SACRAMENTO -- Ten games into the 2020-21 season, and the Kings are searching for answers. They’ve had strong moments offensively, but the defensive issues are becoming too much to overcome.
Saturday's 125-99 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Golden 1 Center was the Kings' fourth allowing at least 124 points, and it might already be time for coach Luke Walton to shake things up in his starting lineup.
“Everything is always on the table, as far as where we can look to make improvements and adjustments,” Walton said.
After going with the same starting lineup through the first nine games, Walton was forced to switch it up against Portland after Richaun Holmes was a late scratch with a sore ankle.
Holmes' absence opened the door for Walton to start rookie Tyrese Haliburton in a small lineup. While Haliburton’s first career start was out of necessity, the rookie has played himself into the conversation for a spot on the first team, which Walton said he and his staff have already discussed.
“We’ve talked about it, and Tyrese has been very good,” Walton said. “As far as whether or not starting, you’re not always just looking to start the five, I wouldn’t even say best, guys.”
Without a lot of natural playmakers on the roster, Walton has tried to keep either Haliburton or starting point guard De’Aaron Fox on the court at all times. Bringing Haliburton off the bench makes it easier to ensure that, but Walton is mixing and matching lineups all the time.
Haliburton’s speed and energy on both ends of the court is a plus. Through eight games, he’s averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 assists and 1.4 steals in 28.6 minutes per game. He’s currently shooting 52.2 percent from the field and a stunning 50 percent from 3-point range.
Walton and the team’s medical and training staff are monitoring Haliburton’s minutes closely as a precautionary measure. The 20-year-old played in 22 games for Iowa State last season, and he’s nearly halfway to that figure in the first 17 days of the NBA season.
If Walton were to make a change, who would Haliburton replace? That’s a tricky question.
When everyone is healthy, Walton has used a lineup consisting of Haliburton, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Harrison Barnes and Holmes to close out games, leaving Marvin Bagley on the bench. But that's not the only option.
Bagley is young and still learning the ropes after missing significant time last season. He’s a strong rebounder and he’s active around the rim, but he has struggled to score on the inside and defend the perimeter. The 21-year-old remains a key part of the Kings' future, and he could have more scoring opportunities off the bench.
While Hield wasn’t happy playing with the second unit last season, he's struggling mightily out of the gate this year. After averaging 19.2 points per game last season, Hield has crested the 20-point mark just once in 10 games this season.
Hield currently is averaging 14.4 points per game while shooting just 33.7 percent from 3-point-range after Saturday's 2-for-8 performance. Walton is playing the 28-year-old over 35 minutes per game, but his struggles on both ends of the court are an issue.
Maybe Walton and the Kings stay the course with Haliburton coming in as a change-of-pace guard off the bench. After four losses in the last five games, the Kings look completely lost on defense and a change might do everyone some good.
Whether it’s now, later this season or at the start of next, Haliburton is a long-term starter for the Kings. They drafted him with the plan of pairing him with Fox, and he already has shown he's mature beyond his years on the court.
Haliburton's playing starter's minutes, and he looks capable of handling even a bigger role. It’s only a 10-game sample size, but Haliburton as a starter might give the Kings their best chance to win.