Forecasting the end of the Sacramento Kings’ decade-long playoff drought

De'Aaron Fox, Kings (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
De'Aaron Fox, Kings (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images) /

With the Seattle Mariners having finally made the playoffs, the Sacramento Kings now have the longest playoff drought in North American pro sports. 16 years is a long time to go without a playoff appearance, and Kings fans might have to wait a little longer for their team to play past mid-April. Despite that, the Kings do have several things going for them, and if they’re patient and don’t screw it up, they could find success.

Although the Kings tried to trade the fourth pick in the 2022 NBA draft and were criticized for not taking Jaden Ivey, they still ended up with a terrific young player. Keegan Murray could end up being one of the top five players in his draft class, and nailing a high lottery pick is a victory for the Kings, who have a poor draft record. Murray will probably slot in at power forward along with two-time all-star Domantas Sabonis, who was acquired from the Indiana Pacers near last season’s trade deadline.

The pieces are there for the Sacramento Kings to be a playoff team.

Sabonis played like an All-Star for the Kings, averaging 18.9 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists in 15 games. If Sabonis can replicate that play over an entire season, the Kings could have their first all-star since DeMarcus Cousins back in the 2016-17 season. That’s definitely a step in the right direction, and he gives Sacramento an offensive hub who can both score and create.

When paired with DeAaron Fox, the team’s star point guard, they have the makings of an above-average offense. Fox has largely flown under the radar playing in Sac Town but has put up big numbers over the last couple of seasons, averaging 26.4 points and 6.4 assists during that span. Still, his decision-making and 3-point shooting have been issues at times. With another playmaker and scorer in Sabonis, the pressure will be off of Fox and they can hone their two-man attack.

The Kings also have other above-average players like Richaun Holmes and Harrison Barnes, as well as 2020 lottery pick Davion Mitchell. Mitchell was selected 10th in the 2021 NBA draft and is known as a terrific defender and a solid offensive player. In fact, over the last 11 games of last season, he averaged 18.8 points and 9.3 assists. He obviously won’t put up those numbers with the Kings back at full strength, but the team may have found a long-term starting backcourt mate for Fox.

When will the Sacramento Kings make the playoffs?

The recent addition of the play-in tournament increases the team’s chances of making the postseason, particularly this season as there are several teams looking to tank for the projected number one overall pick, Victor Wembanyama. San Antonio, Utah, Houston, and Oklahoma City are all expected to be among the worst teams in the NBA and certainly worse than the Kings. If that’s the case, then Sacramento could conceivably be as high as the 10th seed this season, putting them in contention to make the playoffs via the play-in tournament.

Still, that’s unlikely given their current talent level, but it would put them on the right track. Speaking of their talent level, compared to the other teams likely to finish in the top 10, the Kings have some work to do in that regard. Fortunately, internal improvement could help them make up the gap, with Murray and Mitchell being the two most likely improvement candidates.

Murray is considered to be one of the most NBA-ready players in this year’s draft and could hit the ground running. In a season or two, he could easily be a 17-point, 10-rebound per game type of player, and when paired with Fox and Sabonis, that has the makings of a solid big three. Throw in Mitchell and another couple of lottery picks and the Kings should be a playoff team in 2024-25, snapping a nearly two-decade playoff drought (assuming they’re able to retain Fox and Sabonis).

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Overall, although Sacramento Kings have missed the playoffs for 16 straight seasons, they are on the right track. Things can, and usually do, go wrong for the Sacramento Kings, but they have the makings of a future playoff team if nothing else.