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A close battle in a tough environment: Six takeaways from Kings-Jazz

The Kings showed promise, going down to the wire against one of the NBA's elite teams on the road.

I know everyone is tired of hearing about moral victories, but there is plenty to be happy about from the Sacramento Kings' recent loss in Utah against the now 6-1 Jazz.

Utah's only defeat this season came against the Chicago Bulls, who are tied with the Jazz and Heat for the best record in the NBA. Outside of that, they managed to secure convincing victories against the high-caliber (although injury-riddled) Denver Nuggets and Milwaukee Bucks.

In 2020-21, no other team protected home-court advantage as well as the Jazz with their 31-5 record at Vivint Arena. Again, I get the annoyance with moral victories, but let's not forget just how good of a team the Kings were up against on Tuesday night.

The Sacramento Kings now sit at 3-4 after seven games played against playoff-caliber rosters in six of those showings. Here are my primary takeaways from the 119-113 road loss against the Utah Jazz.

The most points Utah has allowed this season

Throughout seven games, the Utah Jazz allowed their opposition to score triple-digits on just three occasions. The Nuggets tallied 110 in a loss, while the other two instances came against the Sacramento Kings - 101 in their first matchup and 113 last night.

Utah's 99.7 defensive rating places them 4th in the NBA while Sacramento moves to 12th in offensive rating (107.6). The usual candidates of Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes were phenomenal, combining to shoot 12/24 from the field.

Luke Walton mentioned an increased emphasis on pushing the pace in his pre-game press conference, and the Kings succeeded when doing so - as evident by their 18 total fast break points.

The Kings are going to win games on the offensive end of the floor, and this type of performance against an elite defense is encouraging. We've seen significant lulls in previous games and a few too many fourth quarters, but the Kings remained consistent on offense for most of the 48 minutes.

24 assists on the night certainly aided their efficiency numbers with nine of those coming from De'Aaron Fox. Speaking of Fox...

De'Aaron Fox continues to struggle shooting

The Kings' franchise centerpiece has had a horrific start to the season. There are plenty of theories as to why. Maybe it's the rule change and resulting lack of free-throw attempts? Or the roughly 10 pounds of muscle he allegedly gained this offseason is affecting his jumper? Is his shoulder bothering him more than we realize?

The most recent showing in Utah answered none of these questions but instead seemed to add to the fanbases growing concern. Fox went 0/8 from the field in the opening half including zero trips to the charity stripe. However, he did manage five assists in those minutes and was the obvious best option at initiating the offense.

De'Aaron Fox's second half was more of what Kings' fans have grown accustomed to. He tallied 13 points, four assists, and two steals while converting 4/7 from the field, 0/3 from three, and 5/7 from the free-throw line. We just need to see it for an entire game in the near future.

Concerns with Fox's three-point shooting not being enough are valid, but he is undeniably better than his underwhelming 15.4 percent rate to start the season. Keep in mind that Damian Lillard is only hitting 23.1 percent of his long-range attempts so far this season.

The shot will come around for Fox, to some extent, and the second half in Utah was solid play from the young point guard.

Terence Davis registered his first DNP-CD

There's no nice way to put it. Terence Davis has easily been the Kings' worst rotational member to start the season with erratic shot selection and ugly efficiency and defense that is not impactful in the way you'd want.

Davis' shot will reappear at some point, but him throwing it up within seconds of any opportunity to is concerning. The coaching staff and Davis both need to identify a fitting role for his skillset on a guard-heavy roster.

The writing was on the wall for Davis to potentially receive a DNP-CD after less than 10 minutes in each of Sacramento's last two showings.

His absence left Luke Walton with an eight-man rotation while Len was favored over Thompson to match Utah's outlier size. It's underwhelming to see that after all the talk about Sacramento's notably improved depth compared to last season.

The good news is Terence Davis still has plenty of time to turn his season around and carve out a role on this roster.

Davion Mitchell is good at basketball

D. Mitchell balled out last night with some standout moments against D. Mitchell. Interpret that whichever way you chose and it will remain accurate.

Let's start with Davion Mitchell on the defensive end of the floor. It's ridiculous that Davion is undeniably the Kings' best perimeter defender with less than 10 NBA games under his belt, but that's the reality we live in.

He wasn't perfect on defense, but the rookie once again made life difficult for one of his mentors this season.

Aside from Donovan, Davion Mitchell spent time assigned to Jordan Clarkson and Mike Conley as Sacramento's clear best option to contain each of the aforementioned perimeter creators.

Looking past the expected stellar defense, Davion posted the second-best offensive performance of his young career with 18 points and two assists while shooting 7/15 from the field in a variety of ways.

Hang-dribble jumpers off the bounce, catch-and-shoot threes, floaters, tough lefty finishes, and dimes to the roll-man were all on display. Davion Mitchell's offensive ceiling becomes increasingly intriguing to me with each passing game. (Maybe he should be off the table for Ben Simmons? I don't know...)

