Buddy Hield

Why Luke Walton should go young, pull Kings starters to end NBA bubble

Why Luke Walton should go young, pull Kings starters to end NBA bubble

Is it time for the Kings to pull the plug on the Orlando bubble experience?

No, they can’t just pack up and leave Florida, but after being eliminated from playoff contention Sunday afternoon, the Kings are faced with playing two completely meaningless games.

Sacramento’s medical staff already has ruled starters De’Aaron Fox (shoulder soreness) and Richaun Holmes (hip soreness) out for Tuesday’s matchup against the New Orleans Pelicans, but it might be time to clear the bench.

With training camp set for November, and Dec. 1 still being discussed as the beginning of the 2020-21 season, the Kings, as well as the Pelicans, need to shift their approach to player safety for the future.

That means sitting players like Bogdan Bogdanovic, Buddy Hield, Cory Joseph, Harrison Barnes and Nemanja Bjelica, at least for much of the game.

On Sunday, coach Luke Walton said his squad hoped to play out the final games, but that was when elimination was a possibility, not a reality.

“With so much uncertainty, we don’t know when we’ll be playing again and these last three games are a great chance for us to continue to grow and to push,” Walton said. “We need to look at it as any other game.

"This is a great chance for us.”

[RELATED: Walton says Kings must 'feel that pain' after playoff elimination]

After losing to the Houston Rockets, this approach probably isn't appropriate or necessary. The chance of a player getting injured might not be extremely high, but if somehow it costs a veteran part of next season for a basic exhibition game, then the decision will have been a complete disaster.

The Kings brought a full roster. Yogi Ferrell deserves to show NBA teams that he can still play, despite being out of the rotation for most of the season. Justin James needs time on the court to develop, as does two-way player Kyle Guy.

DaQuan Jeffries has been a breath of fresh air for Sacramento, but like Guy, he’s on a two-way contract. Let him play 48 minutes if need be. Every minute is crucial for evaluating and building his level of experience.

Walton will need a few minutes from some of his veterans just to get the party started, but this should be development time, especially when you consider that the NBA standings for non-playoff teams was set on March 11 and wins and losses will not change how many lottery balls the Kings get on Aug. 20.

This isn’t tanking. This is the reality of the final two games of the 2019-20 season. They have zero value and the possibility, no matter how remote, of a player getting injured, should outweigh any other priority.

Kings' faith in Buddy Hield remains despite struggles in NBA restart

Kings' faith in Buddy Hield remains despite struggles in NBA restart

The NBA restart isn’t going as planned for the Kings. They're 0-3, looking at extremely long odds of recovering and competing for a playoff spot.

Individually, it’s a mixed bag for Sacramento. De’Aaron Fox has had moments and he’s averaging nearly 27 points per game in the bubble, but others are struggling.

Buddy Hield tops that list. The Kings' sixth man scored 21 points in the team’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday, but he hasn’t looked like himself throughout the restarted season.

“It hasn’t looked great at times, but we haven’t looked great at times,” coach Luke Walton said of Hield’s play during the latest episode of the "Purple Talk" podcast. “None of us played basketball for four months. Certain teams have handled it better than others, but there’s part of it that, it’s just that rhythm isn’t there for certain groups yet.”

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

The Kings’ second-leading scorer tested positive for the coronavirus on June 22. He was mostly asymptomatic, but was forced to quarantine for two weeks before games began. When he rejoined the team on July 12, Walton said Hield looked good and confirmed that he played well through the build-up to scrimmages and games.

“Buddy had a great training camp out here,” Walton said. “He really was locked in. He was passing, he was getting to the rim, he was knocking down shots. And I think like a lot of us, he was so anxious to play and then we lost that first game and it put us in a little bit of a rut.”

Hield hit just 2-of-13 shots in the opener against the San Antonio Spurs on July 31, including 1-for-8 from 3-point range. Without his 3-point shooting, the Kings lost and began the restarted season in a hole.

The loss wasn’t all on Hield, but his overall play in the next two contests has been erratic as well. Hield’s turnover numbers are up, hit shooting numbers are in the tank and his defensive struggles have been glaring.

Through three games, Hield is averaging 13 points on 32.6 percent shooting from the field and just 27.6 percent from long range. He has also turned the ball over 3.3 times per game, despite playing just 23.5 minutes.

Are the Kings asking Hield to do too much?

“We know his primary thing that we want him to do is be that big-time shooter for us,” Walton explained. “Kind of starting with his role, coming in with that second unit and then depending on what kind of game he’s having, how well he’s shooting, finishing games.”

“We also need him to continue to focus on playing defense, do coverages,” Walton continued. “He gets blitzed, so we need him to continue to work on his playmaking ability and being able to pass out of those blitzes, which he’s gotten much better at.”

The problem might not be that the Kings are asking too much, but that Hield is overcompensating for his shooting struggles by forcing things. It also appears that he is allowing his offensive woes to carry over to the defensive end.

[RELATED: Boogie appears to subtweet Kings after loss to the Mavs]

Walton and his staff want Hield to keep it simple. If the shot is there, he has the green light. If the shot isn’t there, give up the ball and move.

