Davion Must Learn a Lesson From Nonexistent Night in Indiana; Fox’s Absence Highlights His Value

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 20: Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings looks on in the first quarter against the Phoenix Suns at Golden 1 Center on March 20, 2022 in Sacramento, California. 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 Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Without the other foundational half of De’Aaron Fox, the Kings looked slightly lost at times, losing a winnable game in Indiana, 104-107.

As one might imagine, Sacramento’s offense looked like it was hobbling on one foot at times with the absence of their all-star level point guard. And for a team that averages over 119 points per game, a 104-point performance bears that out. The Kings were -3 in turnovers, shot 34.1% from three yet scored only 40 paint points, and got clobbered in fast break scores, 17-28.

Harrison Barnes visibly assumed more responsibility without Fox on the floor, leading the Kings with 23 points with 5 rebounds and 3 assists. In his long-awaited return to Indiana, Domantas Sabonis posted a double-double with 15 points, 16 rebounds, and 6 assists. Kevin Huerter went 1 of 7 from three, but found a way to post 16 points while being credited with 4 steals. Off the bench Terence Davis shined for 15 points, Malik Monk had 12 with 5 assists (but 5 turnovers), Chimezie Metu put up 10, and Trey Lyles had 7 points and 3 offensive boards.

The Pacers, meanwhile, really put themselves up with some great three-point shooting, going 17 of 41 (41.5%).

Old friend Buddy Hield got a double-double and lead Indiana with 21 points, hitting 5 of 9 from deep with 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Aaron Nesmith hit 4 of 7 from deep for 17 points. Hitting only one three, Myles Turner had a double-double with 14 points and 13 boards. Other old and less estranged friend Tyrese Haliburton scored 10 with 9 assists, and Bennedict Mathurin scored 14 off the bench.

It was a disappointing loss because it felt as if it could just as easily gone the other way, but it was a great insight into how vital De’Aaron Fox is for the third-ranked team in the Western Conference.

Game summary (takeaways below)

Until the first timeout around the six and a half minute mark, both teams were shooting at 30% or lower from the field. Out of it, the percentages began climbing. The Pacers hooked up some good looks and later both Sabonis and Barnes found some nice scores with the former having his way on the glass as he’s prone to do. The two squads went punch for punch as the period came to a close; Trey Lyles hit a sweet buzzer-beating three to get within one point after one.

In the second quarter, the Kings maintained some nice defensive effort while hitting some shots, but when many of the starters returned, they were able to get in the lead with the help of a Huerter three and Sabonis’ passing. But after a sudden blast of four straight Indiana three’s—one from Hield and three from Nesmith—the Pacers lead by ten. Sacramento’s defensive activity was there, but points were not easy to come by. Meanwhile, three’s would continuously fall, even in the face of nice Kings rotational defense. They lead 60-48 at the half over Sac.

Sacramento came out of the half with better energy than the team that played just the night before, but then the three’s began to fall for Indiana after Keegan Murray and the Kings made some errors, expanding the deficit to double digits again. The lead looked like it was warping because it was expanding so fast due to sloppy Kings play and some great makes for the Pacers. Sac’s shooting percentages were dipping. Out of a timeout, the Kings went on a 9-0 run with stops and scores to keep the game within range. In fact, in the final five minutes, Sac went on a 20-8 run to get within 7 points after a little rhythm was located.

The Kings did not look great, but hung in there during the first few minutes of the fourth. After Sabonis returned, the team went on a 11-4 run to get the game within a point, but Indiana was able to score 5 unanswered quickly with the help of mistakes. Hanging with it, the game was within reach, but Barnes couldn’t convert a late three with Sabonis falling to the deck on the rebound attempt and nobody fouled, so it was sealed and Sacramento lost by three points.

“We were really, really, really bad, including me,” head coach Mike Brown said postgame. “It was terrible. Again, you’ve got to be able to execute down the stretch offensively. You’ve got to be able to box out. You can’t give up second shots. And we didn’t do any of that.”

What an illustration of Fox’s all-star effect on this team…

One day removed from the all-star reserves being announced and De’Aaron Fox being widely regarded as the biggest snub, a poetic illustration of his value was on full display.

Fox missed Friday’s game due to personal reasons as was reported the evening prior.

And without him, his team did not look like it was the best scoring offense in the NBA nor the third-ranked team in the Western Conference. With Sabonis, Barnes, and others it looked like a decent team, but one that lacked the necessary punch to beat a team like the Indiana Pacers.

