The Return of the Kings

 Today’s story is all about the Sacramento Kings.  The story will begin with a brief recount of this team’s history before turning to a discussion of the team’s present incarnation and its future.

A Brief History of the Kings

The Sacramento Kings franchise began as the Rochester Royals in the Basketball Association of America (which merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the National Basketball Association).  The Royals won 58% of their games in Rochester and the NBA title in 1951.   In sum, Rochester was one of the dominant teams in the early history of the NBA.

After Rochester, though, this franchise fell on hard times.  First the Royals moved to Cincinnati.  From 1957 to 1972 to Royals only finished above 0.500 five times.  Led by Oscar Robertson (whose Wins Produced we will just have to imagine because so little data was tracked in the 1960s) the team did win 55 games in 1963-64.  Still, even with Robertson, the Royals were not consistent contenders. 

In 1972 the Royals became the Kings and moved to Kansas City and Omaha.  The KC-Omaha Kings lasted for three seasons before losing its Nebraska connection in 1975. For the next ten seasons the Kings remained in Kansas City, but winning was still elusive.  Only three times were the Kansas City Kings able to win more than half their games. 

In 1985 the team moved on to Sacramento.  Unfortunately, the Kings first fourteen seasons in Sacramento brought even less success.  The team averaged less than 30 wins per season and never won as many as 40 contests in a single campaign.

The C-Webb Story

And then in 1998 the Kings traded for Chris Webber and the Kings finally came close to living up to their name. In the seven seasons C-Webb played in Sacramento this team won 65% of its regular season contests.  This works out to an average of 53 wins each year.  Just to recap….without Webber, the Kings failed to win 50 games in a single regular season from 1964-65 to 1997-98.  With Webber, the Kings suddenly were averaging 50 wins each season.

To further illustrate Webber’s impact, consider that in 1997-98 the Kings won only 27 games.  In 1998-99 the Kings – with Webber on board – also won 27 games.  Okay, sounds like the same.  But there was a lock-out in 1998-99 and the Kings only played 50 games.  Had they played 82 games, and won at the same pace, the Kings would have won 44 games (or improve by 17 games). The next season the Kings did win 44 games.  And over the next five seasons the team won 55, 61, 59, 55, and 50 games. 

But in 2004-05 the Kings traded C-Webb to the 76ers.  Although the Kings managed to win 50 games that season, the next year Sacramento only won 44 games.  And then last year, the Kings finished with only 33 victories.   

So here is the story.  For decades the Royals-Kings floundered.  Then Webber was forced to move to Sacramento and suddenly this team was a winner. And then when Webber got hurt and was taken away, we saw the Return of the Kings.

More to the Story

Now that’s a great story.  One player reluctantly comes to a franchise that has struggled for decades and by himself turns it into a contender.  Unfortunately, as the following tables indicate, it’s not actually true that Webber saved the Kings by himself.

Tables 1-4: The Kings from 1997-98 to 2004-05

From 1998-99 to 2004-05, the Kings won 368 games (assuming the team would have won 44 contests had the 1998-99 campaign gone 82 games).  The summation of Wins Produced for this team, across these seven years, is also 368.  Of these wins, 63.9 – or 17% — can be attributed to Webber.  But another 50.2 wins – or 14% — can be attributed to Vlade Divac.  Divac was also acquired in 1998, and after he departed, the Kings also saw their fortunes decline.

And let’s not forget Peja Stojakovic.  Stojakovic, like Webber and Divac, also arrived in 1998.  During the C-Webb years in Sacramento, Stojakovic produced 55 wins, or 15% of the total.

Of course, even with these three players the Kings did not get to 50 wins until 2000-01.  What happened that season?  The Kings welcomed Doug Christie.  Christie produced 43.9 wins, or 12% of the total, during the Webber years. 

In sum, Webber had some help.  The combination of Webber, Divac, Stojakovic, and Christie produced 213 wins across these seven seasons, or 58% of the Kings totals.  Without these teammates – and other players like Mike Bibby, Scott Pollard, and Brad Miller – the Kings would not have become winners.

The Kings Today

The quartet of Webber, Divac, Stojakovic, and Christie has now left Sacramento.  All that is really left of the glory years is Mike Bibby and Brad Miller.  And as the following table indicates, each of these players has dropped off considerably.

Table Five: The Kings in 2005-06 and 2006-07

Miller and Bibby are not sliding alone.  Shareef Abdur-Rahim has produced 83.1 wins in his career with a WP48 (Wins Produced per 48 minutes) of 0.138 (average is 0.100).  His WP48 was above 0.200 his last two year in Vancouver.  But playing his 11th season in 2006-07 his WP48 wandered into the negative range.  And the alternative to Abdur-Rahim in the frontcourt – Kenny Thomas – also posted a WP48 below his career average last year.

With Miller, Abdur-Rahim, and Thomas all at least 30 years old and coming off productivity declines, the Kings were certainly tempted to look towards the frontcourt with the lottery pick a 33 win season gave them in 2007.  Consequently the Kings drafted Spencer Hawes, a 19 year-old seven-footer out of the University of Washington.

Hawes, though, was one of the least productive big men selected in the draft.  One number tells us where the problem lies.  Hawes only averaged 0.22 rebounds per minute in college last season, a below average mark for an NBA player.  Generally a player rebounds better in college than he does in the pros.  If this holds true for Hawes, he will be a very poor NBA player.

The only other major addition the Kings made this past summer was the acquisition of Mikki Moore.  Moore supposedly had a break-out season in New Jersey last year, but as I noted in July, this was mostly because he was able to play more minutes in New Jersey.  His WP48, which has been typically below average, was only 0.055 last season.

Beyond these additions, the Kings have again changed coaches.  Reggis Theus – a player who once starred for the Kings when they were quite bad – was named head coach this summer. But adding two below average big men to a cast that only won 33 games last year does not suggest that the Kings are going to be able to do more under Reggie Theus in 2007-08 than they did with Eric Musselman in 2006-07 (unless, of course, it was Musselman – and not age and injury – that caused all these players to play so poorly).

Given the few changes Sacramento made this summer, and how poorly the team played last season, one suspects the Kings will not contend in the Western Conference in 2007-08.  Yes, Kevin Martin (who I have not mentioned yet) is a very good player.  But the Kings resurgence was not just about the addition of Webber.  And until the Kings add more talent around Martin, the Return of the Kings is not going to be the blockbuster Sacramento fans are going to want to watch for very long.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

Wins Produced and Win Score are Discussed in the Following Posts

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

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