The 2020 NBA draft was labelled by many pundits as a draft full of projects and future role-players, but the Sacramento Kings may have lucked their way into a foundational piece for the future of their franchise.
The Sacramento Kings have been a middling team for the past two years. They have flashed immense potential when starting backcourt De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield’s shots are falling and the complementary pieces like Harrison Barnes and Richaun Holmes are playing their part.
Consistency has been a major problem for the Kings in this time frame though, both on and off the court. There have been a myriad of issues surrounding this team for what feels like forever. I have been following the Kings since 2010 and don’t remember the last time I was as happy with parts of the team as I am this year.
Buddy Hield caused a lot of off-the-court drama for the Kings when he was benched last year, Marvin Bagley III causes a lot of on-the-court drama every time he touches the ball and doesn’t just pass it back to De’Aaron so the Kings have an actual chance at winning, or at least scoring on that possession. Not to mention the Marvin Bagley Senior ‘trade my son’ demands and online tiff with De’Aaron Fox’s father, more unnecessary off-the-court drama.
Trust me Mr. Bagley, I want your son gone as much as you do.
This year feels different. There is a calming force and a true sense of stability to the Kings franchise that I don’t feel has existed for a long, long time.
De’Aaron Fox is well and truly on his way to being an all-star, if not being on the fringes of doing so. He is closing games incredibly strongly and has the second most clutch points scored by all players in the NBA so far this season. The aforementioned Holmes and Barnes are both producing at consistently high levels, and the Kings have finally found a lineup that they can successfully close games with around Fox.
Much of this success has come with the steady hand of their newest draft selection, Tyrese Haliburton.
Haliburton was mocked to go anywhere from 4th to 10th in the most recent draft. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor conservatively ranked Haliburton as his 9th prospect, noting that Haliburton is ‘always in control’ but ‘lacks athleticism (which will) limit his upside as a primary shot creator’.
O’Connor also noted that Haliburton’s ‘odd’ and ‘stiff’ form may not translate well into the NBA game, a popular limitation used by many when describing the former Iowa State sophomore. However, O’Connor did note that Haliburton had genuine NBA three-point range, something that will be touched on later.
The Kings ended up with the 12th pick in the 2020 NBA draft, a position where they seemed to be out of contention for one of the more NBA-ready role players and would likely have to select a more raw talent, something which the Kings struggle to do. But as the draft picks started coming off the board, Haliburton kept slipping.
The Bulls, Hawks, Pistons, Knicks, Wizards, Suns and Spurs all could have used a combo guard with Haliburton’s talents, but decided to pass on him for players at other positions or fellow point guard Killian Hayes. The Kings snapped up Haliburton in a heartbeat and he immediately changed the ‘vibe’ around the organisation.
When he isn’t suited up and playing the game he loves most, Tyrese Haliburton is a level-headed and intelligent young man who is wise beyond his years. He sat down in a press conference the night of the Capitol Riots in the US and gave a passionate yet respectful speech about his feelings regarding the situation, highlighting how in tune he is with the Black Lives Matter movement and social justice as a whole.
These traits transition seamlessly to Haliburton’s on-court persona, a confident and mature young player who is playing way beyond his years. He is currently averaging 11.9 points, 3.7 rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in 29 minutes per game while boasting a field goal percentage of 48.7 percent, three-point percentage of 44.4 percent and free throw percentage of 86.7.
Needless to say, the shot translated.
Haliburton lived up to O’Connor’s “always in control” observation, holding an assist to turnover ratio of 3.6 to 1. I noted to fellow Deep Two contributors Lukas and Sean earlier in the year that the only mistakes that Haliburton makes are rookie mistakes. I stated that those mistakes will be out of his game by the end of the season, but they are already out of his game now, 25 games into his young career.
Saying ‘he always seems to make the right play’ is a major undersell, as he doesn’t ‘seem’ to make the right play, he just makes it. Which brings us back to the word consistency. The Kings now close the game with a lineup of Fox, Hield, Haliburton, Barnes and Holmes and although the Kings are ranked 30th in net defence (pretty consistent at least), this lineup has gone off for seven wins and one loss in the last eight games.
At the time of writing, the Kings are in serious contention for a playoff spot in the tightly contested western conference, currently in 9th position with 12 wins and 11 losses, but only 1.5 games behind the 4th placed Phoenix Suns at 13–9.
Haliburton is not only a genuine building block for the future, but also a Buddy Hield trade insurance piece, a Bogdan Bogdanovic replacement and a key De’Aaron Fox running mate as of right now.