It was hardly necessary trying to articulate the shock and disappointment of his name being absent from the all-star team, and in a similar vein, it feels useless trying to elaborate more on what was clearly demonstrated in Friday’s game in regards to his importance to the Kings.

Sometimes things speak for themselves.

Massive letdown: Davion’s 1 of 5 for 3 points

Still, it was a one-score game when the final buzzer rung out. Of course, one hates to get into what if’s after a loss, but this one was so close that it’s hard to imagine how this game goes if Davion Mitchell puts in a more concerted effort to get his offense going to some degree.

Starting in place of De’Aaron Fox, the second year man went 1 of 5 from the field for 3 points after hitting 1 of his 4 three-point attempts with just one rebound and assist each. In his 22 minutes played, Mitchell posted a -19. It may be the biggest takeaway from this loss.

That was his worst game of the season. Yeah, part of it has to do with the fact that he had big shoes to fill, but based on his offensive reluctance, he never had much of a chance of filling in the scoring gap.

On the first four opportunities as the primary ball handler early in the game, he went for assists all four times. Lacking much variance, his third attempt ended up as a turnover and it wasn’t until the next crack at it that he got his one and only assist of the game.

By not looking for his own shot, he fails to put any pressure on Indiana’s defense, leaving them with no notion that the point guard would penetrate aggressively for a score. And sticking to an unselfish mode became predictable, just as an overly aggressive approach would have as well.

Kayte Christensen noted on the broadcast that Mitchell has a tendency to get conservative when none of his first few shot attempts go in, but to shell up like that from the start was about as helpful as jacking up useless attempts.

By halftime, Davion Mitchell was 0 of 4 from the field. He eventually knocked down a three, but on a night where he needed to step up—and where he’s proven he can sep up based on his splits as a starter—it was a massive letdown.

There’s no way to discredit his defensive abilities as they show up at nearly every moment, but both Mitchell and his team would greatly benefit from more confidence on the offensive end. It does not have to be limited to having an open three-point attempt swing his way; in fact, it shouldn’t be.

Four of his five attempts were from the outside for a guy who is talented at attacking the basket and who has a quickness factor that might stand out more if he didn’t play with the fastest player in the NBA. Hell, the point here is that it would stand out if he used it consistently.

It’s great that Davion Mitchell has known his role all year and has been a consistent player off the bench—namely on defense, of course—but he cannot reside in the satisfaction of a guy who just plays defense and knocks down a shot or two. 

He is capable of doing more and in a way that doesn’t hurt the game plan. Fans see it all the time with veterans like Harrison Barnes: when the offense gets stagnant, Barnes finds ways to get to the line or create his own shots (he did a lot of the latter on Friday without Fox’s playmaking). Even Kevin Huerter will find ways to score inside when his three isn’t falling, as was the case against Indiana, but he still put up 16 in the scoring column.

Mitchell is talented enough to take it upon himself to set the offense back on a positive course by penetrating. That may also involve the things Malik Monk does like dishing it out or dumping it off, but unless Mitchell shows he can be aggressive, defenses will sit back expecting the pass.

Davion Mitchell does not have the standing Barnes does, nor does he have the kind of offensive green lights Huerter does, but he more than has what it takes to be a productive offensive contributor. 

His night on Friday was simply unacceptable because he is a better player than that.

Terence Davis will always be an NBA player

The bench had some bright spots, one of them being a guy not always promised nightly minutes.

The ability for Terence Davis to hang around and take advantage of a rare opportunity is second nature. He secured a place in the NBA that way and he’ll stay in the league because of it.

Oftentimes this season, Davis’ time has come when one guy goes out. Whether he’s starting for Kevin Huerter or Keegan Murray, he’s proven he can plug straight into the starting lineup. Similarly, with Fox out, Davis will step up as more was demanded of the bench.

In 18 minutes against the Pacers, Terence Davis scored 15 points on 4 of 10 from the field, 3 of 7 from three, and 4 of 4 from the free throw line with 4 rebounds, 3 assists, as well as a block and steal each.

In both stretches where is impact was felt most, it came at the end of the first quarter and then at the end of the third quarter, providing some excellent and much-needed jolts.

Near the close of that first period, Davis sunk a three and played some awesome on-ball defense on the confident rookie Mathurin. But in the third quarter, with a bit of rhythm on his side, he really showed up.

Shortly after missing a three, Davis got a pass on the wing, pumped and drove hard in the paint, dumping off a pass for Sabonis, gaining the assist. On the other end, off some great Sabonis defense, Davis snagged the loose ball and dribbled with his characteristic ferocity to the other end for a layup despite Mathurin’s probing hands.

