Here we go! The return of Sacramento Kings basketball is finally here. With the NBA’s bubble format in Orlando looking like a success for now, the Kings will try to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the 2005-06 season.
Sacramento had some tough luck when the teams first began to make their trips to the campus site. De’Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, Buddy Hield, Alex Len, Jabari Parker and Richaun Holmes all missed some practice time for various reasons, but all except for Len will be ready to go for the opener against the San Antonio Spurs. Meanwhile, second-year forward Marvin Bagley III suffered a foot injury and is done in Orlando.
It’s simple for the Kings: win, and they’ll get into the play-in tournament. Sacramento trails the Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The Kings will also try to beat out the Spurs, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers for the ninth seed. If the team with the best record out of the four is within four games of the Grizzlies at the conclusion of the schedule, they will advance to a sudden-death elimination tournament.
Before the games begin to count, we went over three questions for the Kings heading into the restart:
1 - How does Luke Walton share the minutes among the big men?
Sabreena Merchant: My guess is Richaun Holmes will be the starter at center, and Harry Giles will back him up. There’s a tricky balance with Giles, because while I don’t think he’s giving the Kings enough defensively, the team also wants to play nice with Giles given his upcoming unrestricted free agency. Nemanja Bjelica will be the starting power forward, and Corey Brewer will back him up, because going small behooves what the team is trying to do on both ends of the floor. This calculus all changes if Alex Len is ready to go, because he should absolutely be the backup center if healthy — it just doesn’t seem that he is in game shape yet after suffering from the coronavirus.
Christian Rivas: I think it’s safe to say Bjelica and Holmes will start at the 4 and 5, respectively, but their minutes will be dependent on matchups. For example, Luke Walton may be more inclined to play Harrison Barnes and Corey Brewer at the 4 against teams with less traditional front courts like the Houston Rockets — well, maybe not exactly like the Rockets because no one is like the Rockets. Beyond that, Harry Giles and Alex Len will fill the gaps at center.
Jas Kang: The Kings’ big men were up-and-down during the three scrimmages. Nemanja Bjelica played well against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks before a sluggish outing against the Clippers, but will start at power forward. After struggling in the first two games, Harry Giles bounced back with a solid performance against L.A. Depending on his level of conditioning, I think Walton will go with Richaun Homes at the 5, and bring Giles off the bench. Barnes will also get some run at the 4 when Walton chooses to go small. The good part for Walton is that he has plenty of options, and could decide to simply ride the hot hand at the power forward, and center positions.
2 - Who will be the Kings’ MVP in Orlando?
Sabreena: Assuming the trend lines from the scrimmage play hold, Kent Bazemore will be the team’s MVP. But, the Kings need to be better to make the postseason. So let’s be optimistic here: If the Kings make the playoffs, or even the play-in, it will be because De’Aaron Fox played like an All-Star, and that will make him the team’s MVP. They need Fox’s pace, and they need his defensive activity at the point of attack.
Christian: The Kings will only go as far as Luke Walton lets them. They have the talent, but it’s on him to put them in the best position to succeed by playing the right combination of players. If the Kings exceed expectations, it will likely be because Walton is a better coach than we thought, which would obviously be incredible for the organization’s long-term health.
Jas: Fox is the straw that stirs the drink, but give me Bogdan Bogdanovic. The Kings have a 13-7 record when Bogi starts in place of Hield, and if he can play like he did in Sacramento’s final scrimmage game against the L.A. Clippers, it would go a long way in helping the Kings end their playoff drought.
3 - What will Sacramento’s record be in the eight games?
Sabreena: 4-4. There are two games that the Kings should win against the Spurs and the Nets. The Mavericks game feels like a loss, considering Sacramento’s 3-point defense thus far and the fact that Dallas will be fighting hard to improve its playoff positioning. If we assume the rest are toss-ups, that puts the Kings at 4.5 wins, and 4 feels safer. Either way, that’s beating the over-under of 3.5 wins.
Christian: 8-0, because manifestation or whatever. Go Kings.
Jas: 5-3. I am expecting the unexpected in Orlando. There are three games that the Kings must win if they want a shot at the playoffs: the Spurs, Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets. The rest of the schedule is tough, but everything can change on a dime in the bubble. We don’t know how injuries will play out under the circumstances, and with many players trying to work themselves into shape after the layoff, anything can happen.