The Sacramento Kings were one of the best stories in the NBA last season. After failing to make the postseason every season going back to 2006, the Kings finally snapped the longest active playoff drought in the NBA after posting a 48-34 record. They posted the highest offensive rating in the NBA thanks to an All-Star bounce-back season from De'Aaron Fox, stellar play from Domantas Sabonis, who the Kings acquired in a trade with the Indiana Pacers for Tyrese Haliburton the year prior to last season, and fantastic play from the cast of new additions they made which included the likes of Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and more.
But last year is last year. The Kings lost in the first round to the Golden State Warriors in a series that went seven games. They don't want that to happen again. They want to go even further than that. Can they? That's a difficult question to answer. Perhaps, if they answer these questions positively, then the answer to that first question will be a resounding yes.
2) Can Sacramento improve defensively?
Sacramento scorched the earth on offense last season, but defense was quite the issue for them. Their offensive rating led the NBA last season but their defensive rating left a lot to be desired. That ranked 24th in the NBA a year ago, with only the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Portland Trail Blazers, Detroit Pistons, Indiana Pacers, and Dallas Mavericks worse in that department. All of these went extended periods of time trying to lose on purpose, so this isn't the best company for the Kings to be in.
Most of this can be attributed to Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento's All-NBA big man from a year ago. He is a human bulldozer on offense and one of the best passing and dribble handoff initiators in the NBA, but he isn't one of the better defenders in the league. The Kings allowed a defensive rating of 117.6 with Sabonis on the floor according to Cleaning the Glass. That number ranked in the 28th percentile of the NBA according to their database. The 57.4% effective field goal percentage the Kings allowed with Sabonis on the floor ranks in the 11th percentile.
To be fair to Sabonis, the Kings were better with him on the floor compared to without him, but their defense also was a little better without him on the floor. Their defensive rating jumped to 116.5 and their effective field goal percentage dropped to 54.7%.
The Kings should be able to get by having a porous defense, but that won't fly in the playoffs. It sure didn't last season. The Kings were outscored by nine points per 100 possessions with Sabonis on the floor, posting below-average marks defensively and on offense. Their offense won't have many problems, but they have to get better defensively. Without making many key additions in the offseason, it'll be up to the Kings internally to improve on that end.
1) Was Sacramento a fluke last season?
The inclination is to say no, the Kings weren't a fluke. The Kings' spacing offensively was one of the best in the league and they were a legit nightmare to defend. But if there's a case to be made they did overachieve last season, it could come from how they performed in the clutch. The Kings had a +10 net rating in the clutch last season and went 25-19 in the 44 clutch games they played in. That's great. But the problem is that excelling in the clutch isn't always sticky from one season to the next.
For example, the Phoenix Suns had a net rating of +33.9 in the clutch in the 2021-22 season. The next season, it fell to -2.7. They went from a 64-win team to a 45-win team. Granted, injuries and a midseason trade for Kevin Durant were factors, but still. The Portland Trail Blazers led the NBA in net rating in the clutch during the 2020-21 season at +27.4. The next year, their net rating was +1.6 and they went from winning 42 games to 27.
That type of drop-off is not expected with the Kings, but it is something to keep an eye on with this upcoming season.