One of the things people will see a lot of is the De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis two-man game. It’s the core of the offense for a reason, and is already one of the best in the league. Needless to say, it’s reasonable to be ecstatic about being able to watch them blossom together for a full year.
At the same time, while fans saw that two-man action succeed in a small sample size near the end of last year and got a glimpse at its prestige, it was clear even then that there will need to be a lot more than the Fox-Sabonis show.
That’s a huge reason why Monte McNair essentially put shooting at the top of his to-do list for this offseason. The ability to space the floor and have one of the Kings’ two stars be a legitimate three-point threat at any moment will prove more productive. Instead of relying on a rookie Davion Mitchell, a streaky Donte DiVincenzo still working his way back from ankle surgery, or a mostly ice-cold Justin Holiday, this year will feature–as one knows well by now–Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, a healthy Terence Davis, a second-year Mitchell, and many more. That adds another layer to the mystique for the season ahead.
But narrowing the focus a little, the offense has to be more dynamic. And as one should expect, Mike Brown knows that well.
“Coach really wants us to play off the ball in general,” Sabonis said after day three of training camp. “And if Fox and I can develop our two-man game doing that, it’s going to be even harder to stop because when it’s just pick-and-roll, it gets easier to guard after a period of time, but if we can develop an off-ball game then it’s going to be really tough.”
The message is well established.
“I think I’ve grown tremendously (off-ball),” Fox said on the same afternoon. “Like I said, since we hired Luke (Loucks) that was one of the things when he came and (was) like, ‘obviously, you’re going to have the ball in your hands a lot, but to truly be a better player, you have to be able to shoot the ball and work off the ball.’ Those are the things that we hit the ground running (on) starting, I think, in June.”
One of the big things for Fox and Sabonis to play off-ball is their three-point shooting. There’s obviously more to off-ball offense, but this is an important aspect, especially for this team.
It’s probably more the case for Fox because it’s hard to imagine Sabonis being cast into a corner or anything like that. But if the end of last year is any indication, then Fox can be a help. In the games following the Sabonis trade last season before he went down with his hand injury, the point guard was hitting 36% of his three balls, a significant improvement in that stretch.
Fox can hit a few catch-and-shoot looks, either standing in place or moving to a spot. He won’t be stepping up as a sharpshooter–nor does he have to, really–but Fox’s impact from beyond the arc should be greater this year, and success will depend on it.
Of course, on the other hand, if Sabonis can stretch the floor that’s a massive advantage, too. He doesn’t hit three’s with killer instinct or even take all that many, but it’s clear the range is somewhere within the big man. It’s really no indication of anything to come–and may stay that way–but three-point shooting was a key improvement area for Domas as he worked with Chris Matthews, known commonly as Lethal Shooter.
It’s something to keep an eye on for Sabonis, though nobody should expect this to be a huge aspect of his game. In one game specifically last year against Denver in February, on three instances, Sabonis was left wide open and made them pay twice. Games like that may be peppered in there more commonly as defenses will offer open looks for the center by default as they try to defend a pass-heavy system.
The two best facilitators on the team are also very adept at off ball movement that cuts to the basket. Fox is the fastest with or without the ball in his hands, so movement is always to his advantage. Thus in that regard he has more than enough talent and has demonstrated that.
It’s the same case with Sabonis. As a guy who is always looking to find guys, when the ball is not in his hands, Sabonis is a savvy off-ball guy. He’s not overly athletic or big, but he’s sneaky and efficient. Similar to how he can sneak into spots from three on the rare occasion, Sabonis is a smart player who creeps behind players and gets into a great scoring position.
Naturally, those two can only play off-ball if there are other options. With this team there is. More than just Davion Mitchell off the bench, Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk will likely handle the ball at various moments. They’re not just going to stand in corners; both are excellent on-ball and in the two-man game on their own.
In Atlanta, there were many opportunities for Huerter as a handler, using a big like Clint Capela for more pick and roll action (to get an alley-oop, pull-up jumper, or to find another man) or using a John Collins to get an open look for either, typically via a pick-and-pop. Regarding the former, the Kings have centers who can be viable pick-and-roll partners with anyone, including The Big Huert. And the latter example could very well be fulfilled with a Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, or Trey Lyles.
And Huerter also seems to just have a knack for getting up good attempts when he possesses the ball, whether he’s utilizing twist screen action to get an easy jumper as he did often with the Hawks or taking a size advantage down into the paint.
In his time in Charlotte as well as last year in LA, Monk, too, was able to create some offense on his team’s behalf as a ball-handler. In fact, based on his year with the Lakers–particularly when Anthony Davis was healthy–Monk was often creating for others on offense. It could have been off the pick-and-roll for Davis on an alley-oop or with a flashy pass. It could have also involved passing out to an open man when defenses crashed on a talented duo of Monk and Davis heading for the basket.
Monk will be able to play with a talented group of big’s to run the PNR with, and as it looks–at least for now–that Monk will be a focal point of the second unit scoring, perhaps he’ll gain some chemistry with Richaun Holmes in that respect.
That’s just a sense, but the offense is going to be varied and, due to that fact, a challenge for defenses. And more players not mentioned here will likely be involved.
After the Sabonis trade, the Kings could all of a sudden score with the best of them–although they couldn’t do much more than offer a competitive showing–but with this group of players, as Huerter said, “there’s really no reason for us, offensively, to be towards the top of the league on that end of the court.”