The Sacramento Kings are once again on pace to stay "in neutral"
throughout the 2021-22 season, nowhere closer to the longstanding
goal of snapping their current 15-year playoff drought. However,
one bright spot is beginning to peek through in Sacramento, and it
might be able to turn the tides soon enough for the
Tyrese Haliburton, the Kings’ No. 12 overall pick from the 2020
NBA Draft, is flourishing while the main rotation is being
decimated by COVID-19. Over the last week, Haliburton’s averages
are eye-popping: 23.5 points, 11.3 assists, 4.3 rebounds and 2.0
steals per game across four contests. On top of that, Haliburton is
also carrying an elite 63.8% True Shooting percentage.
Haliburton’s emergence for Sacramento could be the exact
blessing this franchise has needed, especially when having to
juggle guard minutes for De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and rookie
Davion Mitchell alongside him.
This isn’t a hyperbolic take, especially when watching him
during his collegiate career at Iowa State, where he became an
advanced metrics darling, Haliburton is the exact antidote to cure
the Kings’ woes. A savvy playmaker who brings innate basketball IQ
on both ends of the court, Haliburton is beginning to find his
footing in the league as a lead ball-handler. All he needs is more
confidence and reps, which will result in obvious growing pains
(averaging 4.5 turnovers over the aforementioned four-game
The plus with Haliburton is he can play both on and off the
ball, which allows him to play heavy minutes meshing alongside the
three other guards, who all bring different qualities to the table.
Also, Haliburton is a well above-average three-point shooter,
currently hitting those opportunities at an above-40% clip on the
Haliburton’s chameleon-like ability to fit wherever is needed
makes him an ultimate glue guy who can become so much more if the
keys are passed to him more often in Sacramento.
Take a look at Haliburton’s head-to-head statistics when he
plays with and without Fox during his short professional
The difference for Haliburton when he’s not playing alongside a
high-usage lead guard in Fox is absolutely jarring. When his own
usage rate is bumped up, in this case almost 10%, the results have
Seeing Haliburton in more control of the Kings’ fast-paced
offense, led by interim head coach Alvin Gentry, should make Kings
fans giddy for the future. And one intriguing angle really not
discussed enough is how Sacramento has approached the NBA Draft
over the last two years.
However, what about Fox? The former Kentucky Wildcat has been
the primary building block in Sacramento for five years now, but
there’s only been one season over that span that the Kings have
even been in contention for a playoff spot in March.
With Fox and other guards sidelined by COVID-19 health and
safety protocols, Kings general manager Monte McNair has gotten a
glimpse up-close of a potential road he can travel down when
envisioning his future roster construction.
What if McNair decided to shake things up in a major way before
February’s trade deadline? Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer mentioned
earlier this month he’s heard from other executives that Sacramento
is more open to the idea of trading Fox after drafting Haliburton
and Mitchell in consecutive years. Meanwhile, ESPN’s Tim Bontemps
said a few days ago that he’s heard Fox isn’t off-limits in trade
Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, especially as it
relates to trade rumors. If two notable national NBA reporters are
hearing the same type of intel revolving around Fox’s future in
Sacramento, Haliburton’s recent play could put this potential
scenario into realistic overdrive.
At this current rate, the Kings are nowhere close to being a
true threat to even make the play-in tournament, barring a sudden
surge to an improbable run later on. Also, team owner Vivek
Ranadive seems to be getting impatient with the current
roster in place. It seems inevitable that something big happens
in Sacramento between now and the 2022 offseason.
Haliburton’s on-court wizardry as of late makes it easy to
imagine how he could lead pushing the break for Sacramento
alongside ample floor-spacing and athletic wings who thrive in
transition. Two names in particular would be very strong fits
alongside Haliburton, and the cost would likely revolved around
Fox: Ben Simmons and Pascal Siakam.
Both players would instantly step in and provide an ideal buffer
for what’s needed to help the Kings reset and properly build out
their roster to competent levels. Another idea I’ll throw against
the wall and see if it sticks for both sides: What about Fox to the
New York Knicks for RJ Barrett? If the Knicks are in true win-now
mode, as evidenced by their offseason, Fox could be a much-needed
jolt to their stagnating hopes of making the playoffs once
Sacramento resetting around Haliburton as a primary option,
likely as the No. 2 behind someone like Simmons or Siakam, for
example, isn’t a far-fetched idea at all. Haliburton is a great
shooter, playmaker, defender and high-character player. He checks
all the boxes you want to see from a young prospect beginning to
find his way in the NBA. Haliburton is beginning to soar forward in
his own development, allowing the Kings to see an upgraded version
during an interesting portion of their season due to a COVID
outbreak within the organization.
As Haliburton dazzles, it’s going to bring some very tough
questions that have to be answered for the Kings’ front office.
Even if Haliburton continues his stretch of play once Fox returns,
it will be with fewer touches. Hield is another player who could
soon be on the move, maybe freeing up more minutes for Haliburton
and Mitchell as one last attempt to make it work alongside Fox for
the three-guard lineups.
With the Kings’ recent team-building strategy — plus Haliburton
showing the goods as a legitimate two-way weapon who can be
multi-faceted running an offense — maybe the best scenario is to
make a major move.
Shooting for Simmons or Siakam alongside Haliburton would likely
lead to a better on-court product for the Kings to potentially
break through in a loaded Western Conference.