There’s a saying that goes, “Misery loves company.” And another saying that says, “misery shared is misery halved.”
Both seem like nonsense to me.
Orlando plays the Sacramento Kings as the third game in the eight-game season reboot that puts the finishing touches on NBA’s regular season, gets the seeding all squared away and gives teams a mini-trial run before the playoffs really get going.
As a Magic fan, I don’t really get the luxury of pitying other NBA franchises. Another saying says, “those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.” So while I don’t feel sorry for the Kings or for their fans, I do certainly empathize with folks who unflinchingly support the team that drafted Marvin Bagley instead of Luka Doncic or Trae Young. Thank goodness that both Doncic and Young were off the board before the Magic selected, so that I’m not burdened with that same, soul-crushing regret. Mo Bamba instead of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander carries enough resentment, thank you very much.
The “what-if,” game will eat you alive as a sports fan, if you let it.
What if Nick Anderson didn’t miss those free throws?
What if Shaq stayed?
What if Dwight stayed?
What if Grant Hill hadn’t got hurt so often?
What if Tim Duncan signed with Orlando instead of resigning with the Spurs?
What If the Magic didn’t trade away Victor Oladipo?
These are more generalized, and not directly related to draft picks, but we can play that game, too. Fran Vazquez, Steven Hunter, Michael Doleac, Johnny Taylor, Reece Gaines, Daniel Orton, etc, etc, etc . . .
Instead, I like to play the game where I ignore any and all bad things, past or present, and pretend like that didn’t happen and don’t exist. It’s way less painful.
The Kings venture to Orlando with the status of their 21-year-old forward/center in a place where they wish he was more and his status was less — up in the air. Bagley was seen in a walking boot and crutches at practice recently after he landed awkwardly on a teammate’s shoe sometime in the days before.
Had heard reports of Kings F/C Marvin Bagley III in a walking boot & crutches yesterday. Today, we witness him exiting practice in Orlando in the boot and crutches. pic.twitter.com/0ZLkWFBrml— Sean Cunningham (@SeanCunningham) July 21, 2020
Just like Bamba, it’s too early to make a call on Bagley’s future as a pro. Though this season has been a wash thanks to injuries — he played in just 13 games — last season, Bagley averaged 15 points and nearly eight rebounds in about 25 minutes of action over the course of 62 games. Those are encouraging numbers, far better than Bamba’s, even if they aren’t on par with Doncic or Young’s other-worldly productivity.
Sacramento went just 39-43 last season despite having the league’s ninth highest-scoring offense that averaged a shade more than 114 points per contest. There was a fairly large contingent of people that expected the Kings to be better this season, and while that didn’t exactly happen, I understand the sentiment. Sacramento has some young, supremely-gifted offensive pieces on the roster.
Last season, former Pelicans’ sixth overall pick Buddy Hield’s oozing offensive potential manifested into consistent, undeniable production. Hield was traded to Sacramento in the middle of his rookie year with New Orleans, and the Kings were (at the time, understandably) criticized for trading DeMarcus Cousins, their three-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA starting center, and swing-man Omri Casspri for Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a first-round pick and a second-round pick.
Kings GM Vlade Divac had his eye on Hield before the draft, and though Hield was taken sixth before Sacramento’s pick at no. 8 (ended up being Marquese Chriss, traded to Phoenix) Divac clearly maintained his affinity for the high-scoring Oklahoma guard despite Hield’s rocky start during the first half of his rookie season.
Hield played in 57 games for New Orleans before he was traded but averaged a slender 8.6 points on 39-percent shooting from the field with 37-percent shooting from 3 on just four attempts in barely 20 minutes of game action. Hield’s play immediately improved once he joined the Kings — scoring 15 points and shooting nearly 43 percent from deep on 5.5 attempts per game — and has continued to improve during the last three seasons.
