The 2019-20 season did not start as planned for the Sacramento Kings. Before they could get out of Phoenix on opening night, Marvin Bagley broke his right thumb. De’Aaron Fox severely sprained his ankle during practice before the Kings could get through the first 10 games of the season and the team completely stumbled out of the blocks.
No one wants to begin a season that way, but the Kings were forced to scramble and it might have prepared them for what lies ahead with the Orlando restart.
“It helps in a sense that we’ve had to play different styles of basketball,” Walton said. “When you lose Marvin and you lose De’Aaron, you know you’re not going to play as fast, you’ve got to rely on execution to win games and defense.”
After leading the NBA in pace during the 2018-19 season, the Kings were a more methodical team this season, especially with Fox and Bagley on the shelf. One of the ways they can earn an advantage in the restart is to focus on pushing the tempo.
“Look, we’re going to win games by being a fast team and we’re going to win games by being able to execute in the fourth quarter,” Walton said. “We’ve played both styles so far this season and because of what we’ve gone through as a team, we know what that looks like and now it’s just about getting sharp with those things again.”
Walton, and every other NBA coach in the bubble, understands that this is not a normal situation. There is a higher risk for injury due to a lack of preparation time and the potential for the coronavirus finding its way into the bubble is always going to be hanging out there.
“We’re going to go through a lot,” Walton said. “Players are going to be joining us. Players are going to be leaving us. There is just going to be so many unknowns that we have to be ready to react and adjust to everything.”
One of the biggest obstacles facing Walton and the Kings is the loss of Harrison Barnes. Barnes announced on Tuesday that he had tested positive for the coronavirus and he is part of the NBA’s protocol.
“There’s a lot of tricky parts about losing Harrison, but one of them is he plays a lot of three and four for us,” Walton said.
Barnes spoke to the media on July 3, before testing positive on either the fourth or the fifth of July. He could make it back in time for the action, but it depends on how his body reacts to the virus.
At this point, veterans Kent Bazemore and Corey Brewer are getting a lot of time at small forward. Two-way player DaQuan Jeffires also has gotten a look and, according to Walton, is playing well.
Once Buddy Hield is completely cleared for action, Walton also will have the ability to use Bogdan Bogdanovic for stretches at the wing.
“Now that we have Buddy back, we’ll see some more of Buddy and Bogi on the floor together, but it’s by committee right now,” Walton said.
The small forward spot isn’t the only issue that Walton is dealing with at the moment. Alex Len is still in the NBA’s protocol back in Sacramento and Richaun Holmes has been quarantined to his room for 10 days for violating the bubble rules.
That leaves a small group of players at the four and the five, including Nemanja Bjelica, Bagley and Harry Giles. Jabari Parker also can play some minutes at the power spot, but he has played in just one game since joining the Kings via trade in February.
“The only two bigs we have right now are Marvin and Harry,” Walton said. “So they’re both getting a lot of reps and they’re both playing great. They’ve looked good, they’re moving well and they’re getting 100 percent of the reps right now.”
Len is getting closer to a return. According to Walton, he is feeling better and just waiting to clear protocol. Barnes also is doing well, but he’s likely a week or more behind where Len is in clearing the NBA’s hurdles.
“We need those guys -- Harrison and Alex especially,” Hield said. “I feel like we have to take it one day at a time, one practice at a time. Whoever is out there to go to war with us, we have to be ready.”
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The bubble is proving to be one giant scramble for teams. The Kings have been one of the more impacted teams by the virus and protocol early on, but it’s still early in the process.
There is a chance Sacramento will walk into the action with a complete roster ready to compete for the playoffs. Then again, nothing has gone as planned this season for the Kings.