Kings hope faster pace helps end playoff drought

The quest to make it back to the postseason has been a long, slow trip for the Sacramento Kings.

The hope this season is that speeding up their play on the court will help quicken the turnaround for a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2006.

After leading the league in fast-break points in 2018-19 under former coach Dave Joerger, the Kings slipped to 19th last season in Luke Walton’s first season at the helm.

Changing that philosophy was a priority for Walton, who brought on former New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry to his staff to help speed up the offense. Gentry was an assistant on Mike D’Antoni’s staff in Phoenix when the Suns aimed to get shots off in the first seven seconds of the shot clock and also in Golden State in 2014-15 when the Warriors used a fast-paced offense to win a title.

“The teams I’ve coached, whether head coach or assistant coach, we’ve always played fast,” Walton said. “I grew up believing that to be a big part of how the game should be played. It’s fun for players, it’s fun for fans, you get up and down. Part of that is getting back into the values I believe in as a coach and putting much more of an emphasis on it this year.”

The Kings have the pieces to do it led by ultraquick point guard De’Aaron Fox, athletic big man Marvin Bagley III and rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton.

“With the types of players we have on this team, we know we can get the ball up and down the floor and we can get early shots if we want,” Fox said. “Offensively, it’s definitely a fun style.”

The Kings hope it also will end their 14-season playoff drought, which is one shy of the longest in NBA history set by the Clippers franchise, which missed the playoffs from 1977 through 1991 while playing in Buffalo, San Diego and Los Angeles.

BAGLEY BOOST

Little went right for Bagley last season following a promising rookie campaign. The player the Kings selected second, one spot ahead of Luka Doncic, showed flashes as a rookie but never got going last season because of injuries. He broke his thumb in the season opener and then suffered foot sprains, limiting him to 13 games all season. Bagley then tested positive for the coronavirus before training camp. But the Kings are counting on him to build on his rookie campaign when he averaged 14.9 points, 7.6 rebounds 1.0 assist and 1.0 block per game in 2018-19.

BUDDY BALL

The Kings gave guard Buddy Hield a four-year extension worth up to $106 million last offseason only to bench him during the season. The lucrative contract kicks in this season and Hield has expressed some frustration with his role. Sacramento went 13-7 after replacing Hield in the lineup with Bogdan Bogdanovic last January. With Bogdanovic gone, Hield gets to regain his starting role but Walton hasn’t committed to that yet. Hield’s numbers fell a bit last season with his 3-point shooting dropping from 43% to 39% and his scoring average falling from 20.7 points per game to 19.2.

HEY ROOK

The Kings were ecstatic when Haliburton slipped to 12th in the draft, allowing them to find an athletic complement to Fox in the backcourt.

Haliburton was projected by many to go in the top five after averaging 15.2 points and 6.5 assists during his sophomore season at Iowa State. He also shot better than 42% from 3-point range during his college career. While many players have been hesitant about joining the Kings, Haliburton called it the “perfect spot” for him.

“There’s a young core that’s ready to compete, ready to be healthy and be able to truly compete to make the playoffs,” Haliburton said.

NEW REGIME

The Kings once again made a change in leadership, cutting ties with Vlade Divac after five season as general manager and bringing in Monte McNair from Houston. McNair is the fourth general manager during this playoff drought and Walton is the team’s 10th coach. McNair’s three biggest decisions this offseason were drafting Haliburton in the first round, giving Fox a $163 million, five-year extension and declining to match a $72 million, four-year restricted free agent offer sheet to Bogdan Bogdanovic, who left for Atlanta.

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