The San Antonio Spurs still have the bitter taste of a 50-burger from Ja Morant in their mouth as they return to the familiar confines of the AT&T Center after a challenging Rodeo Road Trip. But the good guys won’t be getting much of a break from facing blistering points guards as they host De’Aaron Fox and the Sacramento Kings.
Fox has averaged 26.4 points, 3.1 boards, and 6.1 assists per game since general manager Monte McNair added All-Star Center Domantas Sabonis at the trade deadline, but the Kings still aren’t winning. So, I went behind enemy lines to get the scoop on the retooled Kings from Sactown Royalty writer Marina Drab.
1. The Kings come into this matchup on the second night of a back-to-back. What are their keys to victory as they take on a Spurs squad that sits a few games ahead of them in the standings?
Tonight’s contest might be one of the biggest challenges of the season. As it stands, the Sacramento Kings have not yet left New Orleans to make it to San Antonio (as of 8:00 am PST on Thursday), so the fatigue will definitely serve as a big obstacle to overcome. Coming off the back of a brutal loss with such large implications in the standings, many Kings fans expect Sacramento to rebound tonight with a loud response. Now with these unfortunate travel circumstances, it will be an AAU-style affair as the team just gets in and gets to hooping.
2. NBA analysts panned the Domantas Sabonis trade, and Sacramento is 2-5 since making that deal. How confident are you that they will turn things around and make the play-in tournament?
At this point, I think it’s up in the air whether Sacramento will make the play-in tournament. There are a few factors that come into play, maybe the most significant being their strength-of-schedule from here on out. I don’t think this specific Kings squad has the chops to take on teams like Dallas, Miami, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Golden State - but there have certainly been surprises this season where they rise to the occasion. Depending on how the next week of play goes, I think that will decide the fate of this year’s Sacramento squad. As of now, sitting five games back of Portland for the tenth seed feels like a tall order in the short amount of time they have left. That’s not to say that the Sabonis trade won’t pan out, but the “win-now” vision General Manager Monte McNair had at the deadline might be done for this season.
3. Sacramento also added Donte DiVincenzo, Jeremy Lamb, Trey Lyles, and Justin Holiday at the deadline. How have these newcomers meshed with the rest of the roster so far?
Honestly, it’s been an entirely too small sample size to judge this group too in-depth yet, but I really like what all four have brought in their own way. DiVincenzo has slotted into what Buddy Hield’s role was for us, which at a surface level is both a good and a bad thing. We haven’t yet seen what Donte can do as strongly on offense that he can on defense, which the Kings desperately need. As far as Lamb, Lyles, and Holiday - honestly, I wasn’t sure when they came over as I didn’t see the vision outside of Sabonis. But these three have brought more than most Kings fans probably expected. Holiday is fierce beyond the arc, while Lamb can be an emphatic scorer when he wants to be. Lyles has even cracked the starting line-up in recent contests, and that certainly has been earned over his short tenure. I don’t know if they have all ‘meshed’ quite yet as it hasn’t translated into victories, but I do like what they are building on.
4. Most people probably would have taken De’Aaron Fox over Dejounte Murray before the season began, but the latter is now an All-Star. Can the Kings legitimately build around the former fifth overall pick?
At this point, they don’t have an alternative. De’Aaron Fox is extremely capable of taking the next step and becoming an elite point guard in the association. But he hasn’t been surrounded by many players that match his high basketball IQ. Is he flawed? Absolutely. The slow start to the season didn’t help catapult Sacramento into the Western Conference conversation, but there were also many odds against the Kings internally. Firing their coach, being surrounded by the narrative of whether Fox and Haliburton could work in a backcourt together (which, for the record, I absolutely think they could have). But Kings’ brass made their choice in moving forward with Fox as the face of the franchise, and in pairing him with the most talented player he’s had a teammate thus far in Sabonis, I expect him to take his game to the next level. He averaged almost 28 points in February, so I believe that Fox is on the right track.
5. Some draft pundits were skeptical when Sacramento selected Davion Mitchell in the mid-lottery despite having two starting-level guards, but he has been solid off the bench. What are your thoughts on the rookie?
Again, I think this goes back to how desperate Sacramento was for defense at this time last year. Having logged the worst defensive rating in NBA history, snagging the reigning college Defensive Player of the Year and NCAA National Champion was a flashy yet unexpected move when it happened. Now looking at the make-up of the roster, the Kings have relied too heavily on Mitchell to do more than put the clamps on opposing ball handlers. Davion has come into his own. When Fox missed eight games in January, the coaching staff slotted Mitchell in the starting point guard role, where he shined on offense for the first time this season. I see there are higher picks who have worked out right away for teams like Scottie Barnes or an Evan Mobley and those who haven’t like a Jalen Suggs. Time will tell for the young star, but Mitchell provides established professionalism that not all rookies possess.