In May 2006, Daniel Powter’s “Bad Day” was topping the Billboard chart, Owen Wilson had just made his debut as Lightning McQueen in “Cars” and Sacramento Kings forward Keegan Murray was counting down the days to his sixth birthday. Now, almost seventeen years later, Kings fans are celebrating the team reaching the NBA playoffs for the first time since 2003. With standout performances from De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, there is optimism that the Kings will be able to break the cycle and continue to make the playoffs in the future.
When the Kings chose to trade the talented, young point guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers at the beginning of 2022, numerous questions were posed. Haliburton was drafted at the No. 12 spot by the Kings and many saw him as the point guard of the future for the organization. The 6-foot-5-inch playmaker was selected for the 2021 NBA All-Rookie First Team and ended up in third place for Rookie of the Year voting after his debut season in the league.
Having averaged 13 points, 5.3 assists, and three rebounds in his first year, Haliburton maintained his level of play in his sophomore season, attaining a record-high 38 points and 17 assists early on. However, the Kings started to doubt his compatibility with Fox in the backcourt, thus prompting a noteworthy trade to the Pacers.
Tristan Thompson and Buddy Hield accompanied the guard to Indiana, with Justin Holiday, Jeremy Lamb, a 2023 second-round selection, and most significantly, Sabonis shifting to California. The Lithuanian, son of Hall of Fame center Arvydas Sabonis, has thrived since joining Sacramento and is currently enjoying one of his finest NBA campaigns, with personal bests in rebounds and assists and his third All-Star selection. Not long after the trade, Sabonis spoke to The Athletic and expressed his enthusiasm for what the Kings had in store, saying, “They brought me here, and we want to switch things, you know?”
“It’ll be a lot of fun. It’s just little by little, I think we’re doing great things and going in the right direction. We’re gonna have a big summer – we’ve been talking about it. And then we’ll have a good training camp and get all the people together, you know?”
All changed in the off-season
After a poor start to the 2021/22 season, Luke Walton was removed from his position as head coach of the Kings. Alvin Gentry was chosen to take over on an interim basis and was eventually dismissed after the campaign ended.
The Kings then appointed Mike Brown, the associate head coach of the Golden State Warriors, as their head coach for the 2022/23 season. Brown had just been part of a successful Warriors team, who had won the NBA Championship against the Boston Celtics.
Brown has implemented a new way of playing for the Kings and has transformed them into one of the most entertaining teams in the league.
The addition of Brown, guard/forward Kevin Huerter, and shooting guard Malik Monk has been integral to the transformation of the King’s offense. Huerter and the fourth-draft pick Murray have both been shooting more than six threes per game and connecting at over 40%. Monk is not far behind in terms of 3PA and 3P%, showing the scope of the changes that have been made and the care taken in constructing the team. Last season, the team was 21st in terms of three-point attempts and 24th in terms of three-point percentage, but those numbers are now significantly improved.
This season, Brown’s squad has advanced to the seventh spot in 3PA rankings, averaging 36.9 attempts per game at a rate of 37.4% which is the eighth highest in the NBA, showing the noticeable improvements in their offense. One of the prime catalysts for their success has been the dependable contribution of Fox in close games. The 25-year-old is leading the NBA’s Clutch Player Ladder and has been a major asset in aiding his team to gain important victories when it matters most.
The attack is the best form of defense
This season, the Kings have been first in the league for points-per-game with a remarkable 120.9, a substantial increase from their 16th place last season with 110.3. With their improved roster and offensive strategy, their offensive numbers have skyrocketed. This can be seen with their 26th place in defensive rating, showing their aggressive play. This was demonstrated in their record-breaking game against the Los Angeles Clippers, where Fox scored 42 points and 12 assists, and Monk put up 45 points from the bench with six threes, helping the team win 176-175 in the second-highest scoring matchup in NBA history.
‘Light the beam!’
The Golden 1 Center’s devotees have wholeheartedly taken part in the Kings’ success this year. The team projects a giant purple beam into the sky following every home victory, and this tradition has now become a vital component of their culture. As soon as a win is in sight, the entire crowd begins to chant “LIGHT THE BEAM! LIGHT THE BEAM!”, and the event has become a viral sensation. Even if the Kings suffer a defeat, other teams and fans do not mock this but rather show admiration for how it has fostered a strong relationship between the fans and the team. Regardless of what takes place in the playoffs, Sacramento has experienced a transformation this season, playing an exciting, courageous style of basketball that has captured the hearts of faithful fans. Everyone in the city will be wishing that the Kings keep the beam illuminated during the postseason.
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