Kings

Why Kings' Buddy Hield thinks De'Aaron Fox can be one of NBA's best

Why Kings' Buddy Hield thinks De'Aaron Fox can be one of NBA's best

Losing five straight games to open the season was not how the Kings drew it up. Packed with talent, Sacramento was supposed to be on the rise, but a brutal travel schedule during the preseason, combined with a new coaching staff and early chemistry issues caught the team off guard.

Maybe the rough start was exactly what the Kings needed long term. Before the team resorted to finger-pointing and allowed the entire season to go up in flames, a few players decided to take it upon themselves to change the trajectory of the early season.

Harrison Barnes has taken over leadership roles behind the scenes and his post-game comments have been sharp and pointed. He’s not holding back and he’s demanding accountability.

On the floor, third-year point guard De’Aaron Fox looks like a different player. Fox is playing with force and truly becoming the head of the snake for the Kings.

In Friday’s win over the Jazz, Fox was the driving force behind the Kings. He attacked the teeth of the Jazz’s defense and showed no fear when the NBA’s two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, stepped up to stop him.

When his shot stopped falling late, Fox motored past Donovan Mitchell and Mike Conley and hit his teammates for open looks. It was a stunning glance at what the future might hold for the 21-year-old.

Following the win over Utah, Fox’s backcourt mate, Buddy Hield, chatted with NBC Sports California about the development he is seeing. Hield’s assessment was candid and even a little raw.

“That’s what he’s f---ing supposed to do,” Buddy Hield told NBC Sports California. “He’s supposed to make the right play, we trust him no matter what when he takes the ball in, but that was a good-a-- play.”

In Year 3, the Kings are expecting big things from Fox. Despite his age, he already is showing signs of being both an elite scorer and a very good distributor.

While he is starting to produce, his teammates understand his potential and they are trying to hold him accountable and support his growth as a player and a leader.

“I’m one of the guys that will be on Fox the whole time,” Hield said. “I’m always working with him after. He’s so talented and he has a long way to go, but you can see spurts.”

Hield knows the best is still ahead for Fox. As he grows into his 6-foot-3 frame and begins to gain a better understanding of the game, the sky's the limit.

Everyone would love to see the process go faster, but from management to the coaching staff to the players on the court, there is a long game that is in play.

“I try to teach him, if you get that habit where you can get s--- done now at an early age, you can be so elite when you get to 25-26,” Hield said. “He can be one of the greatest to play this game with his speed when he’s really in his prime and takes off.”

While Hield speaks glowingly of Fox and his development, there also are expectations that have to be met now. Sacramento walked into the season with aspirations of snapping the franchise’s 13-year postseason drought.

In order to accomplish that goal, the team needs Fox to be really good now, with the hopes of even more in the future. Hield, as well as others on the team, are taxed with keeping Fox grounded and on an upward path.

“I never want to give him all the praise and I’m going to stay on him because this is something he’s supposed to do,” Hield said.

Fox hasn’t been perfect early in the season. He’s struggled with his perimeter shot and turned the ball over more than you would like to see. But he’s quickly grasping the team’s new offense and he’s showing signs of defensive improvement as well.

[RELATED: Fox puts on show at MSG, shows he's built for big stage]

Through seven games, Fox is leading the Kings in scoring at 18.6 points per game and assists at 6.3. More importantly, he seems to have found a sense of urgency with the team starting off on the wrong foot.

“He’s a very confident kid,” Hield said. “He’s a worker. He’s learning each and every day. Every game some team tries to throw a different defense at him and just got to learn how to adjust quickly. He’s making good strides. He just has to stay humble and keep working.”

Head coach Luke Walton and his staff are trying to balance teaching and winning. He’s slowed down the Kings’ offense with the hopes of building a base that is sustainable.

Fox is beginning to flourish. Once a few more of his teammates are on board, Walton likely will loosen the reigns a bit and allow the team to push the pace.

The Kings are taking baby steps. They’ve won two straight and Fox is starting to look like the star that many people thought he would be when the Kings selected him fifth overall in the 2017 NBA Draft.

Marvin Bagley prepares for return, what does that mean for Kings?

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USATI

Marvin Bagley prepares for return, what does that mean for Kings?

The wait is over. Second-year power forward Marvin Bagley is finally ready to return to the court after breaking his right thumb in the Sacramento Kings’ opening night loss to the Phoenix Suns. He is listed as probable against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the previous 22 games.

Seven weeks is a long time to be away from live action, but Bagley has been active during the layoff. He was on the court within days of the injury, working with the team’s player development staff and staying in shape.

There is no word on whether Bagley will wear the soft cast that he has sported the last two months, but it’s unlikely he will have a minutes restriction when he enters the game for head coach Luke Walton.

After starting just four games as a rookie, Bagley opened the season with the first team, but a lot has changed since October 23.

Richaun Holmes wrestled the starting center position away from veteran Dewayne Dedmon after just four games. Dedmon is currently out of the rotation after shooting just 40.8 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range.

In addition to Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica has played well filling in for Bagley with the starting five over the last 22 games. Bjelica started 70 games for Sacramento last season and he’s currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting a team-best 42.6 percent from long range.

Where does Bagley fit in? Will Walton hand him his starting job back over a red hot Bjelica? Will Bagley need time to integrate back into the system? What combinations of bigs will work together on the floor?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered and all while the NBA schedule continues. With Bjelica and Holmes playing side-by-side, the Kings have found a rhythm as of late.

Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist that brings energy and defensive intensity. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is second in the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting.

Bjelica is a floor spacer that Walton has recently begun using to run the offense through in certain sets. He’s posting a career-best 2.6 assists per game, including 3.4 assists per game in the month of December.

While Holmes continues to stack up double-doubles, Bjelica has been instrumental in the team’s win in Dallas on Sunday and again in Houston on Monday when he won the game with a 33-footer at the buzzer.

Bagley is the future and before the injury, the present for Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big is the team’s best low post offensive weapon and arguably the Kings’ best rebounder. Like Holmes, he has springs in his legs, but he is a more versatile offensive player.

There is a legitimate concern that a pairing of Bagley and Holmes would clog the lane and create issues for the Kings’ offense. Neither is considered a distributor and they both have limited range at this point of their careers, which is why the Kings brought in Dedmon.

But the Kings don’t really have a choice. Bagley and Holmes are both dynamic players that need major minutes. Walton has shown an ability to make adjustments and he’ll have to find a way for his two best athletes to co-exist on the floor for at least short stints. 

In the previous two games, Walton has tightened his rotation to eight players, with Dedmon sitting out both as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t bode well for a player the Kings invested a three-year, $40 million contract in over the summer.

With Bjelica playing well, Walton has his stretch player to play alongside both Holmes and Bagley. He can also steal minutes at the four with Harrison Barnes, but he will need to figure out how to distribute time amongst a talented group.

Expect Walton to bring Bagley along slowly as they integrate him into the team’s system. The Kings have slowly began feeding the post over the last few games and the balance is needed.

Eventually Bagley will get back to playing 30 minutes per game. He’ll put up numbers, but Walton has the difficult job of managing the development of a 20-year-old player with unlimited potential that has missed nearly two months of action with a new coaching staff.

After digging an 0-5 hole to start the year, the Kings have a soft spot in their schedule and a legitimate shot at making a run at the .500 mark over the next week. Expect Walton to be cognizant of this fact as he tries to add an intriguing, but inexperienced piece back into the fray.

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.