SACRAMENTO KINGS

Takeaways From The Sacramento Kings’ 0-3 Start To The Season

Oct 26, 2022, 9:54 AM | Updated: 10:17 am
SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 16: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings shoots a three-point...
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Three games into the 2022-23 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings have found themselves in familiar territory: Near the bottom of the standings in the Western Conference.

After blowing a double-digit lead against the Portland Trail Blazers during last Wednesday night’s season-opener, the Kings dropped close contests to the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors over the weekend as they lost the two games by a combined point differential of seven.

Is it time to sound the panic alarm at Golden 1 Center? According to head coach Mike Brown, absolutely not.

“The one thing I know about being part of this team is because of the lack of playoffs in 16 years, there is a little bit of anxiety around here,” Brown said with a laugh following Tuesday’s practice. “I would caution everybody, there’s a time to overreact and a time not to. After three games for me–and I hope that everybody takes my lead–it’s not time to.”

Brown is right. Looking at Sacramento’s brutal opening slate of games, a rough start was inevitable when the team entered play with the third-hardest strength of schedule in the entire league.

Last Wednesday’s opening night game against Portland slipped through the Kings’ fingers, but following that up with a back-to-back against the Clippers and Warriors is tough. Things don’t get easier for Sacramento either, as they will face the Memphis Grizzlies and Miami Heat this weekend before playing five of their next six games on the road.

Still, to me, this Kings team is in a good position to break into the win column sooner than later.

This isn’t last year’s team, or the year before, or so on down the line. Brown and his staff have instilled a positive atmosphere around the franchise, something that has been severely lacking for years. Will that translate into wins? That is the one thing that is out of Brown’s control.

The players that Brown is giving ample opportunities to like Harrison Barnes, Davion Mitchell, and most of the bench, have not performed. Free-throws have not fallen. Domantas Sabonis has not looked like himself for two of the three games.

That being said, let’s dive into some takeaways from Sacramento’s 0-3 start.

They’re Free, Aren’t They?

Should the Kings have at least one win? It’s pretty fair to say that they could have two wins right now.

The late-game execution hasn’t entirely been there over three games of play, but Sacramento’s free-throw shooting has been tough to watch so far. During the first two games against the Blazers and Clippers, the Kings shot 28-of-45 (62%).

If Sacramento converted even 69% of its free throws during Saturday’s 111-109 loss to the Clippers, they would have a one-spot in the win column right now. Instead, the Kings shot 15-of-26 from the line and lost by two points.

Losing a game because of free-throw shooting isn’t new to the game of basketball.

For the Sacramento Kings, though, a team that needs every win that they can scratch out after 16-plus years of failure, free throw shooting simply cannot cost you games–especially against Western Conference opponents. Coming into play on Wednesday, the Kings sat at 29th in the league in free-throw shooting (68.6%).

That isn’t going to cut it.

Three players that are currently in Sacramento’s starting lineup are struggling from the line, as De’Aaron Fox (71%) and Domantas Sabonis (65%) have yet to figure things out at the charity stripe. Surprisingly, Harrison Barnes, a player that has knocked down 80 percent of his career attempts from the line, has only converted 53 percent of his free-throws thus far.

Free-throws have had a large hand in two of the three losses this season. Does that mean that the sky is falling?

No. Three games isn’t a large enough sample size to determine if the Kings are the worst free-throw shooting team in the league. Strong free-throw shooters like Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes will help Sacramento lift that 68.6% into a more respectable average in the coming games.

As of Sunday’s game in San Francisco, shots started to fall for Sacramento as they shot 20-of-25 (80%) from the line.

The End of De’Aaron Fox’s 2021-22 Season Wasn’t A Fluke

De’Aaron Fox has been playing like a man on a mission over the first three games of this season.

Scratch that–Fox has been playing like a man on a mission since returning from an ankle injury back in February. This isn’t a small sample-size of play anymore. Fox has been Sacramento’s engine this season and a player that seems to have unlocked his true star potential.

Fox during his final 16 games in 2021-22:

  • 28.9 PTS – 4.3 REB – 6.9 AST – 1.0 STL – 50% FG – 38% 3PT – 38.5 MIN

Fox during the first three games of 2022-23:

  • 31.7 PTS – 5.7 REB – 7.0 AST – 1.3 STL – 59% FG – 45% 3PT – 34.7 MIN

Confidence isn’t a question when watching Fox’s game. He’s stepping into three-pointers and knocking down mid-range jumpers with ease, something that the 24-year-old has yet to do consistently over the course of his now six-year career.

