The Sacramento Kings are getting very good at pulling off the unexpected.
They have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA, like the Mavericks and Rockets. They have also lost to some of the worst, like the Knicks and Bulls.
Just when you think all is lost, it’s not. Just when you feel like they’ve figured things out, they haven’t.
Part of the Kings’ issue has been the devastating early season injuries to Marvin Bagley and De’Aaron Fox. Bagley returned four games ago after missing 22 games with a broken right thumb, and on Tuesday evening in Charlotte, De’Aaron Fox stepped on the court after a 17-game absence.
“It was nice to get De’Aaron Fox back out there,” head coach Luke Walton told reporters following the team’s 110-102 loss to the Hornets. “I thought he looked good and was moving well, created some good looks and opportunities for us and we will continue to get better and learn from this game.”
From the moment Fox stepped on the floor in the middle of the first quarter, the speedster looked like he hadn’t missed a beat. One of his first touches he caught a pass from Buddy Hield at the elbow and then fired it back to his shooting guard for an open 3-pointer in the corner.
“It was different,” Fox told reporters following the game. “You can do all of the conditioning that you want, it’s not the same as playing basketball.”
Fox didn’t look like a player who had just missed two-thirds of the early season with a severely sprained left ankle. He also didn’t play like one.
De’Aaron just jumped over Graham 😲 pic.twitter.com/VfHtUOXn1o— Kings on NBCS (@NBCSKings) December 18, 2019
Despite jumping the timeline for recovery by 2-3 weeks, Fox was ready to compete. He played just under 30 minutes off the bench for Walton, scoring 19 points, dishing out eight assists and picking up two steals.
Fox turned the ball over three times, including a tough one late in the fourth, but he didn’t miss a beat after five weeks away from the team.
Adding both Fox and Bagley back into the lineup is a huge challenge for Walton. The team has played well as of late without them, but both players are the future of the franchise.
In his first year in Sacramento, Walton has had to build new offensive and defensive schemes on the fly while balancing a preseason trip to India and a roster overhaul.
His team had just found a rhythm, and now they have two major minutes-eating young players to work into the fray while fighting to stay in postseason contention.
“It’s different because the whole time I was out and De’Aaron [Fox] was out, they had a certain group and we just need to work our way back in,” Bagley told media members. “It changes it up a little bit, but I think it’s coming along. It’s coming along fine. Like I said, we just let this one go. It’s nothing to worry about. We just have to fix our mistakes and continue to move forward and try to win.”
Cory Joseph stepped up in a big way in Fox’s absence, and reserve Yogi Ferrell did as well. In the post, Nemanja Bjelica and Richaun Holmes formed a dynamic forward/center combo.
The adjustment period to adding both Fox and Bagley won’t be easy. Offensively, the pair looked solid against the Hornets, but on the defensive end, there were struggles.
“We have to try to make every possession as tough as possible, try to make them miss shots and try to force them to turn the ball over,” Fox said. “I don’t think we were making them miss shots and they had a lot of offensive rebounds, a lot of second chance points today.”
Fox can attack as an inline driver, but his lateral quickness isn’t quite where it was before. He’s probably still a week away from being back to his old disruptive self on the defensive side of the ball. In the meantime, he will need support from his bigs.
Bagley is in a different boat. It looks like he’s kept up with the offensive game plan, but defensively, he needs a lot of work. Whether it’s scheme or just defensive instincts, Bagley has been slow to rotate and out of position as a help defender on plenty of occasions in his four games since returning.
Bagley will need to work overtime with the coaching staff to clear up some of the issues he is having. Walton has used him primarily at the center position in his return. He’s playing alongside Bjelica for long stretches, with an occasional stint with Harrison Barnes.
[RELATED: How Bagley can take next step]
Barnes is a combo-forward and holds his own, but he’s not a natural shotblocker. Bjelica is a decent team defender and plays with a high basketball IQ, but he struggles in space and isn’t a true shotblocker.
Sacramento signed Dewayne Dedmon to play alongside Bagley in the front court. The veteran big is solid defensively and coming into this season, he was a strong perimeter shooter. The Kings planned to have Dedmon start in the frontcourt with Bagley, but he has struggled with his shot and is currently riding a streak of six straight DNP-CDs.
Injuries are part of the game. So is adapting to the return of players who have missed valuable time with the team. Walton had just started making inroads with his group and now he has to adapt again.