Greetings, dear readers! Many of you may recognize this title from the iconic long-running series Akis launched and perfected over at Sactown Royalty. With his blessing, I'm here to put a new spin on a weekly recap, where I'll tackle some Good news, some Bad news , and some *adjective* news from the week of Kings basketball. While I'm sure Ugly will be featured in many editions - as Akis said, this IS the Kings we're talking about - I don't want to be constrained by old spaghetti western titles enough to fully commit to depression every week.
Basketball is back! The Sacramento Kings kicked off their bubble basketball this past week with warmup losses to the Miami Heat (104 to 98) and the Milwaukee Bucks (131 to 123). De'Aaron Fox played in the Bucks contest after working his way back from an ankle injury, Richaun Holmes is set to play after an NBA-imposed quarantine for loving fried chicken too much, and Harrison Barnes flew to Orlando to join the team after clearing COVID-19 protocol. Aside from Marvin Bagley, who is sidelined for the season with a right foot strain, the Kings are somehow fully healthy! The squad has one more warm-up match-up this afternoon against the Clippers, and then have the rest of the week to prepare for the eight game Playoffs-or-bust rush, which kicks off Friday against the Spurs.
Let's go through the Good, the Bad, and the Awesome from the Kings week.
The Good: The Kings suddenly have wing depth!
Can they play small forward? Surprisingly, YES! Across the Kings two warm-up games, one of the brightest bright spots has been the play of Sacramento's wings - Kent Bazemore, DaQuan Jeffries, and Corey Brewer have been excellent in extended playing time due to Barnes' absence. For a franchise that has been shockingly blasÃ© over the last decade about finding players at arguably the most scarce and important position in the NBA, suddenly having three fringe-starters/bench sparkplugs who can swap between defensive assignments is a huge boon for the playoff push; the trio combined for 38 points, 19 rebounds, and 6 assists against the Bucks, played with relentless determination for a dang warmup game, and each threw down a highlight dunk. Buddy Hield has also been excellent on both ends; he's led the Kings with 19 points in each contests, and played some of the most dedicated defensive I've seen from him against Milwaukee.
While the contributions from Bazemore (given his late-season explosion) and Brewer (a consummate professional with a well-documented motor) were expected, DaQuan Jeffries' excellence on both ends has been electric. He had 12 points against the Heat, and 10 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and 2 blocks against the Bucks. The former Tulsa star clearly took advantage of his training time this year with the Stockton Kings, and is excelling at the right time for Sacramento. His two-way contract ends this season, and aside from Bogdan Bogdanovic, there's a case that he's the most important free-agent for the Kings to retain; he fills an important position of real need, competes on both ends, and fits the Kings timeline. The good news is, as our buddy Tim Maxwell pointed out on Twitter, his deal makes him a restricted free agent this summer, so the Kings can match any contract Jeffries signs this offseason. He led the team in minutes against Milwaukee, and he clearly has the attention of Luke Walton and staff, as well as the Kings fanbase at large.
With Harry Giles as the only healthy, available center on the roster, Walton was forced to rely on three-wing lineups a lot this week - and at least on offense, it's been working. By all logic, the Kings could have come into these warm-up contests rusty and unprepared; instead, the offense has been anything but! While the team shot abysmally against Milwaukee, they generated a ton of open looks, limited turnovers, and pushed the pace. A prepared, focused Kings squad is a welcome sight to see given all the expected and understandable distractions of the past few months - here's hoping that Walton continues these wing-heavy lineups when the games actually matter.
The Bad: Perpetually terrible perimeter defense
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but the Kings have done a terrible job defending deep shooters across their two warm-up contests. The most egregious were Miami's Duncan Robinson and Milwaukee's Kyle Korver; despite the clear-and-obvious scouting report of this guy will shoot threes, the Kings apparently took the lessons of the great state of Florida to heart, and inexplicably left them open again and again despite the results. Even ignoring the sharpshooters, Sacramento has to do a better job of communicating on defense and reducing open looks from deep, as it's something teams clearly focus on when playing the Kings; this season, teams took a whopping 37.5% of of their shots against Sacramento from three - 4th most in the cleague, per Cleaning the Glass.
Even though the Kings played two excellent Playoff squads in these warm-up contests, allowing Miami to score 104 points on 47% shooting (and in just 40 minutes!) and the Bucks 131 points on 44.4% shooting from 3 is very worrying. While the offense has looked sharp and not rusty, the defense has looked anything but; Sacramento has to do a better job of communicating on defense and covering up the deep shots, or they have no shot at the Playoffs.
The Awesome: Basketball is Back!
At the height of a global crisis, spread around the world but peaking in America, resuming sports is an incredibly silly idea. Live sports seem a luxury for a different time, when states across the country (including Florida, the seat of this NBA restart) aren't breaking records of COVID-19 cases every other day; but yet the the NBA, the WNBA, and MLB are all playing games absent of fans, and NFL training camps kick off tomorrow. The idea that NBA players may be safer in the bubble, constrained by NBA protocols and tested on a daily basis, no longer seems like a pipe dream considering that zero of the 346 players tested positive last week. With a week to go before the playoff push starts in earnest, the biggest COVID-19 story in the NBA is that Clippers Guard Lou Williams has... some interesting taste in his favorite Georgian fried chicken. (Side note: it is absurd that Lou Williams' chicken wings and breasts trip only earned him as much of a suspension as Richuan Holmes received. That said, we shouldn't be shocked that chicken wings played a part in the two most high-profile protocol breaches in the NBA bubble. Let he who hasn't left quarantine for fried chicken cast the first stone.)
And so the games go on, mainly for money but also for competition. The NBA bubble is holding, and the venue is looking great. The court is sharp and clean and the sneakers are squeaking loudly. The league is playing videos of fans and pumping in official fan chants to give some sort of home court advantage feel to a neutral court, and while this could have made the whole thing feel forced or hollow, the NBA's presentation has been great across the games I've watched. It's also damn nice to watch a basketball game without fans pressing in in every direction.
The Kings refreshed announcing team of the GOAT Gary Gerould and Doug Christie have been excellent across the two games, as expected. The pair are watching the games from Golden 1 Center in real time, so there's a few minor bugs in the system. But all in all, hearing G-Man and Christie excitedly call a Kings game has been cathartic and awesome in a world that is anything but right now. Let's hope that the Kings players rise to the occasion.
Comment of the Week:
From furious.d in the Kings/Heat recap.