Hollinger's Team Forecast: Sacramento Kings
Thirty-eight wins may not seem like much, but for a team that wasn't expected to do much in the first place and was wracked by injuries to key players, it was a heck of a season.
Sacramento stayed within sight of the .500 mark all season despite losing the starting backcourt of Mike Bibby and Kevin Martin for much of the first half of the season, not having Ron Artest for 17 early-season contests and losing power forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim for the season (and it turns out, his career) with a knee injury. Key players like Beno Udrih and Brad Miller also missed big chunks of time, yet somehow the Kings persevered.
W-L: 38-44 (Pythagorean W-L: 34-48)
Offensive Efficiency: 104.5 (14th)
Defensive Efficiency: 107.2 (26th)
Pace Factor: 97.2 (8th)
Highest PER: Kevin Martin (21.07)
First-year coach Reggie Theus alienated some players with bizarre remarks to the media and a curfew on the road, but on the court he was able to coax quit a bit from this group. Wing players like John Salmons and Francisco Garcia blossomed under his watch, though Salmons griped when the returns of Artest and Martin sent him back to the bench, while Brad Miller had a comeback season after a disappointing 2006-07.
With Bibby out, the Kings looked completely hopeless at point guard until Udrih landed in their laps on opening day. Udrih had been cut by Minnesota, but the Kings snapped him up and plugged him in as the starter. He provided enough of a Band-Aid to keep the Kings' attack humming.
After two years of not knowing whether they were coming or going, this was also the year the Kings decided on their direction -- they would be rebuilding, as a midseason trade of Mike Bibby to Atlanta made clear. That deal brought back nothing except expiring contracts, Shelden Williams and a 2008 second-round pick, but it cleared Bibby's salary off the books and allowed Sacramento to move on with its next generation.
Worst Turnover Rate, '07-08
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In the meantime, the Kings started playing some very good basketball once Martin and Artest came back. After a 12-20 start, they went 26-24 the rest of the way. Martin finished sixth in the league in scoring at 23.7 points per game, even though Theus at times seemed to go out of his way to avoid running plays for him, while Artest played far less selfishly than he had a year earlier.
The Kings were a sweet-shooting team, but unfortunately too many possessions ended without shots. Sacramento turned the ball over on 16.4 percent of its possessions, the worst turnover rate in basketball. Udrih, Salmons and power forward Mikki Moore all were among the worst turnover ratios at their positions, while not a single King ranked in the top 25 at his spot.
It wasn't a good passing team either -- Sacramento assisted on only 51.5 percent of its baskets, the second-lowest rate in the league. This might be expected from a team that had a guy off the scrap heap playing the bulk of the minutes at the point, but pretty much every King except Miller was a poor passer who drove mostly to get his own shot.
As a result of those problems, the Kings only averaged 93.9 shots per 100 possessions, the worst rate in basketball and more than three below the league average.
It was unfortunate that they shot so rarely because the Kings could really shoot it. They ranked 12th in 2-point shooting and ninth in 3-point shooting, and thanks to Martin's ability to get to the line they had the league's fifth-best free-throw rate. Having Martin helped in another respect: His 86.9 percent mark helped the Kings finish second in free-throw shooting as a team.
Defensively, the Kings were fairly pitiful. Though Artest is one of the league's premier defenders almost nobody else played much D, and the Kings finished the season 26th in defensive efficiency. Sacramento forced an above-average number of turnovers thanks to its quick wing players but was horrid in every other respect. In particular, a soft frontcourt seemed to be the Kings' undoing -- they were 27th in both blocks and defensive rebound rate.
Biggest Strength: ShootingThe Kings have a lot of weaknesses, but one thing they will do is make shots. Sacramento was at its best last season when it burned teams from the outside, and this season should be no different.
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Leading the way is Martin, who shot 40.2 percent on 3-pointers and is at 38.0 percent for his career despite an oddball delivery off his right hip; he's even more deadly on midrange shots. With Artest and Bibby gone, he's the unquestioned go-to guy and will likely get far more than last season's 15 shots a game.
Around him in the starting lineup are three other excellent midrange shooters in Udrih, Miller and Moore. Udrih shot 38.7 percent on 3s last season, and while that may have been above his head, he's proven to be accurate in shooting his lefty line drives from 18 feet. Miller and Moore, meanwhile, are deadly from the free-throw line area, with Miller's range extending all the way out to the 3-point line.
Off the bench it's a similar story. Spencer Hawes is a rainbow-shooting 7-footer who likes to spot up on pick-and-pop plays, while Garcia ripped the cords at 39.1 percent on 3-pointers last season.
Biggest Weakness: DefenseThe Kings will get their share of points; the question is whether they can stop anybody. If they finished 26th in defensive efficiency with Artest, what, pray tell, will be the outcome without him?
The frontcourt is of particular concern. Miller has always been a liability; now he's a year older, and he'll be out the first five games due to a drug suspension. Hawes and Moore are tall but lack muscle and are easily pushed around inside, and Thompson's lack of experience is obviously an issue. About the only interior enforcer is Shelden Williams, but he has been so brutal offensively that it has been tough for him to find minutes.
Things don't improve too much on the wings. Salmons gives the team a perimeter stopper, but Martin played virtually no defense last season and Udrih is easily beaten off the bounce by quick guards.
OutlookThe Kings are going to be substantially worse than they were a season ago, and I'm not sure they're prepared for how hard a fall this is going to be. Looking up and down their roster, they have only one above-average player (Martin) and several positions that shape up as major question marks.
Additionally, nearly every King shot above his career norms from the floor and the 3-point line last season. Salmons, Garcia, Udrih and Martin had the best seasons of their respective careers while Miller had a Fluke Rule season; we should expect all of them to regress to the mean somewhat this year, with Salmons and Miller likely to experience harsher dips than the others.
All those would be reasons to pick Sacramento to drop several games even if Artest had stayed; so would the fact that they had the point differential of a 34-win team rather than a 38-win team. Add it all up and throw in a coach who seems on a completely different page than his players, and the Kings may have much more rebuilding ahead of them than they realize.
Prediction: 23-59, 5th in Pacific Division, 14th in Western Conference
John Hollinger writes for ESPN Insider. To e-mail him, click here.
HOLLINGER'S TEAM FORECASTS
Sacramento KingsTRAINING CAMP
Sept. 29: Sacramento
Oct. 7: at Portland
Oct. 29: at Minnesota
TRAINING CAMP INDEX