SACRAMENTO KINGS

Four significant Sacramento Kings storylines through the halfway point of 2023-24

Jan 23, 2024, 12:20 PM

De'Aaron Fox #5. Malik Monk #0, and Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings look on against the P...

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 12: De'Aaron Fox #5. Malik Monk #0, and Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings look on against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Wells Fargo Center on January 12, 2024 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

After a convincing 122-107 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, the Sacramento Kings have officially played over half of their 2023-24 NBA season. Forty-two of the 82 scheduled games are in the books, with a 24-18 record to show for it.

While it’s an identical record to last season through 42 games, notable developments have occurred throughout the process. From star players continuing to evolve to underwhelming depth and more, inconsistencies have been apparent amid heightened expectations.

Finishing the 2022-23 season with 48 wins and the third seed in the Western Conference may be tough to replicate, but it’s far from impossible. With more than half of the regular season scheduled, let’s look at the notable storylines and developments in the first half of the Sacramento Kings 2023-24 season.

1. The continued growth of Keegan Murray

Sacramento’s evaluation should feel largely validated after facing much ridicule and criticism for selecting Keegan Murray over Jaden Ivey fourth overall in the 2022 NBA Draft.

Murray has built upon his stellar debut campaign — where he set the rookie record for made triples (206) — with impactful and versatile defense, an expanded offensive repertoire, and progress as a rebounder.

Head coach Mike Brown and his staff have often elected to place Murray on the opponent’s toughest matchups. Whether Devin Booker, Donovan Mitchell, Lauri Markannen, Damian Lillard, Stephen Curry, or Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, he’s taken on the challenge.

His countless offseason workouts with De’Aaron Fox, which regularly included one-on-one battles, have paid dividends for his ability to move his feet and defend on the perimeter. At 6’8 with a 6’11 wingspan, his lateral footspeed and discipline have allowed his length to impact opposing offensive players.

Aside from a few players who have logged less than 150 minutes, the Kings’ defensive rating is at its worst with Murray sitting. Their 116.0 defensive rating with him on the bench improves to 113.7 while the Iowa product is on the floor.

Potentially due to the aforementioned off-season work with Sacramento’s lightning-quick franchise point guard, he seems best used defending perimeter players. It’s an unexpected development, with many outsiders unsure what Murray’s defensive ceiling may be coming out of his rookie season — but a much-needed one for the Kings.

He’s also found ways to improve as a rebounder, climbing to 5.6 per game from his 4.6 average last year. After eight games with eight or more rebounds throughout last season, he’s managed that tally nine times at the halfway mark of year two.

Again, he has the frame to excel in that aspect, but adjusting to NBA physicality and remaining engaged in that aspect has been paying off.

Offensively, Murray’s three-point percentage has fallen from 41.1 percent to 36.9 percent. Still, his elite talent remains apparent — with no better example than his 47-point outbreak on 12/15 from three against the Utah Jazz in December.

In the 19 games prior to that outbreak, he converted 30.4 percent of his 6.6 three-point attempts per game. But, from the Utah performance onwards, those numbers sit at an outrageous 43.5 percent on 6.5 per game.

He’s deadly as a trailer in transition, unwise to help off of, and beginning to flash some off-the-dribble capabilities, including in the mid-range.

Later in this article, Fox is complimented for turning most of his mid-range attempts into triples, but much of that has to do with his in-between game already being refined. For Murray, who took just 15 percent of his shots between four feet and the three-point line as a rookie (per Cleaning the Glass), doubling that rate is a welcome sight.

“It’s important for not only his (development), but ours too because he’s got a chance to be one of those guys,” Mike Brown said recently. “The tough part about it is we’re trying to accelerate his development quicker than most young guys out there in his position, but he’s done a fantastic job embracing it and showing he can take the challenge on.

“He’s excited about taking the challenge on, and that’s what makes it really special. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s long, he can shoot from range, he’s shown the ability to get to the rim, and he’s definitely shown that he’s got the pull-up game.”

The internal development and continued growth of Murray are essential to Sacramento’s long-term ceiling as a group and organization, and he continues to provide reasons for substantial optimism.

2. De’Aaron Fox being comfortable, confident, and efficient from range

Fox’s leap last year came as a mid-range assassin and finisher of close battles — leading to him being awarded the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year Award. While it’s been known since he came into the league that becoming effective and efficient from the three-point line would do wonders for his game, some players cannot make that leap.

Coming into his seventh season, there was minimal external optimism in that regard. He quickly proved that wrong. The recently turned 26-year-old has been knocking down threes at a career-high rate on volume that eclipses anything he’s done previously.

Through 36 games, Fox is converting 39.0 percent of his 8.1 three-point attempts per game. Only Paul George, Tyler Herro, Tyrese Haliburton, Stephen Curry, and Lauri Markannen are knocking down more shots from range on as many attempts as Fox.

It changes everything for him. While his floater and mid-range looks remain relevant and timely, a career-high 35 percent of his field goal attempts have come from three, per Cleaning the Glass.

Off-the-catch, he’s knocked down 39.8 percent of his threes and managed 38.4 percent off the bounce. While a larger sample size may be necessary before it’s written in pen, Fox seems to have figured it out from beyond the arc to the point where he’s not just a good shooter but flirting with elite status.

