The Sacramento Kings are one of the most fun teams in the NBA, and that’s a happy story in and of itself. The Kangz are gone, transformed into a running and gunning, flashing and dashing group of try-hards. That’s what happens when a team’s youngsters develop the way they’re supposed to. Toronto has already seen Sacramento this season, and it was a fun one. Toronto won 114-105, but Sacramento played great during stretches and showed their strength in the open court.
Even though Toronto is usually at its best when playing up-tempo, it may not be a great idea against Sacramento. Toronto opened up the game with multiple turnovers as De’Aaron Fox broke down the defence at will. He finished with 20 points. Even though Pascal Siakam ran at will against Sacramento (and finished with 24 points), the fast pace was a trap. Sacramento scored 92.3 points per 100 plays in the halfcourt and 140.0 per 100 plays in transition. That’s just ridiculous. It was Kawhi Leonard’s 25 points on 17 shots (ho-hum for him) that kept Toronto in the lead, especially because Leonard played slow and kept the game in the halfcourt as much as possible.
Sacramento has plateaued slightly since early November. The Kings now sit at 24-23 and are a full game out of the playoffs in the Western Conference. They’re coming off of a 123-94 drubbing to the Brooklyn Nets, and this game in Toronto will be the second leg of a back-to-back for Sacramento. Toronto, on the other hand, rolled the Memphis Grizzlies before enjoying two days off.
Tony Xypteras of SB Nation’s Sactown Royalty was kind enough to help out and preview this game. Here’s a Q and A with Tony.
Louis Zatzman: The Kings are one of the NBA’s best stories this season. They’re fun and fast and altogether competent. Did you or anyone who follows the team closely predict this? Is the franchise’s success here to stay?
Tony Xypteras: Nobody predicted this outside of the organization, and you can make a pretty compelling argument that nobody inside the organization predicted it, either. Would a team in playoff contention intentionally leave $11 million in cap space open heading into the season? It’s highly unlikely, but the Kings did exactly that. I know it sounds like hyperbole or cliché to say ‘nobody expected this’ but nobody expected this. Maybe we should have. I don’t know if this kind of success is here to stay, but the players that are leading this team are good and I don’t see why they wouldn’t continue to be good. De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Bogdan Bogdanovic are all excellent young players that are just entering their primes. It’s not as if this Kings team is succeeding with a team full of nobodies. They are succeeding with a team full of top draft selections or highly-touted young players. It just so happens that more of them have developed, and developed more quickly, than anyone could have predicted.
Louis: After a little rough stretch, the Kings are 5-3 in their last eight, but against a cupcake schedule. Which team are they right now? What are they playing like?
Tony: It’s starting to feel like the NBA has caught up with the Kings’ strengths and weaknesses in a major way over the last month or so. Their pace has gone down every month this season. They are still playing fast, but teams have figured out how to slow them down. Those same teams have learned that you can really beat this team up inside if you have the right bigs. Slow them down, attack the rim, and own the boards. This is how you beat the Kings. They’ve managed to continue winning because of how light the schedule has been recently, but they need to make an adjustment or two here soon, because the league has certainly adjusted to them. Despite going 5-3 in their last eight games, I don’t think anybody, the Sacramento Kings included, are thrilled with how they’ve played recently.
Louis: Hield has come on strong in a recent stretch for Sacramento. Where do he and Fox rank among young prospects around the league? Where do they rank among the league’s best backcourts?
Tony: I can’t begin to rank how De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield stack up against the rest of the league without coming across as a complete homer. They have nights where they look like a top-5 backcourt, I’ll say that. It’s not every night. Fox still needs to learn how to come out aggressive and take over the pace of the game right from the jump. He has a tendency to let the game come to him, but the Kings are at their best when he reaches out and grabs it himself. Buddy Hield has been the most consistently great player on the Kings this season. He brings volume lights-out shooting every night. I’ll put his success this way – I love C.J. McCollum. He’s one of my favourite 2s in the NBA right now. Before the season started, I would have slotted McCollum over Hield in my imaginary SG rankings by a wide margin without hesitation. Now? I’m taking Hield, which would put him (along with McCollum) right outside All-Star level in a crowded Western Conference.
Louis: Call it.
Tony: If the Kings can beat the Raptors in Toronto, it would be their best win this season. I don’t they’d pull this one off rested, and they’re coming into Toronto on the second night of a back-to-back. Not ideal. Raptors 114, Kings 98.
TV: TSN | Radio: Sportsnet590 | Tipoff: 7:00pm EST
The Raptors have already ruled OG Anunoby (personal) and Jonas Valanciunas (injury) out. All others are available as of this writing. Here’s the probable depth chart:
PG: Kyle Lowry, Fred Van Vleet, Delon Wright
SG: Danny Green, Norman Powell, Patrick Mccaw
SF: Kawhi Leonard, CJ Miles, Malachi Richardson
PF: Pascal Siakam
C: Serge Ibaka, Greg Monroe
Justin Jackson started the second half of the Kings’ loss to the Nets over Nemanja Bjelica. There’s apparently no injury, but Bjelica’s role has been dissipating slowly. Marvin Bagley III or Jackson could start against Toronto, so come back later today for the pre-game notes.
PG: De’Aaron Fox, Yogi Ferrell, Frank Mason III
SG: Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Ben McLemore
SF: Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson, Troy Williams
PF: Nemanja Bjelica, Marvin Bagley III, Skal Labissiere, Zach Randolph, Wenyen Gabriel
C: Willie Cauley-Stein, Kosta Koufos, Harry Giles