Sacramento Kings

FiveThirtyOops: Are analysts underrating Kings in reshaped Western Conference?

Sacramento’s Buddy Hield, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III return to a team that won 39 games last year. But did they add enough help to move up in the Western Conference?
Sacramento’s Buddy Hield, Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley III return to a team that won 39 games last year. But did they add enough help to move up in the Western Conference?

When free agency began, Kings general manager Vlade Divac and his front-office staff pulled together all available resources, wisely rationed their supplies and hunkered down at team headquarters in Sacramento, waiting for the Woj bombs to stop.

Before it was over, tectonic plates moved beneath the earth’s surface in California, causing the ground to shake. The NBA landscape changed forever and the terrain in the Western Conference was more rugged.

The balance of power seems to have shifted from the Bay Area to Los Angeles, but mapping the new west may prove difficult until observers reach locations such as Memphis, Phoenix, Oklahoma City and Minnesota to survey the damage when the season starts. The Kings made offseason moves to improve on last year’s 39 wins, but in a world where 111 free agents changed teams in one summer, it’s not yet clear who’s better and who’s worse – including the Kings.

Data analysts and prognosticators are producing mixed results in their way-too-early power ratings, but most aren’t particularly favorable for Sacramento. CBS Sports rated the Kings 14th in the NBA and ninth in the Western Conference. ESPN ranked them 20th in the NBA and 11th in the west.

Forecasters at FiveThirtyEight are predicting the Kings will finish last in the Western Conference at 33-49, behind the Memphis Grizzlies, Phoenix Suns and even my son’s middle-school team, although that seems highly unlikely. FiveThirtyEight assigned minutes to players using a depth-chart algorithm that suggests Harrison Barnes will log all of his minutes at power forward and Trevor Ariza, brought in to back up Barnes at small forward, will play more than Marvin Bagley III.

That seems like crazy talk. The Kings will likely start Barnes, Bagley and Dewayne Dedmon on the frontline with De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield in the backcourt. They’ll come in waves off the bench with Ariza, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Nemanja Bjelica, Harry Giles III, Richaun Holmes, Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell.

The Kings are deep and talented. On paper, it looks like they’ve improved after winning 39 games to finish ninth in the Western Conference last season, but the question is whether they’ve improved relative to their competition.

The Los Angeles Clippers acquired Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Los Angeles Lakers overhauled their roster around LeBron James and Kyle Kuzma, bringing in Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Danny Green and Avery Bradley.

The Utah Jazz added Mike Conley, Bojan Bogdanovic and Jeff Green to a team that already featured Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and Joe Ingles. The Houston Rockets swapped Chris Paul for Russell Westbrook. The Denver Nuggets traded for Jerami Grant and expect good things from 2018 first-round draft pick Michael Porter Jr., who sat out last season after undergoing back surgery.

The Golden State Warriors lost Kevin Durant in free agency and Klay Thompson to a knee injury that will sideline him for months, but they picked up D’Angelo Russell and former Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein.

The Clippers, Lakers, Nuggets, Rockets, Jazz and Warriors all look like playoff teams. Most would say the same about the Portland Trail Blazers, who lost key members of their Western Conference Finals team but added Hassan Whiteside and Kent Bazemore. That would leave one playoff spot available for the Kings, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, New Orleans Pelicans, Oklahoma City Thunder, Minnesota Timberwolves, Grizzlies or Suns.

The Spurs, who have made 22 consecutive playoff appearances under coach Gregg Popovich, missed out on Marcus Morris, but they traded for DeMarre Carroll and will welcome point guard Dejounte Murray back from injury. The Pelicans drafted Zion Williamson and brought in Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, J.J. Redick, Brandon Ingram and Derrick Favors. The Mavericks will unleash Kristaps Porzingis alongside Luka Doncic.

Bleacher Report listed the Kings in a tier of playoff contenders along with the Spurs, Thunder, Timberwolves, Mavericks, Pelicans and Trail Blazers. The Warriors, Jazz, Rockets and Nuggets were labeled fringe title contenders. The Lakers and Clippers were among the title favorites.

“After a breakout sophomore campaign, De’Aaron Fox should be even better in his third season,” Bleacher Report wrote. “Buddy Hield may have a little developing yet to do, as well. Plus, he’s in a contract year. Throw in Bogdan Bogdanovic, Marvin Bagley III, Harry Giles, Harrison Barnes and the newly signed Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph, and it’s tough to buy the drop-off forecast by FiveThirtyEight.”

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Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He started his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned to cover the Sacramento Kings in September 2018.