When is it time to pull the trigger on a lineup change? This isn’t the first time the Kings have had to ask themselves that question, and it likely won't be the last, either.
Tuesday night's 127-118 loss to the Brooklyn Nets, Sacramento's eighth straight, clearly showed there's something wrong with the mix of players on the court.
Like most of the Kings' 19 losses this season, it started from the opening tip. One team looked ready, and the other did not. Sacramento gave up 42 points in the first quarter, trailing by 14 heading into the second.
It would have been much worse for the Kings if rookie Tyrese Haliburton hadn’t joined the lineup mid-quarter. He not only started hitting shots, but he set up his teammates for easy looks as well.
“My confidence is growing by the day, I just need to understand what is needed by me and that’s just to be who I am,” Haliburton said in a video conference with reporters. “Don’t be hesitant, I’m for a reason, right? Coach puts me in early, obviously because he trusts me. So I’ve got to take advantage of that and just be me.”
Haliburton is the future for the Kings, but he also looks like the best option for the present, especially while starting shooting guard Buddy Hield continues to struggle. As of now, coach Luke Walton isn’t ready to pull the trigger on a move.
“I know we’ve lost eight in a row and we’ve got to get off this, but I’d like to see a little bit more,” Walton said. “We were having some really good success with how that team was playing before, so I’d like to get a little more of a sample size before making any major moves like that."
The 20-year-old out of Iowa State matched his career-high of 23 points for the second straight game and chipped in nine assists with just a single turnover. For much of the night, Haliburton was the Kings’ best player.
“I feel good where I’m at, I know there’s a whole other level to my game -- a level that nobody’s ever seen,” Haliburton said. “I know that I’ve got to keep working through the years, because I think there’s another level for me to tap into. I don’t set a ceiling on my game, ever.”
Never short of confidence, Haliburton’s ability to take some of the play-making load off of All-Star snub De’Aaron Fox is a big boost for Sacramento. His play allowed the Kings’ leading scorer to score 15 of his 27 points in the final 12 minutes as they tried to keep pace with the Nets.
“He’s been playing extremely well over the last two weeks,” Fox said of Haliburton. “He gives us another dynamic, another guy that can make plays on the ball as well.”
Hield, on the other hand, scored just 11 points on just 3-of-9 shooting. Each of Hield's field goals was a 3-pointer, and he added four assists and five rebounds. Yet, he can’t impact a game the same way as Haliburton.
Mired in the worst shooting slump of his NBA career, Hield is shooting just 36.1 percent from 3-point range and 37.3 percent from the field this season. He also doesn’t have Haliburton’s play-making skills or defensive range.
Haliburton makes his teammates better on both ends of the court. That’s not something you can usually say about a rookie. He’s also shooting 49.8 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from 3-point range.
While he’s slight of frame, Haliburton has shown an ability to hold his own on the defensive end. His instincts in the passing lanes are elite as well.
This was the first time in six games that Walton had his entire starting lineup healthy. Before making any drastic move with his first team, he wants to give this group, who had a nice run just two weeks ago, a little bit longer of a look to get things going.
“I don’t know if that’s the move, but we’re looking at everything,” Walton said. “The tough part is this is the same group that had won seven out of nine.”
But with Haliburton rolling and the Kings’ season slipping away, it might be time to mix things up. Haliburton likely won’t get the same amount of touches that he’s getting now with the second unit, but he’s a more complete player than Hield even 29 games into his rookie season.
Hield’s ability to score might work with the second unit as well, like it did last season after Walton swapped Bogdan Bogdanovic into the starting five midseason.
Haliburton, for his part, is happy in either role.
“I’m just here to play basketball, I don’t control anything,” Haliburton said. “It doesn’t matter to me either way. I’m a part of this team, so I’m going to help anyway I can.”
The Kings have five more games until the NBA All-Star break. Their schedule lightens up slightly over the next two, but this team is in a tailspin and in need of a win in the worst way. If they continue to struggle leading into the break, this team could look much different once they return for the second half of the season.