Four Takeaways: Harrison Barnes near-perfect first half and Sacramento’s stellar offense

Oct 26, 2023, 11:16 AM

Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball to the basket against Keyonte George...

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH - OCTOBER 25: Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings dribbles the ball to the basket against Keyonte George #3 of the Utah Jazz during the second half of a game at Delta Center on October 25, 2023 in Salt Lake City, Utah. 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 Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

(Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)

One game in the books, one win for the Sacramento Kings. On Wednesday night, they took down the Utah Jazz 130-114 in the 2023-24 season opener behind their stellar offensive production. Harrison Barnes was nearly perfect in the first half, head coach Mike Brown went with a 10-man rotation, and their increased physicality had it’s pros-and-cons.

Chris Duarte (left knee) was able to make his Sacramento debut, but Trey Lyles (left calf) and two-way player Jalen Slawson (illness) were unavailable against the full-force Jazz. Utah’s starting five had substantial size with Jordan Clarkson, Talen Horton-Tucker, Lauri Markannen, John Collins, and Walker Kessler.

Despite some outside controversy about Brown’s initial five of choice, they rolled out the most-played five-man group in the NBA last season: De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, and Domantas Sabonis.

With the eight leaders in minutes played returning, Sacramento’s league-leading offense from last season seems relatively replicable. Here are my takeaways from the Kings’ first game of the 2023-24 season.

1. There’s something about Harrison Barnes on opening night

Harrison Barnes recorded his career-high (36) in a road win over the Portland Trail Blazers on opening night two seasons ago. On Wednesday, the 31-year-old tallied 22 points before missing a single shot. The Black Falcon went into halftime with 27 points and four rebounds on 10/11 from the field and 5/5 from beyond the arc — ridiculous efficiency.

Sacramento kept finding their veteran forward within the flow of the offense. He punished defenders for going under on screens, converted open catch-and-shoot looks, and flashed his signature deceleration euro-step.

Harrison Barnes did slow down in the second half while his teammates found their rhythm. He ended with a game-high 33 points, four rebounds, two assists, and one steal on 11/16 from the field, 5/7 on threes, and 6/6 from the free-throw line. Everyone knows what the All-Star duo of Fox and Sabonis provide nightly, but it’s nearly impossible to slow down the Kings when Barnes, or any of their role players, add 30-plus.

2. Continuing where they left off

No surprises here, but Sacramento’s offense showed their potential to repeat last season’s success. Replicating the best offensive rating of all time is an unfair expectation, but night one was promising. It wasn’t just Harrison Barnes. They created great looks from beyond the arc and picked apart Utah’s zone defense as a team.

Knocking down 19 threes helps, but it came on 51 attempts. Since Coach Brown took over, the Kings shot 50 or more triples on two previous occasions, with their team-high (52) also coming against the Jazz. With how much zone defense Utah plays, creating deep looks, specifically from the corners, can present itself.

In the days leading into Wednesday’s matchup, Sacramento’s players and coaches were expecting zone coverage. They overloaded sides, made successful entry passes to Sabonis around the nail, and went to some high-low. Harrison Barnes converted five threes. Murray tallied four, while Duarte went 3/4. Sasha Vezenkov and Malik Monk each knocked down two of their own.

Their offense looked effortless en route to 130 points, which they accomplished a ridiculous 21 times the year prior. Managing that total on a night where Fox contributed 18 on an underwhelming 6/18 from the field is an encouraging offensive debut.

3. A 10-man rotation for Coach Brown

With the regular season underway, the Sacramento Kings were back to staggering their All-Stars. Fox sat around the six-minute mark of the opening quarter before returning roughly four minutes down the line as Sabonis was scheduled to rest. Davion Mitchell (14 minutes) and JaVale McGee (13) were solely backups to the abovementioned All-Stars.

Monk and Duarte had their chances and are expected to see significant opportunities all season. Duarte’s defensive impact has been a hot topic in preseason, and while he’s sometimes guilty of overdribbling, his shots went down. Monk struggled to convert but ended Wednesday with seven assists and one monster poster.

And reigning EuroLeague MVP Vezenkov got his chance sooner than many expected, likely thanks to Lyles’s unavailability. Yet, he capitalized on the opportunity and flashed his elite shooting ability and offensive intelligence. The 28-year-old NBA rookie managed eight points, two rebounds, and two steals on 3/6 from the field, including 2/5 from three in 16 minutes.

If Lyles is healthy, he’s expected to be a regular in the rotation. It could come at the cost of Vezenkov or if Sacramento prefers to play small ball instead of McGee as the backup center.

One final note in the rotation: Colby Jones was inactive. As the 34th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, it makes sense to play it slow with Jones, but his impressive preseason added complications to their early rotational questions. Give it time. Coach Brown is known for calling on bench pieces when unsatisfied with those on the floor.

4. Pros and cons of increased physicality

The word physicality has been repeated hundreds of times since training camp. Increasing that aspect of their game is hoped to improve their previously 24th-ranked defense. Holding the Utah Jazz to 114 points in their season debut is a welcome start, and Fox has impressively set the tone as the one defending point of attack.

Sabonis and Murray each added two blocks on the night and impacted the glass with eight and 12 rebounds, respectively. With increased physicality often comes added fouls for the opposition, as was the case against the Jazz. Utah went 23/31 from the free-throw line after the Kings conceded 30+ free-throws on 15 occasions in 2022-23.

Additionally, Sacramento tallied 48 points in the paint compared to Utah’s 64. The defensive intensity and physicality were littered between easily allowed back cuts, unsecured defensive rebounds, and perimeter breakdowns. The offense carried the Kings in this game, and they did enough on the other end to come away with a convincing win. It was a hopeful start to a long season.

When Is The Next Kings Game?

Sacramento will return home to face the rival Golden State Warriors on Friday night in a game that ESPN will carry nationally.

The meeting between the Kings and Warriors will mark the 11th time over Sacramento’s past 15 games that these two Northern California heavyweights have met.

Friday’s home opener will be the Kings’ first of three matchups against Golden State during the season’s opening month, with the teams set to meet in Golden State next Wednesday, November 1st.

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 downtown Sacramento.

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Regular Season Schedule

  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST (Home Opener)
  • Sunday, October 29th – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 6 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Saturday, November 4th – Sacramento Kings @ Houston Rockets – 5 PM PST
  • Monday, November 6th – Sacramento Kings @ Houston Rockets – 5 PM PST

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