Following their fourth consecutive victory on Sunday, the Sacramento Kings had a winning record, ever-so-briefly. Their last two wins were especially noteworthy when you consider they defeated the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers on back-to-back nights. They were one Jimmy Butler shot away from an eight-game win streak. The last time they won seven out of eight games was during the 2005-06 season, which was also the last time they made the playoffs.
And although Philadelphia ended their streak Tuesday behind a ridiculous Joel Embiid performance, today’s likely MVP leader, the improvement has been palpable for Sacramento.
When the Kings lost Bogdan Bogdanovic and got nothing in return this offseason, many wondered what the organization’s next step would be. After the failed trade with the Milwaukee Bucks, and then declining to match the young guard’s offer sheet, they could have easily begun to reshape their roster.
The Kings didn’t make a big splash in free agency but they may have made the best decision in the 2020 NBA Draft when they selected Tyrese Haliburton. The Iowa State guard has been sensational in his first 20 games, but Sacramento’s success goes much deeper than their prized rookie.
The growth and development of De’Aaron Fox have been on full display early in the season and the 23-year old guard has been playing at a different level in his fourth campaign. His overall numbers haven’t changed too much from last year, but his efficiency is what really stands out. Better, the former Kentucky Wildcat is averaging more than 30 points per game over the last five games.
Best of all, perhaps, Fox has been clutch in crunch time for the Kings. Last week against the New Orleans Pelicans, 17 of his 38 points came in the fourth quarter. He also had 12 assists in that game, after he put up 43 points and 13 assists against the Pelicans earlier in the year. Sacramento as a team has been especially good in late-game situations this season.
Sacramento is 12-11.
11-4 in games that were within 5 in the last 5 and 1-7 otherwise.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) February 8, 2021
But the craziest thing elsewhere: while Fox leads the team in points, assists and steals, it is the big man from Bowling Green that leads them in rebounding and blocks. Richaun Holmes has been a vital part of this team, providing the energy and hustle on a nightly basis. The 27-year old is having a career-best campaign in virtually every statistical category and doing it on both ends of the floor. His outstanding play has carried over from last season, and the Kings are thriving because of it.
Holmes has easily been Sacramento’s best big man this season as Marvin Bagley III has struggled. After shooting 81 percent from the free throw line a year ago, Bagley is shooting just 48 percent through 22 games this season. Last month, Bagley’s father expressed his frustrations on Twitter, asking the team to trade his son. Should that come to fruition, it might provide some insight into how the organization feels about Holmes’ future.
Bagley will be a free agent after next season but Holmes will hit the open market this summer with plenty of suitors expected to make a run at him. Though Bagley is younger and has a higher ceiling, it is Holmes that has been the catalyst for Sacramento’s success. The organization doesn’t necessarily have to choose one or the other, but their recent history with player contracts doesn’t suggest they will pay them both.
Although the Kings boast a top-ten offense, they rank at the bottom of the league in opponent scoring and defensive rating. This is where the improvement must take place and, over the last handful of games, they’ve made great strides. As a team, they rank 11th in blocks with Holmes paving the way – his 1.8 blocks per game ranks 7th in the league. In the past four weeks, he has had three games with six blocks. Naturally, the Kings were 3-0 in those games.
Sacramento’s closing lineup of Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes, Fox, Haliburton and Holmes has been exceptional. They are outscoring their opponents by 21.1 points per 100 possessions, which is second-best in the league this year according to NBA.com. If you were wondering how the Kings are 11-4 in games that were within five points in the last five minutes, there is your answer.
Luke Walton has been on the hot seat on a number of occasions, but he seems to be getting through to this group. Moving the ball extremely well on offense, the Kings have become much more difficult to defend. All over the place, Walton has also been able to use Holmes in different areas on offense.
One thing that doesn’t get enough attention with big men is their ability to be a good screener. Holmes sets excellent screens and is able to finish in a variety of ways. On top of all that, his mid-range push shot has been unstoppable this season.
But needless to say, one of his greatest assets is his quick decision making. Once he gets the ball, Holmes either gets a shot up quickly or moves the ball to the open guy. That high-level IQ is wildly underrated and something that a guy like Deandre Ayton could greatly benefit from.
Keeping Holmes this summer will not be easy should Sacramento want him. There is already more cap space available than players to spend it on, and he will be highly coveted.
The Kings are hot, but the Pacific Division is arguably the deepest in the league. With the trade deadline fast approaching, it will be interesting to see if the Kings are buyers or sellers as they are on the cusp of returning to the playoffs.
For now, they can take solace in knowing that things finally seem to be trending in the right direction for this franchise – at long last.
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