New Promise in Sac Town?
Last season the Sacramento Kings finished 30-52 as they missed the NBA playoffs for the 16th consecutive season. Figuring out the surrounding core pieces for the imminent future has been the biggest hurdle since drafting point guard De’Aaron Fox fourth overall back in 2017. The former Kentucky Wildcat has steadily improved each year he’s been in the league. Fox is averaging 23.2 points and 6.2 assists on 47.6% shooting from the floor over the past three seasons. Only Lebron James, Nikola Jokic, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving have posted those same marks over that time span. Fox, who’s not by statistical measures an outstanding three-point shooter (career 32% 3-point shooter) has sustained efficient scoring nights with great shot selection and playing within the offense. We’re all aware of the athletic gifts Fox possesses but his biggest growth on the court has come from his improved patience and pace, knowing when to exert his motor into that mind-blowing second gear when in attack mode.
When the Kings drafted floor general Tyrese Haliburton back in 2020, alongside Fox the pairing showed promise of being able to co-exist on the court together. Haliburton made the All-Rookie team but going forward the two couldn’t overcome the lack of scoring presence in the wing/frontcourt. A shocking mid-season swap of Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, and Tristan Thompson last year for All-Star forward Domantas Sabonis showed signs of life going forward in Sac Town. Since the acquisition, the Lithuanian giant put up 19 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists in 15 games played. Sabonis and his unique skillset give the Kings plenty of versatility in the frontcourt while running the offense through him. His playmaking will open the floor exceptionally for teammates like De’Aaron Fox to attack the basket relentlessly. The trade benefited Fox immensely as he averaged 29/4/7 post-All-Star break shooting 50% from the field and 37% from deep (6.2 3PA/game during span).
With a well-rounded NBA roster around the franchise star, don’t be surprised if Fox has a similar type of All-Star campaign we saw from fellow athletic floor general Ja Morant who also gained the most from the tremendous depth surrounding him in Memphis. New Kings Head coach Mike Brown will have plenty of lineup flexibility surrounding his new star duo throughout the season, especially after an impressive off-season from GM Monte McNair.
Monte McNair was as busy as anyone this offseason as he did a remarkable job building up the depth of this Kings roster heading into this season. On draft night with the fourth overall pick, the Kings selected hybrid Forward Keegan Murray out of Iowa. Murray posted 23 points and nine boards a night on 55% shooting from the field and 39% from three (4.7 3PA/game) during his stellar sophomore year. Murray brings a special skillset to the Kings frontcourt with his ability to put the ball down on the floor and stretching the floor with his three-point shooting stroke. As he adapts to the pace, speed, and physicality of the NBA he’ll fit in perfectly alongside All-Star Sabonis and bruiser Rishaun Holmes. Murray, who took home the NBA Summer League MVP, will be an instant impactful player for the Kings as a scorer, screener, cutter, and rebounder. His ceiling is clearly a starter in this league as not many power forwards have the same gifts and tools at his size.
McNair also brought in two deadeye shooters in the off-season to help spread the floor more. The Kings acquired Kevin Huerter from the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for Justin Holiday, Maurice Harkless, and a 2024 first-round pick. Huerter brings a prolific outside shot and playoff experience to a team that is in desperate need of both. Last season, Huerter posted 12 points a game on 45/39/80 shooting splits. Huerter doesn’t just have a smooth shooting stroke on catch and shoot opportunities but can also score off pin-downs and be a secondary ball-handler in the pick and roll.
McNair signed ex-Laker Malik Monk to a two-year/$19 million dollar deal reuniting him with former Kentucky backcourt mate De’Aaron Fox. Monk had a career year with the Lakers last season having career highs in points per game (13.8) and FG% (.473). One of the only bright spots for a disappointing Lakers team that had championship aspirations, Monk was one of if not the most consistent players on the roster. His dazzling and flashy shot-making ability to go along with his perimeter shot will go ways for the Kings whether he’s in the starting rotation or coming off as the sixth man not to mention his established comradery with De’Aaron Fox from their Kentucky days. His ability to create a shot, relocate off the ball, and thrive in the open floor with his sneaky athleticism gives the Kings different dimensions that they weren’t quite getting from their shooting guards of the past.
