Once more, the Sacramento Kings are toiling in the NBA’s version
of no man’s land. On the verge of missing the playoffs for the 15th
straight season, when will a light finally shine at the end of this
franchise's depressing tunnel?
After the Kings traded away very promising second-year guard
Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for All-Star
center Domantas Sabonis at last month’s trade deadline — a
blockbuster deal for both sides — they decided the time was now to
push some chips into the middle of the table. With the
long-standing postseason drought still in full effect, the Kings
are trying to capitalize on the new Play-In era of the Association.
Although Sacramento is 20 games below .500 at 24-44, the team is
within shouting distance of the final Play-In slot at No. 10 in the
The biggest beneficiary of jettisoning Haliburton and bringing
aboard Sabonis has been the cemented face of the franchise,
De’Aaron Fox. Involved in trade rumors himself all season long
before acquiring Sabonis, Sacramento’s commitment to Fox has paid
off in spades over the last month.
Since Feb. 9, the day Sabonis first put on a Kings uniform, Fox
has put up some incredible numbers, averaging 28.2 points, 6.5
assists and 4.1 rebounds on an outstanding 59.2% True Shooting
percentage. Functioning alongside a big man who can be the hub of
an offense, plus creating for others around him, Fox is finally
blossoming into an All-Star type of lead guard in Sacramento.
When comparing Fox’s stats before Sabonis, there’s no wonder why
the Kings decided to pull the trigger and take a real risk
committing to Fox over Haliburton long-term as the No. 1
Pre-Sabonis: 21.2 points, 5.2 assists, 3.8 rebounds, 1.2
steals, 53.4 TS%, 27.7 USG%
Post-Sabonis: 28.2 points, 6.5 assists, 4.1 rebounds,
0.8 steals, 59.2 TS%, 28.7 USG%
As you can see, the difference for Fox is massive now playing
next to a legitimate running mate who can take the pressure off
him. Sabonis has allowed Fox to be fully weaponized within the
Kings’ fast-paced offense, getting downhill to the basket with ease
thanks to the new gravity now provided to do his damage.
Now becoming a real legitimate sample size spanning over a
month, Fox is showing the goods as to why Sacramento committed a
rookie-scale max extension when he was first eligible. Fox was the
only hope for Kings fans, as the team otherwise operated within a
discombobulated environment. Now, with Sabonis forming a lethal 1-2
offensive punch with Fox, there’s at least a foundational idea in
place to build further around them.
What still remains an issue, though, with this tandem is the
lack of defensive integrity. Sure, the offense has real potential
to produce firepower on a consistent basis now, but it won’t matter
without getting stops on the other end.
Sabonis is the polar opposite of a defensive anchor,
consistently worked by strong and aggressive bigs down low. Fox has
also lagged behind in this department, really taking a step back
the past couple of seasons with his effort as an on-ball defender.
In the 299 total minutes Fox and Sabonis have shared the floor
together, the Kings are still getting outscored by 2.4 points per
100 possessions. The sole reason for that is because of their
horrific job of attempting to contain opposing offenses from doing
whatever they want; it checks in at a 118.7 Defensive Rating. If
you compare that to team-centric numbers on defense, Sacramento
would rank last in the NBA for points allowed per 100
Even if the Kings miss the play-in tournament, they are set up
well in 2022-23 to finally make a real playoff push. Fox and
Sabonis are already locked in, but so is versatile veteran forward
Harrison Barnes. Davion Mitchell has flashed some promising
potential in his rookie campaign playing on or off-ball alongside
Fox. The cupboard is not completely barren in Sacramento, and one
more swing of good lottery luck fortune could put them in position
to add the much-needed third pillar to vault them into serious
Just imagine how much better off the Kings would be long-term
building a winning program around Fox and Sabonis if they brought
in a tantalizing draft prospect like Chet Holmgren from Gonzaga.
He’s the ideal piece to the puzzle to place next to Sabonis,
offsetting serious defensive concerns with a legitimate
rim-protector. Very similar to the blueprint Sabonis already
experienced with the Pacers, it seems necessary for this whole
process to reach its max output down the road.
The Kings are not a laughingstock anymore, but trying to shed
that label for over a decade has taken a toll on the organization.
If the pendulum swings in the team's favor, Sacramento can finally
escape proverbial basketball hell.
Fox’s ascension since the arrival of Sabonis has brought clarity
to how the Kings’ lead guard can operate next to a really talented
secondary option. Some would argue Sabonis is a better player than
Fox, but these flashes we’re seeing on a more consistent basis from
the former Kentucky Wildcat as of late are super promising for
what’s next regarding his career arc.
Although it seems far-fetched, the Kings are positioning
themselves within their win-now window. The commitment has already
taken place by shipping off arguably their most consistent player
in Haliburton last month.
Sacramento’s vision of building a dynamite offense with Fox and
Sabonis is already showing positive results. Now, it’s time to see
whether it maintains for a last-chance play-in push or a full-on
surge in 2022-23.
Fox is already benefiting from this new look in Sacramento, but
what other pieces will soon fall into place for what will be a
massive offseason once more for the playoff-starved