The Sacramento Kings are fresh off a victory against the New Orleans Pelicans, capping off a five-game stretch boasting a 4-1 record. The record marks a stark contrast to the 1-4 record from their previous five-game stretch, so our takeaways today will be more buoyant than the last.
In these five games, the Kings have conquered the New York Knicks, Orlando Magic, Toronto Raptors and the Pelicans, while the lone defeat came against the Miami Heat. It's a spell in which De'Aaron Fox has ascended into "the guy", which is arguably the best sign of the season.
Let's dive into some takeaways:
How much would you invest in the Sacramento Kings right now? During their previous 1-4 stretch, you could fill the boat with money because, with a defense as lamentable as that, they'd eventually fix the wrinkles.
The Kings are still last in defensive rating, 117.6, which speaks volumes to how atrocious they were, but that figure has improved. Despite remaining stuck in the basement of teams with struggling defenses, the Kings have allowed over 110 points just once in this stretch.
Part of that is because Miami, New York, Orlando and New Orleans have floundering offenses (Miami's ratings aren't indicative of their talent; they've suffered multiples injuries and health-related setbacks) with offensive ratings placing at or below 18th in the league. Toronto is currently 13th in offensive rating, so they're a mesial team in that regard.
Nonetheless, the Kings' defense of the recent past would've purposely opened the floodgates; instead, they've worked cohesively to keep the gates shut, and thanks to their offensive performances, they've collected necessary wins against either struggling or injured teams.
The upcoming schedule is where the Kings will demonstrate which version of themselves they really are. The next four games will include the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia 76ers. All are powerful teams that will make considerable noise come playoff time, so this is the genuine test. Let's see how royal the Kings are.
Stable. That's not just an intended pun, but it's a perfect summary of Harrison Barnes' performances lately. He's producing career-high numbers in various categories, providing a pivotal wing presence the Kings have lacked for years.
In all of Sacramento's wins, Barnes dropped at least 20 points. The only outlier being an 11-point outing against a health(ier) Miami squad. And while his performances are definitely worth celebrating, I'm treading with caution, especially with the looming slate of powerhouses.
In the 1-4 stretch prior to this one, Barnes delivered only one optimistic performance, which came against the Indiana Pacers. Indiana has struggled to contain quality wings because they've been missing key depth in that area, such as Jeremy Lamb (who has since returned) and T. J. Warren.
Then, Barnes floundered against teams with stronger defensive matchups: Portland Trail Blazers (Robert Covington, Gary Trent Jr., Derrick Jones Jr., Rodney Hood); Los Angeles Clippers, twice (Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, Nicolas Batum, Marcus Morris); Pelicans (Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart). New Orleans sorely missed Steven Adams' presence patrolling the paint in the recent matchup, as Barnes constantly attacked the basket and knocked down his threes as the cherry on top.
Now in this stretch, Barnes benefited against teams with weaker wing depth: Knicks (Reggie Bullock, RJ Barrett, Kevin Knox, Alec Burks); Magic (missing Jonathan Isaac and Al-Farouq Aminu, James Ennis, Dwayne Bacon, Gary Clark, a disinterested Aaron Gordon); Raptors (missing OG Anunoby and Norman Powell).
Barnes has been nothing short of solid; he just needs to maintain this level of efficiency against superior and tougher matchups.
ROOKIE OF THE MONTH
Deservedly so, the NBA named Tyrese Haliburton the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for January.
Haliburton has revitalized the future outlook of this team, immediately inserting himself as a core piece. Interestingly enough, the last five games haven't been Haliburton's best, especially from deep.
The Iowa State product has torched opponents from long range, but that hasn't been the case recently. In this stretch, Haliburton is shooting 24.1% (7-29) from beyond the arc. What was once automatic needs adjusting. The looks he's generated haven't been terrible. His clever fakes and footwork have steered into positive looks, but they're not falling.
Despite the perimeter struggles, he's doing what's required when an essential component to his game is lacking: helping elsewhere. Haliburton is still dishing dimes to teammates, providing quality defense, and now he's rebounding at a higher level. In the last three games, he's averaging 8.0 rebounds. He grabbed a career-high 11 rebounds against New Orleans.
Keep shining, rook. There are plenty of awards awaiting you.
COJO, PLEASE DO *SOMETHING*
In the offseason, I detailed why the Kings needed to scour their point guard depth. I was low on Cory Joseph entering the season, and he has proved me correct.
Following Monday's contest, Joseph now has a net efficiency rating of -20.1, meaning the Kings are 20 points worse when he's on the floor. That rating slots him in the 2nd percentile, per Cleaning the Glass. You read that right.
I'm still perplexed how Toronto allowed him to prosper with a 16-point outing, a season-best. They deserved the loss just for that alone.
His three-point shot has declined to 32% (13/40), placing in the 30th percentile, per CTG. On non-corner threes, the bulk of his attempts, he's 20% (5/25), placing in the 2nd percentile. He's not a shot creator for himself or for teammates, and his defensive prowess continues to diminish as an on-ball and off-ball defender.
Look at what he produced in a nine-minute stretch against New Orleans:
IT'S RAINING TRIPLES
Buddy Hield's three-point diet continues to accentuate. Hield has attempted 71 shots in the last five games. Fifty-four of them have materialized from beyond the arc.
Fortunately, he's converting them at an absurd rate. He's 25/54 (46.2%) from deep, and that could've improved had he not went 4-15 from three against New Orleans. Hield's early season struggles are quelling, even at the cost of his mid-range jumpers and shots at the rim.
Sixty-five percent of Hield's attempts have transpired from non-corner threes, slotting him in the 100th percentile, per CTG. Seventy-four percent of his attempts are on all threes, placing him in the 91st percentile. Both easily rank as career-high percentiles, as his struggles from the interior have ushered him into augmented three-point attempts.
Only 17% of Hield's attempts transpire from mid-range, and that number plunges to 9% on shots at the rim. Both are career-lows. He's not seeking to attack the rim, nor is he seeking to punish defenders playing drop coverage by attempting, and converting, on middies. Not making his threes will highlight that trend, but the Bahamian is pouring it on lately nonetheless.
As Sacramento trends uphill, what else has struck out to you?