After Sacramento’s playoff drought became an immutable NBA record, Harrison Barnes expressed a team-wide desire to “establish a culture where people do feel equity and do feel the need to want to change [the] narrative” that has bound this franchise to the depths of professional sports for so long.
As sobering as the reality of blindly stumbling into such an infamous record is for the team, Barnes expressed that such a longterm desire for commitment and continuity is something he and his teammates talk about regularly. In fact, even as the Kings once again prepare to pack up at the end of the regular season, such values may already becoming engrained within the identity of this team.
Of course, over the last month-plus, the responsibility to speak up and contribute to team leadership has been undertaken from some of the more talented pieces. Barnes is a former NBA champion, a veteran, and has been a source of leadership for this team for three and a half years now. De’Aaron Fox stepped up his sense of leadership after both the roster shakeup and having grown confident in his role as a centerpiece. Then there’s also Domantas Sabonis, who, even as a complete newcomer, made a significant imprint on the team as an on-court leader. Even DiVincenzo, another NBA champ, has risen in terms of being vocal, especially regarding the defense.
One would almost be tempted to say they wouldn’t expect anything less from guys with such talent and/or experience, but in assessing all of the Kings players that have taken it upon themselves to lean more into the need for leadership, not all of them were necessarily expected to do so.
Davion Mitchell broke Sacramento’s rookie record for assists in a single game with 17 in Tuesday night’s loss to the Pelicans as his late-season progression continues. Beyond the broken record, however, what may stand out most about the rook as this year comes to a close is that he’s found his voice in the closing stages of the year.
Prior to the final home game of the season against New Orleans, Mitchell took it upon himself to address the home crowd and vow that next year will bear entirely different results.
“This offseason we’re going to get better and make you guys proud,” he told those in attendance.
For a first-year player, it takes a lot of certitude, both in himself and his team, to assume that responsibility ahead of the game. While there is little doubt that Mitchell’s role increased over the last few weeks in light of Fox’s injury, it has also widened the window of opportunity for him to grow as a leader.
As amazing as the 17-assist night was, Mitchell didn’t linger on it so much.
“It makes you feel good just to make history, but at the end of the day, we lost the game, so it really don’t mean too much to me,” he said after the game.
Mitchell made note of the fact that his shot hasn’t been falling as much these days, and that because of that he’s been more determined to look for other ways to make an impact, and such a large number in the stat sheet was quite the accolade. That in itself is another sign of growth in confidence and leadership: knowing how to affect the game on command, even if things aren’t going as planned.
“For me, each game I’m getting more and more comfortable,” Mitchell observed.
Still, beyond his increased comfort within the league, Mitchell’s most impressive improvement has been in that outspokenness
Coach Gentry was all in on the praise regarding that aspect of Mitchell’s improvement.
“I think that a month and a half ago he was… still this quiet little rookie that would not say very many words during timeouts or anything, and I think that’s changed drastically,” Gentry marveled. “I think that he feels confident. He’s not afraid to have an opinion or voice something… and even in certain situations where I say, ‘let’s run this,’ and he goes, ‘hey, how about this right here?’ I think that’s all leadership, and I think, as a coach, when you see that, you need to embrace it because you want… he and De’Aaron, when they’re running the team, to feel like they’re running the team.”
The more guys that are all-in on steering this franchise in a better direction, the better. As Barnes alluded to, there’s been a deficit of commitment to the hard work it takes to turn a franchise around, so this is the perfect remedy.
Adding to the positive development is the fact that just two months ago, when the Kings’ most vocal leader was traded, the question became how to replace him. To be fair, Haliburton’s ability to speak up in the locker room was more than beneficial and served as a binding factor for the team, regardless if it produced winning results or not in his short time here-his determination to take up the team megaphone on his own was a natural instinct.
The answer to the replacement, as Kings fans are finding out, is a diverse collection of many of the players involved in this rotation.
Given the reality of making large roster moves, all fans could maybe have asked for is the rise of Fox’s leadership capabilities and possibly for Sabonis-whose presence changed the offensive game plan-to assume some of the load. Instead, over the course of two months, Sacramento seems to have discovered that it has more than that: this concatenation of leaders.
With that, the fact that Mitchell has worked his way into that influential group only continues to forecast potentially positive signs ahead, not just for the rookie himself, but the team.
Because the requisite work needs to be put in order to produce those winning results that Kings fans are starved for, it is good fortune for them that putting in that work is what Mitchell might be best at.
Therefore, as a part of the team leadership, the refinement of Davion Mitchell’s voice has been an excellent feature for this team as they continue to build habits and momentum that will allow for success next season.