SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP)The winningest season in 13 years only whetted the appetite in Sacramento.
Nothing short of ending the NBA’s longest active playoff drought will be enough to consider the upcoming season a success for the Kings.
A roster led by emerging young stars like point guard De’Aaron Fox and forward Marvin Bagley III, and fortified by the addition of some key veterans in the offseason, gives first-year coach Luke Walton the most complete Kings team since the last postseason berth back in 2006 in coach Rick Adelman’s final season.
”Some positives came from last season, especially in the summer,” said Bagley, who averaged 14.9 points per game last season. ”But not making the playoffs was something I thought about all summer. I just had that in the back of my mind that we still got to get to the playoffs and show everybody what we can do.”
The Kings finished ninth in the Western Conference with 39 wins last season, a 12-game improvement from the previous season and the most since a 44-38 campaign in 2005-06.
But they still finished nine games out of the last playoff spot in a conference that only got tougher with Anthony Davis joining the Lakers and Kawhi Leonard and Paul George joining the Clippers.
”Everybody knows the Western Conference got extremely tough and it was tough before this,” Fox said. ”It’s gotten a lot tougher. At the same time, we feel like we’ve gotten better as a team. It would be a lot more disappointing to miss the playoffs.”
Here are some things to watch:
DEVELOP A DEFENSE
The top task for Walton after arriving in Sacramento was to build a better defense than the team had last season when the Kings allowed 115.3 points per game. The Kings were good at forcing turnovers with 15.9 per game to fuel the transition game but weren’t as effective in the half court. It’s an issue the players recognize.
”Last year our problem wasn’t putting the ball in the basket,” Fox said. ”We scored with the best of them. We know what we have to get better at. It’s on the defensive end.”
The biggest change on the offensive end that Walton plans to implement is a heavier reliance on 3-pointers. The Kings were an efficient team from long range, ranking fourth in the league by making 37.8% of 3-pointers. But Walton wants to see them use that strategy more often, increasing from about 30 shots from long range a game to 35 this season.
”I’ll shoot as much as they want me to,” said guard Buddy Hield, who led the team with 278 made 3s. ”My confidence is high. Whenever the opportunity presents, I’ll take advantage of it.”
The Kings are building the team around two young potential stars in Fox and Bagley. Fox took a big leap in his second season, making big improvements in his shooting, scoring, passing and defense. He averaged 17.3 points and 7.3 assists per game, up from 11.6 and 4.4 as a rookie. Sacramento is hoping for a similar boost in year two from Bagley, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.6 rebounds per game as a rookie.
”When you work hard, are talented and have some of the gifts they have, good things happen,” Walton said. ”I’m excited to see what they bring to the court this year.”
The moves in the offseason to add veterans gives Sacramento a roster that can go 12 deep in the rotation this season. Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes add a defensive presence in the front court to take pressure off Bagley and the other young big men. Trevor Ariza gives Walton another strong defensive wing player who can also make 3s. Cory Joseph provides a proven backup up at point guard to ease the load on Fox and even play with him at times. Managing that many players could be one of Walton’s biggest challenges.
The Kings will spend plenty of time on planes early in the season. They traveled to India in the preseason and play 18 of their first 29 games on the road. They will play nine of their 13 games in the Eastern time zone before Christmas, making getting off to a fast start challenging.
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