Here is my favorite stretch from Davion's 30 minutes of playing time. A beautiful lefty finish, the defensive awareness to impact Gobert's dive to the rim from the weakside, topped off by him taking advantage of a numbers situation by powering through Conley.

Rebounding is still an issue

The Sacramento Kings finished last season 30th in rebounds per game while allowing the 3rd highest average in opponent offensive rebounds.

The Kings have improved to 15th in rebounds per game early on in this season, yet they still allow the third-most offensive rebounds per game.

It's important to note that the Utah Jazz were the best rebounding team in the league last season, but Sacramento was truly destroyed on the glass last night. They were outrebounded by a margin of 21 (38-59), with Gobert contributing 20 and Whiteside managing 12 of his own in 15 minutes.

There have been a few occasions early in this season where opposing guards have an unexpected and frustrating amount of offensive rebounds, as was the case with Donovan Mitchell recording five.

33 second-chance points for the Jazz en route to a six-point victory hurts and is surely something that Walton and the coaching staff will address with Jonas Valancuinas coming to town tonight.

Stop jumping at close-outs

After spending most of the game in an inconsistent deep drop coverage, as Kayte Hunter often mentioned on the broadcast, Sacramento's defensive scheme moved to a show (or hedge) late in the closing quarter.

In this scheme, the big defender (Holmes) is asked to meet the opposing ball-handler high at the point of the screen and make contact with him to hinder his movement before sprinting to recover to the roll-man.

As a result, the three remaining defenders are heavily relied upon to temporarily defend four players. Quick ball movement from the offense often requires a full set of rotations from the defense, which is something the Kings' 30th ranked defense wasn't exactly good at last season.

When this scheme was implemented tonight, we saw proper rotations, but a lack of fundamental details and discipline still lead to back-to-back threes for Utah in a crucial moment.

Both Haliburton and Hield are clearly giddy to contest these jumpers and leave their feet in the process. By doing so, Conley and Bojan Bogdanovic simply wait for them to fly by while taking a deep breath and proceeding to secure six points in less than 60 seconds.

The improved defensive awareness and understanding are somewhat encouraging, but it changes nothing if these details are overlooked.

A few other notes
  • The Kings would have fallen out of range early in the fourth if not for some heroic shot-making from Buddy Hield
  • Keep the Haliburton-Holmes pick-and-rolls coming... please
  • Every single player on Sacramento's roster needs to get better at navigating screens
  • Great to see Tristan Thompson so active on the sidelines in a game where he didn't play
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Kosta
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November 3, 2021 8:41 am

It’s promising, so long as they don’t play to the level of their competition tonight against New Orleans.

If they can play this good against the Jazz, they should be able to play that good against the Pelicans and win. (even understanding that specific matchups matter)

In recent previous seasons, we’d see the Kings play great teams really well, and then play poor teams poorly. Will that change this season?

Last edited 10 months ago by Kosta
BradMillersDipCup
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November 3, 2021 9:58 am
Reply to  Kosta

100% agree with this. Outside a few 4-5 minute bad stretches in a game or two, I haven’t been too upset with how the Kings have looked. Especially with Fox really not playing great right now. If they can handle NOLA tonight, would be a fairly positive sign.

Kosta
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November 3, 2021 11:02 am

Yes, so far I haven’t seen the total collapse that we saw several times last season.

TerzoM
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November 3, 2021 10:01 am
Reply to  Kosta

This gives me (and other Nostradumbass chasers) clues for Kosta’s prediction for today’s game 😀

Kosta
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November 3, 2021 11:01 am
Reply to  TerzoM

I’m a certified Dumbass, that’s for sure!

RobHessing
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November 3, 2021 8:43 am

How much better are the Lakers if they wind up trading for Buddy instead of Westbrook? Are the Kings better with Kuzma and Harrell instead of Hield (feel free to include the butterfly effect of possibly not trading Wright for Thompson)?

Bbmuteman
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November 3, 2021 9:13 am
Reply to  RobHessing

Look at Washington with their newfound depth. Hamchimura not even playing doesn’t even affect them.

RikSmits
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November 3, 2021 9:28 am
Reply to  Bbmuteman

Washington also hired an up and coming coach…

And by the way, Beal hasn’t been shooting that great either. It’s not just Fox and Dame.

Bbmuteman
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November 3, 2021 10:29 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Oh, I know. I’m just counting down the days until the kings can finally jettison Walton and hire someone else. I’m not a fox hater. I think he’ll get himself out of his current rut at some point.

rockbottom
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November 3, 2021 6:16 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

So far most of the up and coming hired coaches have been very disappointing ! Unsold seems the exception !

andy_sims
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November 3, 2021 8:56 am

I don’t think the new rules are impacting Fox’s game, to be honest. He’s never really been one to hunt fouls in an exaggerated way.

