After making a surprise trade to acquire two-time All-Star Domantas Sabonis last season, the Sacramento Kings still failed to make the playoffs for the 16th straight year. This is despite the play of Sabonis, who has continued to play like an All-Star. In the 15 games he appeared in post-trade last season, Sabonis averaged a terrific 18.9 points, 12.3 rebounds, and 5.8 assists.
This season, it’s been more of the same: 17.9 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 6.3 assists. However, both Sabonis and the Sacramento Kings got off to slow starts this year. The Kings have had some issues closing games, with five of their six losses being by seven points or fewer. Missed late-game calls, including a travel on Tyler Herro’s game-winning three when they played the Heat, have hurt them. Fortunately, despite their struggles in late-game situations, they’re resilient.
The Sacramento Kings’ turnaround has been surprising.
The Kings have begun to turn things around. They are 7-2 in their last nine games and are currently eighth in the Western Conference but fifth in terms of net rating.
This is a result of Sabonis’ returning to his All-Star level of play combined with the play of De’Aaron Fox, who’s seemingly taken another step forward, which suddenly gives the Kings a decent chance of making the playoffs.
Sabonis ranks as one of the most skilled big men in the NBA today, and that’s a good building block, even if it cost them Tyrese Haliburton, who’s playing great in Indiana. After all, Sabonis is an offensive hub who can score in both the pick and roll and in the post, as well as knocking down threes. Meanwhile, Fox has gone from good to great this season, and his three-point shooting has played a large part in that jump.
Fox is shooting over 37% on a high volume of threes this year after being below the league average over his first five seasons. He’s also shooting 61% on two-pointers, which isn’t sustainable, but it shows how effectively he’s been scoring from the free-throw line inward. When attacking the paint in open space, he’s a blur, and he’s equally impressive when utilizing ball screens.
Fox often uses them to create separation from his primary defender, then hesitation dribbles to force the opposing big man to backtrack, which allows him to get off floaters and pull-up jumpers. As far as playmaking is concerned, Fox has seemingly improved in that area too. Whether it be him using pocket passes to connect with the roll man or using his ability to get into the lane to draw in defenses, then throwing wraparound passes to open shooters on the perimeter.
With Fox and Sabonis playing at a high level, Huerter draining threes at will, a solid veteran like Harrison Barnes, and an NBA-ready rookie like Keegan Murray, the Sacramento Kings actually have quite a few good players.
All in all, the Sacramento Kings have a long way to go before snapping the longest active playoff drought in North American sports. That said, they’ve weathered a rough start and are beginning to play much better.