SACRAMENTO -- Expectations are changing. After more than a decade of futility, the Kings entered 2019 with a winning record. They are one of the better stories of the NBA season, and they expect to be in the hunt for the next three-and-a-half months.
It’s shocking that the team hadn’t crested Jan. 1 with a .500 record since the 2004-05 season. It’s even more shocking that it’s a group of kids in their early 20’s who have delivered this improbable start.
“We’re just going to continue to get better, continue to grow together,” De’Aaron Fox said following the team’s disappointing loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday evening. “We wanted to go in with 20 wins, but we’ll go in with 19. It’s very close in the standings, but we’ve got to get the games that we think we should win. 2019 I think will be a good year for us.”
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This team has aspirations, but more importantly, they have expectations. They know they let one slip away in LA, and they aren’t happy about that. Iman Shumpert even turned to Twitter to apologize for the loss.
It’s a new era of Kings basketball. They are accountable for their mistakes. They care deeply about winning. They also care deeply for each other, and there is a cultural shift taking place in the locker room.
The team came into the season with a projected win total of 25.5 games from Vegas oddsmakers. They’re on pace to smash that mark before February hits.
In addition to winning, the team is quickly establishing roles and getting consistent production from their core.
Fox is becoming a star-level player in just his second season in the league. Buddy Hield is the scorer folks became accustomed to during his time at Oklahoma. Bogdan Bogdanovic looks like Manu Ginobili 2.0.
After 37 games, coach Dave Joerger can count on these three to deliver consistent production night in and night out. He didn’t know coming into the season if he had one player that he could pencil stats in for, let alone three.
It isn’t always perfect and there are still kinks to be worked out, but Willie Cauley-Stein is more consistent in his fourth NBA season. The big man continues to develop at his own pace, but at 13.9 points and 8.6 rebounds in 28.6 minutes per night entering Tuesday, he is better than serviceable and fits the style of basketball the Kings play.
The three veterans who step on the floor are providing depth and help the team in very distinct ways. Shumpert is a vocal defender who’s shot 39.3 percent from behind the arc going into Tuesday night's loss to the Trail Blazers, and providing locker-room support.
Nemanja Bjelica has outplayed all projections and provided the team with a deadly shooter at the four. He opens the running lanes for Fox, and has been better than expected in almost every facet of the game.
Kosta Koufos is the ultimate professional. He isn’t as dynamic as some of the Kings’ young bigs, but he is the team’s best post defender and you know what you’re getting when he steps on the floor.
The team is taking the cautious approach to rookie Marvin Bagley’s knee injury, but he should provide a lift in the second half of the season. He has shown flashes of being a special player in his first few months in the league, and he fits in well to the Kings’ style of play.
Justin Jackson has had moments and he’s showing improvement in year two. Yogi Ferrell, Frank Mason and Harry Giles are all young players with potential to improve, and help the team at some point.
It’s a long season. There will be plenty of ups and downs as the Kings forge towards unfamiliar territory. But, there is a good vibe and a glimmer of hope in Sacramento that hasn’t been there for a long time.