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The NBA is nearly back — how exactly (and with what measure of success) is yet to be seen, but there is a plan and structure worth building from. For teams on the bubble, getting into the play-in tournament will be the most and immediately pressing issue. But the other bracketed, locked-in franchises, jockeying for home-court advantage, must get serious and knock off that rust. Out westward, the stakes are even higher — and for those hungry at a postseason without the Warriors, this is a key moment in franchise history.
For the Sacramento Kings, it’s time to hand every single key on the ring to De’Aaron Fox and get out of the way.
All things considered, Sacramento is lucky to be here, just as the Portland Trail Blazers and New Orleans Pelicans are too. At 28-36, they’re right in the hunt for a play-in showdown of sorts. But they’ll need to keep pace with the upstart Memphis Grizzlies and three other teams to do just that. And although they’ll need to face the Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets, they’ll also get the Brooklyn Nets — sans Kevin Durant or Kyrie Irving — Orlando Magic and the Pelicans twice. As far as controlling destinies go, they’ve got a puncher’s chance.
And although momentum is a thing of the past, notably, the Kings were 13-7 over their last 20 games heading into the stoppage.
Harrison Barnes may own the postseason pedigree, while Fox boasts the skill set of a future superstar – but Portland has, presumably, Damian Lillard; New Orleans has, presumably, Zion Williamson; and the Grizzlies have the current standings advantage. Of course, Buddy Heild needs to get hot, stay hot and be Fox’s right-hand man – ultimately, that’s not all that interesting of an observation.
Herein lies, however, the two most interesting Kings-related subplots as the league moves toward an Orlando bubble. The obvious potential X-Factor is Bogdan Bogdanovic, a player so good that the Kings almost traded him away before restricted free agency this summer because they were afraid they couldn’t afford the cap penalties an albatross deal might bring. Thankfully, in February, Sacramento was able to shift Dewayne Dedmon, thus opening up the ability to match just about anything — which, reportedly, they are likely to do.
Unless you’ve lived under a rock, the list of Bogdanovic’s plaudits is no secret. Now with over a decade of professional basketball experience, the 6-foot-6 do-it-all playmaker achieved almost everything up for grabs in Europe. Between a EuroLeague championship and a well-earned Finals MVP, Bogdanovic had climbed the throne before even stepping foot in America. From the get-go, his basketball IQ, play-running and shot-making were NBA-ready and he’s only improved with time.
Crucially, on a roster helmed by Fox, Bogdanovic does not need to score to be effective and his frequent off-ball movement is a major floor-opener. The Kings were 10-3 this season when Bogdanovic dropped 20 or more points and he could stand to shoulder even more of the offensive load. The Serbian’s 36 percent clip from three-point range in back-to-back seasons is largely forgettable, but he’ll have loads of previous high-pressure successes to fuel him through any elimination games he may face in empty Florida arenas.
Dedmon, naturally, has a connection to the Kings’ other looming X-Factor, Richaun Holmes. Neglected in Philadelphia and an afterthought in Phoenix, Holmes ended up in Sacramento last summer and quickly became a fan favorite. But with the team investing $40 million in Dedmon, Holmes wasn’t expected to be a key feature for the Kings in 2019-20 – and, well, that changed in a big way. After just five measly games, Holmes took over the starting role and absolutely ran with the newfound opportunity. The 26-year-old would notch 13 double-doubles (and finished with nine rebounds in four other games), well on his way to career-highs across the board. During a slim one-point defeat to Minnesota in December, Holmes tallied 20 points, 18 rebounds, two steals and two blocks on 60 percent shooting and 44 minutes.
It seemed like a star was swiftly rising on the horizon… until injury struck.
Suffered on Jan. 6, Holmes’ torn labrum was a momentum-killer, an ill-timed ailment that kept him out for 24 games.
Given the questions of health surrounding both Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley, the chance is there for Holmes to usurp the franchise order. Sticking Holmes on Nikola Jokic or Jusuf Nurkic might be a tough ask, but it’s certainly better than the alternatives. Better yet, Holmes — who lives in the paint – pairs wonderfully with the court-stretching Nemanja Bjelica and declutters the lane for an attacking Fox or free-roaming Bogdanovic.
By the time Holmes was re-arriving on the scene for Sacramento, the league was teetering on the brink of cancelation. But in a double-digit victory over Portland, Holmes snagged 10 points and eight rebounds in 19 minutes – nothing major, but certainly an improvement over the likes of Giles and Alex Len.
Since Bagley was drafted in 2018, the Kings’ future has looked brighter — Fox, Bogdanovic, Hield and Giles – but, all at once, Holmes has forced his way into the conversation after just 40 games. While the fit alongside Bagley is potentially suspect, that’s a future problem. Today, right now, for getting into the altered play-in tournament and the right to face the Los Angeles Lakers, Holmes is crucial. His recovery and health some three months later may even dictate if the Kings have a shot here at all.
The focus falls rightly on the shoulders of Fox, but if the gritty Kings end up in a first-round battle for California, check the tapes on Bogdanovic and Holmes – they’ll certainly deserve their fair share of the credit.
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