First half summary: For the last three months, the Kings were a mixed bag. They were fun to watch, De’Aaron Fox enjoyed a stretch of brilliance for a few weeks and Tyrese Haliburton became a rare Kings draft pick that actually worked out. But the Kings once again found themselves languishing near the bottom of the West, hoping to stay afloat enough to keep realistic Play-In dreams.
The issues that plagued this team for much of the last decade remain. Sacramento struggles defensively most nights, can’t finish tight games and lacks a true star. Fox did give it a good try to secure his first All-Star bid, but the same cannot be said of Buddy Hield. His shooting so far this season (37.7% overall) is inconsistent and mildly disappointing.
Biggest question going into the second half: At some point, the Kings need to find out what they have in Marvin Bagley III. He’s finally healthy but arguably is the Kings’ second-best post player after Richaun Holmes. Remember, the Kings drafted Bagley ahead of Luka Doncic, and in another year must make a financial decision on his future. But more pressing is whether Bagley can command a meatier spot in the rotation this season.
The Kings might decide to be sellers before the trade deadline, which means they’d see what they can get for Harrison Barnes, who’s playing well (career-best 40.3% from deep) by averaging 16.6 ppg and 6.2 rpg. It’s perhaps too premature to pull the plug on Hield, even with Haliburton more than capable of playing next Fox (22.8 ppg, 7.4 apg).
Sometimes you forget Haliburton is a rookie as his poise and maturity are years ahead. Still, this is the time of year when rookies, no matter how talented, suffer from the length of the season and the demands of playing so many games. The goal, therefore, for Haliburton is to remain as consistent as possible and avoid the dreaded rookie wall.
Playoffs or lottery?: Sadly, this looks like another quiet summer for the Kings, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. The West is too deep with quality teams and the Kings simply need more seasoning and, quite honestly, better players in the rotation. Plus, they surrender the highest points in the league and their defensive issues won’t be solved this season.
With the possible exception of the Knicks, no team has endured so many lost decades as the Kings. The memories of Chris Webber and Vlade Divac causing problems in the early 2000s are starting to fade, if they haven’t already. This franchise desperately needs to form an identity that has lasting power.
The good news is Haliburton, fresh off Kia Rookie of the Month honors, seems like the real deal. His maturity and composure in tight moments is well beyond his years, and at the very least he’ll make the All-Rookie first team. His development is probably where the Kings and their fans should focus their attention, given that a playoff appearance is perhaps a year away, or longer.
— Shaun Powell