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The Kings are stepping up without their two stars

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No De’Aaron Fox, no Marvin Bagley, but the Kings have been impressive.

Kimani Okearah
Kimani Okearah

In Sacramento’s world, stars are not easy to come by. When they do, we cherish them for however long they don the purple and white because the stars are the only glimpses of hope to cling onto as this thirteen year playoff drought continues to plague the city.

With last year’s season being a strong outlier in a massively forgettable period of time, the hopes and expectations were higher than they ever have been.

Then the Kings started 0-5 while losing the 2018 #2 overall pick Marvin Bagley for 4-6 weeks. Right when they snapped out of their horrid start and seemed to be capable of playing competent basketball for multiple games in a row, an unknown member of the team committed vulpicide as Will pointed out and De’Aaron Fox, the 2017 #5 overall pick, is likely out until around the All-Star break.

Two youngsters that the Kings are banking on to be stars (and they’ve played great in their own right) go down and the hopes and expectations lose gravity. But they’re not floating away.

Sacramento was supposed to fall back into the hole they’ve been attempting to climb out of for years. Instead, they’ve gone 5-2 in the last seven games with their losses coming to the defending champion Toronto Raptors and legit contending Los Angeles Lakers. Two losses by a combined six points with both coming on the road.

The Laker game could’ve ended differently with the NBA’s last two minute report saying that LeBron James committed an offensive foul on Harrison Barnes. The foul, which was called on Barnes, awarded two free throws to James and he made both. We will never know how it would’ve ended had the call been properly made, but Sacramento put up a great fight (yeah, moral victories are getting old).

In these five wins, the Kings put 100 points on the board against Utah, which prior to that point no other team had accomplished. They blew out the Knicks as expected (take care of the inferior opponents), and they did that again with the Hawks on the road. Portland came into the game with multiple injuries and struggling in their own nature, but they still had Damian Lillard. Sacramento’s defense forced turnover after turnover and came away with a victory against a team they could be fighting for a playoff spot against.

Then after a tough loss to the Lakers, the Kings welcomed the Boston Celtics into Golden 1 Center. Boston came in winning 10 straight while holding the league’s best record.

That didn’t faze the Kings who put together a solid all around team performance to secure a win. Buddy Hield is scoring at least 20 points a game in the last six games. His three point shooting has been ridiculously good despite the bad outing against Portland, but it ultimately didn’t matter. Buddy has had moments where he is turning the ball over in ways he shouldn’t at this point of his career, but he’s been answering the call following that hefty extension earlier this season.

Bogdan Bogdanovic’s rise has been arguably the best part of the team’s play without their two stars. With the ball in his hands more often, Bogi is finding additional ways to be more creative with his teammates and putting the ball in the basket himself. He’s racked up 30 assists in the last four games, an average of 7.5. His deep ball has been finding the net, shooting above 54.5% in three of the last five games on good volume.

Nemanja Bjelica is making the case of him going back to the bench when Bagley comes back a difficult decision, but that’s for another article. He’s been doing a bit of everything on both ends. On top of his Serbian range, he’s had two double-doubles in the last three games, makes smart passes and limits turnovers.

His frontcourt partner Richaun Holmes has been balling out, too. Supplying the necessary energy, Holmes is good for a few impact plays per game and doesn’t need to stuff the stat sheet to do so. Setting good screens, converting as a roll big, blocking shots and more. The big man rotation when Bagley returns is going to be worth keeping an eye on.

Harrison Barnes’ now has the pro’s pro badge that Kosta Koufos once held. You know what you’ll get from him when he’s on the floor, except if that means he’ll stumble on a crucial play. But Barnes continues to perform to his role, just like Cory Joseph. Joseph was signed to be a defensive stopper and that’s what he’s been doing, just like the final play on Kemba Walker against Boston.

With the schedule not as heavy the rest of November, the Kings have a chance to begin a relatively light December off to a good start if they close out this month properly.

The squad has stepped up their game with the next man up mentality, putting up good performances against some of the league’s best. They’ll need to keep up the stellar defense and continue capitalizing on offense, however, if they plan on being competitive later on in the year, especially when Fox returns.

This upcoming stretch will give us more answers if they’re up to the task.