Kings

Do Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox make a case for NBA's Most Improved Player?

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USATI

Do Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox make a case for NBA's Most Improved Player?

Locked out of the offseason awards since Tyreke Evans took home the Rookie of the Year trophy in 2010, the Sacramento Kings have two legitimate candidates this season for the NBA’s Most Improved Player Award.

It’s a crowded field, but with the Kings drawing a lot of attention this season with their strong play, both Buddy Hield and De’Aaron Fox will receive consideration. One of the pair may even take home the trophy.  

The case for Buddy Hield

Coming out of Oklahoma, Hield walked into the NBA as a known scorer. In year three, he cemented himself as one of the premier shooters in the league.

After earning a starting role coming out of training camp, Hield instantly settled in next to De’Aaron Fox in the Kings’ backcourt. He showed improvements across the board, but his real leap came as a scorer.

Hield showed a 7.2 points per game increase over his previous season, jumping from 13.5 points per game as a sophomore to 20.7 in year three. He also set new career highs in rebounds, assists and minutes played.

Known for his ability to knock down the long ball, Hield hit 278 3-pointers, which is the seventh highest single-season mark in NBA history, and a 102-make increase over his previous best season.

Hield increased his 3-point attempts by 2.8 per game while seeing his percentage barely drop from 43.1 to 42.7 percent. He became the Kings’ most consistent scoring threat and he hit big shots all season long.

The case for De’Aaron Fox

Fox posted a decent rookie campaign last year, but he took a massive leap as a sophomore. Not only did he improve, but the 21-year-old point guard became the face of the Kings’ franchise, which showed a shocking 12 game improvement in the standings.

Like Hield, Fox took steps forward in almost every facet of his game. His scoring average jumped from 11.6 points per game as a rookie to 17.3 in year two. He improved his 3-point percentage from 30.7 to 37.1 percent and his overall field goal percentage from 41.2 to 45.8 percent.

As a rookie, Fox posted an assist-to-turnover ratio of 4.4-to-2.4. Despite the Kings cranking up their pace from 29th in the league to fifth, Fox successfully improved his assists to 7.3 per game while barely increasing his turnovers to 2.8.

Fox finished the season in the top 10 in both assists and steals and he looks like a player that can take another leap forward in his production. He has elite potential on both ends of the court, which bodes well for Sacramento.

Primary Competition

-Pascal Siakam had a tremendous season for the Toronto Raptors, and his team’s win total, although expected, may play a role in his candidacy.

Siakam jumped his scoring average from 7.3 points per game to 16.9 and added a career-best 6.9 rebounds per game. He went from a back end of the rotation player to starting 79 games on a 58-win team. He gets added points for being a late first-round selection.

-D'Angelo Russell went from bust to the leader of a surprise playoff team in Brooklyn. It’s a riches to rags to riches story for Russell who made himself a lot of money with his play this season.

Russell posted his best season as a pro, finishing the year averaging 21.1 points and seven assists per game while leading the Nets to a 42-40 record

-Montrezl Harrell found a home alongside Lou Williams coming off the Clippers bench. The 25-year-old undersized center bullied opposing bigs, helping lead Los Angeles back to the postseason.

Harrell averaged career-highs in points (16.6), rebounds (6.5), blocks (1.3) and minutes (26.3). He also shot 61.5 percent from the field and routinely dunked on his competition.

-Jon Collins slipped to the 19th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft and he’s making plenty of teams regret that decision.

The high flying power forward increased his scoring average from 10.5 points as a rookie to 19.5 as a sophomore. He made a similar jump as a rebounder, grabbing 9.8 rebounds compared to 7.3 in year one.

Collins flourished in Atlanta’s uptempo style, although the Hawks won just 29 games.

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Prediction

Both Hield and Fox have a strong case to win the NBA’s Most Improved Player award. Hield elevated his game to become one of the game’s elite shooters while Fox developed into a floor general.

If one of the two is going to win the award, Fox might have the advantage. He is the face of the franchise and his ability to change the game with his speed helped multiple players post-career years in Sacramento.

 

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

Harrison Barnes, Kings want chance to make NBA playoffs upon restart

When the global coronavirus pandemic shut down the 2019-20 NBA season back in March, the Kings were 28-36. Not the prettiest record.