That’s a ginormous development for himself and for a Sacramento team that views him as a franchise cornerstone. It’s easier to consider bringing in subpar shooters when only one of the roster’s current All-Stars is a non-threat from beyond the arc. And, now, he can pick teams apart from anywhere on the floor.

Simultaneously, his improved defensive engagement has made the nickname ‘Swipa’ more fitting.

3. Underwhelming offseason acquisitions

Coming into the season, the Kings were practically running it back with the same squad. Their starting five of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, Domantas Sabonis, and bench mainstays Malik Monk and Trey Lyles remained.

From there, the offseason acquisitions of Chris Duarte via trade and signing reigning Euroleague MVP Sasha Vezenkov and three-time NBA Champion JaVale McGee were meant to bolster their depth. Halfway through the season, that’s rarely been the case.

Duarte started 11 games while Brown searched for some defensive help amid Huerter’s struggles, but he’s also registered seven DNP-CDs, including Sacramento’s four most recent matchups. Defensively, his on-ball pressure sometimes provides a different look for the Kings, but he’s dealt with some foul trouble, averaging 4.8 per 48 minutes.

And while his shot selection within the flow of the offense can be questionable, knocking down a mere 31.3 percent from three doesn’t help his case for more playing time.

Vezeknov is on the opposite side of that. He may be the team’s best three-point shooter, with obvious confidence during his opportunity that his teammates and coaches applaud — that’s what he’s on the floor to do.

Through 33 games played, the 6’9 forward averages 37.5 percent from three in 12.7 minutes. Sabonis, Fox, and Monk reward his exceptional off-ball movement, but defenses target him in switches nearly every chance. While he’s held up fine for stretches defensively, it’s a prime factor in his sparring minutes and a handful of DNP-CDs.

Brown often brings up Manu Ginobili, who he coached during his time with the San Antonio Spurs, and his slow adjustment to the NBA game. Yet, Ginobili came over to the NBA at 25, while Vezenkov is currently three years older.  That’s not to say he can’t improve, but his impact has been minimal up to this point.

As for McGee, he’s been competing with Alex Len for the roughly 13 minutes a night that Sabonis rests. Last season, the Kings alternated between Len, Richaun Holmes, and Chimzie Metu and even experimented with going small with Lyles during those stretches. There seemed to be a belief that McGee could provide some consistency in that role, but his production has varied.

There are nights where the lob threat he provides for Malik Monk in the pick-and-roll has been impactful, and the same could be said for his rim protection. But, there are moments where too many mistakes (turnovers, bad shots, poor rotations, fouls) have surfaced.

While Len missed a good chunk of the season due to a right ankle injury, McGee was given ample opportunity, but that position still seems up for grabs.

Against Atlanta on Monday, he filled that role with just under 10 minutes played. In Sacramento’s prior three matchups, he did not see the floor. It’s been on and off for most of the season with McGee, and Sacramento is in a similar position, searching for a reliable answer at the backup center.

The backup point guard poses a similar debate. Davion Mitchell and Keon Ellis have taken turns with that responsibility, with Monk recently used in that spot.

4. Malik Monk’s impending free-agency

Most of Sacramento’s core is locked up for three or more seasons. Fox, Sabonis, Barnes, and Huerter have contracts that run through the 2025-26 season. Murray is still on his rookie deal, and Lyles has one year remaining.

Of their clear top seven, Monk is the only player without an agreement beyond 2023-24. With his initial contract running for just two seasons, the Kings do not own his full bird rights but maintain early bird rights — limiting the amount they can offer in free agency as an over-the-cap team.

Without diving too deep into the specifics, the Sacramento Kings can offer Monk a maximum of roughly $19 million annually this offseason. With how he’s been performing, there are questions surrounding whether that will be enough.

After Fox and Sabonis, Monk has been their third-best player for most of the season — although Murray continues to strengthen his case.

Monk is averaging 15.0 points and 5.5 assists in his 26 minutes on 43.6/39.1/82.2 shooting splits. That’s a career-high in points, assists, three-point percentage, and three-point attempts (6.4) for the seventh-year guard.

With Monk on the floor, Sacramento’s offensive rating sits at 116.1, which falls to 113.9 with him resting. His playmaking ability has been crucial for setting up Sabonis, McGee, or Len in the pick-and-roll, along with his paint touches and subsequent spray passes to shooters.

There’s no questioning how much Monk has meant to the Kings, and his impending free agency is one of the most significant offseason questions they are expected to face.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

Sacramento will come face-to-face with its Northern California rival, the Golden State Warriors, for the fourth and final time this season when the two teams face off on Thursday night at Chase Center.

The Kings are still seeking their first regular season win on Golden State’s home floor since February 25, 2020, as they have lost their last seven matchups in San Francisco.

Sacramento secured a nail-biting win over the Warriors during their most recent matchup on November 28th, thanks to Malik Monk’s game-winner.

 

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Thursday’s game will start a season-long, seven-game road trip for the Kings, who won’t return home until February 7th.

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

Upcoming Schedule

  • Thursday, January 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7:00 PM PST
  • Saturday, January 27th – Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks – 6:00 PM PST
  • Monday, January 29th – Sacramento Kings @ Memphis Grizzlies – 5:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, January 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Miami Heat – 4:30 PM PST
  • Friday, February 2nd – Sacramento Kings @ Indiana Pacers – 4:30 PM PST

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