First Five: What Is The Best Lineup For The Sacramento Kings?
With the NBA inching closer to a return, let’s take a look at the possible scenarios for the Sacramento Kings starting five
Sacramento Kings basketball is on the horizon.
This week, the NBA announced that the season will resume this summer at the ESPN Wide World of Sports in Orlando, Florida. Sacramento will be one of 22 teams heading to Florida for the continuation of the 2019-20 season.
On March 11, as the Kings prepared for a nationally televised game against Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, the news broke of Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert being infected by the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). The NBA, professional sports as a whole and world as we know it was brought to a screeching halt. The season was put on an indefinite hold.
With 18 games remaining, Sacramento had their season paused while only trailing the eighth-seeded Memphis Grizzlies by 3.5 games.
Coming into the postponed game against New Orleans, the Kings were playing their best basketball of the season. After dropping to season-worst 14 games under .500 (15-29) on January 22, the team went on a run, winning 13 of their next 20 contests to pull themselves back into the playoff race.
In order to make the postseason, Sacramento will have to either:
- Claim the eighth-seed spot and solidify at least a play-in opportunity
- Finish in the ninth-seed spot and be within four games of the eighth-seed to force a play-in for the final playoff spot
With three positions in the starting lineup all but set in stone (De’Aaron Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Harrison Barnes), head coach Luke Walton and his staff have some tough decisions to make before games resume in late July.
With two spots needing to be filled, what would be the best lineup combination for a Kings playoff run?
Option 1: Fox, Bogdanovic, Barnes, Bjelica, Holmes
Fan-favorite center Richaun Holmes was enjoying a breakout season for Sacramento before going down with a shoulder injury after 37 games.
Holmes, who many considered to be a deep-bench signing by Sacramento last summer, quickly showed fans why he deserved the starting spot over newly-signed center Dewayne Dedmon with his gritty play and fiery passion.
Before missing 25 games with an injury, the 26 year-old center was posting career-high numbers across the board with 12.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting a blistering 65-percent from the field. Before his injury, Holmes was among the top three players in the league in field goal percentage.
Sliding in alongside Holmes in the front-court is Nemanja Bjelica, a player that has spent a lot of time in the starting lineup this season.
Over 64 games, Bjelica has started in 61 games while posting career-high averages of 11.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game. The 32 year-old has been lethal with the long-ball, shooting 42-percent from beyond the three-point line–placing him 10th in all of the NBA.
Bjelica’s floor spacing skill pairs well with Holmes ability to rebound and operate in the paint, a perfect combination of stretch and score for Walton.
Option 2: Fox, Bogdanovic, Barnes, Bjelica, Giles
Coming into Sacramento’s final game on March 8th against Toronto, this was the lineup that Luke Walton had rolled out for 13 of the previous 16 contests.
Over 13 games, the Kings are 9-4 with this lineup.
Bogdan Bogdanovic replaced Buddy Hield as the starting shooting guard, a move that has benefited the production of both players. Dewayne Dedmon was dealt to Atlanta, giving Harry Giles III a chance to start while Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes battled injuries.
Giles, who missed the entire 2017-18 season and parts of the last two seasons with knee ailments, has put together a strong sophomore season for Sacramento.
Over 38 games and 17 starts, Giles is averaging 7.0 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game while shooting 56-percent from the field.
Sacramento has played their best basketball of the season with Giles starting at center. Leading into the season’s hiatus, Holmes had played in two games off of the bench behind Giles as he paced himself back into action. With fellow big Alex Len also playing incredible for Sacramento, who should get the majority of minutes at the center position?
Option 3: Fox, Bogdanovic, Barnes, Bjelica, Bagley III
Other than Bogdanovic in lieu of Hield, this was the starting lineup for Sacramento back on opening night in Phoenix.
Marvin Bagley III has showed that he can be a constant double-double threat when healthy, but the second-year forward has only played in 13 games this season. After posting 14 points and 10 rebounds in the season opener, Bagley was reported to have broken his right thumb, sidelining him for almost two months.
Once Bagley returned in mid-December, the 21 year-old came off of the bench behind Holmes for six games before being inserted into the starting lineup on December 23rd. Bagley had scored 18 points in 19 minutes before going down with a foot injury on December 26th against Minnesota.
The former second-overall pick has not played since, missing the last 31 games for Sacramento.
Multiple reports had surfaces about Bagley’s health over the final weeks of the season. The Sacramento medical staff was very vague in explaining his injury, first stating that he was diagnosed with a mid-foot sprain and that more information would be available after a re-evaluation in three weeks.
On March 10, just before the season shut down due to COVID-19, the Kings released this update regarding Bagley’s health:
Kings forward Marvin Bagley III continues his recovery from a left midfoot sprain and is progressing through his reconditioning plan which includes on-court running activities and skill work in addition to his ongoing strength regimen. Updates regarding his status will be provided as appropriate.Sacramento Kings – March 10, 2020
It has been almost three months since the last injury update and nearly six months since the December 26th contest against Minnesota. The latest on Bagley’s status came from a Luke Walton interview with the Sacramento Bee on April 25th where Walton stated that Bagley’s foot injury status is “unknown”.
Assuming the three-month break benefited the athletic forward, does Sacramento put their faith in the young big man?
In all likelihood, Bagley will be brought back off of the bench and with limited minutes to ensure the safety of his longterm health. Talent-wise, Bagley is the most skilled big on the Sacramento roster. Vlade Divac envisioned an athletic forward with bounce, ability around the rim and a fast-break threat to slide into one of the quickest offenses in the league.
While the Kings will hope that Bagley can break out in 2020-21, the chances of him being thrusted into the starting lineup after missing months of action are slim to none.
Sacramento could go in a different direction once the season resumes.
Newly acquired Alex Len and Kent Bazemore have been providing the Kings with a boost off the bench that the team has desperately needed for years.
Len has provided elite rebounding, grabbing 7.1 rebounds per game in only 16 minutes per game while shooting 61-percent from the field. Len has also been a force at the rim, blocking 1.4 shots per game since being acquired.
The biggest surprise from the moves made during the trade deadline has been Bazemore, who struggled mightily in Portland before being traded for Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel and Caleb Swanigan on January 21st.
In the 13 games leading into the hiatus, Bazemore had been on a tear, scoring 12.2 points and grabbing 5.7 rebounds per game. The 30 year-old was shooting 43-percent from three-point land in those games and was also playing fantastic defense, swiping 1.4 steals per contest.
Could Walton look to shake things up and play small ball?
Of course, whoever starts these games will not always finish them. But in a playoff race, it is imperative to not fall behind early. The Sacramento Kings are about to be playing in meaningful games, whether it be a play-in tournament or a World Cup style group play tournament.
Things are about to get interesting in Orlando.