A new era of Kings basketball was ushered in with a meme.
Following the first game Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox played together after the 2022 trade deadline -- a 132-119 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves -- a screenshot of an embrace between Sacramento’s new star duo took over NBA Twitter.
The hug lasted a brief second. But Kings general manager Monte McNair is hoping he found a partnership for the long-term.
At last year's trade deadline, McNair sent promising young guard Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers as part of a six-player deal for Sabonis -- a two-time All-Star center, double-double machine and intriguing co-star for Fox.
Fox and Sabonis still will be working out the kinks to their union heading into the 2022-23 NBA campaign, as they shared the court in just 13 games last season.
“[Sabonis] has been here for, what, maybe eight months?” Fox told reporters at practice Thursday. “He’s someone who is, one, easy to get along with, easy to get to know on and off the court. He is a willing passer. He wants to get you open. It’s easy to play with someone like that.”
On paper, Fox and Sabonis are a perfect pick-and-roll match.
Over the first five seasons of his career, Fox has proven to be most potent with the basketball in his hands, creating opportunities for himself and teammates by driving to the basket with blinding speed.
Sabonis, a 6-foot-11 center, isn’t the type of big man to block many shots, but he is an elite scorer in the post and one of the craftiest passers in the game.
New Kings coach Mike Brown wants to take the Fox-Sabonis offensive attack a step further. Sacramento won't just be relying on the pick-and-roll.
"Coach [Brown] really wants us to play off the ball in general," Sabonis told reporters Thursday. "If Fox and I can develop our two-man game doing that, it’s going to be even harder to stop. Because when it’s pick-and-roll, eventually it gets easier to guard after a period of time.
"If we can develop an off-ball game, then it’s going to be really tough [for opposing defenses]."
Sabonis' passing ability has the potential to open up a new part of Fox's game. Getting Fox moving in the Kings' offense without the ball in his hands and using that speed to manufacture space and get open instead of purely serving as a shot creator should free up opportunities for himself and teammates.
Over a small sample size in Sacramento, Sabonis has shown glimpses of what that could look like. In the opening minutes of his Kings debut, Sabonis dribbled the basketball across half-court and served up a perfect alley-oop pass to Chimezie Metu for his first assist in Sactown.
“It’s definitely different,” Fox said of playing with Sabonis. “We all know that he can pass the ball. We all know that he can score the ball as well. I have never played with a big who you can really just play through like that. It’s definitely an adjustment period, but he makes the game easier for everybody.”
Fox and Sabonis played 360 minutes on the floor together last season before the guard missed Sacramento’s final 11 contests with a hand injury and “Domas” was sidelined for the final nine with knee issues.
In those 13 games played together, Sabonis averaged 18.1 points, 11.8 rebounds and 5.8 assists and collected 10 double-doubles along the way.
Fox logged 27.8 points, 6.2 assists and 4.2 rebounds over that span, a bump from his season marks of 23.2 points, 5.6 assists and 3.9 boards. He tied a career high with 44 points on 18-of-31 shooting in the Kings’ 114-113 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on March 5, a game that Sabonis notched a double-double to go along with six assists.
The Kings ranked 24th in the NBA last season with a 109.6 offensive rating. When Sabonis and Fox shared the floor, that number bumped up to 115.2. Again, a minuscule sample size, but that offensive rating only would rank behind the Utah Jazz (116.2) last season.
Once again, the biggest storyline following the Kings into the season is their 16-year playoff absence. That's now the longest active postseason drought in North American professional sports after the Seattle Mariners punched their first MLB playoff ticket in 21 years on Friday night.
The road to the NBA playoffs is one that will need to be paved by Fox and Sabonis.
"It’s a new year," Sabonis said. "We’re a whole new team. Everybody has the same goal to come in and have a successful season.
"By doing that, if we also break this streak, it would be really special and it would mean more."