“What we need to continue to clean up is that when the shot is not there and there is not the direct line drive to the basket, we don’t want the 1-on-1 play,” Walton said. “We want that ball to move back and then turn him into a weakside shooter again or we’ll send another pick for him.”

Hield is a flashy scorer, and the Kings love that about his game. He has a penchant for getting loose with his handles, but he has also improved greatly as a distributor since coming into the league.

There is a happy medium somewhere, but Hield presses when his shots aren't falling and that compounds the issue. But like any great shooter, Hield will eventually find his stroke.

For now, the Kings are willing to allow Hield to play through his struggles.

“With Buddy, there is going to be some wild plays, but it’s also what makes him great,” Walton said. “In his mind, he’s not afraid of anything. So you’ve got to live with some of it.”

Expect Fox and the rest of the Kings to continue to feed Hield in an attempt to get him going. When he’s on, Hield is a tremendous asset to the team and he opens up spacing for everyone else.

Hield isn’t broken, but he’s pressing. If he can settle back into his role, the Kings have at least a shot to pick up a few wins in the bubble and come home on a high note.

Kings' free throw disparity too much to overcome in OT loss to Mavs

Kings' free throw disparity too much to overcome in OT loss to Mavs

The Sacramento Kings have a free throw problem. This isn’t Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals all over again. There isn’t some grand conspiracy. In fact, it’s pretty simple.

Players like Luka Doncic know how to draw fouls and the Kings do not.

On the season, the Kings rank 28th in free throw attempts per game. They also rank 18th in fouling their opposition. In the team’s 114-110 overtime loss to the Dallas Mavericks, these two issues converged into a perfect storm.

Sacramento committed a total of 37 personal fouls against Dallas on Tuesday, leading to 50 free throw attempts for the Mavs. It’s difficult to win a game when you are outscored by 31 points at the stripe.

“Hopefully it’s games like this that really help speed that lesson along, because that’s a game we probably should have won if it wasn’t for sending them to the foul line 50 times,” coach Luke Walton said following the loss. “Maybe we fouled them everytime, I’ve just never seen that before where one team shoots 50 free throws and another shoots 12.”

If it was just Doncic camped out at the line knocking down freebies, that’s one thing. The All-Star went to the charity stripe 11 times, scoring eight of his 34 points on free throw attempts.

“It’s part of the game,” veteran Kent Bazemore said. “Anytime you give teams free points, they’re going to be tough to beat.”

[PURPLE TALK PODCAST: Listen to the latest episode]

But the Kings fouled everyone, all game long. Kristaps Porzingis, went to the line 11 times, Dorian Finney-Smith shot nine freebies and Tim Hardaway Jr. went 7-of-8.

“At the end of the day, we can’t allow a team to shoot 50 free throws, whether it’s us actually fouling or if it’s the refs, it is what it is,” De’Aaron Fox said. “But we can’t allow a team to shoot 50 free throws.”

Fouling players is a huge issue and it almost seemed like it became contagious for the Kings. 10 players stepped on the floor for Sacramento. All 10 had at least two personal fouls. Eight had three fouls or more, with Richaun Holmes being the lone player to foul out.

Sacramento was more physical than what we saw in Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Magic, but there is a way to battle an opponent without constantly grabbing or getting caught in a compromised defensive position.

“I think there is a good amount on our players,” Walton said. “We talk about it all the time. We show film on it. We can’t grab to get around screens. We’ve got to keep our hands out -- show our hands and not come down. I do think when I go back and watch the film, there’s going to be a good amount that’s on us and that’s something we continue to harp about with our guys.”

Fouling on one end is an issue, but the Kings also lack the ability to get to the line themselves. Fox, who leads the Kings with 6.8 free throw attempts per game, managed to get to the line just twice, despite taking 27 shots on the afternoon.

Richaun Holmes led the Kings with four attempts, which is less than five different players on the Mavs.

For the Kings to take another step, they have to show improvement in both of these areas. They have to clean up the mistakes and they have to create contact on the other end.

[RELATED: Kings' NBA playoff inexperience shows in bad losses in Orlando bubble]

Against the Mavericks, Sacramento continued to make one error after another, on both ends of the floor, from the opening tip through the overtime session. The team’s inability to refrain from fouling in combination with their lack of physicality, cost them dearly.

With his team up 95-91 with 4:07 remaining in the fourth quarter, Harrison Barnes had Doncic off balance in the post and instead of going into his body and drawing a foul, he took a fade away jumper, which came up short.

After giving his team a 102-99 lead with 3:30 remaining in overtime, Buddy Hield fouled Hardaway Jr. shooting a 3-pointer, which allowed the Mavericks to tie the game.

These snippets replay themselves again and again throughout the game and the end result is a backbreaking four point loss in overtime and an 0-3 start to the seeding tournament.

The Kings still have five games remaining in the restart schedule. They played better against the Mavericks, but this is equivalent to playoff basketball. So far, the Kings haven’t played well enough for 48 minutes, or even 53, to come away with a win.