SACRAMENTO KINGS

Six takeaways from Sacramento’s six-game road trip

Dec 17, 2022, 3:32 PM | Updated: 3:40 pm

CLEVELAND, OHIO - DECEMBER 09: Malik Monk #0 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates during the second h...

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

For the first time in over two weeks, the Sacramento Kings will play at Golden 1 Center when they suit up against the Charlotte Hornets on Monday night.

During those two weeks on the road, the Kings played six games that included some matchups against Eastern Conference powerhouses, defensive juggernauts, fringe playoff contenders, and a front-runner in the tank for next year’s number-one overall pick, Victor Wembanyama.

Over the years, six-game road trips were viewed as a massive disadvantage for the Kings as they almost always returned home with a far worse record than when they departed. For example, last year’s team went 0-5 during its East Coast trip.

Sacramento was up for the challenge this year.

When the Kings’ team plane set its coordinates for Milwaukee back on December 5th, Sacramento held a 13-9 record–four games above the .500 mark. Six games later, the Kings have returned home with a 16-12 record after splitting the six-game trip, good enough for fifth place in the Western Conference standings.

The road trip had a little bit of everything–a triumphant comeback win. A blowout loss. A hard-nosed, gritty victory. A stinker.

What have we learned about the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings over the past two weeks? Here are six notes from the six-game trip:

Domantas Sabonis is an All-Star

He is–a two-time All-Star at that, but Domantas Sabonis is well on his way to securing another All-Star appearance this season.

The big man is posting some video game-type of stat lines, and the six-game road trip only added to Sabonis’ All-Star resume:

21.2 PTS | 14.2 REB | 6.0 AST | 1.2 STL | 71 % FG | 142 Offensive RTG

Sabonis has been an absolute force for this Kings team by being able to distribute out of the post, run the fast break as a big man, and score efficiently when he possesses the basketball in post-ups. The eye-popping numbers jump off the score sheet, bringing back memories of the performances that former Kings All-Star DeMarcus Cousins’ used to rack up during his best days with the organization.

The way that Sacramento uses Sabonis isn’t similar to how Cousins’ got his massive stat lines, as the Kings don’t just dump the ball into Sabonis and clear out. Sacramento has been a good team this year because of how Sabonis can open up the offense in so many ways, whether it be running the offense himself, setting up teammates as a fantastic screener, or crashing the glass for second-chance opportunities (3.8 offensive rebounds per game during the trip).

What we’re seeing from Sabonis right now is historic.

Sabonis, who leads the NBA with 2o double-doubles, posted his seventh-straight double-double on Friday night–marking his fourth consecutive outing with 20+ points, 10+ rebounds, and 5+ assists. He is the third player in franchise history with 20-10-5 in four straight games or more, joining Chris Webber and Oscar Robertson.

It isn’t just the Kings franchise leaderboard either, as Sabonis ranks among the top of several NBA categories this season:

  • Rebounds – 326 (1st)
  • Rebounds per game – 11.6 (4th)
  • Win Shares – 4.6 (5th)
  • True shooting percentage – 68% (6th)
  • Field goal percentage – 62% (8th)
  • Assists – 180 (10th)

Sabonis should be playing for the Western Conference All-Stars on February 19th in Salt Lake City. He is more than worthy.

In-game Adjustments

A critical aspect of winning basketball games is the ability to make adjustments on the fly.

During Sacramento’s 16-year postseason drought, there haven’t been many instances of in-game adjustments, whether it be sealing off the paint against the formidable opponent that has been scoring at will around the rim, or taking advantage of another team’s weak spot on the defensive end.

The ability to make in-game adjustments and keep a large deficit from growing to a point where a comeback is impossible is one that this team has lacked for years, but that isn’t the case for Mike Brown’s Sacramento Kings.

YouTube video

There have been several instances of the Kings making in-game adjustments this season, but none better than December 9th’s win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Following Cavs forward Cedi Osman’s lay-in that gave Cleveland a 95-87 lead with 4:50 remaining, it seemed as if Sacramento was on its way to dropping their second-straight game to open up the road trip. However, that wouldn’t be the case thanks to a valiant defensive effort over the final five minutes.

