It's beginning to look a lot like the NBA regular season is effectively over. Rather than sit around and wait for basketball to come back into our lives, let's reflect on what the season has dished up to this point. We'll take a look at each and every NBA team over the coming weeks, assessing what went right, what didn't go to plan, and where their journey took them as well as where the team hoped it would take them.
Today, we head West to take a look at three teams that all had playoff/non-playoff streaks that hung around their necks like a millstone: the Phoenix Suns, Sacramento Kings and San Antonio Spurs.
Record: 28-36 (11th in Western Conference)
82 game pace: 36-46
The Kings brass saw enough in their 19-43 record in 2019 to go all in to end their 13 season playoff drought. As well as veteran free agent signings Trevor Ariza, Dewayne Dedmon and Cory Joseph, the team made a change at the helm. In removing the proven but abrasive defensive mastermind Dave Joerger and installing former Lakers Golden Boy Luke Walton, the hope was that Walton's player centric style would unlock a freedom in this young Kings core.
What went right
Is it fair to say that the only thing that went right for Sacramento was the trade deadline? In dumping Ariza and Dedmon, the team offloaded a pair of under performing and unhappy – overtly so in Dedmon's case – dead weights. Along with the overdue decision to start Bogdan Bogdanovic over Buddy Hield, those moves seemed to finally set the balance of the team. They were 7-3 post All Star break, and were a legitimate chance to steal the final playoff spot in the West before the season was prematurely shut down.
Injuries to Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles forced the team to start afterthoughts in Richaun Holmes and Nemanja Bjelica and both proved to be amongst the teams best this season. Holmes, in his 5th campaign, averaged 13.4 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks in 33 starts. The 32 year old Bjelica put up 12.1 points and 6.6 rebounds, also canning a pair of 3 pointers in 61 games with the first unit. His shooting from the power forward position opened up so much on the offensive end for the Kings.
What went wrong
A 0-5 start certainly didn't help Walton's Kings, though they recovered with 6 wins in their next 8 games. That was indicative of the maddening inconsistency this team showed. The Kings suffered losing streaks of 8 and 6 games, in addition to their season opening stretch. They contrasted that with runs of 6 wins in 7, as well as a 2nd run of 6 from 8.
The most obvious reason for Sacramento's inconsistency is the slew of injuries the team had to deal with. Bagley missed 51 games; De'Aron Fox missed 19. Outside of the two franchise cornerstones, Holmes missed 25 games and Bogdanovic sat out 11 times.
There were also some interesting tactical decisions from Walton. Joerger's 2019 squad used a solid defense to get out and run, ramming the ball down the defences throat before they could get set. For reasons that remain unclear, Walton decided to have the jet heeled Fox walk the ball up the court. He also struggled to sort out his shooting guard rotation. Hield started most of the season, but he gave up as many points as he scored, whilst Bogdanovic quietly bristled in a bench role. Once Walton switched their roles, the team started to find some balance. Bogdanovic's play making took some of the burden from Fox, and Hield defensive shortcomings were not as readily exposed going up against the opposition 2nd units.
GM Vlade Divac will be incredibly disappointed with his free agent splurge. Ariza and Dedmon didn't make it through the season before being moved on. Joseph – still somehow only 28 years old - provided absolutely nothing outside of solid on-ball defense. One trick ponies like him are a dying breed.
Ultimately, the ever positive Sacramento fans will have to wait at least another season to witness playoff basketball. Frankly, next season might be wishful thinking. Fox is a very nice player, but he's not a #1 option on a top 10 team in the NBA. Bagley is athletic, but what is his role? He's a centre on offense and a forward on defense – that's very difficult to build around. Hield is an elite gunner off the bench, but doesn't have an above average skill outside of his wonderful stroke. Bogdanovic may not be around next season. Holmes and Bjelica are rotation pieces that stepped up manfully, but the Kings can't expect the same production from them next season.
The much maligned partnership of majority owner Vivek Ranadive and GM Divac talk a great game, but once again they've failed to back it up.