Things Are Finally Looking Up for the Sacramento Kings (11/21/22)

The Sacramento Kings have been the laughingstock of the league for a while now. They haven’t earned a playoff berth in a whopping 16 seasons, an absolutely woeful streak. Their stay in NBA purgatory has been extended by questionable draft decisions, poor defense, and a lack of game-changing free-agency acquisitions. They’ve tried to be competitive in recent years but haven’t had the talent or on-court performance to even crack the play-in. 

It’s early, but that could change this year. The Kings are currently 5th in the Western Conference and are enjoying a six-game win streak including victories over the Warriors, Nets, and Cavaliers. They’ve been firing on all cylinders offensively, reflected by their 119.3 offensive rating which ranks second in the association.

The major cause for this recent success has been De’Aaron Fox’s emergence as a true All-Star caliber point guard. The former fifth-overall pick showed flashes of real stardom in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 campaigns, but there were holes in his game holding him back from vaulting himself up there with the very best talents in basketball. He’s closing that gap quickly with the way he’s been playing as of late. 

Fox has joined the exclusive club of players who are virtually unstoppable at the rim. He’s shooting an unbeleivable 90.2% on shots from 0-3 feet. His blinding speed allows him to blow past anybody in front of him. He mesmorizes defenders with a combination of crossovers before accelerating to top speed in the blink of an eye and laying it up, leaving his man in the dust. 

The primary area of growth for Fox this season has been his perimeter scoring. He’s become a lethal mid-range assassin, connecting on 40.7% of his long mid-range tries and 57.9% of his short ones. Defenders are constantly aware of getting cooked on a drive but are now forced to play further up on him to prevent a pull-up middie. 

Better yet, Fox is hitting a career-high 38.2% of his 4.9 three-point attempts per game. The deep ball has long been the missing piece of his game and he’s finally finding consistent success from downtown. The more respect he gets outside the arc, the easier it becomes for him to make his way to the rim. 

Fox’s expanded scoring arsenal has popped in crunch time this season. He’s iced game after game throughout Sacramento’s current win streak, putting up 4.8 points per game (one of the highest marks in the league) on 64.5% from the field in the clutch.

Almost equally as impressive as Fox has been Domantas Sabonis. The Kings acquired the two-time All-Star at last season’s trade deadline and received a lot of flack for doing so. Tyrese Haliburton was showing signs of stardom so shipping him to Indiana was frustrating for a fanbase in need of hope. The trade has ended up being a lot more even than most realize. 

Sabonis is a post maestro. He can take most players one-on-one with his back to the basket using a variety of moves, as well as brute strength, to finish. He’s also a fantastic passer, as good as any big man outside of Nikola Jokic. He gets a lot of attention when he posts up which results in lots of easy looks for shooters.

Here’s a play that illustrates the value of Sabonis in the high post. After he gets a catch at the top of the key, Murray and Davis run a split action. Davis backcuts the downscreen and Aldama drops back with his eyes glued on Sabonis, expecting the pass the big man has made many a time. Tyus Jones also scrambles after his man, a miscommunaction between him and his teammate. Instead of hitting the cutter, Sabonis pumps a well-timed pass fake and then finds Murray wide open for a three. Bang. 

Along with killing it on the block or the nail, Sabonis is highly effective as a roll man. He’s a first-rate screener who forms an excellent pick-and-roll duo with De’Aaron Fox that puts defenses in a “pick your poison” situation. If the defense respects Sabonis’ finishing abilty, they’re allowing Fox to get downhill one-on-one with an advantage. If they try to keep Fox out of the paint with a double, he’ll find Sabonis for an easy lay. 

Outside of their two stars, Sacramento’s supporting cast has been awesome. Kevin Huerter is off to a sizzling start from behind the arc to start the year, taking advantage of Sabonis’ screening to make open shots plentiful. Malik Monk has added playmaking ability to his game, serving as a quality P&R ball handler as well as a movement shooter. Davion Mitchell is an impeccable point-of-attack defender. This is easily the best group of teammates Fox has had around him since he was drafted. 

After over a decade and a half of misery for the Sacramento Kings and their fans, things are finally looking up. They’re tearing it up on offense, picking up win after win, and showing no signs of slowing down. Even if they regress to the mean, they’ve gone from the butt of jokes to a fan favorite on Twitter which reflects how much fun they’ve been this year. That being said, something tells me it won’t be long before the Beam Team is turning the sky purple in the postseason. 

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