The Kings traded away agitated star DeMarcus Cousins to the Pelicans in early 2017 for a package including Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, and draft picks. Now, 10 games into the season, Sacramento is making progressive strides towards completing their long rebuild.
Sacramento has begun the 2018-2019 season with a record of 6-4 despite being projected to rank at the bottom of the Western Conference. The dynamic duo of De’Aaron Fox and Hield has propelled the team to their early-season success. The two have combined to average 38.3 points per game in about 32 minutes each. Both guards have begun to justify their high selections in the recent NBA Drafts.
When Cousins was initially traded to the Pelicans, it looked as if the Kings were, yet again, losers. Looking back at the transaction, the Kings were clear winners. Hield was a below-average and inefficient scorer on the Pelicans, but he found his stroke in Sacramento. He is currently averaging 19.7 points per game in his third year on efficient shooting splits of 53-48-83. Of the 10 games played this season, Hield has scored 20 or more points five times and has only scored less than 17 one time. The former Oklahoma Sooner turns 25 in December, which is not ideal for the long-term future of the organization, but his play has still given Kings fans hope for a successful future.
Although Hield is almost 25, Fox is emerging as the leader of the team despite only turning 21 in December. The point guard out of Kentucky is averaging 18.6 points along with 7.6 assists, 4.6 rebounds, and 1.3 steals. Fox shoots 50 percent from the field this year, which is a significant improvement from his 41 percent field goal percentage last year. What has impressed fans the most is how quick Fox has developed into a floor general. When he’s on the floor, he increases the pace of the game, and makes the Kings better offensively. The Kings have a 119.5 offensive rating when Fox is on the floor, while they fall to a 106.5 offensive rating when he is on the bench. Fox recorded his first triple-double of his career against the Hawks on November 1. In 34 minutes of action, the speedy point guard dropped 31 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds in a monstrous win against a lowly Atlanta Hawks squad.
The dynamic backcourt is aided with another Kentucky alumni, Willie Cauley-Stein. The 7-foot center is averaging a career-high 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds. Like Fox, Cauley-Stein gives the offense a boost in production. When he is on the floor, the offensive rating skyrockets to 123.9, but plummets to 102.8 when he’s subbed out. Like Hield, it’s concerning that Cauley-Stein blossomed into a productive player in his mid-20s, but nonetheless, it's positive for the Kings to have players developing and beginning to move the franchise away from the rebuilding stage.
The Kings management has failed to make significant offseason moves in a long time, but this past summer things changed. Vlade Divac signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a 3-year, $20 million contract during free agency. The move was questionable because Bjelica is already 30 and has never averaged more than seven points in his short NBA career. Divac could have very well been lucky, but the signing paid off nonetheless. The Serbian forward is averaging 14.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game on 56 percent from the field and 54 percent from downtown. He slots in at the power forward slot, giving Fox more room to facilitate.
The Kings’ other strong offseason acquisition was the second overall pick: Marvin Bagley III. In 23 minutes per game, the former Duke Blue Devil is averaging 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds on 53 percent shooting. He is expanding his game out to the three-point line and has shot 50 percent on the year, but he has only attempted 12 threes on the year. Due to Bjelica’s strong play, Bagley has yet to start a game, but his play has been promising thus far. He provides the team with strong offensive rebounding and finishing around the rim. Bagley is 19, so he has time to develop, but he needs to add strength to be able to battle down low against the best big men in the league. He is not suited to play center but will need to learn how to adapt to the five-spot because the league is going smaller.
The season is still young, but so far, the Kings have been impressive. Head coach Dave Joerger recently became the longest tenured Kings coach since Rick Adelman in 2006. It’s rare to see a Kings coach last so long, but Joerger has done a nice job in grooming the young players and creating a strong offense. The team is currently ranked first in the league in pace and fifth in the league in points per game.
Joerger’s job is secure, for now, but the team will need to continue this success for the organization to commit to him long-term. With the team on the rise, attendance should follow. The team has the lowest total of attendance this year despite the impressive start.
A 6-4 start to the season is nothing to celebrate, but since it’s the Kings, it shouldn’t be glossed over. Expecting even a .500 season is still far-fetched, but the improvements of each individual player is the important aspect of this hot start. It will be fun to watch this young roster develop over the course of the next couple years. If Divac continues to make smart offseason acquisitions, the organization may break their 12-year playoff drought sooner rather than later.