Kings: Division Preview – Last Year’s Clippers Were Difficult Enough

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 01: Harry Giles III #20 of the Sacramento Kings blocks a shot from Landry Shamet #20 of the Los Angeles Clippers in a game at Golden 1 Center on March 01, 2019 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 01: Harry Giles III #20 of the Sacramento Kings blocks a shot from Landry Shamet #20 of the Los Angeles Clippers in a game at Golden 1 Center on March 01, 2019 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images) /
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Last season, the Sacramento Kings were in a close race for the eighth seed last season with the Los Angeles Clippers. Going winless in the head-to-head didn’t help.

The Los Angeles Clippers broke the hearts of many Sacramento Kings fans last season, beating them in the playoff race to the eighth seed, and sweeping the Kings in the regular season battle. Grant Napier coined “Mr. Uh Oh” for Montrezl Harrell, but it was the Kings’ first-quarter struggles along with Buddy Hield having some of his worst showings that were more prominent issues. With the Clippers additions of stars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, the task of the Kings coming out victorious did not get any easier.

Buddy Hield’s Shooting Struggles

Hield played more bad games against the Clippers than against any other opponent. One of the best shooters from deep in this league only shot above 30% once against LAC. In 2018-19, Hield had just four games with zero three-pointers made, and two of them were against the Clippers. Sacramento lost three of the four games where Buddy was scoreless from deep, the one win being the memorable Bogdan Bogdanovic game-winner against that other team in Los Angeles. Hield shot 5 for 28 from beyond the arc in the series against LAC, good for a paltry 17.9%, which was his worst against any single opponent last season.

The Clippers were known as solid perimeter defenders while sporting the fifth-best opponent three-point percentage, but Hield didn’t underperform to this extreme against other top perimeter defenses: 39.4% against Houston, 42.9% against Philadelphia, and 47.5% against Golden State. Take a look at his attempts in the first matchup, most of them being shots that Hield would usually have no problem with — some would even qualify as wide open.

I have no explanation. There were three days of rest before this game, and Hield shot a combined 50% from three on 32 attempts the five games prior and 41.9% on 43 attempts in the five games following. An outlier? Maybe. But two outliers against the same team? In 2017-18, Hield shot 50% against LAC in the season series. I’m left thinking that it is a combination of high-quality defense from the Clippers and Buddy Hield just simply having an off night.

Slow Starts Doomed Sacramento

Aside from Hield, the first-quarters were horrific from Sacramento: 26-42 in game one, 27-39 in game two, 21-34 in game three, and the only acceptable showing was a 23-26 tally in game four. The Kings trailed by a combined 97-144 total in the first quarters, favoring the Clippers by a 47 point margin. In the other three quarters combined, Sacramento actually outscored the Clippers by a small margin, 359-357 in favor of the Kings.

Getting punched in the mouth early in a game has a major impact, especially for a young team like the Kings. Sacramento only won nine games last season after trailing by five or more at the end of the first quarter, eight of those games coming against non-playoff teams. The other was against the Eastern Conference eighth seed in the Orlando Magic.

Sacramento was scoring at close to their usual rate, aside from Hield, finishing with no less than 108 points in any game against the Clippers, but only held L.A. under 120 points once. Three of the five highest-scoring quarters in the matchup for the Clippers came in the first, so it was no surprise that the one game where Sacramento kept themselves within reach at the end of 12 minutes was the lone game they lost by less than nine points. Poor defensive effort and not being locked in from the jump hurt the Kings, and now the Clippers will feature two potential MVP-candidates.

A Conversation With Clipperholics

The additions of Paul George and Kawhi Leonard will surely improve the Clippers defense, specifically on the wings. But how does it affect the offense where Sacramento has significant struggles against the pick-and-roll? I asked for some help from Garrett Chorpenning of Clipperholics to get his insight on the new roster.

I asked Garrett how the felt the offense of the Clippers will vary with their new acquisitions, specifically focused on the deadly Lou Williams – Montrezl Harrell duo, and are there any weaknesses on either end that you can identify for the title contenders?

Garrett Chorpenning:  For Lou and Trezz, I’m not super concerned. I think that as long as they’re rolling with the second unit, they’ll continue to play the same role that they’ve been playing and post similar numbers.

Both players figure to be part of LA’s closing lineup though, along with Kawhi, PG and Patrick Beverley. Lou and Trezz both played huge roles in those moments last season, and that’s where I think they’ll take a hit this year. Their looks might be more open with Leonard and George on the floor, but I don’t think either will play as much of a role in the offense as they have before.

