Kings Lead

1st Half Takeaways for Fox and Hield

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The Sacramento Kings have completed the first half of the 2019-20 season (plus a couple games) and the year has been nothing short of a failure to this point. Player regression, a new coach and ineffective system, and an injury plague — the Kings have the trifecta for disaster. A lot of what this team accomplishes (or doesn’t) revolves around their starting backcourt. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are half of the core group Sacramento plans to build around. So, what exactly have they shown us through the midway point of this season?

Fox Will Be a Top PG For the Next 10 Years

The only reason to be hesitant from calling him THE top point guard for the next decade is the other impressive young guards in the league, more specifically sophomore Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and rookie Ja Morant. It is definitively clear that the trio of Fox, Morant, and Gilgeous-Alexander will run the league at the 1 spot in the future. At the midway point, OKC and Memphis sit at 7th and 8th respectively, both playoff teams. The rookie of the year front-runner and former Clipper have arguably been the most important factors to their respective team’s success. Obviously, there is also the possibility for another hooper not yet in the NBA to achieve superstar status like these guys eventually will.

Fox constantly continues to improve. We saw it at the start of the year and even more so since the new decade has been upon us. Unfortunately, between these two stints was a high-ankle injury suffered in practice that kept the point guard out 17 games.

Swipa’s Recent Production

Through the first nine games in January, Fox has dominated by averaging 22.1 points, 8.3 assists, 5.0 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game. The Kentucky alum has also matched his scoring with efficiency going 49.1% from the field. From beyond the arc, Fox shot 36.0% during the first seven games of the new decade. He has slipped from deep recently, going 0-8 in Sacramento’s last two matchups at Utah and Miami.

Number 5 does still have his challenges from the free-throw line. Fox has shot a substandard 69.9% from the stripe this year. Despite the statistical improvements mentioned in the other aspects of his game, his free-throw stroke has remained poor into January, in fact, a few decimals worse than his season average.

And still, the most promising aspect of Fox’s game goes beyond the statistics. His ability to blow by defenders and get to the cup is unmatched. He is only becoming better at drawing fouls and it can be expected he receives more respect from officials in the form of foul calls as he progresses.

The other night, Fox spun Markelle Fultz around with a mean hesitation move and finished with a kiss off the glass in what should have been the game winner. Oh, and he got fouled.

Fox Can Dominant At Will

Fox has always had elite speed, a cash pull-up midrange jumper, and the ability to slash to the hoop. Lately, it has become apparent Fox has realized that he can blow by whoever attempts to defend him. James Ham of NBCS took a quote from Fox speaking on what he needs to do for the Kings to win.

“… For us right now, it’s been me doing a lot of scoring in the fourth quarter,” Fox explained.

This is where Fox’s unstoppable ability of getting to the rim has shined.

In four of Sacramento’s last seven games, Fox has scored eight or more points in the fourth quarter, scoring 15 in the heartbreaking loss versus Orlando on January 13th.

There has been a dreadful trend of the Kings falling behind by double digits early in games. Surely everyone on the team is as fed up as the fans are, but Swipa’s aggressiveness and will to win has been clear. While they have typically not been enough to win, Fox’s ability to take over is extremely promising and exciting to watch. The pieces around him will hopefully come together in the near future, but one thing is clear– Fox’s progression and growing dominance has solidified him as the Kings’ centerpiece in the years to come.

Buddy Hield’s Regression Is Not Totally His Fault

Every informed NBA fan is aware of the Buddy Hield contract saga that occurred before the season. So far, Hield has been disappointing after signing the nearly $100 million contract extension. Compared to last season, his field goal percentage has dropped 4%, three-point percentage 6%, and his percentage from the free-throw stripe almost 7%.

While the free-throw shooting is inexcusable, it seems there is some room to justify his shooting decline from the field. This justification is mostly derived from the system head coach Luke Walton has implemented. The team’s identity is clearly different from the one Dave Joerger had established last year. But, the Bahamas native has arguably been the player who has felt the most drastic change.

Last season, Buddy Hield had a clearly defined role. His job was to sprint to the wing or corner in transition situations for a possible quick three ball. He would occasionally be the ball handler in a pick-n-roll, but most of the time he would play off the ball and receive looks in catch-and-shoot opportunities. On the defensive end of the floor, Buddy’s responsibilities were usually minimal. He was never intentionally put on a top scorer or shot-creator from the opposing team.

Hield Has Taken On a Whole New Role

We’ve seen Buddy undertake many new roles in only a year of difference.

Hield takes at least 5-6 isolation possessions a game. Now while Buddy is obviously an elite shooter, his shot creating is lackluster. He is years away from being the shot-creating and isolation specialist that NBA fans see in players like C.J. McCollum and Bradley Beal.

Buddy Love has also become a primary ball handler in the pick-n-roll, compared to how rarely he was last year. Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic are clearly the best playmakers on the team. Buddy Hield does not dribble very well. In these pick-n-roll situations, as well as in crunch time, Kings fans are holding their breath every time he puts the ball on the floor. This year he has been additionally used as a ball handler, and he averages a full turnover more per game because of it. He’s an extremely talented scorer, but his abilities need to be catered to. We saw it happen last year and we saw the Oklahoma product thrive because of it.

Defensively, spectators have seen Hield matched up with opposing superstars. Every time, none of us can figure out why. Hield holds an inadequate defensive rating of 112.1 on the season. And still, he’s purposefully matched against scorers like Devin Booker and D.J. Augustin. Hield was the primary defender on both these guards throughout the contests. Booker finished the game (1/7, at Phoenix) with 34 points (team-high) and Augustin closed the game (1/13, vs Orlando) with 25. The point is, Buddy was smartly hidden on defense last year. This year, Hield is sometimes utilized like he is Patrick Beverley or another elite guard defender.

Buddy Is Most Valuable As Only a Shooter

It is okay to only be known as a top-tier shooter in this league. In fact, a shooter like Buddy Hield is increasingly becoming the most dangerous weapon for a team in the always-evolving NBA. The reality is, Hield is worth every penny of his contract in the role he played last year. The way we see him used this year, quite frankly, hinders a team.

Bonus: Kent Bazemore to Sacramento

Vlade Divac negotiated a trade Saturday afternoon with Portland General Manager, Neil Olshey.

The deal sends Trevor Ariza, Wenyen Gabriel, and Caleb Swanigan to the Trail Blazers. In return, the Kings received Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver, and two second-round picks (2024, 2025).

The deal has been finalized today (January 21st). Since the trade was first agreed upon, none of the players involved have been active for their respective franchises in the last few days.

Tolliver, Bazemore and Ariza have all experienced struggles this season. Perhaps a change of scenery for the three veterans will benefit them the rest of the year. Tolliver will be in his second stint as a member of the Kings, his first coming in 2016-17.

Other Notes

  • The Kings now own 13 second-round picks from now until 2025.
  • Portland cleared $12.5 million in salary and significantly decreased their luxury tax bill with this deal.

Follow us on Twitter @Kings_Lead for the latest Kings news and insight.

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About Kyle Easter

19 years old. Sacramento, California. Currently in school studying media arts- Journalism and Communications- Public Relations.

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