The mid-season acquisitions of Kent Bazemore and Alex Len have provided Sacramento with quality role players and necessary leadership that will play a large role when league play resumes.
The identity of a run-and-gun offense played a significant role in the success of the 2018-19 Kings. The team also lost influential veterans like Vince Carter and Zach Randolph who guided the young talents in any way they could (though Randolph was still there, he didn’t play at all and was eventually traded).
When the Kings flipped George Hill for Iman Shumpert in 2018, Shumpert’s value to the team was cloudy. He was entering the final season of his contract which included an opt-in clause that would see him earn $11 million. To no surprise, Shumpert opted in and solidified that decision by becoming a leader in and out of the locker room that would emphatically impact the youth of the roster.
Nicknaming the Kings The Scores and adding the #PurpleTalk slogan many Kings fans and players became accustomed to. Everyone loved what Shumpert brought to the team and his surprisingly high level of play for someone heavily relied on to play small forward put the cherry on top. Eventually, the Kings traded Shumpert to Houston in a move that can be debated back and forth.
Shumpert’s absence was definitely felt throughout the team as in tough situations, they needed his presence to bring the energy. The firing of Dave Joerger added onto the cultural reset button the Kings decided to hit. They lacked that go-to veteran leader and had to adjust to Luke Walton’s coaching style.
The free agent signings of Dewayne Dedmon and Trevor Ariza became failed experiments and though the situations of both players were more complex, Sacramento General Manager Vlade Divac flipped the two to other teams.
The Ariza trade, which came first, saw Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan go to Portland in exchange for Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver. Bazemore obviously was the centerpiece of the deal as Sacramento bought out Tolliver’s contract.
Dedmon’s trade saw a new Atlanta center come to town as Jabari Parker and Alex Len made their way to California’s capital and Dedmon along with two second-round picks went the other way. Now Parker’s potential talent and age could be made the main centerpiece of this deal as Alex Len’s acquisition served to bring frontcourt depth. However, it became Parker who Walton infrequently used and Len who fans fell in love with.
If there’s anything you take away from Sacramento’s fanbase, it’s that they love their performing role players.
Bazemore and Len quickly became reserves that could change the pace of the game and give Sacramento the momentum at any given notice.
Bazemore became everything the Kings thought Ariza would be. Though not as lengthy, Bazemore still aggressively defended wings and guards effectively and turned heads on offense as a ball-handler and shooter. So far with the Kings, the 6’4 veteran is shooting 38.6% from three on 2.7 attempts. He sits at 35% for his career. But with Bazemore, the Kings added a reliable scorer off the bench and someone that could do his role and do it exceptionally. The same can be said of Len.
Putbacks, blocks, shutting down opposing centers – it’s what happened when Len dawned the purple and white. No one expected it and that’s what made it better. It turns out the Kings needed Len’s presence more than ever as their frontcourt depth, especially at center, constantly faced challenges and setbacks.
Holmes’ rise to local stardom suffered a setback to a shoulder injury. Dedmon completely forgot how to play basketball once he signed the dotted line. Harry Giles stepped into the starting role and as great of a story it is, he was still learning while making big plays but struggling to guard bigger bodies and limiting his fouls.
Len came in and did his role. It’s easy to come by for fans and watchers of other NBA teams but for the Kings, it’s a breath of fresh air when a player simply does his job. It’s games like going for eight points, 13 rebounds and five blocks against Detroit that will make Kings fans pour their hearts out to a player. It’s not backing down to Montrezl Harrell when he tries to intimidate you that brings a different personality to the roster.
In nine games, Len averaged 6.6 points and 7.1 rebounds on 62% shooting in just 16.7 minutes a game. If Len is ever tasked to play 36 minutes a game, those numbers jump to 14.2 points and 15.4 rebounds a game.
It’s a phenomenal concept really. You come in, do your job and do it effectively and now you hold an important role to the team. Bazemore is already the primary backup at the three to Harrison Barnes and Len may very well be the primary backup to Holmes once the season resumes.
The two players have been crucial in bringing back an identity that was lost after Shumpert’s departure. When the season is back, their play on the court will have to be just as important as it is off the court.