Scoring was up throughout the NBA over the first week of the season, but the most eye-popping increase came from a Kings squad ESPN predicted to be the least-watchable team in the league.
Sacramento is second in the NBA in scoring at 125.7 points per game, a staggering development for a team that finished last with an average of 98.8 points last season. The Kings will put their new run-and-gun offense to the test Tuesday night when they conclude a three-game trip against the Denver Nuggets, who have held opponents to a league-low 95.7 points per game.
The Kings have piled up the points despite starting the season against three of the top teams in the Western Conference. They scored 117 in a season-opening loss to the Utah Jazz, which led the NBA in scoring defense last season. They scored 129 in a loss to the New Orleans Pelicans and are coming off a surprising 131-120 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday night.
“We played fast and we played really hard,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said following the win. “There were a lot of loose balls that they physically just out-manned us for ... but we didn’t put our heads down, which is generally what happens with a young team when things aren’t going well. We kept fighting and scrapping and came out ahead at the end.”
Every team in the NBA was averaging more than 102 points going into Monday’s games, as defenses adjust to rules changes that might be impacting pace and efficiency numbers. Teams averaged 113.3 points over the first six days of the season, more than the NBA record of 110.8 points in 1984-85.
The NBA has emphasized the enforcement of rules that limit grabbing and holding away from the ball, resulting in more free throws and more cutters getting into the paint for layups and dunks. The league has also implemented a rule that resets the shot clock to 14 seconds instead of 24 following an offensive rebound.
These changes might be contributing to the league-wide scoring barrage, but they don’t tell the whole story in Sacramento, where the Kings have unleashed an up-tempo style designed to suit a young, athletic roster.
The catalyst for the team’s run-and-shoot system is lightning-fast point guard De’Aaron Fox, who is averaging 20.3 points, 7.7 assists and 5 rebounds in 35.5 minutes per game. Fox logged a team-high 42 minutes in the win over Oklahoma City.
“I played him too many minutes in a row in stretches, and that’s on me ... (but) he battled through it and played 40-something minutes,” Joerger said. “He handled the game very well. He’s hearing what I’m wanting and he’s saying it as well: ‘Go. Go. Run with me. Let’s go.’”
With Fox orchestrating the offense, the Kings are second in the NBA in scoring and pace after finishing last in both categories last season.
“You know with the youth that we have, with the athleticism that we have, we’re going to push the pace,” Fox said. “So they’re asking a lot from me to play like that for such a long time, but I want to do that. I want to be able to do that.”
Third-year guard Buddy Hield has also played a big role for the Kings. Hield is averaging 17.7 points, shooting 55 percent from the field and 50 percent from 3-point range.
“I’m trying to find ways to get better, stay out of foul trouble with the new rules and just be smart in the ways of guarding (and) stuff like that,” Hield said. “But this year has made me really grow — just trying to keep building, each and every game.”
Installing the up-tempo offense has been the team’s primary focus since training camp began, but defense will be more of a focal point moving forward. The Kings are allowing a league-high 130.7 points per game, a figure that could improve over time with improved awareness, communication and physical maturity.
“We take two steps forward and three steps back sometimes,” Joerger said. “But, you see, some things have very teachable moments during the game where you go, ‘Look, this is what I need you to see,’ or, ‘This is a behavior we just can’t have anymore,’ or whatever effort it may take to get it done. Guys are seeing that and we’re teaching. Coaches are helping them.”