Something is broken with the Sacramento Kings. Known for their incredible speed of play a season ago, the Kings have dropped to 15th in the league in pace through the first three games of the 2019-20 season.
Sacramento has lost its identity to start the new season. They are playing a slow, plodding offense that rarely breaks through the first line of defense. On most possessions, the team is strolling up the floor, taking six or seven seconds to get across half court.
What ails the offense? It's complicated and the fix might not be as easy as flipping a switch.
"We're not playing at that pace," forward Harrison Barnes said. "Three games - barely getting over a hundred points, fast break points are obviously low, our turnovers are not allowing us to get out and run, our stops aren't allowing us to get out and run. All of those things factor into who we are, who we want to be. And right now we aren't getting it done."
That's a lot to unpack from Barnes. After scoring 81 points against the Jazz, the team is averaging 96 per game, down 18.2 points per game from the 114.2 they posted last season.
Sacramento led the league in fastbreak points a year ago at 20.9 per game. They've tallied just 25 total fast break points through three games for an average of 8.3 per night.
"We're just not getting out the way we practice and that's wings deep corner, closest big grab that thing, find [De'Aaron] Fox and lets go," coach Luke Walton said. "I don't know which of those factors is the biggest, but they all play into it."
Fox, one of the league's fastest players, has been banged up in two of the three games and was questionable to play in the third. His health is paramount to what the Kings are trying to do on the offensive end and Walton is correct, the team is not getting the ball in his hands and then running out with their 21-year-old point guard.
"We still want to play fast, we just haven't executed," Fox said.
Turnovers have been one of the larger issues for the Kings and a prime reason that Walton has chosen to turn to a more methodical offense. After his team turned the ball over 27 times in the opener, the Kings' new head coach responded by trying to slow things down to prevent errors.
"Part of it is that we're turning it over so much that I am not emphasizing pace as much as I will once we clean some of that up," Walton said. "When you play really fast, you are going to have more turnovers than if you're not."
Sacramento turned the ball over 17 times on Friday against the Trail Blazers and another 18 times against Utah on Saturday. Their 20.7 turnovers per game ranks 28th in the league and their 16.7 assists per game is 18th worse.
Some of the turnovers are uncharacteristic and can be squarely placed on the unfamiliarity with some of the new players. Others are completely inexcusable.
Starting center Dewayne Dedmon has 13 turnovers and just one assist through three games after averaging one turnover per game through his first seven seasons in the NBA. Known as a pick-and-roll big with the ability to hit the 3-ball either as a trailer or from the corner, the Kings have put the ball in his hands as a passer and it hasn't worked out.
In addition to scoring issues, a lack of fast break points and turnovers, the Kings aren't slowing anyone down on the defensive end. Sacramento is allowing their opponents to shoot 53.3 percent from the field and 40 percent from long range.
Sacramento's defense is allowing 119.7 points per game and their defensive rating of 115.4 ranks 29th in the league. If you can't get stops, it limits the team's ability to get out in transition.
With their opponents scoring at will, the Kings are taking the ball out of the basket more than half the time, which limits their ability to get out and run. They were still able to push tempo last season off inbound plays, but that is not what we've seen so far through three games.
The Kings also have plenty of new faces, which are still trying to find chemistry with the young core. Dedmon, along with Trevor Ariza, Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes, are all playing major roles in the rotation. Learning each other's tendencies can take time, but using that to explain the team's struggles can only last so long.
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"I miss the pace we used to play with, the pace was fun," shooting guard Buddy Hield said. "You've got a lot of new guys, we've got to adjust to it. There's no excuse, man, we've just got to go out there and hoop and try to find a way to put the ball in the basket and get stops. We're not doing none of that."
The Kings started the 2018-19 season 0-2 and lost three of their first four games, but they were highly competitive. That is not what we've seen so far from the team through three games this year.
Walton and his squad have a lot of technical issues to work on. But maybe more importantly, they need to get back to playing the brand of basketball that made them so entertaining last season.