During a sit down with Fox 40 News Sacramento, Fox elaborated about his new teammates. “I’ve known Malik since like middle school”. “I mean obviously we know those guys [Huerter & Monk] are shooters but I think they’re a lot more than that, they’re two really good athletes, two guys that can score off the bounce, and I think two guys that can defend.” Both Huerter and Monk will be quite the X-factors for the Kings this season with their capabilities to impact different facets of the game besides just shooting the ball.
Returning starters Harrison Barnes and Rishaun Holmes have always been productive during their time in Sacramento but now with an excess of quality role players and depth behind them, they won’t be as heavily depended on as before to contribute in areas that aren’t their strengths. Barnes, an NBA champion and 10-year vet is still one of the very few wings that can create a shot for himself and stretch the floor. The former Tar Heel standout has shot at least 39% from deep since becoming a King.
Holmes is one of the more underrated big men in the association. A terrific combination of athleticism and touch around the rim the seven-year NBA big is the ideal player to play the hustle and gritty bruiser role in the front court alongside Sabonis. With Sabonis’s ability to enhance his teammate’s overall offensive production with his playmaking, Holmes will be one of the big beneficiaries on a nightly basis.
Second-year guard Davion Mitchell is poised to have a big year as the backup point behind Fox. Davion, who was very capable of being effective on the floor with Fox last year (19 games started in 2021-22), will man the newly constructed second unit that’ll feature a constant rotating of Malik Monk, Chimezie Metu, Terence Davis, Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray, and Trey Lyles. Mitchell, who is well known for being an on-ball theft and gnat on the defensive side of the court, has already displayed his impact and potential in that particular facet. His progress and growth have come as a floor general and expanding his scoring repertoire. Mitchell is slightly undersized but is a bull (6’2, 205 lbs) and doesn’t shy away from contact. He finished the year very strong averaging 15.2 points and 8.2 assists in 19 appearances (11 started) from March up until the end of the regular season. Being thrown out on the court at various points last year where he wasn’t the commanding point due to the guard rotations of Fox, Haliburton, and Hield definitely may have stunted consistent growth as a point guard in his overall rookie campaign. Now with a distinguished and established depth chart, Mitchell will look to make an instant impact with the second unit in his second go around in Sacramento.
25-year-old Chimezie Metu is a great athletic big that can guard numerous positions, has a solid back-to-the-basket game, and can run the floor. Terence Davis is another young quality guard off the bench that can search and create his own offense. Trey Lyles is a serviceable stretch four that’ll also benefit from the Kings’ surplus of versatile bigs and will contribute in the scoring department off the bench.
This current Kings roster is as loaded and balanced with youth and young star power as it’s ever been. We’re in an era where teams are keen on the play of their wings on both ends of the court. The Kings do still have a small void to fill defensively at that wing spot as they’re still without that bonafide on-ball stopper that can defend multiple positions. Fox and Mitchell are in their athletic primes as of right now and if the focus is there on a game-to-game basis they can become a formidable defensive backcourt.
Huerter and Monk are both more shoot and shot creation than defenders at this point in their brief careers. Keegan Murray is still young. We’ve caught glimpses of how dangerous the Pelicans can be with defensive wing Herb Jones. The Kings possess a lot of depth but with a lot of offensively gifted players who necessarily is going to take the back seat offensively to be that type of defender? Do the Kings possess that type of player right now? Or will they learn to buy in collectively defensively as a team as we saw with the late-2000s Bulls led by Derrick Rose? We’ll just have to wait and see once they hit the hardwood.
We’ve seen wings dominate the league for years with the obvious all-timers at the position such as LeBron, Durant, Giannis, and Kawhi but having an elite wing defender is a luxury every franchise looks for. Past players like Scottie Pippen, Tayshaun Prince, Bruce Bowen, and Shane Battier have been superstars in their role solely focusing on opponents’ premier scoring threats and that’s ultimately been a difference maker with title contenders. Current players like Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, and Mikal Bridges have exemplified how to be a defensive wing in this current NBA climate with their god-gifted athleticism, strength, and wingspan.
Until the Kings can land a player that can fill that necessary void or a current young guy develops into that product their ceiling is most likely a middle-of-the-road NBA playoff team. The bottom line is the Kings will be far more competitive with two All-Star caliber players. They have a veteran defensive-minded coach that has been around a championship-winning pedigree in Golden State. The Kings also have a young rising supporting cast with the potential to reach much greater heights once they figure out specific winning rotations throughout training camp and season play. The Kings have a lot to look forward to in the near future.
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