('88 Record: 24-58)
These guys should be picked for last place by everyone when the preseason magazines come out. The Kings just don't seem to have anyone who can be a leader when a game needs to be pulled out. They don't seem to care too much about winning either, even though the home town fans have been behind them since they arrived in '85. Those fans may give up on them if someone doesn't make them more interesting. Bill Russell was hired to make them winners with his unorthodox methods and mythical winning aura, but he didn't satisfy. The Kings' top two players from last year, Reggie Theus and Otis Thorpe, were nothing spectacular either. 'Quick Kenny Smith', as all the college scouts were calling him when he came out of North Carolina, quickly went down with an injury in his rookie year and never got the Kings' offense running.
The '88-89 season looks to be very different and yet still the same. Russell was 'demoted' to general manager mid-season last year. Theus was traded away for some boring players and a draft pick. Thorpe was traded away at the end of the summer for Rodney McCray and Jim Petersen, two unspectacular but solid players. And Smith is still around and is still uninteresting. In all, there were some major personnel changes, but the changes don't appear to be either good or bad. Just like the Clippers, the Kings can make all the changes they like and they're still hardly respectable.
Actually, the Kings' top draft pick, Ricky Berry, seems to be a good story. Before the draft, none of the scouts could agree on how good he was, some saying he was nothing better than a second round choice and others calling him one of the best shooters in the draft after Hersey Hawkins. The reports I've heard indicate that he is a very good shooter especially coming off picks, but that his other skills are weak. I don't have any numbers on him, but if he shot over 50% from the field consistently in college, he probably will be all right. Reggie Miller got similar reports on his shooting when he came out of UCLA and may be a comparable player to Berry as both are listed as 6'7" swingmen. Unlike Miller, however, Berry doesn't have the outgoing personality (to put it politely) that Miller has and it's hard to believe that anyone has the shooting range that Miller has. Miller is an exciting player in part because of his personality and, if Berry doesn't have the same exuberance, he may be just another boring player, despite his physical skills.
Sacramento had the most team turnovers (five second inbounds violations, ten second half court violations, and 24-second clock violations) in the league last year with 45. Sacramento had the second most number of shots blocked last year with 533. Sacramento had only two players shoot 50% or better last year. Sacramento traded away its two best offensive players. And Sacramento's defense is even worse than that.
Defensively, the Kings were 21st in the league last year because they allowed 49.8% shooting and never forced turnovers. The Kings are not a real short team, with good height at all positions but point guard (which shouldn't matter much), and are not a real old team. Usually, a good combination of youth and height means at least a decent defense, but not in Sacramento. I have been expecting Sacramento's defense to improve for two years now and I expect it to improve next year. I have been wrong too many times to guarantee anything, but the Kings' defense really can't get much worse than it was last year, especially with the personnel changes that have been made.
My official prediction for the Kings was 20-62, which would be the worst record of the established teams next year as I see it. Like my predictions for most teams in the bottom half of the Pacific Division, though, this one is very shaky because of major personnel changes that distort usually reliable statistical indicators. Maybe Sacramento will win 35 games next year.
And maybe George Bush or Michael Dukakis will balance the budget.
Basketball Hoopla, © 1988, L. Dean Oliver