It would seem the Sacramento Kings are never going to lose a basketball game again. Between their victory in Vegas and a perfect preseason, Kings fans should feel good about the fresh legs and young talent that has been on display that past few weeks.
Here are my takeaways from the preseason that can and should translate into real gameplay when the season tips on Wednesday night.
De’Aaron Fox is that dude
Fox shined in the preseason, averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 assists, 4.1 and and a steal per game while averaging 25.4 minutes through four games played. There’s so much we already know about Swipa’s game, but those 15 pounds of lean muscle he’s put on are really making a difference in his ability to explode to the rim and play a new brand of bully-ball. If Fox can continue to improve beyond the arc and at the free-throw line and stay healthy, its #StarFox all year long.
The guard position is deeeep
Every single man on the roster who suited up for the Kings’ backcourt in the preseason contributed meaningful minutes to pull out four straight victories. Tyrese Haliburton led the team in assists (4.3) and steals (1.7), while “The Microwave” Terence Davis led the whole in scoring with 15.2 points per game.
Davis especially shined in the second half of the preseason, scoring 17 points vs. the Portland Trailblazers and 20 points vs. the Los Angeles Lakers. Buddy Hield also came alive in the second half of the preseason, averaging 12.7 points and 3.3 assists and 5.0 rebounds after a slow start.
But the biggest storyline written in the guard position was undoubtedly Davion Mitchell’s coming out party. Mitchell was matched up with the likes of LeBon James and Paul George and he held his own. That defensive tenacity has already earned him respect from players around the league, including Damian Lillard.
Between Fox, Haliburton, Hield, Mitchell and Davis, the backcourt of Sacramento is in very capable hands. The rotation of guards in play will leave Luke Walton with several options for success, a very welcome site in the kingdom.
Defensive woes might be a thing of the past in Sactown
Mitchell is setting the table for Sacramento to see a complete 180 in defensive scheming. Through the preseason, he finished 8th in defensive rating and, as a team, the Kings had the highest defensive rating in the league at 87.8.
Formulating a real two-way defense has become an integral part of this year’s training camp and preseason contests, and it was on full display in the end of Thursday’s contest vs. the Lakers, when offense alone was not going to win them the game.
Tristan Thompson said it best to reporters following training camp last week: “I’m going to light a fire under your ass.” This platitude is exactly what this Sacramento team needs coming off of their grotesque season on defense. A relentless brand of defense is already starting to suit this squad.
Mitchell has yet to have his real “Welcome to the NBA” moment, with most of his playing time coming against rookies and C-string rosters, but he’s had good bouts against NBA stars. When the time comes to show his chops against those stars on a regular basis, it’ll be interesting to see how exactly the reigning NCAA Defensive Player of the Year responds — Fox dubbed him a “top-five” on-ball defender in the league after all.
Health is King
In what will be a second full season with COVID-19 Health and Safety Protocols, having an available, healthy roster will be imperative for the success of this squad. Thankfully no one in Sacramento’s orbit has had vaccination issues thus far this season, and as the league continues to see a higher and higher vaccination rate, this particular subject should subside to a degree. As the league continues this initiative, we’ll have to keep an eye on any speed bumps surrounding protocol.
Injuries are inevitable, but it’s crucial that Marvin Bagley III, Fox and Haliburton get reps together this season. This is Bagley’s last shot at sticking around (for a while, at least) Sacramento, and with the in-and-out we’ve seen during the preseason with knee issues, I’m not sure that his durability is where it needs to be — still.
Room for improvement? Always.
Over-zealous reactions to the preseason are inevitable, especially when the team is playing this well. No one is painting the Kings to be a a title contender, or even a playoff lock. But Sacramento’s time is now to take the next leap. There’s no reason why the Kings cannot deliver a season of winning basketball. It’s palatable that the players and staff want it as badly as the fans do.
“The energy within the group itself is just amazing, man. Everyone is pulling for each other. Everyone is working, screaming hard. I know you guys keep hearing it, but it’s the facts,” Terence Davis told reporters last week. “I’m just excited to continue to grind, continue to keep going.”
Overall, I’m walking away from preseason feeling good about where Sacramento is at in terms of growth. With the roster they have going in, it’ll be an exciting start to the season evaluating how this group continues to compete.