The last time the Sacramento Kings were in the playoffs “Hannah Montana” was the hottest new show on TV, the original “Cars” movie hadn’t come out yet but Dave Chappelle’s “Block Party” was in theaters, and Ne-Yo was on top of the charts with “So Sick.” It was 2006, 13 years ago. The longest playoff drought currently in the NBA, and it’s pushing the longest drought in NBA history.
The Kings finished ninth in the Western Conference last season, but they were the most entertaining team to watch thanks to the emergence of De'Aaron Fox. This season they are a trendy pick to jump up into the playoffs and end that streak.
If that’s going to happen, it’s not going to be just because Fox takes another leap, or Marvin Bagley III emerges as a force, or the combination of Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes play well on the wings. No, ask Luke Walton what matters and he says defense. From Jason Anderson of the Sacramento Bee, at Kings’ media day:
“Defense is it,” Walton said. “That’s our priority. That’s what we’re going to start training camp with. That’s what we’re going to start practices with — defense, defense, defense — and that’s where we’re going to make a big jump.”
Last season the Kings were bottom 10 in the league in defense (21st overall, using NBA.com stats). Sacramento struggled all over the court, giving up the second-most three-point attempts, giving up the fifth most offensive rebounds, and also allowing more than 20 transition points against them a night.
Walton is right, this is the area they can make a leap. Become just an average defensive team, mature more on offense (they were only 17th in the league on that end), and they can take a step forward.
Is that enough to make the playoffs in the West with the Jazz, Nuggets, Clippers, Lakers, Rockets, Trail Blazers, Warriors, and Spurs? It will not be easy, but if one of those teams stumble the Kings should be right there.