There’s been no shortage of attention on the Sacramento Kings in the wake of their mind-boggling choice to deal DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans for pennies on the dollar. But one thing that’s garnered almost no scrutiny is the inconsistency of the team’s play.
The Kings this season have lost a league-worst five games in which they once held a lead of 15 points or more, according to NBA Miner, a site that tracks advanced and unusual statistics. But they’ve also tied for an NBA-best four wins in contests that they once trailed in by 15 points or more. How are those two things even possible?
Well, it helps when you’re as inconsistent as the Kings are. Sacramento is the NBA’s worst team in first halves by far yet owns the league’s 10th-best net rating1 in second halves (even better than the defending-champion Cavs). Those numbers fit the pattern of what’s happened in the team’s craziest outcomes: Three of Sacramento’s four major comebacks this season began during the third quarter, while four of the Kings’ five collapses began unraveling in the second quarter.
In the comebacks, the Kings often had trouble containing opposing forwards — Andrew Wiggins, Gordon Hayward, Tobias Harris and Paul Millsap, among others — in the early going. But Sacramento wisely dumped the ball into Cousins, who repeatedly drew fouls and visits to the line during second halves, which allowed his team to play catch-up with the clock stopped. This especially worked in a 94-93 win over Utah, in which Cousins shot 10 free throws in the fourth quarter without taking a single field-goal attempt.
During the back-breaking losses, the slow-paced Kings have often been outrun by their opponents. In a game on Nov. 10, the Lakers outscored Sacramento 13-4 in second-half fast-break points, according to NBA.com. The Warriors outscored the Kings 21-3 in fast-break scenarios during the second half of their Jan. 8 comeback. And the Pacers finished with a 22-0 second-half advantage in fast-break scoring over the Kings en route to a come-from-behind victory on Jan. 18. (Sacramento’s 3-point defense, one of the worst in the NBA, was also less than stellar in those second-half efforts.)
Cousins obviously had a ton to do with the Kings’ outcomes in these games — particularly in a 3-point loss to the Sixers in which he had 46 points but fouled out in the final minute. But the loss of Rudy Gay, out for the season, arguably had a bigger impact in some cases.
Gay tore one of his Achilles tendons in the midst of one of the collapses, with the Kings up by 10 against Indiana in a Jan. 18 contest that Sacramento once led by 22. Gay’s injury took a psychological toll on the club that night, Cousins told reporters after the game. Cousins shot 0-for-9 with six turnovers after halftime.
And there was a tangible difference in the team’s play. Without Gay’s ability to ease some of the scoring burden (his 26 percent usage rate was the team’s second-highest before the team remade itself at the trade deadline), Cousins was overworked in some fourth periods. His fourth-quarter usage rate jumped to 57.5 percent during the last week and a half of January, after Gay’s injury, up from 37 percent earlier in the same month. That’d be asking too much of anyone — let alone the NBA’s most double-teamed post player.
Things will change considerably now that Cousins is in New Orleans. The Kings can only hope that the move allows for increased stability, and perhaps fewer blown leads, going forward.
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