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No more “potential”, Kings need to take the next step

It’s time to find an identity.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Orlando Magic Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve now gotten a little over two-weeks of the Sacramento Kings 2022-23 campaign under our belt, and I think now is a good time more than ever to start doing an early evaluation of what we’ve seen on the floor. Many had high expectations for this newly built roster with most landing the Kings inside of the playoffs, finally breaking that 16-year playoff drought that hangs over this franchise like the letter “A” in the Scarlett Letter.

It’s been a disappointing start to say the least, but over the last two games, the team has shown signs of their potential. However, just saying the word “potential” makes me cringe. What is the Kings’ “potential”?

On Wednesday last week, former Kings play-by-play announcer, Grant Napear, joined me on The Kings Court and I asked him this very question:

“It’s a great question. I don’t have an answer for that,” Grant said. “It’s starts, to me, on the defensive end. I don’t think you can win in the NBA giving up so many 30-plus point quarters. I just don’t think you can win like that. I need to see a Kings team win a game, when they don’t shoot the ball well, because they excelled defensively.

We’ve seen glimpses of their defensive upside during certain possessions, but definitely not for a full game... or hell, a full quarter. When Mike Brown signed with Sacramento this offseason, the defensive background was hoped to rub off on this team who ranked 27th last season in defensive efficiency. Through the first eight games of the year, the Kings are currently ranked 26th in this category.

Offensively, it’s been confusing. Obviously, space and pace was going to be the foundation of what they run, but it’s been baffling to see the lack of the pick-and-roll from the Ox (Domantas Sabonis) and the Fox. While speaking with Napear on the lack of this one, two punch being utilized the way we saw it at the end of last season, this is what he said:

“Listen in order for Sabonis to be effective, let’s face it, he needs to cutdown on his usage of fouls,” Grant said. “But based on how Mike Brown has the lineup, look, he’s (Sabonis) is not a rim protector, he’s never been a great defensive player. I think they’re asking him to do things that are outside of his comfort zone.”

Again, this was another interesting take here by Grant, and I truly agree with him. Sabonis has been placed in a position where he’s so far away from the rim (the place on the floor where he’s most effective) and is asked to stay high on the perimeter to be more of a facilitator and screener. It seems coach Brown is trusting Sabonis to put the ball on the floor and dictate the offense through the high post, but again, maybe that’s out of his comfort zone.

Needless to say, the change to make that next step has to come from the man calling the shots, and Mike Brown has made some very interesting decisions with his roster early this season.

There’s an argument to be made that his rotation decisions have played a part in the team’s slow start (3-5). However, it’s clear that he has the team believing in him. He has their attention. That in itself is a step in the right direction for this franchise. But that doesn’t take away the need for coach Brown to start ironing out the kinks here early on.

The Kings are talented, but they don’t have they luxury of waiting until the calendar hits February or March to have their issues figured out. Defense continues to be the biggest need for improvement. Addressing that issue has to be their number one priority.

From the time he signed, through all of training and even now during practices, all we have heard is that this is something that they are working on. It’s time to see those defensive steps forward.

As much as I can have frustrations with the offense, I don’t think anyone is worried about this team putting up points in a hurry. De’Aaron Fox is playing the best basketball of his career right now, and he isn’t showing any signs of slowing down.

Newly acquired Kevin Huerter has also been an absolute stud and has slid into his role in Sacramento beautifully, but it’s time to get their two-time All-Star that they traded for in that same rhythm.

Sabonis and his presence on the floor needs to be felt every night. Like Napear said, Sabonis does need to slow down on the fouls, but it’s on coach Brown to put him in places where he can be utilized more efficiently.

Sacramento’s next five games could be crucial to the direction of this season. They play the champion Golden State Warriors twice, the roaring Cleveland Cavaliers, the struggling Los Angeles Lakers and the discombobulated Brooklyn Nets. It’s a five-game stretch that will not only test the Kings, but will determine what type of team they are.

Can Mike Brown build a rotation, an offense and defensive system that can, by game 14 of the season, have the Kings playing .500 basketball? The team needs to find it’s identity and build some consistency before we can start truly viewing them as a play-in let alone a playoff team.