The years of suffering that the Kings have put their fans through is unmatched. After their last playoff appearance in 2005-06, the Kings haven’t broken 40-wins in a season. The Kings playoff drought is the longest active streak in the NBA. Everything was looking miserable for this franchise. They don’t have their draft pick this year and many projected them to be a bottom three team in the NBA. But, after the first few games, things look a lot different. The team currently has an 8-6 record, their best start in years. Despite incompetent management, Sacremento looks like a legitimate playoff team, even in the tough West. They were even a top 10 team in October. What caused this sudden change and why will this season end the Kings playoff drought? Well, there are 3 major reasons.
A Dynamic Backcourt
The young duo of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield is finally working out. After there struggles last year nobody had set high expectations for them. This season Heild is averaging 18.7 PPG (47/43/83), 5.6 RPG and 5.5 3PA per game. Compared to last season, Heild is scoring 5.2 more points per game and is shooting 3 percent higher from the field. He’s finally grown into the player he was drafted as, a great three-point shooter and dynamic scorer. His growth as a volume scorer is huge because the Kings have lacked a go-to guy on offense for years. He has attempted 3.4 more shots per game and finally appears to have the confidence to be a primary option in an offense.
Hield’s backcourt partner, Fox, is also having a breakout year, averaging 18.7 PPG (51/44/68), 7.1 APG and 1.3 SPG. His ability to contribute on both ends of the court is what makes him so special. The sophomore point guard has given the Kings a playstyle and identity as a fast-paced team looking to score in transition. They are currently ranked 1st in pace and lead the league with 22.6 fast break points per game according to nba.com. Fox has emerged as a star for the Kings in just his second season, he holds a +16.2 on/off rating and leads the team in win shares. Without him, they would still be a mess and considered the joke franchise of the NBA. Now, the Kings have the chance to finally break the playoff drought. As he develops his game, Fox may emerge as the face of this struggling franchise.
Acquiring Iman Shumpert and Garrett Temple through trade and signing Nemanja Bjelica for 3 years and $22 million were confusing moves at first, but they’re paying off. So far this season Shumpert is averaging 8.8 PPG and shooting a respectable 37% from three while Bjelica has scored 12.2 points a game while shooting a red-hot 51% from behind the arc. The spacing and scoring ability offered by these two vets has benefited Fox immensely. He has gotten to the rim with ease, averaging 3.5 more free throws a game this season.
Last season, the attempt to sign George Hill, Vince Carter, and Zach Randolph as veteran mentors was, simply put, a failure. Hill was traded at the deadline, Randolph took too many possessions away from the young guys, and Carter didn’t seem to have an impact. These new veterans are able to help the team win and bring experience into the locker room. Without a proper balance of youth and experience, the Kings were never going to break their playoff drought.
Willie Cauley-Stein is Good Now
The 6th-overall pick in 2015, originally brought in to help DeMarcus Cousins, has finally found his way. Willie Cauley-Stein has shown flashes of potential throughout his career and is finally putting it all together. Although he was drafted as a defensive specialist WCS is now averaging 16.5 PPG on 57% shooting. The growth in his offensive game has been significant. Not only is WCS finishing at a high rate around the rim (71%), but he is now an effective midrange shooter. His previous career high for FG% from 10-16 feet was 37%. This year he’s at 53%. Becoming more than a roller has opened up so many opportunities for the Kings’ offense. Now when Fox or Heild drive there’s more room around the basket for them to finish.
In addition to his improved offensive game, Cauley-Stein is still an elite defender. With him on the court, the Kings’ defensive rating improves from 117.6 to 108.8. A big reason for this improvement is his rebounding. This season WCS has grabbed 8.6 boards a game, 1.6 more than last season. When he’s on the court opponents rebounding percentages drop due to his physicality and size around the basket. Not allowing as many second-chance points is huge as the Kings currently rank 26th in that category. If he continues to play this well on both ends of the court he should be the perfect 3rd or 4th best player.
Through the efforts of their young stars and new veterans, the Kings are in a position to break their playoff drought. After 12 years of struggling there is finally a light at the end of the tunnel for Kings fans to enjoy.