The Early Season Struggles of the Sacramento Kings

We knew the Kings would be bad. We didn't know they would be abysmal. What are the reasons behind the slow start?

The Sacramento Kings knew that this season would be tough.

It wouldn’t be tough like in previous seasons, when whichever hodgepodge of leftover veterans failed in their attempt to make a playoff push alongside DeMarcus Cousins. This year, there is a much-belated sense of optimism in the Kings organization, one that has struggled mightily to gain any sort of traction over the last decade plus. For NBA teams, optimism for the future usually brings disappointment in the present.

The reasons that this season would be tough were apparent: youth and unfamiliarity, both of which are prevalent on the Kings 2017-18 roster. Sacramento has ten players who are on rookie contracts, and eight who were not on the roster last season. It has shown, as the start to the Kings season has been even more of a let down than most expected.

Sacramento is one of four teams that have yet to win two games, with a scoring differential of -12.4 points per game. They average 93.1 points per, second worst in the league. Only the Bulls score less. In their 27-point loss at home against the Wizards, the Kings scored 32 first half points and were losing by 31 at halftime. They followed up that performance with a game against the Pacers in which they scored 30 first half points, but ended up losing by only 18.

On Wednesday, Sacramento ran into a streaking Celtics team that made the Kings their sixth straight victim in a 113-86 drubbing.

The Kings official Twitter account has gotten in on the fun.Three in-game tweets from the past week:

The reason for their atrocious start is a culmination of many things. Foremost, with so many new faces on the roster, coach Dave Joerger has been busy toying with lineups and rotations. One of the choices he was forced to make was removing Buddy Hield from the starting lineup after an unimpressive start by the second year player. It was Hield’s first time off the bench in 24 games dating back to last season. He responded with his best shooting night of the young season (7 for 11) and posted a season-high seven rebounds against the Celtics. Joerger has also taken some heat for his management of Skal Labissiere’s minutes. A large portion of the Kings fanbase believes that a player with such high upside and potential should be higher than eighth on the team in minutes per game.

Another factor in the Kings struggles is the poor play from the veterans. Starting point guard George Hill is having his worst statistical season in six years, with his lowest points and rebound averages since his rookie campaign. After scoring a combined 37 points in the first two games of the season, Hill has 30 combined in the last 6. Given the hype around and solid start by De’Aaron Fox, the starting point guard spot could be up for grabs if Hill doesn’t quickly turn things around.

Zach Randolph is also having one of his worst seasons, though his struggles can presumably be attributed to his age. He is 36 years old and has played over 33,000 minutes in his 16 seasons. The mileage on his legs and body has Randolph averaging his lowest numbers since his pre-starting days, along with shooting 41.2% from the field, easily the worst of his career.

It is not only Hill and Randolph’s numbers that are down, but their effort and drive seems to be even worse. Two weeks in to the season, it seems as though this veteran duo is simply here for a paycheck. This, combined with the possibility (likelihood?) that one or both of them are traded at some point before the deadline, has them playing with an extreme lack of passion. This happens to be detrimental to a team like Sacramento, who have still so many raw and undeveloped players to go along with a handful of way-past-their-prime veterans. Should the woes of the veterans continue, the possibility of a trade would go from potential to likely.

There have been a couple of bright spots on the young season, however. De’Aaron Fox is holding his own in the early running for Rookie of the Year, averaging a team-high 12.5 points and 5 assists per game. Fellow “rookie” Bogdan Bogdanovic has been solid as well, with the highest shooting percentage among Kings guards, and is averaging ten points and a steal and a half.

The Kings finish off their 3-game road trip in Detroit on Saturday before returning home to host Russell Westbrook and the Thunder on Tuesday.

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