The most pleasant development of last season for the Kings was the way the team’s young backcourt of 21-year-old point guard De’Aaron Fox and 26-year-old Buddy Hield came together. Hield averaged just 13.5 points the previous season but seized the starting job last year and boosted his scoring average to 20.5 points, making 42.7 percent of his 3-pointers. He made 278 3-pointers, fourth in the NBA.
But it’s Fox who is garnering the early buzz as a surefire breakout player of 2019-20. He posted 17.3 points and 7.3 assists last year and is a speed demon well-suited to the Kings’ quick tempo-he and Hield combined to score 11.5 points per game in transition, the third-most productive fast-break duo in the league.
There will be some veterans in place to glue this team together, like forward Harrison Barnes, acquired in a trade last season, and 34-year-old Trevor Ariza, who is entering his 16 th season. But a successful Kings season will come down to how much improvement and consistency the young talent on the roster can show and whether that will be enough to crack the Top 8 in the difficult West.
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The writing was on the wall for coach Dave Joerger last November when tensions with the front office boiled over and he kicked assistant general manager Brandon Williams-who wanted Joerger to give more time to young players-out of a practice. Despite finishing with the team’s best record since 2005-06 and implementing an up-tempo offense that accentuated the team’s strengths, general manager Vlade Divac was not pleased with the infighting and fired both Joerger and Williams.
That paved the way for the quick hiring for ousted Lakers coach Luke Walton, who did a credible job bringing along the young talent in L.A. before the arrival of LeBron James. Walton is the team’s ninth coach in the past 15 seasons.
Best Addition: Dewayne Dedmon. Of the three veterans the Kings brought in-Dedmon, Cory Joseph, Trevor Ariza-Dedmon should be the biggest contributor, a terrific roll man on the pick-and-roll to partner with Fox. He’s also developed into a stretch option, making a career-best 38.2 percent of his 3s last year after attempting just one 3-pointer in the first four years of his career.
Biggest Loss: Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kings didn’t lose much from last year’s roster, but Cauley-Stein started 81 games and posted very good numbers in his fourth season: 11.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 55.6 percent shooting. He was a traditional in-the-paint big man, though, and the hope is that Dedmon can provide more versatility.
The playoffs, perhaps. The Kings were a half-game out of a playoff position on February 10 last season before finishing in a 9-17 slump that left them nine games behind the pack for the postseason’s final Western Conference spot.
A combination of development by young players and the influence of veterans should get this team around .500 again this season but they’ll need a handful of lucky wins and some misfortune to strike a couple of stronger West contenders, like San Antonio, Dallas, New Orleans, Portland and Minnesota
Even without a playoff spot, this can be a winner of a season if Walton is able to implement his system with the youngsters, Fox and Hield become near All-Stars and the team cracks .500. The Kings have a foundation. The trick will be to build upon it.
Team MVP: Fox. If all goes well, Fox will be a household name by season’s end, with he and Hield joining the list of great backcourts in today’s league. Fox was one of the few Kings who improved after the All-Star break last year, a trend he hopes to keep running into this year.
Best Value: Bogdan Bogdanovic. A midseason slump dinged Bogdanovic’s numbers, but he still averaged 14.1 points and shot a respectable 36.0 percent from the 3-point line. He was a standout playing for Serbia in the summer’s World Cup, where he averaged 22.9 points in eight games, making 53.0 percent of his 3-pointers. Bogdanovic will be a Sixth Man of the Year candidate and, at $8.5 million for the season, a relative bargain.
X-Factor: Marvin Bagley III. His rookie year was uneven. He didn’t play as much as he should have because of Joerger’s determination to use him off the bench and he struggled with injuries. He can score, but he is not an NBA-level defender yet and he needs to broaden his game. Walton appears committed to his development, though, which means Bagley will have the chance to blossom into a foundational star this year, alongside Fox.
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Fox and Hield earn All-Star spots, Bagley and Bogdanovic are consistent from October through April, Ariza and Dedmon find their roles quickly and Walton leads the team out of its playoff drought, winning Coach of the Year along the way.
Fox and Bagley regress, Bogdanovic wears out during the season after his busy summer at the World Cup, Dedmon (who is 30) and Ariza show their age and don’t contribute much. The Kings fall back to the low 30s in wins and sadness sets in across northeast California.