2022-23 Kia Season Preview

Q&A: Domantas Sabonis says Kings ready to turn corner, snap playoff drought

Sacramento hasn't made the playoffs in an NBA-record 16 seasons, but All-Star big man Domantas Sabonis is confident the slide will soon be over.

Domantas Sabonis averaged 18.9 points and 12.3 rebounds per game in 15 games with the Kings last season.

LOS ANGELES – Should they finally end their NBA playoff drought in the 2022-23 season, the Sacramento Kings may point to two reasons for the turnaround.

The Kings hosted numerous offseason scrimmages in both Sacramento and Las Vegas. They also visited Napa Valley so they could talk hoops and share laughs over numerous wine tastings. Leading into Monday’s preseason opener against the Lakers, Sacramento center Domantas Sabonis could already see how the Kings benefited from their team-bonding events on and off the court.

“No one is that shy anymore,” Sabonis told NBA.com. “We were too respectful and didn’t want to step on people’s toes. Now we all got that out the way and we can talk trash, compete and go at it.”

Sabonis spoke to NBA.com about the various factors that could determine whether the Kings make the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the longest postseason drought in NBA history at 16 straight seasons. Those topics included first-year head coach Mike Brown, point guard De’Aaron Fox and rookie forward Keegan Murray. Sabonis, whom the Kings acquired before last season’s trade deadline from Indiana, also touched on his own role.

Editor’s note: The following 1-on-1 conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.

NBA.com: What are your early impressions of training camp?

We’re doing everything in the right direction and are really pushing ourselves. There’s a lot of structure. We’re going hard. We got long practices and a lot of film. A lot of teaching points.

What’s Mike preaching so far?

Defense. He’s a defensive coach, and he’s definitely trying to make life easy for us in terms of the terminology. The defensive stuff we’re doing is going to help us out. It’ll depend on us. He’s giving us all the answers and the system of how we want to play as a team. Defense is about effort and competing. If we compete every game, it’s going to be tough.

How do you and the team view the challenge and opportunity of ending the playoff drought?

We’re thinking about us competing and being a better team. That drought has been here for 16 years, so that doesn’t have much to do with us. But obviously if we do our job, things are going to get broken. We’re going to be happy if we do our jobs.

Is making playoffs a realistic goal?

Of course. Every team has that mentality at the beginning of training camp to get that special feeling at the end of the year. As long as we work toward that, good things can happen for us.

What else will determine the Kings’ playoff changes, knowing how competitive the Western Conference is?

Competing is the main thing. We have a lot of talent and a lot of weapons. We have to share the ball. If we keep that moving, we’re going to be tough to guard. There’s a lot of off-ball movement. There’s a lot of one-on-one in this league and there are a lot of great defenders. But if we can work together as a team to get each other better shots, we’re going to be tough.

Why did you and De’Aaron Fox hit it off so well after you joined the Kings after the trade deadline?

We both know how to play the pick and roll. He’s open and listens to what I want to do. And I’m open and listen to what he wants to do with where he needs the ball. We know each other’s tendencies. It’s worked really well. The more we get to do it this year, we’ll keep developing that chemistry.

How do you build off of that?

When he gets hot, teams are going to be trying to double team him. We can play off the ball, do the give-and-go and the pitch game. It’s hard to guard. You’re guarding a guy off the ball, but he is so fast. He can go backdoor and curl. I can pass the ball. There are more options out of that two-man game.

What are your early impressions of Keegan?

He can shoot it. He’s been great all of training camp. I’m just excited to see him finally play in an NBA game. There are going to be games where he’s going to go off. He’s always in the right spot at the right time. He’s a smart player and knows when to shoot and when to drive. He’s athletic. He can get by guys. Guys are going to collapse and he’s making the right reads kicking it out to other shooters. It’s basically on him on how quickly he can get comfortable.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Luka Doncic have all said it’s harder to play basketball in Europe than in the NBA. How do you look at that after playing in Lithuania?

It’s definitely tough. There’s a lot of coaching and a lot of scouting. The defense is already set. You can’t just shoot any kind of shot. Every possession really matters. All of the games are usually point-to-point. Any turnover or silly travel really hurts your team. And you’re playing for your country and in a tournament like it’s March Madness. In the playoffs, you have seven games. If you mess a game up, there’s usually not an upset. If an NBA team beats you, they’re better because they won four games against you. In Europe, if you have an off night, you’re struggling. You can’t just rely on offense.

Considering your dad [Arvydas] had such an accomplished career in the NBA and overseas, how did he shape you into the player you are?

His passing, the way he would lead teams and his toughness. Before and after his injuries, he showed up every day and played. We might feel sore after games. But we haven’t been through what he’s been through. It’s about being professional and taking care of your body. He’s always saying, ‘Get treatment, get ice and everything you need.’ It doesn’t matter how good you are. If you’re not healthy and can’t play on the court, no one cares. Make sure you’re always available.

How would you assess Lithuiana’s performance in EuroBasket? (Lithuania advanced to the Round of 16 before losing to Spain).

It was awesome. It was a hell of experience playing for your country. I feel like we were a really good team. We were unlucky. We were in a tough group. I’m excited for next year. I feel like we let our chance go.

Where do you go from here?

We’re good. Every game we lost, it was either in overtime or we were up in the last few minutes. We almost played against the Final Four team. We’ll come back next year stronger. Where we struggled, we have to do better, talk more and do scouting. We’ll do all of those things to be better prepared.

You had a viral moment after a Bosnian player taunted you after blocking your dunk only for your teammate then to dunk on him. What was that moment like?

The game was dead at that point. There were only a couple of minutes left. I went up and got blocked, and he was screaming. I wondered, ‘Why are you screaming?’ The game is over. It’s an elimination game, and they were already eliminated. I see my teammate coming and I thought, ‘I’ll distract him for a second so he gets dunked on.’ Then when he got dunked on, I screamed in his face.

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Mark Medina is a senior writer/analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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