Sacramento Kings found success on the road with an altered rotation and pecking order

Feb 6, 2024, 2:51 PM | Updated: 3:21 pm

Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExF...

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE - JANUARY 29: Harrison Barnes #40 of the Sacramento Kings during the game against the Memphis Grizzlies at FedExForum on January 29, 2024 in Memphis, Tennessee. 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 Justin Ford/Getty Images)

(Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings’ longest road trip of the season is directly in the rearview, during which they managed a 5-2 record. While it didn’t come against stellar competition, their rotational changes and emphasis on getting Harrison Barnes involved improved their rank in the standings.

During the seven-game trip, their wins came against the Golden State Warriors (22-25), Dallas Mavericks (27-23), Memphis Grizzlies (18-32), Indiana Pacers (28-23), and the Chicago Bulls (23-27).

With losses against the Miami Heat (26-24) and Cleveland Cavaliers (32-16), the Kings went 2-2 against teams above .500. Again, nothing overly impressive, but taking care of business against ‘lesser’ competition is still a crucial part of any successful NBA season.

Sacramento has improved to 16-6 on the season against teams below .500, compared to 13-14 versus those .500 or better. Currently sitting fifth in the Western Conference, they have some positive momentum heading into Thursday’s trade deadline.

Here are two takeaways from the road trip that have allowed them to do so.

Increasing Harrison Barnes’s involvement

Harrison Barnes managed 32 points against the Atlanta Hawks in their last game before the road trip and continued rolling throughout the travel.

If you include that game along with the seven-game trip, the 31-year-old forward averaged 20.9 points on 49.2 percent from the field and 43.1 percent from three during that stint.

In the first 41 games of the season, Barnes attempted 7.6 field goals nightly. He took 15.3 shots per game, with 8.1 coming from beyond the arc during the last eight games.

He took 15 shots or more in four of their last eight, which had not been achieved since the season debut in Utah. Sacramento is 5-2 in games where Barnes tallied 20 or more points. There’s been a clear emphasis on getting him more involved in the offense paired with an increased aggressiveness from himself.

As he’s seemingly climbed the pecking order, others have fallen — most notably Keegan Murray. During the road trip, the former number four overall pick averaged 12.5 points on 44.0 percent from the field while taking 10.5 shots a night.

Murray has four single-digit shot attempt showings in the last five games, which had only occurred six times up to that point.

There are only so many shots to go around, yet it’s not as black and white as it may seem. If Murray were to get going early in a game, I’m sure head coach Mike Brown would continue to find ways to keep involving him, the same would be true with Barnes.

But there has been an apparent change in the traditional pecking order, and it’s paid off up to this point. Barnes looks like his former self, and Murray’s responsibilities lessen while he continues to develop many aspects of his game.

A more defined, shorter rotation

Aside from an earlier stretch where Chris Duarte filled the place of Kevin Huerter, the Sacramento Kings starting lineup has primarily remained the same.

The five-man lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, and Domantas Sabonis has played 491 minutes together and managed an 8.9 net rating. After that, Malik Monk and Trey Lyles could be expected nightly, but the rest was often cloudy.

Davion Mitchell and Keon Ellis have competed for the backup point guard spot, with Monk getting reps in that spot as well. Similarly, you never know if either Alex Len or JaVale McGee will see the floor.

During the road trip, the Sacramento Kings seemed to solidify that Mitchell is their backup point guard of choice. The aforementioned starters, Monk, Lyles, and Mitchell, were the only eight players to appear in every game during their successful road trip.

Mitchell provides consistent defensive ball pressure and has gotten better at playing within himself on the other end. As for Sabonis’s backup, McGee seems the most common option.

The three-time NBA champion played in all but two of the Sacramento Kings’ seven-game road trip. The nights he didn’t, Len was nowhere to be seen while Lyles was the small-ball reserve of choice, which seems to be matchup-dependent.

With Sasha Vezenkov (right ankle) as the Kings’ only current injury, remaining healthy and finding consistency with roles and minutes could aid their efforts as the year continues.

Players benefit from knowing when they check in, how long they can expect to stay on the floor and additional repetitions with the same lineups. While rotational changes are required throughout the season, it’s a fine line for any coaching staff to balance.

Any trade deadline moves would reset some building benefits, but it’s all part of the process while chasing an eventual Larry O’Brien trophy. The competition Sacramento defeated during their season-long seven-game road trip wasn’t overly impressive, but they go in the win collum all the same.

Their next 10 games are no easy task, with matchups against the Oklahoma City Thunder, Los Angeles Clippers, Minnesota Timberwolves, and twice against the Denver Nuggets during that stint.

When is the next Sacramento Kings game?

At long last, the Kings are coming home.

Following a season-long, two-week, seven-game road trip, Sacramento will return to Golden 1 Center on Wednesday night for a showdown against the NBA-worst Detroit Pistons (6-43).

On January 9th, the Kings overcame an early 20-point deficit to beat the Pistons by a final of 131-110 after outscoring Detroit by 39 points during the final three quarters.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Pistons coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from downtown Sacramento.

YouTube video

Upcoming Schedule

  • Wednesday, February 7th – Sacramento Kings vs. Detroit Pistons – 7:00 PM PST
  • Friday, February 9th – Sacramento Kings vs. Denver Nuggets – 7:00 PM PST
  • Sunday, February 11th – Sacramento Kings @ Oklahoma City Thunder – 12:00 PM PST
  • Tuesday, February 13th – Sacramento Kings @ Phoenix Suns – 7:00 PM PST
  • Wednesday, February 14th – Sacramento Kings @ Denver Nuggets – 6:00 PM PST
  • NBA All-Star break – February 15-21

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