Gather around, load up your stockings with hot takes and fill your Kongs mug either half full or half empty because the 36th season of basketball in Sacramento begins today.
It should be an interesting season mainly because this is likely the beginning of a very transformative few years under the new leadership of General Manager Monte McNair. The starters on Wednesday will probably all be Vlade Divac’s leftovers as McNair focused on maintaining “flexibility” during free agency to be in a position to make big moves down the road when they arise. Therefore, one could assume this season is largely going to be about evaluating what he has for the future and trade assets, not necessarily about trying to get the 8th seed. (It has been reported the playoffs aren’t even a priority this season.)
This season still could end up being pretty intriguing even if the playoff expectations are less than what they have been in recent seasons though, depending on your definition of progress. Here are five things worth keeping track of coming out of training camp and preseason.
The Fox Jumper
De’Aaron Fox got his money in the offseason to the tune of $163 million. He’s the franchise and this season will be a test of his ability to improve his game and move into the category of elite players in the league, while demonstrating more leadership. Key to his improvement is that jump shot. He shot 48 percent from the field and 29 percent from three last season. He showed improvements toward the end of the season and in the Orlando Bubble, but the preseason was rough on his shot. He went 17-51 from the field and 4-27 from three in the Kings four preseason games.
Fox spent a lot of time in the offseason on his shot. So far, that work hasn’t translated to improvements in the games. Head coach Luke Walton, however, says that is the natural progression of improvements at the NBA level.
He was in that gym all summer working on it, so it was getting to a good place in practice and normally it’s just a natural progression in this league. You work on something, you work on it, it feels good, it looks good in practice, and then it takes a little more time before it clicks into the game. Once it clicks, he’ll be fine, Walton said. He’s continuing to put in the work and he believes in it, we believe in it. So nothing to be concerned on.”
Buddy Hield said he thinks Fox’s shot will eventually start to go because he has also seen how much work he has put into it.
He’s been working extremely hard on his shot and to be honest with you it just hasn’t been falling. They are all good shots. It doesn’t look bad at all so we are encouraging him to keep on shooting those shots. They are good shots he’s been getting so eventually it will start dropping, Hield said.
Walton wants Fox simply to be aggressive and said some nights that could mean taking a lot of threes and other nights none at all.
If teams are going to go under, he’s got to be willing and confident to shoot that three, but before anything we want him attacking the lane and creating, Walton said.
Despite the poor shooting, Fox did have a 12-assist game this preseason and Walton said that is the type of aggression they want from him. The hope is to get Fox into the paint and creating for teammates as much as he can. If teams go under every screen and roll then they want him to have the mentality and confidence to take the shot. The coaching staff has been showing the 23-year-old guard film of which threes he has taken that they like.
If Fox can unlock his perimeter shot then he could be even tougher for opponents to guard.
Buddy Hield looked much more in control in the preseason and wasn’t forcing things. The less Hield has to create for himself and can let the ball come to him for open shots, the better. In the preseason, he wasn’t over-dribbling (and turning the ball over so frequently) and if that can continue that is a win for the team. The other key to take his game to the next level is improving his defense and he has been working hard on that.
Over the offseason, he studied how he was moving his feet on defense, angles and using his body to fight through screens. (He added some muscle in the offseason that should help him in the screens department.) He also has been studying other players and what they like to do so he can force them into their weaknesses.
Fox has taken notice of Hield’s effort on defense, saying he’s been engaged and talking a lot on that side of the ball. The way defense goes, you can mess up, but if you’re communicating then guys can cover for you. That’s the way team basketball is played. So I think he’s doing a great job at it and the team is doing a lot better at it than we did last year,” Fox said.
Walton believes Hield can be a good two-way player.
“The type of energy he has and how hard he plays on offense, there’s a lot about him that would lead you to believe that he can get this done on both sides, Walton said. He’s a strong man. For a shooting guard there’s no reason he can’t be a good defender.”
Walton said Hield has been talking out switches and asking questions when a coverage is blown. Defense is what Walton and Hield spoke to each other about when training camp began.
Hield’s relationship with Walton is something many have believed to be pretty rocky, and he has been known to make his frustrations known publicly. So far, he has been pretty positive in his media sessions though and seems to be in good spirits. Hield seems to have reclaimed his starting position with Bogdan Bogdanovic now in Atlanta, which probably helps the situation.
Bland answers for the media, better defense and not over-dribbling is a recipe for a positive and more productive season for Buddy buckets.
The Kings drafted Tyrese Haliburton and that seems like a very good thing. Dude has such control over his game and a strong understanding already of the speed of the NBA that his future looks very bright.
Cory Joseph has taken Haliburton under his wing as a rookie and is showing him the ropes.
I see very, very special things in Tyrese. He’s going to be a super star in this league one day. He’s got an unbelievable work ethic. He loves the game, you can tell his passion for the game. We’ve seen some of the instincts that he has defensively, Joseph said. Offensively, I still feel like he has a lot more to show and we will see as he gets more and more comfortable.