The Kings held Cleveland scoreless over the final 4:50 of play, ending the game on a 19-0 run to steal a win from one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. Cleveland shot just 29 percent from the field during the fourth quarter while Sacramento turned in a defensive rating of 62.5 over the final 12 minutes of action.

In-game adjustments won the game for Sacramento.

Even during some of the losses on the road trip, like in New York and Philadelphia, the Kings were able to fight back–although a couple of rough quarters cost them a chance to make things really interesting:

Kings vs Philadelphia

  • 2nd Q: 76ers 41, SAC 23
  • 1st, 3rd & 4th Q: 76ers 82, SAC 80

Kings vs New York

  • 1st Q: NYK 36, SAC 22 (128 defensive rating)
  • Rest of game: SAC 77, NYK 76
  • Defensive rating of 100 for final three quarters (93.0 during the second half)

Even during the losing efforts of the road trip, the proof is there regarding Sacramento making adjustments to crawl back into games that were on the way to becoming laughers. There are no morale victories for this team–a loss is a loss. But even during losses, there are strong signs that this team can solve its own problems on the fly.

32% Is The Ideal Three-Point Target

As players like Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray all worked through three-point slumps at the same time, the Kings fell on hard times during the opening portion of the road trip.

After shooting just 30 percent from three-point land during the team’s most-recent home game against Chicago back on December 3rd, Sacramento converted only 31 percent of their three-point attempts during December 7th’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

One game later, the Kings went 16-of-33 (48%) from deep during the thrilling comeback win over Cleveland.

The following two games, Sacramento combined to shoot 20-of-81 (24%) during losses to New York and Philadelphia. When the three-point field goals aren’t falling, it’s hard for this team to win games.

As it turns out, there is a simple target that the Kings can hit to statistically place them in an ideal position for winning games, and that is a three-point field goal percentage of 32% or higher.

When the Kings shoot at least 32% from beyond the arc, they hold a 15-5 record this season. If the shoot 31% or lower from deep, they’re 1-7 on the year.

The fact that Sacramento faced several top-10 defenses during the trip (Milwaukee, Philadelphia, and Toronto) is notable when looking at the fact that the Kings shot 33 percent from beyond the arc (down from their season average of 38%) during the road trip.

That average should trend upwards during the upcoming home stand, especially against weaker defensive teams like Charlotte, Washington, and Denver.

Seeing Huerter get back into a groove (36% from 3PT over the past five games) is a great sign, while Keegan Murray has also turned a corner over the past 10 games (44%). If at least two of Huerter, Murray, Monk, and Harrison Barnes can find the bottom of the net in any given game, good things will happen for the Kings.

If all of Sacramento’s three-point threats get hot in unison, watch out.

Keegan Murray Breaks Through The Wall

It appeared as if Keegan Murray hit ‘the rookie wall’ shortly following Halloween as the fourth-overall pick averaged 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while shooting 32 percent from the field and 26 percent from beyond the arc from November 2nd through the 25th.

Since November 28th, Murray has turned a corner.

Murray is averaging 14.3 points and 4.0 rebounds per game while shooting 47 percent from the field and a red-hot 44 percent from the three-point line over the past 10 games.

The Iowa product looks much more comfortable after shaking off the rough month of November, as Murray is proving to be one of the more-important pieces of Mike Brown’s rotation due to his interchangeability at the forward spots. Murray has only logged 26 games as a professional, meaning that he has a long way to go before we understand his true potential, but he’s filling his role beautifully at the moment.

As Brown previously said of Murray’s role, the rookie isn’t in a similar spot that other big-name rookies currently are thriving in. Players like Paolo Banchero and Jaden Ivey are playing for teams that are well out of the playoff picture, meaning that those players are in positions to take on more of a leadership role, primarily on the floor.

Among the 2022 NBA Draft class Murray–the fourth-overall pick–ranks ninth among his rookie class in Usage Percentage at 17.7%, with players like Houston’s Tari Eason (17th pick), Atlanta’s AJ Griffin (16th pick), and Milwaukee’s MarJon Beauchamp (24th pick) all currently holding hiring usage rates than Murray.

(Stathead)

For a rookie that is currently playing on a 16-12 Kings team that is on track to snap a lengthy playoff drought, Murray is doing exactly what he should be doing, and that is acting as a veteran presence on a team that needs stability at each position. As each game passes, the rookie looks more and more stable.

