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Can the Kings finally make the playoffs with De’Aaron Fox as their talisman? (Photo: Jerome Miron. USAToday Sports)

NBA 2022 Off Season Guide: Sacramento Kings

Can the Kings finally make the playoffs with De’Aaron Fox as their talisman? (Photo: Jerome Miron. USAToday Sports)

NBA 2022 Off Season Guide: Sacramento Kings

It’s deja vu all over again for the Kings.

For the 16th consecutive season, Sacramento find themselves on the outside the playoff picture looking in, with no obvious pathway to improvement. Yes, they have a pair of excellent performers in Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox – both players approaching their primes – to build their offense around. Both, however, are flammable at the other end of the court.

There is young talent on the roster, but nobody that screams ‘transformational’. How then, do the Kings move forward and improve this off season?

The Roster

The Kings seemingly made their big move at the trade deadline, swapping the presumed face of the franchise in Tyrese Haliburton (and parts) for Pacers All-Star centre Sabonis (and parts). That trade posed as many questions as it provided answers.

Whilst it cleared up a shockingly crowded point guard rotation it also marginalised the quietly effective Richaun Holmes, who saw his minutes drop precipitously, from around 25 to 15 per contest, once Sabonis came aboard.

When Fox and Sabonis shared the floor the Kings had a 115.2 offensive rating and according to Second Spectrum scored 1.22 points per pick and roll chance – a truly elite number. Perhaps the most glaring figure, though, is that the pair only played 360 minutes together as injuries took their toll. There is a potentially excellent offensive system that can be built around these two. To make that system work, however, the Kings need to surround them with defensive aces who can hold their own offensively.

As a rookie Davion Mitchell showed the defensive chops, but struggled as both a shooter and play maker. Veteran forward Harrison Barnes is a good two way player, though his skill set doesn’t fill the specific needs (shot blocking and elite shooting) to fit with the Fox/Sabonis paring. Justin Holiday and Trey Lyles provide shooting, but no defense; Mo Harkless the defense but no shooting.

Holmes is the key, here. He’s a solid shot blocker and rebounder, able to capably switch onto most perimeter players. Back in 2017, the then-Sixer flashed the outlines of a decent perimeter game, connecting on 35.1% of his 1.4 three point attempts per game. If he can rediscover that part of his game then perhaps he can play alongside Sabonis as a kind of Myles Turner-lite.

Playing Holmes and Sabonis together though, raises another question. Barnes is ideally, at this stage of his career, a power forward. He’s too good to marginalise but is probably not suited to playing the three on something close to a full time basis. It seems the Kings hierarchy will need to make a direct choice between Holmes and Barnes.

Team Needs

Two way players – especially on the wing – are desperately needed in Sacramento. There is some young, potentially untapped talent to explore in Terence Davis and Chimezie Metu, but neither project as starters on a good (or even decent) NBA team.

But perhaps the most pressing need for the Kings is to decide on a direction. With Mike Brown recently hired as the head coach, it will be interesting to see what direction the Kings look to take with their roster building. Assuming that Sacramento look to build with 3-and-D players around Fox and Sabonis, there is a large chunk of the roster that will need to be moved.

Including his player option, Homes is signed through to the end of 2025 and is the Kings best trade asset, aside from Sabonis and Fox. He’s a versatile, low usage centre on a very palatable deal. He should be a man in demand on the trade market.

Most intriguing, though, are the Kings slew of expiring contracts. Between them, Barnes, Holiday, Harkless, Davis, Lyles, Metu and centre Alex Len make just over $42 million. Some of those players will fetch more on the trade market than others, of course. Most (sorry Alex Len) will have some sort of market, though.

Whilst building an offense around Fox and Sabonis is, in theory at least, fairly straight forward, creating a defensive ecosystem is altogether tougher, given Fox’s lack of resistance at the point of attack and Sabonis’ poor rim protection. There is a blueprint, though: Chicago. When healthy, the Bulls defense was one of the NBA’s best. It was centred on a buzz saw of defensive activity led by Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso, that was able to overcome the poor perimeter defense of Zach Lavine and the statuesque interior presence of Nikola Vucevic.

The Cap Sheet

The Kings currently have $108 million assigned to eleven players for the 2023 season.

The team have decisions to make on a pair of wing players. How they approach those will play a large role in their cap situation.

Donte Divincenzo was acquired from Milwaukee at the trade deadline and is theoretically the exact type of player that would fit alongside the Fox/Sabonis core. He’s a big, athletic two-guard with a solid – and still developing – outside shot. Frankly, with Khris Middleton out, the Bucks could use him right about now! Expect the Kings to look to sign him as a player that can fit alongside both Fox and Mitchell in the back court.

Soon to turn 30, Jeremy Lamb is a solid scorer who when at his best can provide some defensive resistance. But it’s questionable how much of an upgrade he is over Holiday. Unless he’s willing to sign a bargain deal, expect the Kings to let him walk.

Josh Jackson – another free agent wing– will surely be farewelled with few tears.

As alluded to above, the Kings cap situation will depend on the figures offered to Divincenzo and any trades that general manager Monte McNair can put together with his wide array – though admittedly limited in true value – of trade assets.

Given the Kings haven’t been a free agent destination of note for decades, don’t be shocked if McNair swings hard to bring in some elite role players to supplement his star pair.

The Draft

What should the Kings focus on on the upcoming draft? Wings, wings and more wings.

They hold the 7th overall pick – lottery draw pending – as well as a pair of second rounders that fall at 37 and 48. With their lottery pick, the Kings could go in a number of directions.

They could gamble that AJ Griffin’s scoring translates at the NBA level and that his physical gifts allow him to become a solid defensive player. They might decide that Benedict Mathurin is exactly the type of secondary play maker that can make their offense hum. They could see Johnny Davis as the jack-of-all-trades shooting guard that can help set an on court culture, especially if they lose Divincenzo. Sacramento could also look at Keegan Murray as a stretch power forward should they decide to move on from Barnes.

Of course, this is the Kings. Expect the unexpected. This is the team that chose Marvin Bagley over Luka Doncic; Willy Cauley-Stein over Devin Booker and Georgios Papagiannis over…well…anything resembling an NBA basketballer. These Kings do love themselves a project big man. With that in mind, don’t fall off your chair if they pick select Jalen Duren.

Duren is all upside. A huge young man and prodigious athlete, Duren is the proverbial blank canvas. He’s the best lob threat and behind Chet Holmgren the best shot blocker in the draft. He’s shown some play making flashes and projects as a decent switch defender.

The issue is his fit with Sabonis. As much as his shot blocking would be welcome, he’s totally redundant in an offense that features a Fox/Sabonis pick and roll. He has shown potential as a jump shooter but doesn’t project to be anything close to Sabonis’ former running mate Turner in that regard.

This article also appears at leading independent media site FOOTYOLOGY.

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