Haliburton had 2 steals in three of the four preseason games (1 in the other). He has shown he can be an elite on-ball and team defender, has great court vision and doesn’t try to force things. He has made a few threes and can get into the lane and create. His offense does need some work and he could be a little more aggressive on that side of the ball, but he isn’t forcing the issue and probably just needs to get a little more comfortable.
Richaun Holmes called Haliburton a leader and said he’s going to be a huge part of the team going forward. Walton said the rookie is already grasping what the team wants to do from a scheme perspective and not having to only memorize plays, like most rookies do.
This guy is going to be an NBA player. How good of an NBA player is yet to be seen.
Now, Joseph is what will be interesting this season when it comes to Haliburton because he is the one who the rookie will take minutes from. Joseph is a pro and likely wouldn’t have an issue with that, but Walton will have to allow that to happen. The same goes for the preseason sensation Kyle Guy, who has shown that he deserves minutes on an NBA court. The backup guard rotation will be something to keep an eye on as the season moves forward. (And though it isn’t listed in this article, Walton’s performance this season is certainly going to be under the microscope.)
Marvin Bagley is back and has played in two preseason games. A win for him this season is simply staying healthy and I’m rooting for that to happen. The Kings need to figure out what they have in him and the small sample size so far in his career hasn’t been enough.
Bagley can score in the paint, grab rebounds and run the floor. If he can stay on the floor, it would be nice to see what he can add to his game to fit into the flow of an offense and what he can do as a team defender. With his size and athleticism, Walton believes he could be key to blocking a shot on one end of the floor, chasing down rebounds and starting fast breaks. Walton also said he wants to test playing Bagley playing at the five with a group of smaller players around him so they can get up and down the floor faster. He has been playing at the four mostly since he returned in preseason.
Bagley also must learn to pass out if he gets the ball in the paint and there is nowhere to go. He has a tendency to get tunnel vision down there. In the final preseason game, he did show a willingness to pass out, which was a good sign.
So, step 1 with Bagley is keep him healthy. Step 2 is improve so that he can fit within the offensive and defensive schemes the team wants to run.
The Kings have a guy who can legitimately protect the rim and rebound at an elite level. When is the last time we could say that and it wasn’t just hype? Some may not be a fan of his game, but Hassan Whiteside is going to give the Kings a different feel this season. Walton praised Whiteside’s timing and his ability to make teams take the shots they want them to take. The team seems to be enjoying his silliness also, such as the flexing and bragging about his ability to run the fast break (though Walton doesn’t want him actually leading the break much).
Whiteside played in two of the Kings four preseason games:
Game 3: 11 points, 9 rebounds, 4 blocks in 15 minutes
Game 4: 12 points, 9 rebounds, 2 blocks in 19 minutes
Cory Joseph talked about what having Whiteside does for the team.
It’s a huge advantage for guys like me, for the whole team really. It allows you to play a lot more aggressive on the ball because you know if your guy is able to get a step on you, Hassan is coming over and either changing the shot or blocking it, he said. I know I played against him a lot, but being able to see him every day in practice, he’s a huge guy, man. His shoulders are wide, he’s strong, he’s long.
The coaching staff has been showing the other bigs Whiteside’s screens on film because they are the type of screens guards don’t want to go through. Walton said he would like to experiment with a three-guard lineup and Whiteside with them as the anchor on defense.
Whiteside is 31 years old and on a minimum deal so he is probably not part of the long-term plans for the Kings. My guess is McNair does want to see how a dominant, more traditional big like him fits with the pace they want to play at with Fox though. If it works in certain stretches, maybe the plan is to try to target a younger version in the coming seasons. (But maybe a version that doesn’t clog the paint on the offensive end quite as much.)
Bring on the Pace
It is clear that the Kings are sticking to their word of playing with pace if the preseason was any indication. That, of course, is good for Fox and Hield and maybe will lead to some of the success we saw a few seasons ago under Dave Joerger. On Monday, Walton described how he is planning to implement the pace he resisted playing with last season.
He said he wants the team to understand the balance of getting the ball out quick to get across half court fast to attack before defenses can get set, and if there is nothing there, then knowing how to be patient in the half court.
We’re not trying to just jack up shots and get the first open look we can. If we can’t get an initial attack within our offense then we want to get the ball out, we want to move it, we want to make defenses make multiple decisions and really do a good job of being patient and getting the type of shots that we want, he said.
Fox knows they have to be efficient about it.
The more we do it, the more we practice it I think the better we get at it. Being able to play fast and efficient is obviously a hard thing to do, but if you’re able to do that then it’s a tough thing to stop, Fox said.
Us at The Kings Herald are excited to have you all with us as we embark on our first full season of coverage at the new site. Thanks for your continued support, and a very Jerry Christmas to all!