The Kings are winning with offense -- and what an offense it is
Posted: Monday November 24, 2003 2:08AM; Updated: Monday December 1, 2003 1:31AM
By John Hollinger, SI.com
Ever see that Brady Bunch episode where Peter decides he wants a new personality? That's kind of like what's happening with the Kings this year.
First, a little history. Unbeknownst to many, the Kings were a fantastic defensive team a year ago. In terms of points allowed per game, Sacramento was only in the middle of the pack, but that was because it played at a faster pace than every other team but one (Golden State).
Those of you who read this column last year are familiar with a tool I used called Defensive Efficiency, which measures how many points a team allows for every 100 possessions. It evens out distortions caused by pace and focuses on how effectively teams stop the opponent. (For those of you with a calculator handy, to compute a team's Defensive Efficiency you start by taking its opponents' free-throw attempts and multiply by 0.44. Add opponents' field-goal attempts and turnovers, and subtract opponents' offensive rebounds. Take points allowed and divide by this number, and multiply the result by 100.)
As the chart below shows, last year the Kings ranked third in the NBA in Defensive Efficiency, and they were within a whisker of second. Offensively, meanwhile, the Kings only ranked eighth. So imagine our surprise when this season, the Kings brought back most of the same players but performed much differently. On the defensive end, Sacramento isn't the third-best defense any more. Or fourth. Or even fifth. In fact, the Kings are 19th. Their Defensive Efficiency of 100.9 is well above the league average of 98.7.
But despite their slippage on defense, the Kings still are slapping people around (12-4 after Sunday night's pounding of New Jersey), and the reason is their offense. With precision shooting and breathtaking passing, the Kings' offense has rocketed to the top of the league, and it's not even close. Their Efficiency mark of 109.6 ranks nearly four points higher than Dallas, which has an awesome offensive team itself, so you can only imagine how effective the Kings have been.
To illustrate it further, consider that the Mavs were one of the best offenses of all-time last year and are on pace to do so again this year. We can compare teams offenses between seasons by looking at how they fared against the league average; this adjusts for the difference between previous eras and today's more defensively dominant one. As the chart below shows, of all the teams of the past 15 years, including Mr. Jordan's Bulls, the Dallas teams of the past two years were right near the top. But Sacramento is in a league of its own:
Look at the Kings! They're on pace to finish with an Offensive Efficiency more than 10 points above the league average. That not only hasn't been done in the past two decades, it hasn't even been approached.
Now, just for kicks, let's replace Tony Massenburg with Chris Webber.
That's what the Kings get to do in another month or so, adding another layer to their mind-blowing offensive performance: they've done it without their most dynamic offensive player. Brad Miller has filled in admirably in his spot, but as the chart at right shows, it's been a team effort. Among the nine Kings who see significant playing time, everyone except Massenburg is shooting at least 44.9 percent, and everyone but Massenburg and defensive specialist Doug Christie average at least 17.8 points per 48 minutes. Peja Stojakovic's blistering shooting has led the way, but even newcomer Darius Songaila has gotten in on the act, shooting nearly 50 percent and scoring as much as the All-Star he backs up (Miller).
Obviously, it seems like we could be seeing a historically great performance. As the chart at left shows, the Kings are miles ahead of the league in six offensive categories -- points, field-goal percentage, 3-point percentage, assists, assist-turnover ratio, and Offensive Efficiency. Once Webber comes back, they figure to be even more devastating.
But there's a couple of what-ifs. First, the Kings have played 10 home games and six road games, so their numbers figure to drop slightly as their home-road ratio evens out. But more important, I mentioned earlier that the Kings are accomplshing these results with most of the same cast as a year ago, and that's crucial because a lot of the Kings are playing well beyond their norms.
Of particular interest is the Kings' 3-point shooting. For comparison purposes, last year only three players in the whole league shot better than 43 percent last season, and that's what the Kings are shooting as a team. Anthony Peeler, in particular, has been out of his mind, shooting an unsustainable 67 percent from downtown, but all of the Kings' perimeter players except Christie have increased their accuracy from long range. One has to think that gravity will affect that mark at some time and push it toward something more realistic. But Sacramento's performance would have to diminish a fair amount from its current level for them to avoid having an all-time great offense.
There's still 66 games left, so we'll see if the Kings can keep up their awesome performance. But for now, let's enjoy the Kings' new personality, because it's a remarkable and unexpected change that is made even more amazing by Webber's absence.
John Hollinger covers basketball for SI.com and is the author of Pro Basketball Prospectus. Click here to send him a question or comment.