When winning is the best outcome for the Sacramento Kings, they lose, and when losing is the best outcome, they win.
The Kings get stuck between a rock and a hard place, year in and year out. While good teams make their springtime playoff push, and bad teams make their descent down the standings, Sacramento often gets stuck in no man’s land.
A little more than a week ago, the Kings had the fifth-best lottery odds and were in a premium position to move up in the lottery or pick at No. 5 or No. 6 if they didn’t move up. After barely winning four out of five against tanking teams, the Kings have dropped to seventh in the lottery standings. It doesn’t appear that will change, with teams in the 1-6 spots putting out G-League level talent on the court most nights and the Kings still winning games.
In this timespan, the Kings dropped 10.2% in their chance to land in the top four of the draft and 3% in their chance to land the top pick. While this difference might seem like small potatoes, it is a pretty big deal for this draft. In a year when many experts have separated a top-four tier of Chet Holmgren, Paolo Banchero, Jabari Smith Jr. and Jaden Ivey, every percentage point is crucial.
The good news to come out of recent games has been the emergence of Davion Mitchell, who has looked like a legitimate long-term piece for the team moving forward with his stellar defense and improved jumper. Aside from Mitchell, many of the guys playing big minutes are veterans or NBA journeymen. So, it is a bit hard to get too jazzed about the future implications of what we are seeing.
Granted, it seems that the Kings shut down their two best players, De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, for the rest of the season, so it’s not like they are going all out to win these games. Still, seeing Harrison Barnes 36 minutes in Friday’s game against Houston just seems pointless at this point in the season.
Some may cite “establishing a winning culture” to end the season. The Kings themselves proved just last that winning these types of games against bad teams to end a season rarely amounts to anything in the future. The Kings won six out of seven games down the stretch of last season, and none of that play carried over.
Because of that late-season “surge,” Monte McNair’s offseason consisted of bringing back Luke Walton and resigning role players like Moe Harkless and Terence Davis, who played well during this stretch. At this point, many teams are phoning it in, so it isn’t the time to draw massive conclusions on what’s going on.
Last season, the Toronto Raptors were in the same area of the lottery standings as the Kings down the stretch of the season, prioritized lottery odds once their season was over and got rewarded with a future All-Star in Scottie Barnes.
The Kings could get lucky in the draft this year and make all of this a moot point, but they haven’t been helping their chances to do so. General manager Monte McNair is two for two on draft picks thus far, but the Kings’ roster needs some home runs and not the singles or doubles typically picked in this draft range.
It is not a coincidence that teams that prioritized getting a high pick have lapped the Kings in their rebuilds multiple times. While the Kings continuously win between 30 and 35 games and toil between picks 7 to 12 every season. Trying to rebuild while constantly picking in the middle of the lottery is extremely hard, and the Kings are proof of that.