NBA

Sacramento Kings 2022-23 NBA preview: De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis look to lead team back to postseason

Barring a disastrous collapse over the final week of the Major League Baseball season, the Seattle Mariners will soon make the playoffs as a wild card, ending a 20-year playoff drought which is currently the longest not only in the MLB but any major North American professional sports league. 

When the Mariners clinch, that ignominious “title” will transfer to the Sacramento Kings, who have not been to the playoffs since 2006. Their 16-season playoff drought, which is already the longest in NBA history, has turned them into the laughing stock of the league. They hope they can put an end to both the drought and the jokes this season. 

The latter will be much easier. They acquired Domantas Sabonis last season, added Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk to bolster the wing depth in the offseason and picked Keegan Murray No. 4 overall in the draft. Furthermore, they hired veteran head coach Mike Brown to take over on the sidelines; Brown has missed the playoffs just once when coaching a full season. At the very least, it seems the Kings will be competent on the court.

But will that be enough to get into the playoffs in the top-heavy Western Conference? Looking at the teams ahead of them, there’s almost zero chance they get a top-six spot and an automatic playoff berth. A play-in tournament spot is not out of the question, though, and even that would represent a step forward for the Kings. And if you can sneak into the play-in, you never know what happens from there. 

Key changes

  • Hired Mike Brown as head coach
  • Signed Malik Monk in free agency
  • Traded Justin Holiday and Moe Harkless to the Atlanta Hawks for Kevin Huerter
  • Drafted Keegan Murray with the No. 4 overall pick

Roster

Top of the key: Can they make the play-in?

The Kings are going for it, with “it” being a winning season, a berth in the play-in tournament and perhaps even their first playoff appearance since 2006. Not only have they not made the postseason in well over a decade, but they also haven’t even had a 40-win season since then. In fact, 39 wins in 2019 and 38 wins in 2008 are the only times they’ve even come close. 

They want that to change this season. It’s why they traded Tyrese Haliburton for Domantas Sabonis last season, drafted the pro-ready Keegan Murray at No. 4, added Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk in the summer and hired the experienced and reliable Mike Brown as their new head coach. Along with De’Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes and you have the base for a solid basketball team. 

But is it enough to make the play-in tournament? A top-six seed is out of the question in the West, but one of the last two play-in spots may only require around 38-42 wins. They could be in the mix, especially if an injury-prone team like the Lakers or Clippers blows up, or the new-look Trail Blazers get off to a slow start. 

Next up: The Fox-Sabonis pick-and-roll

After Sabonis arrived at the deadline last season, the Kings boasted 115.2 offensive rating in the minutes he shared with Fox. With Sabonis’ elite screen setting and Fox’s supreme quickness, those two formed a terrific pick-and-roll combo that could be the basis for a strong offense. 

After an entire summer and training camp to work together, their partnership should be even better. “The more we play together the more we’re gonna know our habits and what we like, and where we like the ball, or how he likes me setting the screen,” Sabonis said earlier this week

Plus, the Kings added some much-needed shooting with Murray, Huerter and Monk. Last season they were 24th in the league in 3-point shooting, making 34.4 percent of their attempts. Murray was a strong shooter in college, while Huerter and Monk shot 38.9 and 39.1 percent from downtown last season, respectively. That additional spacing will only make the Sabonis-Fox pick-and-roll more effective. 

One more thing: Gotta play some defense

There are many more questions about the Kings’ defense than their offense. They finished 27th in the league in defensive rating last season, allowing 114.8 points per 100 possessions, and were tied for last in 3-point defense, allowing opponents to shoot 37.2 percent from behind the arc.

If the Kings want to have a winning season and make the play-in, they have to improve on that side of the ball. The problem is that when you look up and down the roster, second-year guard Davion Mitchell is the only player known for his defense. So how do you build a decent defense while short on elite defensive personnel? Keep it simple. 

“We’re gonna have a lot of simple but direct rules that everyone’s gonna follow and if everyone follows those rules, everything’s gonna fall into place,” Sabonis said. “[Brown] has been on it since he got hired … that’s obviously one of the most important things to win.” 

Key games

  • Oct. 19 vs. Trail Blazers: The home opener is a big game every season, but especially this time around as the Kings will be hosting a Blazers team that they’ll be fighting for a play-in spot. 

  • Dec. 21 and Jan. 7 vs. Lakers: Again, it’s always a big night when LeBron James comes to town, but with the Lakers also a potential play-in team these games take on extra meaning for the Kings. 

  • Jan. 11 vs. Rockets: This is the Kings’ lone scheduled ESPN appearance this season, and it will come at home against a fun, young Rockets team. 



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