Murray is knocking down looks at an efficient rate, the Kings are winning games, and you can bank on seeing Sacramento’s rookie at the Rising Stars game during NBA All-Star Weekend in February.

Quick Hits

Ball Movement is Key

Sacramento dished out 30 assists during Friday’s win over the Detroit Pistons, which was the team’s eighth game with 30 or more assists this season.

Last year, the Kings handed out 30+ assists in a game on eight occasions during the entire 82-game season.

That’s right–the 2022-23 team has already tied last year’s 30+ assist total through just 28 GAMES.

The Kings are 7-1 this year when they finish a game with 30 or more assists, so keep the solid ball-movement coming. With players like Domantas Sabonis (6.4 assists per game), De’Aaron Fox (5.6 assists per game), and Malik Monk (career-high 3.9 assists per game) handling the distributing duties, it shouldn’t be hard for this team to continue moving the ball around.

Fox On The Run

Having De’Aaron Fox at or near full-health is integral to this team’s long-term success, and it’s very encouraging to see the star guard playing like his usual self after a two-game absence.

Fox, who missed games against Cleveland and New York to treat foot soreness, burst back onto the scene during Wednesday’s win over Toronto. The 24-year-old scored 27 points and handed out 10 assists during a narrow win over a Raptors team that has proven to be a problem on their home floor.

One game later, Fox posted 24 points, five rebounds, nine assists, and one steal during Friday’s win over Detroit.

The speedy guard looked unbothered and had no signs of discomfort, which is a great sign as the Kings return home for a six-game home stand that will include three games against teams that are below the .500 mark.

Road Cookin’

During the 2021-22 season, the Sacramento Kings went 14-27 on the road.

Through 16 road games this season, these Kings hold an 8-8 record, which is good enough for the third-best road record in the Western Conference and seventh-best record away from home in the entire NBA.

Sacramento hasn’t won more than 15 games on the road since the 2005-06 season, but they’re already well on their way to besting that mark.

This team is currently on track to do a lot of things that haven’t been done since that 2005-06 season, including making an appearance in the postseason.

Newsletter

Sacramento Kings

Lauri Markkanen #23 of the Utah Jazz in action with Jeremy Sochan #10 of the San Antonio Spurs duri...

Brenden Nunes

Tony Jones: “The Jazz do not want to trade Lauri Markkanen”

Tony Jones, beat reporter for the Utah Jazz, joined The Drive Guys to discuss the availability of Lauri Makkannen and John Collins.

3 hours ago

DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - FEBRUARY 12: Jared McCain #0 of the Duke Blue Devils reacts after making a...

Frankie Cartoscelli

NBA Mock Draft Roundup: Sacramento Kings

The NBA Draft is just over two weeks away. Who do experts predict will be on the board for the Sacramento Kings at 13th?

11 hours ago

Domantas Sabonis #10 of the Sacramento Kings looks on against the Orlando Magic during the third qu...

Frankie Cartoscelli

Domantas Sabonis to host local basketball camp this summer

Sacramento Kings All-NBA center Domantas Sabonis will host a youth basketball camp this summer in Rocklin.

12 hours ago

LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY - FEBRUARY 03: Rob Dillingham #0 of the Kentucky Wildcats celebrates in the fir...

Frankie Cartoscelli

NBA Draft Player Profile: Rob Dillingham

Should the Sacramento Kings pick Kentucky guard Rob Dillingham if he falls to 13th in this month's NBA Draft?

1 day ago

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 08: Sasha Vezenkov #7 of the Sacramento Kings celebrates a three-point ...

Frankie Cartoscelli

What went wrong for Sasha Vezenkov & the Sacramento Kings?

Carmichael Dave and Jason Ross break down the Sasha Vezenkov-Sacramento Kings situation. What went wrong? Is there anyone to blame?

2 days ago

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 31: Sasha Vezenkov #7 of the Sacramento Kings looks on in the third ...

Frankie Cartoscelli

Report: Sasha Vezenkov wants out of Sacramento

According to Eurohoops.net, Bulgarian forward Sasha Vezenkov has requested a trade from the Sacramento Kings.

4 days ago

Six takeaways from Sacramento’s six-game road trip