Last season was Hield’s best yet. He eclipsed the 20-point per game average — one that was propelled by a glimmering 43-percent shooting mark from long-range on nearly eight attempts per game. As important as Hield’s juice is to the Kings offense for explicitly what it is, a consistent and reliable high-volume scorer who is lethal from deep, he’s just as meaningful as a complement to emerging star De’Aaron Fox, who scored a career-high 39 points in the Kings restart-opening loss to the Spurs.
Fox’s game seems to be on a meteoric rise since his rookie campaign during which he averaged a respectable 11.6 points and 4.4 assists. His scoring average jumped to a shade more than 17 points last season while increasing his field goal percentage to 45.8 from 41.2 and his 3-point percentage to 37.1 from 30.7. He nearly doubled his assist numbers from 4.4 to 7.3 per game while playing an average of just four more minutes and having a usage rating that only rose to 23.8 from 22.7. That’s just an outstanding jump in helpers considering only a moderate rise in minutes and usage.
If we want to poke holes in Swipa’s offensive arsenal, his 3-point shot would be the most logical place to start. That seven-ish point percentage jump from his rookie to sophomore season probably, at the time, looked oddly unsustainable at best or a one-off deviation at worst. Fox shot a paltry 25 percent from deep on a hair shy of two attempts per game at Kentucky. He never made more than two 3s in one game that year and managed two triples just three times in 36 games.
His undeniable speed and quickness puts constant, end-to-end pressure on opposing defenses, and the threat to drive to the basket nearly at-will resulted in him averaging 4.5 transition possessions per game this season, which ranks him fifth among point guards in the league. In turn, he scores 1.18 points per play, and that ranks first in point guards who average four such opportunities per contest.
I have no real, tangible concept of what it’s like, but I imagine trying to guard Fox off the dribble is sort of like grabbing wet sand — the tighter you squeeze, the more sand slips through your hands.
Or maybe it’s like trying to use a pogo stick on a trampoline — which sounds nearly damned impossible.
That unrelenting pressure to drive and the subsequent grotesquely-absurd dunks that follow is enough to give defenses night terrors, but it also acts as a release valve for action on the perimeter. That’s where Hield’s long-ball prowess really becomes the yang to Fox’s yin. Hield maintained a 1.23 point-per-play average on spot-up attempts and ranked 14th in the NBA for players under the same constraints who played in at least 50 games before the season was suspended. Hield’s 64.5 effective field-goal percentage on spot-up attempts was good for 12th in the league only counting players who played in 50 or more games. Obviously, all those numbers aren’t directly tied to Fox, as not every single Hield attempt came off a Fox drive and dish. But they do give you a sense of Hield’s spot-up shooting game, and it’s reasonable to presume that Fox’s threat of penetration plays a serious part in those numbers being as high as they are.
Hield’s actually Fox’s second favorite target on the team, getting just shy of 21 percent of Fox’s passes. Nemanja Bjelica, the sharp-shooting Serbian forward leads the team, receiving 21.5 of Fox’s dishes and converting them into points at a 43-percent clip.
Bjelica and Hield get the bulk of Fox’s initial passes, but the Kings have amassed quite the group of supporting pieces (outside of Bagley — I’m not sure if he will be playing or not) who help set Sacramento’s offense in motion.
Bjelica averages 12 points per game, forward Harrison Barnes averages nearly 15, Richaun Holmes averages 13 (though he played in just 39 games), Bogdan Bogdanovic averages 14.5 with 2.6 made 3s, the second-highest figure on the squad. The Kings also acquired journeyman guard/forward Kent Bazemore from the Blazers in late January, and he’s adding 10 points in about 23 minutes worth of game time each outing.
As of now, before the bubble games begin, The Kings sit 3.5 games outside of the playoff standings in the brutal Western Conference. The Magic currently sit at seventh in the league allowing 45.3 points in the paint to opposing teams. Limiting Fox’s easy points at the rim and trying to contain him will be key for Orlando.