It’s no secret that the Sacramento Kings have struggled with their outside shooting in the playoffs. After finishing the regular season among the leaders in three-point attempts (6th) and makes (5th), the long-ball seems to have abandoned Sacramento, as they’re knocking down just 27.4% of their attempts, ranking 14th of the 16 postseason teams. In a not-so-encouraging twist, De’Aaron Fox has morphed into the Kings most reliable sniper from deep, as he’s making and taking the most three-pointers, and he’s tied for the highest percentage at 33%. The team’s shooters, Keegan Murray (12.5%), Kevin Huerter (15%), and Harrison Barnes (28.6%) have completely disappeared from the shot-making map.
This sort of phenomenon can be linked to several factors. The Warriors are the defending champions for a reason, and they’re playing solid perimeter defense. Domantas Sabonis has struggled to facilitate from the post against Kevon Looney and Golden State’s active hands, recording 10 assists to 13 turnovers. This Kings team is also full of guys with little to no playoff experience, and the moment may loom large for some of them, especially a rookie like Keegan Murray.
Beyond those potential causes, a definable problem facing the Kings is their developing love affair with early-clock three-pointers. Instead of forcing the Warriors to play full defensive possessions and move around the floor to prevent lane penetration, Sacramento is often settling for the first open look they get, never allowing their offense to establish a flow, with Thursday night’s performance at Chase Center standing as the best and worst example of those poor habits.
Heading into Game 3, the Kings sported a massive size advantage with Draymond Green’s suspension. The dream, and the likely game plan, was to live at the rim and punish Golden State from the inside out. However, a severe lack of discipline on Sacramento’s part quickly turned into a nightmare offensively.
Instead of taking advantage of the quickness of De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk and the size of Domantas Sabonis and Alex Len, the Kings launched a barrage of three-pointers early and often on Thursday night, and they never adjusted their approach when their shots failed to connect. During the regular season, Sacramento averaged 6.3 three-point attempts very early in the shot clock (18-22 seconds remaining), and they converted on 39.2% of those shots. Last night, Sacramento attempted nine of those shots, making just two.
While a few extra early three-pointers can’t take the full blame for a loss, Sacramento’s shot selection looks even worse through the early shot clock (15-18 seconds remaining) lens. Through the first 82 games of the season, the Kings averaged 7.7 per game. Last night, Sacramento attempted a whopping 16 early shot-clock three-pointers. They made one.
Of course, it’s easy to find causation through correlation when contemplating Sacramento’s addiction to early shots on Thursday evening, but what happens when the perspective is changed to more in-rhythm situations in which Golden State’s defense was forced to defend for more than a few seconds? During the regular season, the Kings made 38.6% of their 16 three-point attempts with an average amount of time (7-15 seconds) remaining on the shot clock. During Game 3, a night in which the Kings seemingly couldn’t hit anything from deep, Sacramento also attempted 16 three-pointers during that span. They hit seven of those attempts, good for 43.8% of their attempts.
These extra, ill-advised early shot clock three-pointers must have come from somewhere, as the Kings didn’t attempt all that many extra field goals on Thursday night, and those missing attempts can be found in the paint. Over 30% of Sacramento’s field goal attempts originated in the restricted area during the regular season, a total of 26.6 per game. At the Chase Center, that number plummeted to just 11 shots, accounting for 11.9% of their field goal attempts. The Kings allowed Golden State to dictate when and where they attempted their shots, and the results were about as bad as imaginable.
While it’s impossible to perfectly pinpoint why the Kings are struggling so badly from beyond the arc, two factors stand out as abundantly clear. First and foremost, Sacramento’s shooters simply need to hit their shots. The team’s best shooters can’t shoot in the teens for the rest of the series if the Kings want to advance. Beyond that very basic approach, the Kings also need to help themselves, and their shooters, by getting into the flow of their offense before raining down three-pointer after three-pointer. Their entire offense is built around the principle of lane penetration leading to open shooters, not the other way around. If the Kings fail to make the Warriors move and shift and switch on defense and allow Golden State to dictate the terms of their offensive approach, they will continue to struggle from beyond the arc, something they can ill afford to continue doing against the hungry defending champions.