The Sacramento Kings missed the playoffs for an NBA-record 15th consecutive year, but there are reasons for optimism going into next season.
One of those is rookie Tyrese Haliburton. The 21-year-old was picked 12th overall last year and looks to be the steal of the draft.
Haliburton averaged 13 points, 5.3 assists and three rebounds per game last season. He emerged as a playmaker to help take pressure off star point guard De’Aaron Fox and will be one of the foundation pieces for the franchise moving forward.
But it wasn’t a completely smooth ride for Haliburton in Year 1. After a strong start, his level of play dipped in mid-January. Haliburton also missed 14 games due to injury. He hurt his knee in a win over the Dallas Mavericks on May 2 and sat out the season's final eight games.
The good news for Haliburton is that the injury isn’t as serious as first thought, but the incident did look scary when it occurred.
Tyrese Haliburton suffered a knee injury on this play and will not return vs. the Mavs tonight— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) May 3, 2021
Prayers up pic.twitter.com/qDiEiVgThy
“I was scared more than anything to be honest with you, I think that was that immediate shock,” Haliburton said in his exit interview. “But there was confidence through the evaluation from the Mavericks doctors and our medical team. So that gave me a lot of hope.”
Haliburton will be able to resume on-court workouts again in the coming weeks. He is focused on improving his game and will emphasize getting stronger this offseason.
“I’m really looking forward to next year,” Haliburton said. “Next year starts today. I’m looking forward to preparing and working really hard to be better coming into next year.”
Despite a pair of nine-game losing streaks, the Kings finished just two games behind the San Antonio Spurs for the final play-in spot in the Western Conference. With some more consistency and better injury luck, Sacramento could have gotten in. But Haliburton was focused on the bigger picture and identified the main area the team has to improve in order to end the playoff drought.
“We want to get the Sacramento Kings back to the playoffs, but that’s not gonna happen if we’re not better defensively,” Haliburton said. “So that’s obviously the biggest improvement for us.”
The Kings finished in the bottom three in the NBA in points allowed per game, opponents’ field goal percentage and defensive rating. Head coach Luke Walton has taken a lot of blame for his defensive scheme as the team sat near the bottom of the league in several defensive categories for a second consecutive year.
But Haliburton says all of the blame shouldn’t fall on the coach. The rookie praised Walton for his performance and is hopeful he will be back on the sideline again next season.
“Me and coach’s relationship has really grown throughout the year, just learning more about him,” Haliburton said. “Because he’s very much so a player’s coach ... it’s been really nice to play for [Walton] and also grow our relationship because it will help us have more success as time goes on.”
General manager Monte McNair will have some tough decisions to make this offseason. Center Richaun Holmes is scheduled to hit the open market, while Walton’s future with the team remains up in the air.
The good news for the Kings is that they now have some building blocks in place to set up a better future. Haliburton is one of those pieces, and if his rookie campaign is any indication, he should help Sacramento ends its postseason slump sooner than later.