Domantas Sabonis: Teams are ‘daring us to shoot’ since Huerter, Monk injuries

Apr 11, 2024, 4:39 PM

Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings drives past Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunde...

OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA - APRIL 9: Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings drives past Jalen Williams #8 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Paycom Center on April 9, 2024 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

(Photo by Joshua Gateley/Getty Images)

Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk were essential to the Sacramento Kings’ offense. With Huerter (shoulder, done for the season) and Monk (knee, hoping to return in the postseason) being sidelined in March, the Kings have had to alter their rotations and adjust offensively.

A large part of their then-record-setting scoring from last season was the spacing those guards provided to De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis. In Sabonis’ case, Monk and Huerter were his go-to two-man game options, an essential part of their scoring production when Fox was resting.

Opposing defenses are more willing to help off of second-year player Keon Ellis or Davion Mitchell than if Huerter or Monk were on the floor. As a result, more triples have been available while teams attempt to deny Sacramento’s stars from scoring where they’re most efficient, at the rim.

I think they’re packing the paint even more [since Monk and Huerter went down]. They’re basically just daring us to shoot,” Domantas Sabonis said  Thursday morning. The night prior, Sacramento attempted a season-high 58 three-pointers. “Shoot more threes, go away from our pick-and-roll game that we had with Kevin or Malik, and making us try to do something different, which I feel like we have.”

In the seven games played without Monk (including the game he got injuries early in against Dallas), the Kings have averaged 44.7 three-point attempts per game. For reference, the Boston Celtics lead the NBA in three-point attempts this season with 42.6 per game. Before Monk’s injury, they averaged 38.8 attempts per night.

Head coach Mike Brown has previously stated a 40-attempt target goal for attempted triples, ideally half of which are ‘spray threes.’ Sprays have been a point of emphasis and a staple of their offense all season long, but there seems to be an increased emphasis as of late.

Right now, that’s what we want,” Sabonis said. “We want spray threes, so we’re going out there, and that’s what we’re trying to focus on.”

In the seven-game sample mentioned above, the Kings are third in defensive rating (107.2) and 15th in offensive rating (112.9) — opposite of their previously typical production this season.

While the defensive improvement should be encouraging, altering their ideal offense while maintaining an established identity of pace, spacing, player, and ball movement is worth watching throughout the final four games of the 2023-24 regular season.

Aside from spray triples, winning the possession battle remains crucial — turnovers, offensive rebounds, and free throws. The final aspect is where they’ve struggled as of late. In the last seven games, the Kings’ opponents are averaging 25.6 free-throw attempts per game. Sacramento is averaging 18.1, leaving a negative 7.5 differential.

    • Sacramento vs. Dallas (Mar. 29): Kings 8/12 FTAs, Mavericks 22/33 FTAs (-21 differential)
    • Sacramento vs. Utah (Mar. 31): Kings 17/23 FTAs, Jazz 22/28 FTAs (-5)
    • Sacramento vs. LA Clippers (Apr. 2): Kings 19/25 FTAs, Clippers 22/27 FTAs (-2)
    • Sacramento @ New York (Apr. 4): Kings 7/12 FTAs, Knicks 20/29 FTAs (-17)
    • Sacramento @ Boston (Apr. 5): Kings 7/13 FTAs, Celtics 13/18 FTAs (-5)
    • Sacramento @ Brooklyn (Apr 7): Kings 12/16 FTAs, Nets 10/13 FTAs (+3)
    • Sacramento @ Oklahoma City (Apr. 9): Kings 19/26 FTAs, Thunder 23/31 FTAs (-5)

During that span, the Kings have shot 52 fewer free throws than their opponents. “I think it’s great we can shoot a lot of shots and play free, Coach has given us the green light to do that, but I think also being able to mix in our ability to get to the free-throw line, especially coming into the postseason, those are going to be things that are crucial,” Harrison Barnes said.

“The best teams in the league, I think you look at their ability to get to the free-throw line, and that’s a staple of their game. Great players in this league, same thing. So, I think for us, anytime we can mix in more drives, mix in more attempts at the free throw line, is something that will help us.”

Barnes reminded everyone of his ability to get to the line against the Thunder. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis also excel at drawing contact, even if they don’t always agree with the lack of whistles. While most of the responsibility deservedly falls on Sacramento’s stars, their often-referenced next-man-up mentality is being tested.

The entire team will need to help put pressure on the rim, with Monk’s playmaking and Huerter’s spacing currently unavailable. Whether that’s to score (potentially drawing contact and earning free-throw attempts) or kick out to shooters for spray threes, it’s a team effort to replace their missing production.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will return home for the final three games of the regular season, and they will be welcomed back with a back-to-back that could very well make or break its chase of the sixth-seed race in the West standings. Domantas Sabonis matches off against Jonas Valanciunas, teammates on the Lithuanian national team.

The Kings will face the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday night in front of a national audience on TNT before meeting the Phoenix Suns 24 hours later on Friday.

If Sacramento wants to avoid the Play-In, they will likely need both wins against two teams that are also looking to secure an automatic playoff berth and avoid any single-elimination scenarios.

New Orleans has dominated the Kings this season, holding a 4-0 record while outscoring Sacramento by an average of 21.0 points during four matchups.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Pelicans coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from Golden 1 Center.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Thursday, April 11th – Sacramento Kings vs. New Orleans Pelicans – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, April 12th – Sacramento Kings vs. Phoenix Suns – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, April 14th – Sacramento Kings vs. Portland Trail Blazers – 12:30 PM PST (End of regular season)

Postseason Schedule

  • Tuesday, April 16th-Friday, April 19th – NBA Play-In Tournament (Teams & matchups TBD)
  • Saturday, April 20th – NBA Playoffs begin

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