Last week’s trade deadline was an exhibition in creating a whole new roster for the Sacramento Kings. Even with the loss of a genuine fan favorite, the affinity felt for one player can be redistributed throughout a team that—while not perfect—is an overall improvement to the squad they were watching just a few weeks ago.
The big trade—the one that sent Haliburton, Hield, and Thompson to Indiana for Sabonis, Holiday, and Lamb—was the first major deal that rocked the league during deadline week, and it resulted in a reverberation of mixed reviews.
Most, like JJ Redick, just couldn’t understand it on the day of. And the day after the trade, ESPN’s Jalen Rose and David Jacoby were babbling about whether or not Sabonis wants to be in Sacramento long term while in the same breath referring to Buddy Hield like he was the savior with range who wanted to be in Sac. (Spoiler: McNair says Sabonis likes the idea of the Kings as a long term home, and it’s safe to say Buddy Hield wasn’t always happy here to say the least.)
As one tweet put it, it was hard not to imagine, based on the reaction, whether or not the media legitimately thought the Kings had traded Haliburton for old Arvydas Sabonis.
Others saw the logic, and on the night after the deal, fans got to witness firsthand the philosophy behind the trade as the Kings came out flying in the second of back-to-back games against Minnesota. It was a night and day difference between the two contests— two completely different Sacramento teams.
Of course, losing Haliburton—a guy with massive potential, who shot the ball well, and had a tremendous demeanor and attitude—was the epitome of the word loss. Equally so, the team gained so much in the way of adhering to a specific plan of team building by grabbing an all-star big man to play with your exceptional scoring point guard and your really talented rookie, not to mention some nice supplementary pieces.
To that last point, the team has gotten better and will continue to get better— not just as the new guys settle in here, but as fans get to witness the convergence of Davion Mitchell’s recently found comfort at the pro-level and his increased opportunity for playing time. Between January 22—the first game Fox missed with his most recent injury—and now, Mitchell has played without one of either Fox or Haliburton in all but one of the 13 games where he was scoring 14.4 points a game on 43.5% from the field and 36.4% from deep. But his numbers get even better looking solely at the month of February where Mitchell has really shown he’s finding his groove, scoring 15.4 a game on 45.4% from the field and 39.1% from the three point line. He’s been driving to the basket, creating his own shot from deep range, and playing with purpose in every facet, flashing glimmers of what is sure to be a terrific future.
But enough about that. Haliburton got traded, right?
Well, not for nothing, and while the Kings have split their last four games with two wins followed by back-to-back losses, there is nothing but clear signs this is a better team. The game against Brooklyn was, after all, the every-once-in-a-while occasion where a team shoots 34% versus the opponent’s 51.2%, and the other night in Chicago had the Kings coming up just short in a matchup where better defensive awareness could have definitely won that game. Other than the two losses, though, the ball is moving, the energy is discernable, and this team is fun to watch.
Yes, it is a small sample size, but with the All-Star break here, it’s not a bad time to take a breath and assess some of these new guys, how they’ve impacted the team, and how they’ll continue to do so.
Sabonis has been nothing short of impressive, providing exactly what one would have imagined: being a big man through whom the offense can be ran. His ability to play quarterback from the high or low post is excellent— and quarterback is no understatement as the guy remains calm and delivers beautiful passes despite the physical defense that comes from big-bodied NBA players. It’s second nature to him to not only pass the ball, but make the perfect pass, the pass that finds the open cutter, the open man, or the right guy to swing it.
He understands spacing, knows when to set picks, and can clean up rebounds, doing a collection of different things to make the team better when he’s on the floor.
One thing that’s been disappointing regarding Sabonis since coming to Sacramento is the drop in free throw attempts in these four games. And that’s not really his fault because there have been some moments, particularly in the game against the Bulls, where it seemed Sabonis couldn’t get a foul call if he tried to pay for it. In Indiana this season, he averaged 5.4 attempts from the line, but he’s averaging just 2.5 in his short time with the Kings.
As he continues to establish good chemistry with his new team, Sabonis is really going to be a leading force going forward.
Holiday was completely overlooked by the frenzy of reactions from last week’s deal. As a long, springy, energetic, 3-and-D type guy with defensive chops, he was a great pick up.
His three point shooting has been up and down so far in Sacramento with a couple bad nights against the T-Wolves and Nets, but a couple good shooting games against Washington and Chicago. In his four games here, he’s shooting 37.9%, not far from his season averages.
The thing that makes Holiday so good is that even if his best offensive weapon—his three point shot—isn’t working, he finds ways to impact the game. And it all comes back to his length, energy, and defensive understanding.
Having a legitimate professional who can shoot the three and, moreover, can find various ways to make a difference has been a significant contributor to the fact this team feels new.
Sadly, not much has been seen of Jeremy Lamb in a Kings uniform since his first game in Sacramento due to a left ankle injury.
But in that one game Lamb proved the value of having a veteran wing. He played over 30 minutes, which is almost double the time per game he played with the Pacers, doubling his field goals and three point attempts, and as a result scored 14 points in addition to 6 rebounds, 5 assists, and 2 blocks.
It will be interesting to see what Lamb will be able to do when he comes back and what kind of role he will play. But if anything, he was not a bad guy to help improve this team’s wing depth.
The Kings have wanted The Big Ragu for over a year and they finally got their man.
Watching the way DiVincenzo plays is enough to know his worth. The instant he’s on the floor it begins an interval of time where it is non-stop movement for the former champion. With him, it’s all hustle, all the time.
In just three games, seeds have been planted for DiVincenzo to build good connections with others from the bench, like Holmes, as well as members of the starting lineup. He’s averaged over 24 minutes a game and will likely continue having an important role to play for this team.
While a lightning rod for energy off the bench, DiVincenzo has been shooting the ball pretty badly from deep since coming to the Kings, and on more shot attempts.
In three games with Sacramento, DiVincenzo has a 22.2% from deep on an average of 6 three point attempts— two thirds of his roughly 9 total shot attempts. There is no doubt some of these shots will begin dropping and his percentages will improve, but he has, in this small stretch, been taking more shots from deep than usual. Last season, with the championship Bucks, he shot 37.9% from three on 5.2 attempts, so 6 attempts a game doesn’t sound horrible, but in the context of this season where in 17 games with Milwaukee he shot 28.4%, it may just be better if he continues looking for points closer to the basket. He’s effective up close—he shot 50% from attempts within 10 feet of the basket last year—and can both be more effective and help his deep shot by putting in easier buckets first.
Overall, though, he’s an exceptional pickup with a role to fill in and secure for a long time.
Trey Lyles and Josh Jackson
Lyles and Jackson haven’t seen too much action. They both saw their first Kings minutes in garbage time against the Nets where Jackson threw up two three point attempts that both missed.
Trey Lyles did play five minutes against the Bulls, and in that time dropped two field goals on two attempts and grabbed a couple rebounds.
Lyles and Jackson’s roles might not become anything significant because they have been ineffective shooters this year, but they provide options as backup wing players with NBA experience under their belt.