Four Takeaways: De’Aaron Fox returns, Kings win three straight

Nov 15, 2023, 11:44 AM

Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is guarded by Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento K...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 13: Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Cleveland Cavaliers is guarded by Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings in the second half at Golden 1 Center on November 13, 2023 in Sacramento, California. 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

After two concerning road losses to the Houston Rockets (who might be better than expected), the Sacramento Kings have bounced back with three straight wins. Most recently, on a night when De’Aaron Fox returned to the lineup, they defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 132-120.

Head coach Mike Brown has described Kings’ basketball as physical, fast, and together. Their showings against the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cavaliers fit that description seemingly perfectly.

Brown’s group has recently embraced the physicality he’s been desperately seeking this season, and their previous league-leading offense finally made an appearance. Here are my takeaways from what might be Sacramento’s best win of the season.

1. De’Aaron Fox returns to the lineup

After missing five games with a moderate right ankle sprain, De’Aaron Fox returned to action Monday night at Golden 1 Center. The star guard picked up right where he left off, tallying 28 points and six assists on 11/20 from the field, 2/6 from three, and 4/7 from the free-throw line.

Fox’s rim pressure and self-creation ability are essential to Sacramento’s high-caliber offense. Cleveland, who is without a true guard defender, struggled to contain the All-NBA player in various actions.

“He’s (an MVP) caliber of player,” Brown said postgame. “His play and our play are going to start getting him the recognition he deserves. But the crazy part about it is he’s just scratching the surface of who he can be. And, when he gets there, look out everybody.”

It helps that the Kings finally shot at their expected clip from range, but Fox is crucial in creating those looks for shooters such as Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, and Sasha Vezenkov.

He acknowledged some lingering pain throughout the game but called that part of the process with ankle injuries. “If I didn’t feel like I would be able to affect the game in a positive way, I wouldn’t be playing,” he said postgame.

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Also, don’t look now, but De’Aaron Fox has averaged 7.5 three-point attempts per game on 36.7 percent shooting. Now, it’s just four games, but significant progress in that aspect (and continued defensive progress) could help elevate De’Aaron Fox toward the MVP conversation, as Brown alluded to.

Now, it’s just about keeping it up and staying healthy.

2. Shots finally went down

Last season, on average, the Kings converted 36.9 percent of their 37.3 three-point attempts per game. Coming into Sunday’s matchup, they had only converted at or above that rate on opening night.

As mentioned, the absence of De’Aaron Fox certainly played a part, but sometimes shots just don’t go down. Conversely, sometimes, teams can’t miss, which was the case against Cleveland.

Sacramento knocked down 20 of their 42 (47.6 percent) attempts from three. They made 20 or more triples on seven occasions last season and were 6-1 in those games. Despite their heavy emphasis on defensive improvement, the Kings are a team that makes their money on the offensive end of the floor, and returning to form was a welcomed sight.

“I feel like tonight was a night that we were kind of waiting on where we all put it together on the same night,” Murray said. “And obviously, it felt like it flowed really well, and it felt good for everyone to get their own in an efficient way.”

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Murray went 5/8. Huerter knocked down 6 of his 9 looks from range. De’Aaron Fox, Sasha Vezenkov, and Malik Monk added two of their own. Pace, paint touches, ball reversals, knocking down shots, finishing at the rim — it was all there for Sacramento’s offense on Monday night, finally.

3. Keegan Murray’s defense on Donovan Mitchell

Donovan Mitchell is a big-time NBA scorer, and Sacramento doesn’t have a typical stopper in their starting lineup to assign to him. Yet, to the surprise of many, second-year forward Keegan Murray drew the challenge from the jump.

His height and length at 6’8 allow him to be disruptive when optimized. Mitchell ended the night 7/21 from the field with a final tally of 22 points and five assists.

With a guy like Mitchell, you can’t expect to shut him down completely, but instead, aim to make him work for every bucket and struggle with efficiency. Murray did just that.

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“I think (Murray) was great,” Fox said. “I think he was great, just trying to be disruptive. I think he’s moving so much better than he did when he first got to the league. I think he can be an outstanding defender. He’s 6’8. He’s long.”

“He can already do things offensively. So for us, if he can be that type of guy defensively, that’s huge for us. Holding a guy like that to 7 for 21 from the field, you have to tip your hat off to what Keegan did tonight.”

Spending the offseason guarding De’Aaron Fox one-on-one probably aided his improvements in defending point-of-attack player. What better practice than attempting to contain the fastest player in the NBA in isolation?

Brown mentioned postgame that he wants to be able to throw Keegan Murray on guards such as Stephen Curry and Donovan Mitchell while also assigning him to larger wings, the likes of LeBron James.

The physical tools are apparent, and Murray’s understanding of defensive principles has continued to develop in parallel. While Murray spent most of the game covering Mitchell, Chris Duarte, and Keon Ellis also got their opportunities.

Wing defense is far from a strength for the Kings’ in recent years, but they are hoping that continued development from the Iowa alum can help shore up that aspect of their coverage.

4. Davion Mitchell: DNP-CD

Davion Mitchell was a healthy scratch for the first time in his NBA career. While De’Aaron Fox was inactive, two-way guard Keon Ellis emerged as the starting point guard instead of Mitchell — leaving an interesting decision for the coaching staff as their typical starter returned.

Ellis has been doing all that the coaching staff has asked of him; he’s played physical, fast, and together with minimal mistakes. With Davion Mitchell on the floor, Sacramento’s offense seems to halt. Their half-court pace relaxes, and the ball and player movement slows. That hasn’t been the case in Ellis’s minutes.

“Keon is always solid every time he comes in the game,” Monk said. “Gets a steal, hits a three, and plays solid on the defensive end. And, now, he’s making the right plays as a point guard, making the plays – skips to the corner, pocket passes. He’s always been solid. I always liked Keon.”

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De’Aaron Fox described Ellis as a playmaker on defense. Ironically, that description fits Davion Mitchell’s style of play as well, but there seems to have been an offensive difference as of late.

As is the nature of the NBA, Ellis is bound to have an underwhelming performance that brings Mitchell back into the rotation with something to prove. Yet, for now, it seems like Ellis’s spot to lose.

Upcoming Schedule

  • Wednesday, November 15th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, November 17th – Sacramento Kings @ San Antonio Spurs – 4:30 PM PST
  • Sunday, November 19th – Sacramento Kings @ Dallas Mavericks – 4:30 PM PST
  • Monday, November 20th – Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans – 5:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 22nd – Sacramento Kings @ New Orleans Pelicans – 5:00 PM PST

** NBA In-Season Tournament Group Play

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