Folks have begun to take the Kings seriously. There's finally a formula and plan in place here, and last season the Kings offered a sneak peek into the very near future, where De’Aaron Fox is slashing through the lane for buckets and Buddy Hield is dropping open jumpers and solid production is stemming from a collection of role players. The Kings haven’t arrived just yet and a playoff berth will speak to their legitimacy. Remember, this team hasn’t made the playoffs in 13 years and haven’t been on the radar since their GM, Vlade Divac, was throwing backdoor passes as the starting center. But there’s a pulse in Sactown.
> 30 Teams in 30 Days: Sacramento Kings
Luke Walton is the new coach, replacing Dave Joerger, and was hired roughly 20 seconds following his dismissal from the Lakers. Walton kept a sense of calm despite the madness in L.A. and that personality will serve him and the Kings well … The Kings signed Trevor Ariza and hope the 34-year-old will be better than the last group of vets they signed: Zach Randolph and George Hill, neither of whom made a lasting impact back in 2017-18 … The Kings didn’t have their first-round pick. If you recall, they had to sacrifice that pick in order to dump Nik Stauskas, a former lottery pick. … Speaking of dumping lottery picks, the Kings bailed on Willie Cauley-Stein, refusing to give the third-year center a qualifying offer, and instead signed journeyman Dewayne Dedmon on the cheap … Harrison Barnes could’ve gone elsewhere when he became a free agent, but instead decided to stay. Yes, $85 million over four years certainly helped. But he obviously believes in the direction in which the Kings are headed.
1. Bagley's big moment. Marvin Bagley III’s role should be upgraded under Walton. Bagley was restricted to coming off the bench as a rookie and averaged 25 minutes, seventh-most on the team, under Joerger. Bagley bit his tongue but clearly was frustrated and angry about Joerger’s decision to bring him along slowly. He’s better than that.
2. More 3s in the kingdom. The Kings are rounding into one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the league and should only improve. Buddy Hield, De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic were all solid last season and Walton will devise a system that emphasizes the long-ball even more. This will only make the Kings more exciting to watch as well.
3. Stops equal success. The Kings, like most young teams, are troubled defensively. They were bottom-five on defense and too often found themselves in games where they had to score 100-plus or perish. This was especially painful late in games whenever the Kings needed a key stop. Ariza should help, but Sacramento needs a younger version of him.
MAN ON THE SPOT
Is Luke Walton a solid coach? There are mixed signals regarding that because his past doesn’t present a crystal clear answer. He won with the Warriors while temporarily taking over the coaching spot for Steve Kerr, but the Warriors were built to win and Kerr’s system was already in place. He didn’t win last season with the Lakers, but LeBron James missed nearly a month with a groin injury and the franchise was shaken by dysfunction and the flirtation with Anthony Davis at the trade deadline. The Kings have had their share of coaches with the last nine failing to get them to the playoffs. Only one of that bunch, Mike Malone, has been somewhat successful since leaving town. Walton inherits a growing team, solid fan base and rising expectations. What he does with the Kings this season and beyond will tell us about him.
De’Aaron Fox | 17.3 ppg, 7.3 apg, 3.8 rpg
An exciting point guard who took a generous step in his second season.
Buddy Hield | 20.7 ppg, 5.0 apg, 2.5 rpg
Making a bid for being one of the league’s best long-distance threats.
Harrison Barnes | 16.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.5 apg
Steady veteran whose consistency and character are exactly what Kings want.
Marvin Bagley III | 14.9 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 1.0 bpg
Improved in the final few months last season and brings obvious skills.
Nemanja Bjelica | 9.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 1.9 apg
Decent rebounder and good role player who might come off the bench.
Bogdan Bogdanovic | 14.1 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.8 apg
Good complimentary scorer who fits well in the three-guard rotation.
Trevor Ariza | 12.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 3.7 apg
Veteran swingman who surprisingly spurned the chance to sign with contenders.
Cory Joseph | 6.5 ppg, 6.4 apg, 3.9 rpg
Solid veteran point guard who should be a plus as a backup to Fox.
THE BOTTOM LINE
What is an acceptable next-step for this franchise? It’s reasonable to ask the Kings to be in the playoff hunt come late March. This is the season Sacramento should be competitive each night and successful for at least half of them. While the West is loaded, as usual, the Kings bring young and energetic legs to prevent from being out-hustled. Plus, the nucleus has a high ceiling and room for improvement. Another sign of progress would be if Fox and Hield are in the discussion for the All-Star Game. Those are the nibbles that a developing team needs, and the Kings fit that description. The only shock is if they somehow take a step backwards under Walton.
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