The Sacramento Kings are in soul searching mode. Last season their identity was based on running teams ragged with their speed. They’re starting over at square one under new head coach Luke Walton and the transition hasn’t exactly been smooth.
After a sixth loss in eight chances, the Kings are showing signs of improvement. A four-point loss on the road in Toronto isn’t what the team was looking for, but it’s better than the 29-point loss to the Phoenix Suns in the season opener or the 30-point loss to the Utah Jazz in the third game of the season.
“A week ago, this was a game that was turning into a 25-point game, so to give ourselves a chance at the end is all you can ask for,” Walton told media members after falling 124-120 in Toronto. “At the end, they made shots and we missed them. You tip your hat to them, we learn from it.”
The early season is clearly a learning process for the Kings. Walton has torn the offense down to the bare bones and is rebuilding it from the ground up. In the meantime, he’s slowed everything down.
Some players are making the necessary adjustments, but for others, it’s a difficult transition. There will be highs and lows as the team works out the kinks.
After back-to-back strong showings against the Jazz and Knicks, De’Aaron Fox struggled against the Raptors. He turned the ball over a season-high seven times, including twice in the fourth quarter.
Fox is learning to use his incredible speed within a halfcourt set, instead of just in the open floor. Eventually Walton will loosen the reigns and allow Fox to combine the two ideas, but for now, growing pains are part of the process.
There were moments against the Raptors when Fox was unstoppable and other times where either focus or fatigue was an issue. If you take away the turnovers, he had a solid 17-point, nine-assist and seven-rebound night.
Despite Fox’s struggles against the Raptors, the Kings were in the game until the final moments. Walton has used his timeouts to stymie runs from the team’s opponents and his squad has shown a resiliency that wasn’t there during the 0-5 start to the season.
“They went on runs, they would take it to 12, 13 but we came down with composure, which is what we are talking about.” Walton said. “For us, it’s about always what are we doing next, what’s the next play that we can make for our team and tonight I thought we did a good job, even when they got up, staying within ourselves, trusting the system, trusting each other and just sticking around, close enough to make a run.”
Trust is a two-way street. Coming off a tremendous showing at the FIBA World Cup, shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic has struggled with his shot early in the season.
Against the Raptors, Bogdanovic missed all three of his field-goal attempts to start the first quarter and opened the second with a turnover and then another miss. Knowing that his team needs to get Bogdanovic going, Walton stuck with the Serbian scorer and Bogdanovic responded with his best game of the season.
After missing four straight to start the game, Bogdanovic knocked down seven of his next ten attempts, including six makes from behind the arc. He finished the game with a season-high 22 points in 32 minutes of play.
In order for the Kings to turn the tide on their 2-6 start to the season, they need to fire on all cylinders. Bogdanovic is a player that can be a difference-maker for the Kings and it’s possible that despite the loss, Walton may have gotten his sixth-man back on track by letting him play through his struggles.
The Kings still have a lot of work to do, especially on the defensive end, but there are clear signs of improvement overall. They’ll have another opportunity to continue to build on Friday evening when they face the Hawks in Atlanta.
Like Sacramento, the Hawks are a young team searching to find their way. After winning their first two games, they’ve lost three out of the last four and big man John Collins is out while serving a 25-game league suspension.