Change is in the air.
According to a league source, the Sacramento Kings intend to shake up their starting lineup Thursday night against the Detroit Pistons and the move is unlikely to go over all that well with the fanbase.
Tyrese Haliburton is moving back to the second unit for the short-term and head coach Luke Walton is turning to veteran forward Moe Harkless to give his opening group more size.
According to a league source, the move is not considered permanent and Haliburton is the team’s long-term starter at the shooting guard spot. But the bench unit is struggling and they tend to play better with Haliburton working as the primary ball handler and glue guy. The rookie will also get a few more scoring opportunities playing opposite of De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Harrison Barnes for stretches.
Haliburton has started 12 consecutive games and the team is 7-5 over that stretch. But with the team mired in a four game losing streak and opponents with considerable size at the forward positions coming up over the next few games, the move was made during practice on Wednesday.
The plan is for Haliburton to play the same amount of minutes that he usually does for the Kings. He’ll likely come into the game around the six minute mark of the first quarter and bridge the gap between the starters and the second unit.
On the season, Haliburton is averaging 13.1 points, 5.1 assists and 1.2 steals per game for the Kings. He’s won two out of the three Western Conference Rookie of the Month awards this season and is in the hunt for the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award.
Harkless brings length and a defensive mindset to the unit. He arrived two weeks ago in a trade deadline deal with the Miami Heat and has fit in well early with the Kings.
While Harkless doesn’t have the playmaking ability of Haliburton, he’s a solid 3-point shooter and an active body. At 6-foot-7 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Harkless became one of the strongest and most versatile defenders on the roster the moment he joined the Kings.
Harkless brings a veteran leadership and he’s a player that doesn’t need plays run for him in order to impact a game. During the 2018-19 season, he started 53 games during the regular season and another 16 during the playoffs for a Portland Trail Blazers team that made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals.
With 21 games remaining in the season and the Kings on the outside looking in of the playoff chase, Walton is trying to balance his rotations. Whether the plan works or not will likely take a few games to figure out, but with teams like Utah and New Orleans coming up on the schedule, the added size in the starting lineup makes sense.
Whether moving Haliburton to the bench instead of one of the other starters is a debate for a different day.