As far as weaknesses go, there aren’t many. The Clippers are among the deepest teams in the league, if not the deepest. We’re talking about a bench that led the league in bench points per game last season by a considerable margin, and I think they improved upon their depth this summer. That should scare a lot of teams.

My only concern is size — LA has a true seven-footer in Ivica Zubac, and I’m pretty high on him, but some of the league’s more dominant bigs are going to have their way with him in the paint.

Harrell, on the other hand, is undersized at 6’8” but plays with limitless energy. He can get boards against those bigger guys, but again, stopping them is going to be an issue.

Kings Depth vs. Clippers Depth

The Kings will also likely one of the deeper teams in the league this year after a successful offseason of acquisitions. Let’s compare the bench lineups:

Joseph-Bogdanovic-Ariza-Bjelicia-Holmes

Williams-McGruder-Harkless-Green-Harrell

Having Cory Joseph and Richaun Holmes to cover the Williams and Montrezl pick-and-roll is undoubtedly an upgrade over last season’s defense with Yogi Ferrell and Harry Giles or Kosta Koufos. Offensively for the Kings, it will likely be a Bogdanovic/Holmes pick and roll that the Clippers could potentially struggle with. Holmes and Harrell will certainly be a battle that fans will be tired just from watching the hustle and intensity displayed by both players.

At the very least, there is some reason for optimism for Sacramento that the Clippers won’t easily run away with the lead when the bench lineups are squaring off. As for the starters, the Kings have to hope that Marvin Bagley can take advantage of Zubac. But what is stopping Leonard or George from guarding Bagley and Zubac just watching Dedmon on the perimeter? This may be a case of an early sub of, say, Trevor Ariza for Dedmon to help defend the elite wings and make Bagley the clearcut center.

The issue is that Bagley does not seem quite ready to carry the team to victories in just his second season. He averaged 19 points and 7.5 rebounds on 52% from the field in 23.6 minutes during his two matchups against the Clippers in 2018-19. My one wrinkle of hope is that 3.5 of those rebounds were offensive. The Kings as a whole averaged 12.8 offensive rebound in the four meetings with LAC.

Maybe that is one ray of light and chance to conquer this frightening Clippers team: the crashing of the offensive glass along with Luke Walton‘s goal for the Kings to get up 35+ three-pointers per game. The Clippers averaged 25.8 per last season.

More From Clipperholics

We bring in Chorpenning again for another round of questions: If the Kings, and Buddy Hield specifically, can get up that many long-range attempts and hope to pull in some offensive rebounds, could that be the one caveat here?  How do you expect the Clippers defensive rebounding to fare and is there any talk on shooting more from beyond the arc? Also, how many games do you expect both Kawhi and George to miss out on? The Kings need every regular-season wins they can get, no matter if there is an asterisk of load management or not.

Chorpenning:  I think it could be, for sure. I think that would be tough to do, but those are probably two parts of the recipe for beating this team.

As far as LA’s rebounding goes, I think they’ll be solid. With Zubac as a full-time starting center, plus PG and Kawhi who are each very capable of hauling in their fair share, rebounding should be a strength this season as opposed to a weakness.

Three-point shooting should also be a strength of this team — again, PG and Kawhi are both fantastic from range, and Patrick Beverley, Landry Shamet and JaMychal Green were all great from deep last season as well. There are a few players that I’m keeping an eye on in that category, namely Moe Harkless and Rodney McGruder, to see if they improve this year as well.

I think they’ll each miss 10-20 games, with George on the higher end. He’s expected to at least miss the first 10 games of the season, and load management + various injuries will probably keep him out another 5-10. I think Leonard misses less, maybe 10-15, since his load management is not supposed to be as heavy this year.

Keys To Victory and Final Thoughts

Beating a title favorite will be no easy task, and Sacramento will be far from being favored in their matchups with the Clippers.

It seems as though the hope is that Bagley will be able to take advantage of Zubac guarding him when the Kings run with a small-ball lineup, or if the Clippers don’t have Leonard and/or George suiting up that given night.

Getting out on fast breaks and pushing the ball after made shots should help them avoid LA’s elite half-court perimeter defense, and Hield needs to hit his shots. The Kings’ cannot go down by double digits in the first quarter, and they need to be aggressive on the offensive glass. And of course, Hield can’t average below 20% from three in the season series if the Kings hope to snag any victories.

Next. 3 Predictions For Harrison Barnes. dark

The four contests against the Clippers will be some troublesome nights for the Sacramento Kings, and there are no clear advantages to capitalize on. No matter how optimistic we try to be, the Clippers could very likely sweep the season series yet again.

A big thank you again to Garrett Chorpenning of Clippersholicis for sharing his thoughts with us, and be on the lookout the first Kings-Clippers matchup of the year on New Year’s Eve.