Sacramento Kings show unlikely potential
The Sacramento Kings might have hope. Yes, they absolutely made one of the worst deals in National Basketball Association history when they traded away franchise center DeMarcus Cousins for well below his value. Yes, their front office continues to be as big a wild card as exists in sports right now. But, maybe, despite the best efforts of owner Vivek Ranadive and General Manager Vlade Divac, the seeds for future competence are starting to sprout in some of their young players, highlighted by recently-acquired guard Buddy Hield.
Buddy Hield may not be the next Steph Curry, but his game has improved since landing in California’s capital. Hield’s star has dimmed a bit after a dismal first month of his professional career, but since December his play had been trending up. From the end of November to the day he was dealt, he averaged 9.3 points, 3.2 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game on 43 percent shooting from three. He was certainly not at the top of the Rookie-of-the-Year list, but anybody who can shoot 43 percent from deep has a place in the league. Since moving to Sacramento, Hield’s minutes and per-possession opportunity have increased significantly, and in turn so has his production. Not only has Hield been out on the court for more time, averaging 27.8 minutes a night, but in the absence of a superstar teammate like Anthony Davis he also has had more freedom to direct the possessions he’s on the court for. His usage rate, measuring the percentage of possessions that end with a specific player shooting, being fouled or turning the ball over, has gone from 19.3 to 23.2, now on par with medium-volume guards like Victor Oladipo and Evan Fournier. This has led to a 14.7 points-per-game average on over two more shots per night (8.3 to 10.8 shots per game).
The types of shots Hield is taking have changed too. Before being traded, he had a fairly even distribution of field goal attempts that were catch and shoot, pull ups and within 10 feet (36.6 percent, 33.0 percent, and 29.4 percent respectively). In Sacramento, his shooting has become more pull up heavy and the percentage of his shots close to the basket has decreased, 43.8 percent and 22.8 percent respectively. While this doesn’t go far to ease the concerns that Hield is only a distance shooter and can’t score in the paint or get to the free throw line, the fact is that he’s making these jumpers at an extraordinary rate.
His effective field goal percentage, which factors in the fact that converted threes are worth more than twos, is at a staggering 60.8, good for fifth of all guards who play over 25 minutes a night and take at least 10 shots a game. It’s important to note that these 15 games constitute a small sample size and that Hield likely won’t shoot this efficiently long term. That regression, combined with the fact that he still rarely drives to the rim (with 2.3 drives per game pre-trade and 2.9 post trade), and isn’t much of a playmaker (he has a 9.6 percent assist rate, which ranks 146th of qualified guards who play over 25 minutes a night), is going to put a ceiling on his potential. Even still, he continues to develop and looks to be a long-term asset on the wing.
Fortunately for the Kings, some young big men are showing signs of life as well. Center Willie Cauley-Stein has had some impressive offensive outputs in the wake of the Boogie deal, and first year forward Skal Labissiere has asserted himself as a real NBA player with some big games, like his recent near-triple-double against the Golden State Warriors, and his 32-point and 11-rebound performance two weeks ago against the Phoenix Suns. The Kings have had players step up in the absence of Demarcus Cousins and might be in better shape than they appear. With the potential to add one of the many high-potential point guards in the lottery, maybe the Kings have something to watch over the next few seasons as they develop their new approach to transforming the franchise.