Shooting the basketball has always been Fox’s greatest criticism, but there hasn’t been much to criticize over the guard’s past 19 games. Through three games, Fox has shot 61% from three-to-ten feet, 60% from 10-to-16 feet, and 50% from 16 feet to the three-point line. It isn’t just the mid-range or three-point shooting either as the Kentucky product is converting 90% of his attempts at the rim.

The Kings will go as far as De’Aaron Fox takes them, and he has played every bit like an NBA All-Star during the opening week of the season.

Where Have You Gone, Harrison Barnes?

It’s fair to say that Harrison Barnes has received the bulk of fan criticism to open up the season, and frankly, it’s warranted.

The basketball that we have seen out of Barnes is unrecognizable. Just last season, Barnes arguably posted his greatest year as a professional, averaging 16.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game on 47% shooting from the field and nearly 40% from beyond the three-point line.

Barnes was a staple in Sacramento’s offense last season, and a go-to option at times while De’Aaron Fox was sidelined with ankle and hand injuries. Following February’s trade that sent Tyrese Haliburton and Buddy Hield to Indiana in return for Domantas Sabonis, Barnes became the team’s leading three-point option and was able to hold up his end of the bargain.

Over his final 26 appearances of the 2021-22 season, Barnes shot 37% from beyond the arc while averaging 15.6 points per game. Entering the final year of his four-year contract, it seemed as if Barnes was primed for a big contract year as he looks to secure another multi-year contract next summer.

Three games into the 2022-23 campaign, Barnes’ contract year is off to a slow start.

The 30-year-old is off to a rough start in 2022-23 as he will enter play on Thursday night with averages of 7.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game on 36.8% shooting from the field. Over three games, Barnes has not made a three-point field goal and the forward has only attempted 6.3 field goal attempts per game after firing off 10.8 attempts per contest last season.

(Photo by Cassy Athena/Getty Images)

Three games isn’t enough of a sample size to ring the alarm, especially when we’re talking about a player like Harrison Barnes–a player that has done nothing but produce on the offensive end since arriving in Sacramento during the 2018-19 season.

Kings head coach Mike Brown voiced his support for Barnes during Tuesday’s practice, pointing out that the small forward has done a lot of productive things on the floor that won’t show up in a postgame box score.

“There are some things that he is doing that aren’t sexy, that may not show up in the stat-sheet,” Brown said of Barnes’ contributions. “Everybody is looking at his three-point shooting and scoring when there are other things out there that he’s doing to give him an opportunity to continue to stay on the floor.”

Another aspect of Barnes’ early-season struggles could be his lack of comfortability in his rotation role, something that Brown spoke on this week as well.

“A guy like HB, I’m starting him, I’m bringing him out quick, I’m putting him back in, most times I’m putting him back in, but sometimes I’m not putting him back in,” Brown said on Tuesday afternoon of Barnes’ playing time. “That’s probably a little different than what he’s had in the past.”

As Brown would later go on to explain to the media, Barnes is not getting the basketball in his ‘sweet spots’ on the floor in this new offense. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get comfortable in their new roles, and Barnes is currently going through a transitional process as he will likely be a third or fourth option in the offense this season with players like Fox, Sabonis, and the emerging rookie Keegan Murray in the fold.

Last season, Barnes was the team’s leading scorer during the opening portion of the season and remained a top-two or three option in the offense the rest of the way.

With this current team, you have two All-Star-caliber talents in Fox and Sabonis, a scoring wing in Murray, and two perimeter threats in Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk. Barnes still deserves to be called on early in the offensive pecking order, but it isn’t going to be in the way that he is used to. That’s going to take some time to process, and that’s what we’re seeing right now.

Barnes has been a consummate professional during his time with the Kings, and you can bank on him adapting to this new role and doing what he can to make his teammates better in the coming days, because that’s the type of player that he is–team first.

Upcoming Sacramento Kings Schedule

Thursday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs Memphis Grizzlies – 7:00 PM PST

Saturday, October 29th – Sacramento Kings vs Miami Heat – 7:00 PM PST

Monday, October 31st – Sacramento Kings @ Charlotte Hornets – 4:00 PM PST

Wednesday, November 2nd – Sacramento Kings @ Miami Heat – 4:30 PM PST

Saturday, November 5th – Sacramento Kings @ Orlando Magic – 2:00 PM PST

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