Depth. That was the Sacramento Kings’ claim to fame after a summer of change. 17 games into the season, that depth is the only reason that Sacramento has a fighting chance to recover from their horrendous start.
Injuries have sapped head coach Luke Walton’s rotation, leaving him to institute new schemes while adjusting to personnel. Despite back-to-back losses to the Celtics and 76ers, the Kings are still 7-5 over their last 12 games and four of those losses are by a combined 13 points.
Since it is Thanksgiving, this is a good chance to take a moment to dive into a few positives and negatives for the Kings' season with regards to depth. There are a few players stepping up, some that are being asked to do too much and a couple that aren’t living up to their billing.
- The 3-4 week window for re-evaluation did not result in a return for De’Aaron Fox, as he’ll be out a lot longer than that. On the plus side, he was able to take his boot off and walk on his injured ankle after just five days. That is half of the time that was initially predicted and it’s a good sign. But Fox’s recovery time is closer to 6-8 weeks than it is a month. If he returns before Jan. 1, it would be a shock. Keep in mind that a bad ankle can become a chronic issue and limit a career long-term. Allowing the ligaments to heal 100 percent is a key, and even then, this could be an issue that returns down the road.
- Buddy Hield without Fox is not the same. Hield is a great shooter and he has significantly improved at creating space and scoring off the dribble. Fox gets Hield 2-3 wide-open 3-pointers every game with his speed, which forces defenses to sag off just a little. Hield is averaging close to the 20.7 points per game he averaged last season, but after the loss to Philly, he's shooting just 38.6 percent from three. That’s still a really good clip, but it’s well below the 42.7 percent he averaged last year. On the plus side, Hield is on pace to make 318 3-pointers this season, which is 40 more than he converted a season ago.
- Cory Joseph wasn’t supposed to play this much. It’s hard not to get frustrated with the overdribbling and poor shooting, but Joseph is being asked to anchor the defense on one end and then run the offense on the other side of the court. Since taking over as the starter eight games ago, Joseph is averaging 4.4 points, 5.8 assists and 31 minutes per contest while shooting 29.4 percent from the field and 16.7 percent from 3-point range. He’s better against second-team players and as a secondary role player on offense. In a perfect world, Joseph would be playing 14-16 minutes a night as the secondary ball-handler alongside Bogdan Bogdanovic. That is not the hand that Walton or Joseph were dealt with the injury to Fox.
- Justin James is fun. The 23-year-old rookie played just 15 minutes over five games to start the season. But with so many bodies missing, the second-round pick out of Missouri is getting some burn and brings a lot to the table. Over his last four games, James has played 20.5 minutes per contest and been a cumulative minus-3 over that span. For a player that wasn’t expected to see time at all this season, he has been able to provide energy, defense and an occasional highlight-reel play. Walton has to like what he is seeing from James so far, especially with Trevor Ariza on hiatus.
- The Kings need Dewayne Dedmon to snap out of his funk. The veteran center posted a nice game against Philly, finishing with 18 points and six rebounds in 23 minutes of action. That was the first time this season Dedmon had gone for more than 11 points after averaging 10.8 points per game last year in Atlanta. Walton needs the player who shot 38.2 percent from 3-point range last season, not the one that has hit just 10-of-42 (23.8 percent) from deep through 17 games. In all fairness, Dedmon was supposed to be paired with Marvin Bagley, but that ended after the opener. If he doesn't find his game now, there’s a good chance he’ll lose his spot in the rotation when Bagley is finally healthy, which could come as early as this weekend.
- There was a lot of chatter about Harrison Barnes and the four-year, $84 million contract he inked over the summer. Barnes has been worth every penny through the first 17 games. He’s averaging 16 points per contest, shooting over 40 percent from 3-point range and getting to the line a career-best 4.5 times per game. Barnes has been a stabilizing force for Sacramento, both on and off the court. He’ll have to reinvent his game again once the team is back to full strength, but he’s versatile and knows how to adapt to any situation.
- The additions of Joseph, Dedmon and Ariza haven’t moved the needle, but signing Richaun Holmes to a two-year, $10 million contract is looking like a genius move for general manager Vlade Divac. Holmes took over the starting center job for Walton after just four games and he’s been very good for the Kings on both ends of the court. There is some concern as to how Holmes and Bagley will fit next to each other, but the 26-year-old has made a strong case to remain in the starting lineup. If Dedmon was averaging 11.8 points, 8.8 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game as a starter like Holmes is, no one would be talking about his contract.
- FIBA Bogi is a thing. Bogdan Bogdanovic was a star in international play. After a shaky first couple of games, he has settled into being an indispensable player on the Kings’ second unit, and he’s on the court at the end of most games. The third year-year wing is a star role player with a penchant for hitting a big shot. Like most of the other players, he would look a lot better with a healthy Fox and Bagley, but the Kings have to love his development so far this season.
- Nemanja Bjelica has earned a spot in the rotation long-term. It was a major question as to how Walton would manage his fleet of bigs early in the season. Bagley’s injury put the tough decisions on hold, but it won’t be long until Walton has to sit a few veterans. Ariza’s erratic play and absence from the team affords some time, and Dedmon’s struggles also create an opportunity. Bjelica looks slightly winded after playing major minutes early. His 3-point percentage has dipped, but he’s still leading the team at 41.8 percent. He’ll space the floor in a big rotation that includes Holmes and Bagley and maybe one other.