As we near the midpoint of the 2018-19 season–and with the Sacramento Kings continuing to defy expectations and remain in the thick of things in the ultra-competitive Western Conference playoff race–it’s time we look at where certain Kings stand in their hopes of earning recognition across the league.
Buddy & Fox
For starters, the Sacramento back court has an All-Star pairing of De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield, although both are capable of earning the All-Star merit on their own accord. There have been a number of bright spots and reasons for the Kings’ success thus far, but none more so than Fox and Hield.
Fox has improved across the board statistically and on both ends of the floor. He enters the new year averaging 18.3 PPG and nearly 8 assists a night, while scoring efficiently and bringing it on the defensive end on a nightly basis. The leadership qualities just ooze out of the kid.
Hield, unquestionably one of the league’s premiere marksman from deep, has evolved into much more than just a spot shooter. Buddy has made monumental improvements to his off-the-dribble game and can score at all three levels. The third year guard is flirting with 20 PPG and is among the league leaders in both 3’s made and 3-point percentage. It’s worth noting that the Kings haven’t had a guard represent them in the All-Star game since Mitch Richmond twenty years ago.
The Western Conference is loaded, especially at the guard spot, but De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield will be in serious contention to represent Sacramento at the All-Star game.
Piecing the Puzzle
Let’s not forget the expectation coming into the year. Most analysts and pundits had the Sacramento Kings as dead last in the conference and among the worst teams in the association. Las Vegas had the Sacramento Kings slated to win 25 games in 2018-19, a mark they will crush by mid-January. Dave Joerger and his staff enter 2019 with a 19-17 record, the first time the Kings have been over .500 this late in a season since 2005. Joerger has pressed all the right buttons, upped the tempo and integrated new pieces with Marvin Bagley, Nemanja Bjelica. Despite missing an integral piece in Bogdan Bogdanovic for nearly a month, Joerger was handed a roster with a surplus of big men, essentially no small forward, and has made it all work.
If Sacramento can break their 12-year playoff drought, or simply finish the season with a winning record, Dave Joerger will unquestionably be in the discussion for Coach of the Year.
For all the arrows Vlade Divac has taken since his return to Sacramento as an executive, even his harshest critics have to acknowledge the tremendous turnaround he has achieved. Divac not only changed the toxic culture but replenished the team with a strong nucleus of elite young talent that has meshed beautifully together. Divac certainly had his stumbles, most notably dealing away what would become an unprotected first round pick (2019) to create cap space to sign Rondo, Butler, Koufos and Belinelli four years ago.
But Vlade inherited a flawed roster and a cancerous locker room, that was over-reliant and submissive to temperamental young star DeMarcus Cousins. Divac’s transformed that into a jovial locker room where everyone seems to genuinely enjoy playing together. If the Kings can remain relevant, finish around .500 and/or earn a playoff seed, Vlade Divac’s name should be mentioned prominently for Executive of the Year.
A Bogi Finish?
Much has been said this year about what the Kings would look like had they drafted Luka Doncic. Doncic has been phenomenal and Adam Silver should just give him the Rookie of the Year trophy now because that race has been decided. But perhaps the reason Sacramento passed on the phenom is because of the belief they had in their own young stud, Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Bogi came to the Kings in a 2016 draft night trade. The Kings dealt Marquese Chriss to Phoenix for Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and an at the time little-known Serbian prospect named Bogdan Bogdanovic. Bogdanovic has flourished with the Kings basically from day one, making that transaction very one-sided. Despite easily being one of the best and most complete players on the team, Bogi has willingly accepted a reserve role with the Kings. He has proven to be the total package: adept at running the pick and roll, lethal taking it to the rim, from mid-range, or bombing from three, and has elite basketball IQ which is invaluable for such a young roster.
The 26-year-old guard also has proven to be a clutch performer for Sacramento, as evidence by his cold blooded, off-the-dribble three at the buzzer to beat the Lakers in late December. Bogdanovic will be a contender for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year trophy at year’s end.
Those who watch the Sacramento Kings on a regular basis have witnessed the turn around taking place in the City of Trees. Has the league taken notice as well?
Photo courtesy of the Sacramento Kings