Fourteen years of futility doesn’t just happen. The Sacramento Kings have made one error after another in the NBA Draft. They’ve also struck out in free agency and trades rarely work out the way they planned, but for a team like the Kings, how well they evaluate young talent coming into the league is paramount.
The franchise has shuffled through multiple decision makers, each with their own vision of the future. Just when they think they’ve stumbled onto the right ingredients, players plateau, coaches and general managers get fired and the carousel of losing starts spinning once again.
Not this time…
Maybe it will be different this time around. After missing with lottery picks like Jimmer Fredette, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein and Georgios Papagiannis, Sacramento hit pay dirt when they selected De’Aaron Fox with the No. 5 overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft.
Fox didn’t find instant success as a rookie, but four years into his NBA career, he’s a budding star with elite talent and All-Star potential. At 23 years old, the speedster out of the University of Kentucky has become the focal point in Sacramento and the objective of the franchise is to surround him with the right type of players to take him to the next level.
What those players might look like isn’t difficult. With Fox’s ability to break down a defense, he needs floor spacers and bigs that can sprint the floor. The more shooters the better, which is why the Kings paid big money to continue to pair Fox with Buddy Hield. The Kings also tested out a different look last season when Bogdan Bogdanović stepped into the starting lineup next to Fox and the backcourt began to flourish. For stretches, Bogdanović handled the ball and took some of the playmaking duties off of Fox’s plate and the Kings rallied to finish the season 13-7 over their last 20 games before the league was shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Following a colossal collapse by the team in the Orlando bubble, Sacramento made the decision to part ways with general manager Vlade Divac. New GM Monte McNair chose not to match Bogdanović’s four-year, $72 million offer sheet during the offseason and unfortunately lost the Serbian-born wing to the Atlanta Hawks without compensation. Bogdanović is sorely missed this season, and Hield has stepped back into his starting role. In the end, whether it’s Bogdanović or Hield, both look like placeholders for what might be a perfect player to fit next to Fox long term.
Steal of the Draft
Tyrese Haliburton should never have slipped to the No. 12 overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, but the Kings are more than happy that he did. The crafty 21-year-old put on a show at Iowa State during his two seasons at the NCAA level, but there were at least some concerns about his unorthodox shooting delivery and his wiry frame. 36 games into the 2020-21 season, those concerns have gone by the wayside and Haliburton is in the running for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year trophy after winning back-to-back Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards.
The Kings still need plenty more pieces to fill out their roster, but their future backcourt is in place. While Fox and Haliburton are both primary ball handlers, they somehow compliment each other perfectly. Fox is having a breakout season, posting 23 points and 7.6 assists per game for Sacramento. He’s improved almost every facet in his game and still has plenty of room to expand and improve.
Haliburton’s skill set has not only translated directly to the NBA, but the spacing that a player like Fox provides has given him even more room to shine. In his 30 games as a pro, Haliburton is averaging 13.2 points, 5.4 assists and 3.6 rebounds in 30 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 49.4 percent from the field and 43.3 percent from 3-point range on the season. Not many players in the league have the speed and quickness to keep up with Fox, but Haliburton is thriving in the Kings’ uptempo offense. He’s providing everything that Bogdanović did the season before, but his ability to create for himself and others makes him even more valuable.
Head coach Luke Walton has yet to install Haliburton into the starting lineup alongside Fox on a full-time basis, but there is no doubt that this is the future for the Kings. Fox and Haliburton pair with Hield, Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes in Walton’s fourth quarter closing lineup, which is one of the most successful five-man lineups the Kings have.
Kings future is gonna be bright. Right?
It may take a year or two for the pairing of Fox and Haliburton to reach their full potential, but the outline of something special is already forming. When the young guards are together on the court, Haliburton often allows Fox to run the show and he waits patiently for 3-point opportunities. Once the pairing gets better acquainted, there will be a time when they take turns breaking down opposing defenses, which will help the Kings’ offense, especially in halfcourt sets.
On the defensive end, both are long, athletic, rangy defenders and with the Kings’ switching defensive sets, they should be able to cover for each other. They also play the passing lanes well and could cause problems for teams once the chemistry is better established.
It’s still too early to judge whether Fox and Haliburton can become the next star backcourt in the NBA, but there is something special about these two. They have a way of complimenting each other’s skill sets and they have given Kings fans hope for what’s to come. Fox hasn’t come close to reaching his peak and Haliburton hasn’t even had a true NBA offseason to get stronger and work on his game with a professional staff. There is an incredible amount of untapped potential, but the fact that they are already starting to build chemistry is a good sign.
The Kings have made plenty of mistakes over the last decade and a half, specifically in the Draft, but it looks like they may have stumbled upon a gold mine in both Fox and Haliburton. They have a lot of work to do to build a roster around this pair, but the future is much brighter than it was just a few years ago in Sacramento.