After a 122-116 loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Sacramento Kings were 15-24 and sat 3.5 games out of 10th in the Western Conference standings. To make matters worse, Sacramento lost young forward Marvin Bagley III to a hand injury.
Fast forward less than two weeks later, and the Kings are only a game out of play-in position and just 3.5 games out of seventh after going 6-1 over their last seven. Head coach Luke Walton inserted Tyrese Haliburton into the starting lineup in place of Bagley, and the rookie has stepped up to the plate, averaging 15.9 points and 3.7 assists.
With Haliburton’s increase in minutes, Sacramento’s offensive output has remained relatively the same. The team is only averaging 0.1 points less over the past seven games than when Bagley was in the lineup. The Kings’ 3-point percentage is only 0.9 percent better.
Where Sacramento has been better over its past seven games is on the defensive end. Before the 6-1 stretch, the Kings allowed opponents to shoot 39.6 percent from the 3-point line, the highest of any team in the league.
During this recent run, the team has only allowed the opposition to connect on 35.8 percent of their attempts from deep.
Sacramento’s defensive struggles have been no secret this season. The Kings were giving up an average of 120 points per game after the loss to the Hornets, which was the second-most in the NBA and their defensive rating was the worst in the league.
Over the past seven contests, Walton’s team is only surrendering 110.6 points per outing, a marked improvement and a big reason why Sacramento has climbed up the standings. This isn’t all because Bagley got hurt, but without him, the Kings have been able to roll with a smaller lineup, which gives the team more versatility on the defensive end.
Sacramento’s defensive rating with Bagley on the court is 119.3 and 114.7 when he’s on the bench. When he started alongside center Richaun Holmes, opposing teams could run pick-and-rolls and get Bagley to switch onto smaller, quicker players.
The Kings haven’t allowed penetration as easily with Haliburton on the court and aren’t giving up as many open looks from outside. Opposing teams’ 3-point percentage has come down by 3.9 percent since Haliburton was inserted into the starting lineup.
Walton has dealt with fair criticism about his defensive schemes but deserves some credit for the team’s recent improvements. By going with a starting lineup of Haliburton, Holmes, Harrison Barnes, De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, Sacramento is giving up size for quickness.
General manager Monte McNair reportedly made Bagley available leading up to the NBA trade deadline, but nothing transpired. Haliburton’s emergence makes Bagley even more expendable and it remains to be seen if he has a long-term future with the franchise.
What do you think has been the biggest difference on the defensive end without Bagley in the lineup?