Coming off a 39-win season, the Kings are in a unique position. Analysts and fans have both reasons to be optimistic the team will snap their playoff drought and reasons to think it’ll be (at least) another year before a postseason berth.
In the spirit of balanced analysis, here’s a look at what to hope for, or hope against, as the Kings kick off the regular season Wednesday night in Phoenix. We’re leaving out an obvious factor: injuries. They’re random and they can blow up any prediction.
And now for a hefty dose of unbridled optimism, tempered by severe pessimism.
How many games will the Kings win?
Best-case scenario: Last season was not a fluke. The Kings can keep playing fast and anything they do on defense will be an improvement over last year.
Sacramento left wins on the table in 2018-19. The team ranked in the bottom half of the league for free throws attempted, free throw percentage and blocks; the Kings were dead last in total rebounds allowed. There’s no doubt coach Luke Walton will lean on his young players to improve in those areas.
And those young players are likely to respond. Core players De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Marvin Bagley III and Bogdan Bogdanovic are still coming into their prime years and they’ve all played together before.
Sure, there are new faces like Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza. But the additions will simply add better defense and more 3-point options to further space the floor.
Plus the Kings have 30 games against the underpowered Eastern Conference. If they rack up a big record there and eke out wins over key foes like the Utah Jazz, Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets, they even have a shot at a decent seed in the playoffs.
Final wildly optimistic record: 49-33.
Worst-case scenario: Last season was a fluke. The Kings beat up on middling teams and were pummeled by Western Conference stalwarts last season. They went a combined 2-17 against the Lakers, Clippers, Rockets, Nuggets and Jazz, and it’s not like those teams got worse over the offseason.
The Kings offseason signings not only don’t add much, but it takes a while to gel. The Miami Heat, after all, didn’t win the NBA title the season after they signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh.
Not that these guys are anywhere near that level. Fivethirtyeight.com rated the Kings’ signing of Barnes to a four-year, $85 million contract as the worst deal of the offseason. Unsurprisingly, the same analytics site projects the Kings will win 34 games this year.
There’s plenty of reason to doubt. The Kings dropped six of their final eight games. They have new players and a new coach. The competition is better. It all adds up to an underwhelming showing.
Final wildly pessimistic record: 35-47.
Best-case scenario: He improved across the board last season. Better shooting, better defense and smarter with the ball. As he turns 22 in December, there’s plenty of room to get better, and he has even more offensive weapons to play with.
Worst-case scenario: We can’t imagine Fox regressing. The worst might be he doesn’t make any progress and the Kings offense flounders in the absence of a captain.
Marvin Bagley III
Best-case scenario: Freed from former coach Dave Joerger’s constraints, Bagley flourishes as a finisher around the rim who can be dangerous from 3-point territory. The 20-year-old is projected to score more than 21 points per 36 minutes this season; if he does, the Kings will be a dangerous team.
Worst-case scenario: In a crowded lineup, Bagley struggles to stake a claim to minutes. He’s still young and he’s in line for a sophomore slump amid heaping expectations from Kings fans.
Best-case scenario: Buddy Buckets is an obvious candidate to benefit from Walton’s 3-point heavy system. If the Kings shoot 25 percent more 3-pointers, which Walton says is the goal, it stands to reason Hield will once again set a team record for making 3s in a season.
Worst-case scenario: A new coaching scheme means there’s a learning curve, and Hield might not get as many touches as Bagley gets more minutes and more shots.
Best-case scenario: It’s a little funny to talk about a 27-year-old as a grizzled veteran, but that’s where the core is at. He’s a solid defender, he hits 3s and he’ll play about 32 minutes a night. There’s little reason to think that will change.
Worst-case scenario: None. His stats are remarkably stable and, statistically, Barnes is someone the Kings can count on.
Best-case scenario: Nobody had a better summer than Bogi, who was named a rising NBA star after his wildly successful World Cup run with Serbia. If he parlays that confidence to the NBA, the Kings’ do-everything shooting guard could have a breakout year.
Worst-case scenario: Let’s be real. There are only so many minutes to go around, and Bogi’s time is unlikely to go up from the 27 minutes he got last season. If Bogdanovic goes from international star to a sixth man who’s counted on to do the little things, that could be tough.
The second line
Best-case scenario: The Kings’ super subs like Ariza, Richaun Holmes, Harry Giles III, Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell play smothering defense and have enough spark on offense to help the Kings beat up on other teams’ backups. They run up big margins and hold on when the starters are all back in the game.
Worst-case scenario: The Kings lack the offensive punch to pull away from teams with their backups and not elite enough to earn wins with their starters.
It’s hard to imagine the Kings regressing from winning 39 games. It stings that the rest of the Western Conference improved this offseason, but the Kings figure to earn at least 40 wins.