5 reasons the Sacramento Kings can make the playoffs
The No. 8 seed in the Western Conference is up for grabs. Here are five reasons that the Sacramento Kings will make the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs.
As the 2016-17 NBA season flips over to the 2017 portion, we have to begin to accept that a sub-.500 team will end up making it into the Western Conference Playoffs. This is a yearly phenomenon that happens in the Eastern Conference, but rarely do 40-win teams end up making the playoffs out of the West.
The gap between the No. 7 Memphis Grizzlies and whomever ends up getting the No. 8 seed is vast. There are four teams in contention for the No. 8 seed: the Denver Nuggets, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Portland Trail Blazers and the Sacramento Kings.
Here are five reasons the Kings will end up being the team that has the distinct privilege to get swept by the Golden State Warriors in the first round of the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs.
Dec 23, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Wilson Chandler (21) and guard Emmanuel Mudiay (0) reacts after a play in the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Hawks at the Pepsi Center. The Hawks won 109-108. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
5. The Denver Nuggets are still a year away
Let’s look at the eight teams that would in theory be vying for the No. 8 seed in the West. We can immediately cross off the Dallas Mavericks and the Phoenix Suns. They are having abysmal seasons thus far. Realistically, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Minnesota Timberwolves have dug themselves too deep of a hole to climb out of and make the playoffs.
The fifth team to toss into that crew of teams not going to make it are the Pelicans. Do we really trust ownership and the New Orleans front office to put together a solid supporting cast around Anthony Davis? The Pelicans feel like they are one injury away from being totally out of it.
So that leaves us with Denver, Portland and Sacramento as the three most likely teams to get that No. 8 seed in the Western Conference. While Denver would absolutely benefit from making the Western Conference Playoffs, the Nuggets are honestly a year away from making them.
Denver is a low-ceiling team with a high floor. Who is the Nuggets star player to get them over the top? Can head coach Michael Malone rely on the often-injured Danilo Gallinari to win for Denver in crunch time? Denver has a ton of exciting players, but unless rookie Jamal Murray or second-year point guard Emmanuel Mudiay pop in the second half, the Nuggets won’t have the fire power to get that eighth seed. Maybe next year they get in, but not in 2017.
Dec 28, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) drives on Portland Trail Blazers center Mason Plumlee (24) in the first half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
4. The Portland Trail Blazers play no defense
Sacramento’s biggest challenger for the No. 8 seed has to be Portland. The Trail Blazers have been in the Western Conference Playoffs the last several years under head coach Terry Stotts. They have a great basketball culture and two stellar backcourt players in point guard Damian Lillard and shooting guard C.J. McCollum.
However, there is one massive problem with the 2016-17 Trail Blazers construction: they play absolutely zero defense. Portland can put up points with Lillard and McCollum in the backcourt, but having to be so ball-dominant on offense capsizes the Trail Blazers’ overall bite on defense.
They need frontcourt dynamism and rim protection in the worst way possible. The idea was that free agent acquisition Festus Ezeli was going to be that guy, but he looks like he will miss the entire 2016-17 NBA season due to injury.
Al-Farouq Aminu is solid defensively when out there and so is Maurice Harkless. That being said, Portland is only going to be as good as its two best players allow it to be on defense. The problem is that matador defense doesn’t work in the Western Conference. Portland can win shootouts, but doesn’t grind it out and will surrender massive leads with terrible defensive acumen.
Dec 4, 2016; New York, NY, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Rudy Gay (8) shoots a free throw during the first quarter against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
3. Rudy Gay
While he may hate playing for the Kings, small forward Rudy Gay is massively important for Sacramento’s 2017 Western Conference Playoff chances for so many reasons.
Gay can create his own shot and is a guaranteed 15 to 20 points per game in the Kings starting lineup. He can be a go-to guy in crunch time scenarios to give the Kings lift late in games. His stock continues to rise as an excellent complementary player in the NBA and can score from all over the floor. He is especially lethal in the mid-range.
Gay isn’t flashy, but is a model of consistency in a highly dysfunctional Kings organization. He once called the organization Basketball Hell, but Gay is playing great in the final year of his contract. Gay may want out of town, but his high-level of play only benefits the Kings’ playoff chances.
At the NBA trade deadline, Gay might be the biggest name to be moved. He will have to go to a team he’ll likely re-up with in 2017 NBA free agency, but the Kings could garner a great package in return. They might get a first-round pick and two solid rotational players to keep the machine going in Sacramento towards summer playoff basketball.
Dec 28, 2016; Portland, OR, USA; Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins (15) looks up during a Portland Trail Blazers free throw in the second half at Moda Center. Mandatory Credit: Jaime Valdez-USA TODAY Sports
2. DeMarcus Cousins
A major reason that the Kings can reach the 2017 Western Conference Playoffs is that they have the best pure center in the NBA in the enigmatic DeMarcus Cousins. He’s every bit as talented as Derrick Coleman was in the 1990s, and every bit as frustrating. Could this be the year that Cousins puts it all together and gets the Kings to the playoffs?
Cousins is owner Vivek Ranadive’s crown jewel in Sacramento. He will likely garner a max contract here soon to stay in Sacramento for the foreseeable future. Cousins would look pretty good in the royal purple at Golden 1 Center for the next few years.
Sacramento could trade Cousins to teams like Denver, the Boston Celtics or the Orlando Magic, but will have to get a boat load in return for its superstar player. Cousins has undeniable talent and could finally lead the Kings to the playoffs with the right supporting cast and coaching staff around him.
Let’s not forget that Cousins played on the 2016 US Men’s National Team that won Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro. Most players that haven’t won before pick up great habits by being around other star players. Maybe his experience playing in the Olympics manifests in Cousins getting Sacramento to 35-plus wins and into the Western Conference Playoffs as the No. 8 seed.
Apr 22, 2016; Memphis, TN, USA; Memphis Grizzlies head coach Dave Joerger reacts to a play against the San Antonio Spurs in game three of the first round of the NBA Playoffs at FedExForum. Spurs defeated Grizzlies 96-87. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports
1. Dave Joerger
The best thing the Kings have going for them to reach the Western Conference Playoffs is head coach Dave Joerger. He’s done it before several times while coaching in Memphis. If he can get that injury-riddled 2015-16 Grizzlies team into the playoffs, he can definitely lead the 2016-17 Kings to a first-round exodus.
It’s Joerger’s first year in Northern California. He’s known for defensive strategy and being meticulous with every offensive possession. Joerger is more inclined to slow down the pace of a game to ensure that his team stays focused. For an easily distracted Kings team, he’s the right ringleader for this Western Conference circus of a basketball team.
He can tame lions (Cousins, Gay), jump through hoops (ownership and the front office), and juggle anything thrown his way (injuries, rotations). There’s really nothing that Joerger hasn’t seen before with the Grizzlies that he could see with the Kings. Getting him to be the team’s head coach was an absolute steal for the organization. Nobody was a better fit for Sacramento’s culture than Joerger.
Sacramento has had potentially promising teams in the Cousins era, but have faded horrendously down the stretch. The Kings have made the investment in Joerger and will probably love to see him co-exist marvelous with Cousins. Their relationship may not get to what Cousins had with Malone that one year, but Joerger can get the most out of Cousins and this team. That should be good enough to get the Kings the No. 8 seed.
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