When he came into the league, like all rookies, he’d get hammered without getting calls, and we figured, well, gotta put that time in and take your lumps, then things will balance out, and life will be grand. In the intervening years, that hasn’t happened for Fox, at all, as far as I can tell. I’ll homer with the best of ya, but I’m not lacking objectivity in a debilitating way, and what I continue to see is our kid having the snot knocked of him night after night.

I’m honestly wondering if Fox was caught sodomizing the wife of the head of the referee’s union.

Last edited 10 months ago by andy_sims
Marty
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November 3, 2021 9:02 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Let’s build around fox, they said. It will be fine, they said.

46775A0E-5E1C-4C73-9694-F0121FAB6834.jpeg
RobHessing
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November 3, 2021 9:11 am
Reply to  Marty

Vlade’s best pick (Fox) may have led to his worst decision (Luka/Bagley).

BasketballHella
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November 3, 2021 9:17 am
Reply to  RobHessing

It definitely did and also further highlights his inability to assess talent. Fox is not a point guard he’s a small 2 guard. Fox would have thrived with a true point and someone finding him slashing to the basket with that speed. Vs iso Fox that Vlade thought would also become a point guard.

andy_sims
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November 3, 2021 9:15 am
Reply to  Marty

Sixers fan determines Kings’ season and strategy to be failures after seven games.

Marty
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November 3, 2021 10:25 am
Reply to  andy_sims

FiFY

Sixers fan determines Kings’ building around iso ball is more of the same after seven games.

andy_sims
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November 3, 2021 4:41 pm
Reply to  Marty

Seems like a coaching problem rather than a personnel problem, no?

RikSmits
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November 3, 2021 9:11 am
Reply to  andy_sims

Fun fact:
Last season, Fox shot 7.2 FTA per game, with a Ftr of. 376.

Whiny superstar-calls recipient Luka Doncic shot 7.1 FTA per game, with a Ftr. of .349.

Hozr
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November 3, 2021 2:48 pm
Reply to  andy_sims

I’m honestly wondering if Fox was caught sodomizing the wife of the head of the referee’s union.

Or he got caught giving money to Tim Donaghy’s Go Fund Me account.

HongKongKingsFan
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November 3, 2021 9:01 am

If team want to improve the overall rebounding, and with the DNP-CD of TD, then Walton should let Metu play more minutes, he can shoot some 3…(even better than Fox or TD), and he added some defense and BBIQ to the lineup.

We need more energy and hustling.

BasketballHella
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November 3, 2021 9:13 am

Fox needs to take a step back and just play within himself. He looks just so tight and he is constantly pressing.

This team added talent again this year with Mitchell and I’m not thinking Fox is permanently broken, but it’s crazy how this team treads water yearly.

Last year let Bogi walk for nothing but lucked into Hali being able to produce at a similar level. This year Fox is absent when needed but Barnes steps up. Hali struggles and Mitchell is there to cover. Which are all promising things but damn when can we see a full team all clicking at the same time. At full strength.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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November 3, 2021 9:27 am

I fully expect the Kings to start clicking right when as a significant injury happens to derail things, because Kangz. It will also offer the talking heads of Kings media the well worn excuse of injuries, because you know… other teams don’t have those.

andy_sims
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November 3, 2021 4:45 pm

Agreed, there’s no joy in his game right now. A big contract brings a lot of pressure to perform. I don’t know if that’s part of what’s throwing him, but even my serf ass can imagine what that must be like.

He’ll sort it out.

TerzoM
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November 3, 2021 9:21 am

My optimistic scenario: Fox hits rock bottom, then gets better in time for ASB trade deadline Feb 2022.

eddie41
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November 3, 2021 10:06 am

Good points all around. TD’s struggles and the good play of Hield and Mitchell makes the decision pretty easy I think to remove TD from the rotation for now. If the team goes back to a 9-man rotation, does Bagley get another chance? Or TT at PF?

Rosevillain
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November 3, 2021 10:12 am
Reply to  eddie41

Hoping Ramsey gets some burn.

BradMillersDipCup
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November 3, 2021 10:16 am
Reply to  eddie41

I’d love to see some Louis King

eddie41
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November 3, 2021 11:04 am

Could make a case for either King or Ramsey, especially on the second game of a back to back. I wonder who has been playing better in practice.

Last edited 10 months ago by eddie41
Bill2455
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November 3, 2021 1:05 pm

Should have traded Fox for Simmons who could certainly play the Draymond role.

andy_sims
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November 3, 2021 4:46 pm
Reply to  Bill2455

Remember when Morey proposed that, and McNair said no?

I don’t remember it, but would not be surprised if you did.

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