Teetering out of “small sample size” territory and into practical analysis, the Sacramento Kings have carved out a near-.500 record at 5-6 to start the season. The numbers alone tell us that this team has improved on both ends of the floor, ranking 8th in offense and 22nd in defense league-wide while sitting at the 10th seed in the Western Conference.
Promising breakouts and shades of old have taken the Kingdom’s discourse by storm, so as we had into the next chunk of the NBA season, here are five of my early observations after almost a month of action.
Harrison Barnes is having an All-Star season
The unsung hero of this Kings squad has undoubtedly been Harrison Barnes. The NBA media podcast circuit has joked that Barnes is at the table for MVP, but he’s quietly climbed the ranks as one of the league’s most prolific scorers, averaging 22.5 points per game, which puts him 20th in the league in scoring, with career-highs in nearly every category.
Barnes has kept this team afloat amid their budding backcourt’s slow start, and has proven time and time again to be a reliable and necessary fire starter on this squad.
De’Aaron Fox needs to turn on the jets
Hope springs eternal, and I’m not willing to write-off Swipa based off of a poor performances out of the gate. However, Fox “finding his rhythm” and the excuses surrounding the slump are no longer a viable exception with this many games played.
Through 11 contests, Fox is averaging 18.6 points on 39.3% shooting from the field. Objectively his production isn’t awful, but it’s not what’s going to get the Kings to that next level.
Fox’s teammates aren’t worried about him, the coaching staff isn’t giving up on him and neither should the fans. We know what he’s capable of delivering, so what is it to going to take for Fox to reclaim last season’s spark? Getting back to where he was just a few months ago is essential to this team’s playoff hopes and play-in expectation.
This team has all the makings to build a strong defensive identity
Going from dead last in the association (in historic fashion) to a top-15 team in defense was a tall order from coach Luke Walton in the preseason, but there have been flashes from this group that show growth and potential.
As it stands, Sacramento’s defensive rating (107.8) sits at 22nd in the league. Moe Harkless told reporters in the preseason he wanted to show his teammates that defense can be “fun,” and it seems they’ve bought into that.
The return of Richaun Holmes and Harkless in free agency paired with Davion Mitchell’s addition are fueling the team’s ability to reach that high-ranking defense. Sacramento has only played eight teams through 11 games, so the matchups from here are only going to reveal what this team is really made of defensively. There is much to be excited about when Off Night is on display against the NBA’s greatest.
In the interim: rebound, rebound, rebound. The Kings need to rely heavily winning the battle of the boards as the No. 9 ranked team in pace league-wide.
Difficulty closing out games is still Sacramento’s brand of basketball
Through 11 games, only two losses have been decided by double-digits. Sacramento has won almost all of it’s games in close calls, buzzer beaters or with seconds to spare.
“Part of the problem is we’re slowing the pace down,” Walton told reporters following Sacramento’s loss to Golden State in October.
We know in the Kingdom no lead is safe, but working toward having statement fourth quarters will be a key improvement as the season progresses. Hopefully that progress comes in the form of #FourthQuarterFox.
Our greatest success is beyond the arc
In what has been a stellar start to a Sixth Man of the Year campaign, Buddy Hield has come off the bench in his typical sharpshooting fashion this season, raining the second-most 3-pointers league-wide only behind Stephen Curry.
Hield has seemed to embrace his role coming off of the bench, which couldn’t have fared better for Sactown in the midst of the trade talks in the offseason. Having a locked-in Hield for the time being has been vital to their success, and with the way he’s shooting should there be movement come the deadline it could be to Sacramento’s demise.
Sacramento shattered a franchise record with 22 3-pointers made on Nov. 5 vs. the Charlotte Hornets, where seven players finished in double figures. In our season opener, Barnes made eight of his shots from beyond the arc. The Kings don’t have a shot at coming back vs. the Suns in Phoenix if Buddy Buckets doesn’t unclip seven 3-pointers to set us up for a buzzer beater. Most of Sactown’s contests coming down the stretch have been decided from three-point land.
It’s still incredibly early, but for now, this team is a polaroid that hasn’t quite developed. As they move toward the quarter-season mark, we’ll be able to shake the paper and see the whole picture for a healthier evaluation of this squad and what they are able to produce.