After 135 days without Sacramento Kings basketball, the team took the court near Orlando recently for scrimmages against the Miami Heat, Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers.
The setting was surreal. The Kings played in a Disney World event center that appeared smaller than the average high school gym. Many players on the socially distanced bench wore masks and stayed in their personal space. The only fans to be found were brief digital projections on monitors around the court.
Sacramento lost two of the three games, but there were plenty of positive signs. Considering that the final scores have no impact on the season, it would actually be hard to find a meaningful downside from the on-court action.
Good fortune has been rare for the Sacramento Kings, but it is back with a vengeance for now. Let's dive in to the best things to come out of the bubble this week.
1. SACRAMENTO'S LEADER IS BACK
De'Aaron Fox returned to the court Saturday, well before anyone expected. Fox sustained a sprained ankle on July 15 and the team announced he would be reevaluated in 7 to 10 days. But he was quickly spotted getting shots up in the gym, he returned to practice within a week and he was in the starting lineup by July 25.
It's an incredible break for the Kings. Even the most optimistic fan would admit that Sacramento has no shot at the playoffs without their star player. While Fox didn't push himself during the scrimmages, he says he has made a full recovery. Fox's health was a major concern one week ago. Now it's old news.
2. MORE REINFORCEMENTS HAVE ARRIVED
A second big break came over the weekend when it was announced that Harrison Barnes joined the team. While Jeffries is breaking out and Brewer seems solid, there was never going to be a way to replicate what Barnes can do for this team. Head coach Luke Walton's options just grew exponentially due to Barnes' versatility in small-ball lineups.
Richaun Holmes also completed his 10-day isolation period after stepping outside the bubble. There was no guarantee that either player would be cleared in time to see the floor, but both Barnes and Holmes played at least 18 minutes against the Clippers. Instead of having two starters enter the final eight games ice cold, the Kings were able to get both of them comfortable in a game environment.
3. UNEXPECTED ROOKIE BREAKOUT
Earlier this month I wrote about how Kings fans should prepare themselves for serious minutes for DaQuan Jeffries, but even I didn't expect this many. The rookie swingman played 73 minutes, the third-highest total on the team, in three scrimmages. To say his production was impressive would be selling him short. He deserved every second of his playing time and earned a spot in the rotation for the rest of the regular season.
Big-time blocks, backdoor alley-oops, splashed 3-pointers; Jeffries has done a bit of everything already in the bubble. It is stunning to see a completely unheralded rookie emerge like this. Yes, it is just three scrimmages, but Jeffries deserves to be the talk of the town for now. The Kings signed Corey Brewer to help out at small forward, but an even better option has arrived.
4. BOGDANOVIC AND HIELD HEAT UP
Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield were the only two Kings to play more minutes than Jeffries. The two shooting guards will be X-factors in the upcoming playoff push. Bogdanovic started off slow, shooting 20-percent from the field and scoring only 3 points against the Heat. But he got back on track with 13 points against the Bucks. Finally, he caught fire against the Clippers and finished with a game-high 21 points on 46.7% shooting.
Hield, on the other hand, has been at the peak of his powers all week. He made at least three 3-pointers and dropped at least 17 points in each scrimmage. In the final matchup against the Clippers he also showed off some very nifty passing, including back-to-back assists for Harry Giles. Bogdanovic and Hield are looking great, which is very good news for the Kings.
5. TURNOVERS, REBOUNDS AND OPPONENT SHOOTING
The other reason to feel good about these scrimmages is how the Kings seemed to identify and address their shortcomings. Both the Heat and the Bucks crushed the Kings with 3-pointers. Walton had his team do a much better job guarding shooters in the final scrimmage and held the Clippers to 31.7% from deep.
Walton was unhappy with Sacramento's 18 turnovers in the first matchup. The Kings reduced their giveaways to just 10 and 12 in the final two scrimmages. They also got out-rebounded badly against Miami and Milwaukee, but recovered to win the rebound battle against Los Angeles. It seems like Walton is communicating well with his players and reintegrating Fox, Barnes and Holmes as best he can.
OPTIMISM RETURNS JUST IN TIME
The time for tinkering with lineups and shaking off the rust of a four-month rest is over. Every game counts now.
Fortunately, this Kings team is riding a wave of positivity back into the regular season. Each scrimmage provided more and more good news for Sacramento.
Over the weekend Kent Bazemore said that the team's optimism was at an all-time high. It should be, as the Kings just logged their most exciting week since March. Everything is falling into place again, and its happening at the perfect time.
It's time to buy back into the Kings and get ready to watch a surprisingly complete version of the team push for a playoff spot.
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