SACRAMENTO — Steve Kerr first met Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger back when he was still a broadcaster, working a game when Joerger was the head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies. It’s been a short friendship, but one that lets Kerr say this when asked about his opponent Friday night: “Dave sucks. Can’t stand that guy, and you tell him I said so.”
Kerr then paused and cracked a smile after finishing shootaround at Golden 1 Center on Friday morning. The Kings, who lost to the Warriors by just a point at Oracle on Nov. 24, are in eighth place in the Western Conference, second in the NBA in pace and, for the first time in years, are not only competitive, but dangerous.
“What I like is that he used to coach Memphis, the grind-it-out style, and now all of the sudden, he’s got the No. 1 pace and they’re launching threes,” Kerr said. “He adapts to his talent, and I think Dave’s really, really a good coach, so you can scratch that first part.”
A team picked to win no more than 26 games this season, which hasn’t finished higher than 10th in the Western Conference since 2005-06, finally has the athletes to run a system that borrows the best parts of what Kerr has done with the Warriors, and they’re part of the playoff picture. That’s equal parts owner Vivek Ranadive, and Joerger.
Ranadive, a former Golden State minority owner, has, according to a league source quoted by ESPN in 2017, “an unhealthy fixation on the Warriors.” He found the right coach to emulate the Warriors in Joerger.
“Dave’s one of the guys who, we all kind of steal from each other in this league, we all watch each other’s games, and everybody sort of takes something that you see on tape and then you adapt it to your own personnel,” Kerr said. “I would say that Dave is one of the most clever coaches with his half-court sets, after time out plays. He’s really, really good at designing an offense, designing individual plays for certain circumstances where you need a bucket, need a three, whatever. He’s great.”
The Kings have had top-10 picks each of the last 10 years, but when Joerger took over Sacramento in 2016-17, he didn’t have what he needed to effectively run at a high pace shoot with the best in the league. Now, with a pair of top-five picks in Marvin Bagley and De’Aron Fox, and Buddy Hield helping to space the floor, the Kings are first in the NBA in 3-point shooting, hitting 39.4 percent, and have the fourth-best effective field goal percentage with 54.3. Golden State leads, at 56.0.
Against the seven other playoff teams, were the season to end today, Sacramento has gone 3-5, including a pair of wins over third-place Oklahoma City (one by double digits), and their one-point loss to the Warriors at Oracle.
Heading into Friday, the Kings had won five of their last seven games, and sat firmly in eighth place in the Western Conference. Their 12-year playoff drought could reach an end.
“I feel like this is the first time since I’ve been in the league that they’re starting to come together even more, and present a great product of basketball on the floor,” said Warriors forward Kevin Durant. “Hopefully, people start looking at this place as somewhere they want to go, a new arena, fan base is pretty excited about the team. Anything can happen in the NBA.”
Hield, who Ranadive thinks has the potential to be the next Stephen Curry, has progressed greatly, shooting career-highs from three (43.3 percent) and from the field (47.5 percent), while averaging a career-best 18.6 points, 2.6 assists and 5.2 rebounds per game. He had five of Sacramento’s 19 3-pointers on Wednesday.
“They’ve taken another step,” Curry said. “They have a solid rotation. They are comfortable in their roles, their young guys have worked in the game and gotten better. De’Aron Fox is playing amazing. Buddy seems to have settled into his new home. They just have a lot of pieces that they’re working out. They’re going to be tough, especially in their building, how fast they play. If we let them get comfortable, like [Toronto], they shoot that well from three, it could be tough.”
Fox, only 20, has shot 56 percent the last five games, and 58.8 percent from 3-point land, dishing out 7.8 assists during that span. The Kentucky product is averaging 17.9 points per game, shooting 47.8 percent from the floor and 41.7 percent from three, averaging 3.6 rebounds and 7.6 assists per game. He’s tied for eighth in the league in assist per game, but can get sped up at times; his assist-to-turnover ratio is 38th in the league (2.34).
“I like the growth of each player,” Durant said. “You can see that these guys are getting better, individually. They’re bringing it together as a unit, and play well off of each other. It starts with your point guard.”
Injury update: Andre Iguodala was shooting after the end of shootaround, and will be questionable for Friday’s game with left hip soreness.
“We’ll see how he does over the course of the day, and make a decision before the game,” Kerr said.
Shaun Livingston, who has a pelvic contusion suffered when he got a knee to the hip against the the Toronto Raptors on Wednesday, is out.
“Shaun told me he doesn’t have a lot of cushion to start with, so it’s just got to heal,” Kerr said. “There’s not a whole lot of rehab involved. It’s more just letting the body take care of it.”