This article is part of our NBA Observations series.
Beginning of a series where I look at some of the NBA's most intriguing squads.
The Kings entered the 2022 offseason needing a revamp. Building around De'Aaron Fox -- and Domantas Sabonis for his first full season in Sacramento -- was the mission. It started with hiring new coach Mike Brown, was followed by the draft selection of Keegan Murray and concluded with the acquisition of Kevin Huerter and the signing of Malik Monk. With those major moves in mind, let's dive into the success Sacramento is having:
Preseason, I had doubts about the backcourt's ceiling. Is De'Aaron Fox's able to be a No.1 option? He entered 2022-23 as a career 32.0% shooter from deep, with a middling 2.0 AST/TO ratio the season prior. Could Kevin Huerter make a scoring leap? Could Davion Mitchell score in a manner conducive to winning?
Fox is blossoming into a true superstar. His 52.6/39.4/82.3% shooting slash is a huge leap in efficiency. The Kings are earning a league-best 1.371 points per possession when getting to the rim this season. High-quality looks equate to success. The Kings reach the rim 11th most in the league. Fox anchors these metrics, ranking 14th in the league in drives per game (14.2). The duo of Fox and Sabonis is performing well-above average in Sabonis screening actions (via NBA.com):
Sabonis DHO game and PnR involvement have enabled a powerful Sacramento offense. Fox's midrange and downhill attacking prowess is unlocked to new heights. Huerter and other movement shooters are maximized.
Huerter is booming to a career-best season. Hitting 45.6% of 7.2 3PT per game and bringing sparkplug energy. Sacramento's qualifying lineups hold a plus-5.1 point differential with Huerter.
Circling back to Mitchell, he's been relegated to a smaller role, but he's still a plus defender. The silver lining of being undersized is having a low center of gravity and fast foot speed. Mitchell has it. His speed mirroring makes him a stellar on-ball defender.
Keegan Murray has looked sharp for a rookie but grades as a neutral contributor overall. He brings gravity and two-way effort, although the on-ball self-creation he flashed at Iowa has not translated yet.
- 14.2% turnover rate (20th percentile among forwards)
- 1.0% steal rate (42nd percentile among forwards)
- Hitting 56% of his looks around the rim (14th percentile among forwards)
The turnovers are subpar for a player not generating assists or self-creating often. For being a fluid athlete, Murray's steal rate is really low. Ditto for his rim finishing, and it's not for a lack of trying. He's attempting 28% of his shots at the rim -- a respectable percentage for an outside-in forward. Also, per Synergy, Murray is spending 23.0% of his possessions in transition, but he ranks among the worst transition scorers in the league. Among qualifiers, his 0.660 PPP is below everybody except Cade Cunningham (!!):
As a team, the Kings lead the league in transition frequency but are LAST in score percentage. Some regression to the mean seems due.
The Kings owned picks No. 37 and No. 49 in the 2022 Draft, but traded both selections, collectively receiving two second-round picks. Given their desire to push for the playoffs/be good ASAP, I don't understand why they didn't keep one of these picks. The Kings weren't in a roster crunch. Sacramento ranks 26th in the league by allowing 117.2 points per game. Perhaps some fresh athleticism could have helped. It still could. Sacramento should be in the trade market for cheap wing-stoppers or two-way combo forwards -- someone to aid perimeter defense, where the Kings rank 21st in the league in opponent 3P% (37.0%).
The Kings are 11-9, putting them sixth in the Western Conference. Sacramento is 3.5 games from first and one game from 11th. It's a huge swing from the 2021-22 record of 30-52. Acquiring Sabonis netted a true X-Factor. An elite rebounder and multi-faceted offensive initiating hub is a hot commodity in the NBA. The price was quite high, but the Kings got one.
At the moment, the engine is humming, and much of the offense appears sustainable. If Fox slumps, injuries strike, or the offense simply can't keep up, it'll be interesting to see how Sacramento slides.