If the Kings are to reach their full potential, it begins with De'Aaron Fox and Tyrese Haliburton.
A team's star players are crucial to the fabric of the team's success. What a concept, I know.
For Sacramento, the team is deeper, better and more experienced than it was last year, and there's exciting, young talent up and down the roster. Both Fox and Haliburton have not lived up to expectations to begin the 2021-22 NBA season, but somehow the Kings have managed to hang around in every single one of their games, oftentimes leading in the fourth quarter of games when their stars are struggling.
So far that's been a testament to the depth and the veteran leadership off the Kings' bench.
Coming off a four-game road trip, the Kings returned home to Golden 1 Center on Wednesday night and beat the New Orleans Pelicans 112-99 in the second game of a back-to-back. A return to form for both Fox (19 points) and Haliburton (20 points) provided a sneak peek into what the Kings could be capable of when firing on all cylinders.
Fox had struggled shooting the ball through seven games prior to Wednesday's win, while Haliburton -- a 47.2 percent shooter from the field and 40.9 percent from 3-point range in his rookie season -- just wasn't shooting the ball enough at all.
Haliburton, the Kings' second-year guard, provided a spark Wednesday night after being called on by coach Luke Walton.
“I’ve challenged him," Walton said. "I want his personality imprinted on our team. He is that type of guy, and I want him as loud as he wants to be, and I don’t even care if he makes mistakes right now. If he wants to call his own play coming off the free-throw line, call it. The more that he can share who he is with the identity of our team, the better we’re going to be. The way he plays is the same way our culture is set up as far as the passing, the joy that he has. It was great to see tonight.”
Fox, one of the young leaders on the team, has spoken up and pushed Tyrese to shoot the ball more, even dating back to last season.
“We try and encourage him to shoot the ball, he’s one of the best shooters on our team, one of the best shooters in the league," Fox said. "He just has to have more attempts, and we’re trying to persuade him to get there when guys are going on the screen, especially that he’s a 40 percent 3-point shooter, he should be shooting that.”
Fox, whose shooting struggles have been the biggest storyline so far this season for the Kings, shot 57.1 percent from the field while draining two of three 3-pointers. Everyone from Walton to just about every player on the roster has been asked about Fox's struggles so far this season, and not a single one of them has expressed an ounce of concern. They knew his get-right game was coming, and it might have just happened Wednesday night.
“It’s a part of it," Haliburton said of Fox's struggles. "We’re going to struggle, everybody’s going to struggle. Obviously he hasn’t played the way he’s wanted to this year, but that’s our teammate, that’s our brother, so we’re here for him. Obviously you can see the frustration in his face, we can see the frustration, but that’s just a part of the game of basketball. I’m really happy to see him play well and now he’s just gotta keep it going.”
With both Haliburton and Fox seemingly returning to form against the Pelicans, it provided a glimpse into what could be the Kings' future if their stars continue to play like ... stars.
“Yeah it can definitely be good," Fox said of the Kings' chances. "Obviously we’re at .500 right now, but we could be a few games over. It’s probably the worst stretch I’ve had since I’ve been in the league as far as putting the ball in the basket. That’s not the only thing that the game is about, so it’s alright for me. But the team has definitely stepped up, we’ve won some games and definitely lost some that we feel like we should have won.”
Sacramento will get a much-needed day off Thursday before continuing their homestand against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday at 7 pm on NBC Sports California.