What is the Kings core? Over the past two decades it’s been established that the Western Conference is the slightly more superior conference in the NBA in terms of talent and star power. It is no coincidence that since 2000, a team representing the Western Conference has taken the NBA title home an astounding thirteen times. Yes, most of those franchises were dynasties at the time but even more shocking is during that same frame only five Eastern Conference teams reached the NBA finals that did not include Lebron James on the roster. Especially over the past decade where the title contending and elite teams have diluted the overall star power due to players recruiting each other in the off season just like they used to back in their AAU days. The Western Conferences’ over powering of superstar talent has to have been part of the reason the NBA All-Star game changed its roster format to each team being picked by the top two vote getters in backyard fashion so that the competition is a little bit more balanced.
Even though we are still in the midst of the super team era and players are more empowered than ever taking their destinies into their own hands, there are still teams who have improved their rosters organically through drafts, free agency, and trades. Organizations such as the Sacramento Kings have built their rosters around their youth talent.
One of the league’s promising young stars is Kings point guard, De’Aaron Fox. Fox has been a household name since the Kings drafted him with the fifth pick back in 2017. He was a part of a very talented draft class that featured Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, Bam Adebayo, Lonzo Ball, and Markelle Fultz. Fox, who is well known for his electrifying speed and athleticism, was an instant spark for the Kings as soon as he stepped foot on the hardwood. After a very strong second year as a starter making a leap forward, he solidified himself as a cornerstone of the Kings franchise going forward. The third year guard out of Kentucky was even invited to USA mini-camp last summer as the national team was gearing up for last year’s FIBA World Cup until he withdrew to gear up for this regular season. After a brief start to this season Fox was sidelined with a nagging ankle injury before coming back and re-injuring it in March and had been a recent afterthought since. Fox was averaging 20.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 6.7 assists per contest on an impressive 48% shooting from the floor. While the NBA had been in lockdown due to the on-going pandemic, Fox was able to continue to rehab his ankle in order to finish out the regular season. Through his first four games in the NBA bubble, the dynamic Fox is currently averaging 27.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 7 assists on an extremely efficient 50% from the field.
The NBA is in the middle of one of the more golden eras for the point guard position as it seems every elite or contending team has a star/elite floor general. Especially in the Western Conference with the likes of Steph Curry, Damian Lillard, Russell Westbrook, and Chris Paul. The list goes on and on. Even those who aren’t exactly point guards but handle most of the point guard duties running their teams’ offense such as Lebron James, Luka Doncic, and Devin Booker show how competitive the point guard battles are in the Association.
De’Aaron Fox has had a chip on his shoulder his whole career and has been one of, if not the most, underrated point guard in our league. Another young player that possesses most of the similar traits Fox possesses is Memphis Grizzlies rookie point guard Ja Morant who has had an instant impact from the very start just like Fox. Even though they both thrive on their athletic gifts to the best of their ability, Fox has improved as an all-around offensive scorer playing with much improved pace and control. His in between game has improved immensely as he’s much more comfortable shooting that mid-range jumper whenever he decides to change his pace or stop on a dime and rise up. It’s not a coincidence that his free throw attempts have improved by the year and that he shot 37% from three-point territory last year.
With more experience under his belt, using his quickness/speed to his advantage by knowing when to apply pressure on the defense with improved pace, is only going to help him create opportunities for those around him. Fox has always been a selfless player and a maestro of the pick and roll where he’s averaged seven assists each of the past two years. Once Fox takes this momentum he’s built in the bubble to next season, we’ll really be able to see what his ceiling is as a star point guard in the NBA. Fox has always had high expectations even going into his freshmen year at Kentucky but what can the Kings do with the rest of this young core in order for them to take that next step in pursuit of a NBA title?
Marvin Bagley III is just in his second NBA season and he has appeared in 75 games thus far during the same period. The 2018 first overall pick has been plagued by injuries thus far in his brief career. Bagley III sprained his other foot in a contest against the Miami Heat back in January that cost him the rest of the 2020 campaign. The talent has always been there for Bagley as he’s shown flashes of star potential. There’s never been any doubt about what could be with him but it’s inevitable he’s a key factor in the Kings future. Not only is Bagley’s availability beneficial for his own career, but also the rest of the roster. We’ve gotten such a small sample size of the pairing with De’Aaron Fox. The two talented young guns have shared the floor for just nine games this year. We can only imagine, with Fox becoming more confident on his mid-range game, how that’ll complement their pick and roll/pop play and keep defenses on their toes as Bagley has shown his inside-outside game as well.
The third piece that the Kings will be counting on is the shooting guard play of Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic who have been interchangeably sharing playing time at the two. Last season, Buddy Hield averaged 20.7 points and five rebounds on 45.8% shooting from the field and 42.7% from deep. The Oklahoma product also set an NBA record for eighth most made threes in a season with 278 makes. Going into the off season it was very certain that with his stellar play that he would be getting a max contract. But it was quite awkward and puzzling how long it took the Kings to give their starting shooting guard his eventual four year/$86 million deal, especially after such a career year. A reason why Hield’s contract talks may have been on halt and took longer than expected was because the Kings were also trying to make sure to ink their Serbian sharpshooter Bogdan Bogdanovic as well. In the same off-season Bogdanovic signed a three year/$27 million deal. Bogdanovic has been a great contributing piece to the Kings off the bench but it was quite alarming how he and Hield switched roles in the middle of the season despite Hield still playing better than Bogdanovic from a statistical standpoint. Though his numbers have taken a dip this season, Hield was still maintaining 19.5 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.1 assists, and 38% from three point land this season. Bogdanovic posted 14.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, and 36% from the three as well.
Perhaps, even though Hield is playing at a slightly higher level, his up and down play made head coach Luke Walton flirt with the idea that Hield’s all-around scoring ability would be more sustainable and beneficial with the second unit which continued into the bubble. In an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic Luke Walton stated “Buddy and I have a very good relationship, and I’ve always been honest with Buddy and he’s always been honest with me in the way that we communicate with each other,” said Walton. “Buddy is an outspoken person, but again, I support that. I don’t always agree with what he’s saying, but I support the fact that he speaks his mind and that’s the personality he is, but it also makes him such a great, unique player”. “[That’s] what allows him to have the success he’s had is because he believes in himself like that,” Walton added about Hield. “I’m totally behind that, and support that, and will continue to work on our relationship on and off the court. But yeah, we get along. We get along just fine.” Regardless who the Kings go with in terms of rotation order, they should find something that’s consistent to their identity and what will keep them in a constant rhythm.
The Kings have a solid group of role players to build around going forward with promising big man Harry Giles, veterans Alex Len, Harrison Barnes, Corey Brewer, and Kent Bazemore. GM Vlade Divac has done a superb job balancing this team with youth and veteran experience. The Kings just have to stay optimistic that they’ve played their cards right so that they can build a sustainable and reliable foundation so they can take that next step towards a crown of their own.