Thunder (everyone take a second to pour one out for those poor bastards) – other than that it’s all legitimately good teams. If they come out the other side of that stretch at something like 7-4 they will be in great shape, mostly thanks to their tenacious attacking in the face of all logic.
A bad shooting team shouldn’t be scoring well. A team playing these guys shouldn’t be playing sound defense. It’s happening though, and it’s pretty damn cool so long as it lasts.