Then, after a stop, Davis hightailed it to the other end, earning a trip to the line. Indiana later turned it over with the ball rolling straight to TD, who then took it to the other end to earn another two free throws. And with the quarter winding down, he pulled up for a three-point make with the large Myles Turner on him.

Sacramento closed out that third period strong in large part due to Davis’ efforts.

Metu stretched the floor for once

In the closing minutes of the first quarter, Metu looked pretty bad. He was close to playing good defense before committing an undisciplined foul, he committed a turnover that seemed to emerge from indecision or at least a bad decision, and he missed a three, making people wonder if he has any range in him anymore (he hadn’t hit a three since December 13).

However, in the second, he looked great. He began the period hitting a jump hook, ran the floor for a put back, was a presence on the glass, and finally sunk a deep ball. Those first few minutes of the second featured the exact type of energy spurt Metu is capable of providing and the type he should bring every time he comes in to relieve Domas.

His second half minutes were not as commendable as the reality of the game dictated that Sabonis get bakc on the floor sooner than later, but Metu was able to sink another three late in the third to reach double figure scoring. He later committed another turnover early in the fourth, but it was an interesting night for Metu.

With the deadline less than a week away, the Kings could target a backup center. They also have needs at the wing, which could water down the urgency to get a backup 5. 

Either way though, if Metu is to have any chance being a convincing enough reserve for Sabonis or have the opportunity to push the envelope on that front, hitting three’s is key. Metu presents an interesting skillset, but it remains underwhelming if that three-ball is nonexistent as it’s seemed to be.

Fans saw how effective Lyles is as a small 5 in large part due to the fact he certainly stretches the floor. A three-ball could do wonders for Metu.

Of course, the question remains: can he be that guy?

Overall, Metu does not produce the most convincing argument, but recall how he closed out last season. In his final 16 games last season, Chimezie Metu shot 40.5% from beyond the arc on 2.6 attempts per contest.

Metu may not be the most revered name among the rotational players, but outside shooting can be his saving grace.

Lyles all effort, but also hit his head

Trey Lyles is basically Mr. Everything off the bench for the Kings. He’s a smooth offensive player that can shoot three’s and score inside. He’s a great rebounder who exerts a ton of effort. He’s a smart player who puts himself in good positioning on both ends of the floor. His overall defensive game is underrated. And he’s a versatile option given his skills and size.

As has been noted a few times before, Lyles’ father instilled in him a principle that shines through in his game today: “A person can be better than you, they can be more athletic, they can be stronger, they can be faster, they can be taller. But one thing they cannot do, they cannot outwork you.”

That has to be the most joyous aspect of what Lyles brings to the floor: effort.

He was all that on Friday, especially on the glass, where he had 3 offensive rebounds. Aside from hitting that buzzer-beater at the end of the first, much of his first half highlights were just displays of effort, even if nothing tangible came of them.

In the second half, he showed his defensive chops (going straight up on a contest) as well as his willingness to put in sacrificial effort as he did when he drew a charge not long before putting in a poster slam, something he’s done a lot of over the last month or two. 

And he kept up the ceaseless exertion on the boards in the fourth, until it resulted in him hitting the back of his head against the hardwood, forcing him to exit the game. It was a nasty fall and an unfortunate outcome that both his head hit the ground and no foul was called.

Mike Brown expressed regret not calling a timeout there when Lyles did have possession.

Keep an eye out on the status of Lyles going forward.

Going forward

Following this letdown, the Kings have to gear up for a road back-to-back. They’ll begin in New Orleans on Sunday night before heading to Houston.

After being one of the bigger stories earlier in the season, the Pelicans have hit rough times. Not only did they muster just three wins in all of January, they are 3-14 in their last 17 and are currently sitting on a 10-game losing streak.

Brandon Ingram has been back for a little over a week after missing 29 games. All-star starter Zion Williamson hasn’t played since January 2 with a hamstring injury and is set to be reevaluated in about a week.

It will be important to keep New Orleans down, not only to get the first of a road back-to-back, but also to bounce back from Friday’s loss.

Whether De’Aaron Fox will be available remains to be seen.

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[…] The last time Davion Mitchell got a spot start in place of De’Aaron Fox, the backup point guard failed to make his presence known. He was an absolute non-factor on offense. Not hitting from the outside and not attacking the basket. Of course, his defense was there, but his lack of resolve made things easier for the Pacers. […]

Dan Smith
Dan Smith
1 month ago

Didn’t like the effort in this game, the more of the guys would’ve been fired up to make a statement after Fox getting snubbed. Oh well, gotta get ready for the next one! Thanks for top notch recap, very insightful as always!