Six Games In, Kevin Huerter Already Looks Like A Steal For Sacramento
On November 24, 2020, the Sacramento Kings made a head-scratching decision when they decided to let talented guard Bogdan Bogdanovic walk in free agency.
Even though the Kings held Bogdanovic’s restricted rights and had the opportunity to match any offer that the then-28-year-old would sign, general manager Monte McNair chose against matching the Atlanta Hawks’ lucrative offer of $72 million over four years.
On the surface, the move to let Bogdanovic walk for absolutely nothing made zero sense. Even today, the fact that McNair was unable to bring back any sort of value for a talent like Bogdanovic is one of the executive’s blemishes on his track record, but that decision is making a lot more sense in the year 2022.
This past offseason, the Hawks had a tough decision to make as they struggled to pay all of their young talents. With Trae Young’s monster extension set to kick in, forward John Collins needing to be taken care of in free agency, center Clint Capela set to make $61 million over the next three seasons, and Bogdanovic’s deal taking up nearly $20 million, somebody had to go.
Not even 10 months removed from signing a four-year, $65 million extension that will run through the 2025-26 season, sharpshooting guard Kevin Huerter was the odd man out in Atlanta.
On July 6th, the Hawks shipped Huerter to Sacramento in return for a protected 2024 first-round pick.
What was the cost for Huerter, exactly? The Kings sent its 2024 first-round pick (top-14 protected) as the headliner, but if the pick doesn’t convey immediately, it would be top-12 protected in 2025 and top-10 protected in 2026.
If the pick hasn’t changed hands by that point, the Hawks would instead receive two second-rounders.
To summarize this move in literal terms, if the Sacramento Kings are a winning basketball team at any point during the next three seasons, they will surrender a first-round pick to the Hawks. If they continue to reside near the bottom of the Western Conference standings, they will keep their draft picks–as long as they land within the protections.
By adding Huerter to a team that features De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Keegan Murray, though, Sacramento is eyeing a postseason berth in 2022-23. It hasn’t taken long for Huerter to become a fan-favorite in Sacramento as ‘Red Velvet’ has been one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA during the opening weeks of action.
After securing the starting two-guard spot out of training camp, the 24-year-old has burst out of the gates firing to the tune of 18.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 50 percent from the field and a red-hot 53 percent from three-point land.
Entering play on November 1st, Huerter holds top-five spots in several NBA categories:
- 4th – Effective Field Goal Percentage (.679)
- 5th – True Shooting Percentage (.702)
- 5th – Made Three-Point Field Goals (25)
- 5th – Offensive Rating (136.4)
Through the first six games of the season, Huerter has knocked down five three-pointers or more in four games. As of November 1st, he is the only player in the league to have converted 5+ triples on four or more occasions.
Huerter is shooting the ball at a more effective rate than some of the biggest names in the game, as players like Steph Curry, James Harden, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving sit below Sacramento’s new guard on the NBA’s list of three-point field goal percentage leaders.
Sacramento’s 0-4 start was a disappointment, but the Kings have claimed their past two contests and are looking to gain some momentum as they move out of the brutal opening portion of their schedule. The two wins this season–Saturday over Miami and Monday night against Charlotte–included monster performances from Huerter as the guard flirted with establishing a new career-high in both games.
It’s hard to believe, but Huerter’s career-high for points scored in a single game is 29 points, which he did back on January 11, 2019 against the Philadelphia 76ers. While playing in Atlanta alongside All-Star guard Trae Young and sharing two-guard opportunities with Bogdanovic, Huerter wasn’t leaned on as a scorer with the Hawks.
Over six appearances with Sacramento, it’s becoming clear that Huerter will have a different role with his new team.
Huerter has topped the 20-point mark in three of his six games and has come very close to that 29-point mark, having scored 26+ points in the Kings’ back-to-back wins:
- vs MIA: 27 PTS, 3 REB, 7 AST, 8/11 FG, 7/8 3PT (Tied career-high)
- @ CHA: 26 PTS, 2 REB, 5 AST, 8/16 FG, 5/10 3PT
In both of Sacramento’s wins, Huerter wasn’t just stuffing the stat-sheet with early triples, he was getting big buckets late in the game. During Saturday’s win over Miami, Huerter scored nine of his points during the fourth quarter. On Monday, his seven points in the fourth helped the Kings complete a comeback win over the Hornets.
The fact that Huerter is drilling triples as an eye-popping rate, knocking down all of his field goal attempts at an efficient rate, and acting as one of the better distributors on the team (third on team with 4.2 assists per game) already has fans falling in love with their new head-banded shooting guard.
One other important aspect of Huerter’s game is the way that he controls the basketball. Over six games, the Maryland product has only turned the ball over six times, or an average of one per game. One of former Kings guard Buddy Hield’s greatest criticisms was the fact that he couldn’t take care of the ball (averaged just under two turnovers per game during his time in Sacramento).
Huerter makes smart plays on the floor, has a great handle, and never appears panicked with the ball in his hands. Having players on the floor that will make the correct play will come in huge for the Kings, as Huerter put his strong decision making on display in the fourth quarter on Monday’s win.
Right on the heels of drilling an impressive step-back triple to give Sacramento a 103-100 lead late in the fourth, Huerter had the ball in his hands and had his eyes on the basket as it appeared that he would attempt a heat-check.
Instead, as Hornets forward Gordan Hayward stepped out to contest the attempt, Huerter flicked a quick no-look pass to Keegan Murray for an open three-point attempt.
The rook caps off a quick 9-0 run with a 3-pointer of his own pic.twitter.com/PGA8OtweHi
— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) November 1, 2022
Winning basketball games comes down to making the smart play. Huerter has only been a King for six games, but it’s clear that he’s the sharpshooting wing that this franchise has been looking for.
One of the biggest issues with this era of Kings basketball has been that it’s rare for other players to step up when De’Aaron Fox isn’t feeling it on the offensive end. During Sacramento’s wins over the past week, Fox has either struggled offensively (17 points vs MIA) or been sidelined due to injury (knee bruise @ CHA).
Adding in the fact that Domantas Sabonis has missed crunch time during the past two games due to foul trouble, it’s fair to say that previous Kings teams would be 0-6 right now. Instead, Huerter–along with other contributors from Sacramento’s lineup–have carried the load and led this team to two-straight wins without some of its best talent on the floor.
McNair’s decision to not pay Bogdanovic makes sense today. Instead of paying a 30-year-old Bogdanovic $36 million over the next two seasons, Sacramento has Huerter under contract for $65 million through the 2025-26 season, aligning his contract with De’Aaron Fox and the final year of Murray’s rookie-scale contract.
With Huerter, Fox, Murray, Sabonis, Malik Monk, and Davion Mitchell under contract together for the next two seasons at the least, the Kings have a young core that is capable of turning some heads around the league.
Six games into the season, we now know for certain that Kevin Huerter is going to be a large part of that core.