But Luke Walton's team was making progress. They had won seven of the last 10 games, and were 3.5 games behind the Memphis Grizzlies for the No. 8 playoff seed in the Western Conference.

Now, with the NBA nearing a return-to-play plan, the question becomes: Will the Kings get a chance to compete for that final playoff spot or will the league move forward with the current 16 playoff teams?

"For us, we're kind of in a tough situation because we're on the fringe," Kings forward Harrison Barnes told Bleacher Report's Howard Beck on the "Full 48" podcast. "So in all these scenarios that are coming about, we're kind of that unique case where 'Well, do they get the play-in tournament? Do they get the five games? Since they're three games out, do they just go with playoff teams?' So you just try to stay in shape, stay ready, but you know whatever decision comes about, it's going to be made with everybody in mind, but not everyone's going to be able to be comfortable with that solution. Someone's going to get the short end of that stick, and we hope to have the opportunity to play."

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

One rumored scenario would see all teams returning and playing a few regular-season games before the playoffs start. Portland Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard opposed that idea last week because he doesn't feel his team would get a true shot at making the playoffs. He would prefer the Kings, Blazers, New Orleans Pelicans and San Antonio Spurs compete with Grizzlies in a play-in tournament to determine the playoff seed.

"I think Dame is right," Barnes told Beck. "I mean, if you come back and play, you want to be playing for something. The risk of traveling, being in Orlando in that type of environment, with any precaution that can be taken, there is a risk in that, so if you're going to be playing, you want to be playing for something. All of us who have been in isolation, we've been training, we've been hoping for this moment. You want to see that rewarded if you can, but if you're going to be in a situation where you do all this training and you come out there for a few games and you're not able to qualify for the playoffs, then it makes sense to probably have playoff teams and go from there."

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Barnes and the Kings are a young team that entered the 2019-20 season with high expectations. But injuries to De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley early in the year set the team back. Now, with everyone healthy, the veteran forward wants to see what the team could do if they were given the chance to compete against the Western Conference bubble teams.

"Our team is a little bit different because we had a lot of injuries throughout the season, and we were starting to hit our stride," Barnes said. "But now we're healthy, so if the opportunity is there for us to play and make the playoffs, we want that opportunity, we want to see where we're at. There's no other simulation we can get for games. This group, where we're at, we need to play, we need to play together, and playing for something is important."

[SPORTS UNCOVERED: Listen to the latest episode]

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

NBA rumors: Kings to get playoffs shot in potential Adam Silver plan

The Kings would get a chance to end their 13-year postseason drought in a proposal to restart the NBA season that reportedly is gaining momentum among the league's owners.

Sacramento would be one of 22 teams headed to Disney's ESPN Wide World of Sports just outside of Orlando in a plan that has "growing support," ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski and Ramona Shelburne reported Friday, citing sources. The Kings would also be included in a 20-team format that "remains alive," sources told ESPN.

Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported that the NBA will vote Thursday on a format to restart the season during a board of governors call. The league requires a three-fourths majority to approve any such plan, and the owners reportedly will vote with whichever format commissioner Adam Silver recommends.

The Kings were in the thick of a playoff chase when the NBA suspended its season on March 11 due to the coronavirus' spread, just 3.5 games back of the Western Conference's eighth and final playoff spot. Sacramento's game that night was supposed to the be the last before the league indefinitely shut its doors, but the New Orleans Pelicans -- the Kings' opponents that night -- were reluctant to take the court once they learned referee Courtney Kirkland had recently worked a Utah Jazz game. Jazz center Rudy Gobert's positive coronavirus test earlier that night prompted the league to suspend the season.

Teams that were within six games of the final playoff spots in each conference would be included in the 22-team format, according to Wojnarowski and Shelburne. The 20-team format reportedly would only include the top eight seeds in each conference and the four teams, including the Kings, within four games of the eighth seed. If the NBA opts to resume the season with 22 teams, there would be regular-season games and a play-in tournament "to compete for playoff berths in both the Eastern and Western Conference," Wojnarowski and Shelburne reported.

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The Kings have gotten good news all week, with NBA general managers reportedly preferring by a wide margin a "Playoffs Plus" format to resume the season with 20 or more teams and their inclusion in all the formats gaining traction among the league's decision-makers. 

Sacramento could get even better -- and more official -- news next Thursday if either a 20- or 22-team format is approved.