Grade A: Sacramento Kings declared early offseason winners going into California Classic

·3 min read
Xavier Mascareñas/xmascarenas@sacbee.com

The Kings haven’t even begun to defend their 2021 Las Vegas Summer League championship as the California Classic gets underway Saturday, but they’ve already been declared an early offseason winner based on moves to improve their roster through trades and free agency.

Hoops Habit’s Jack Simone came to that conclusion after the Kings selected Keegan Murray with the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft, signed Malik Monk as a free agent and made a trade to acquire Kevin Huerter from the Atlanta Hawks.

“The Sacramento Kings are winning the offseason so far,” Simone wrote. “Okay, that may sound a bit crazy to think about, but for what their goal is, they have made the best possible decisions for the franchise. They should most certainly be in the run for the playoffs next season.”

That would be a welcome change in Sacramento, where the Kings are trying to end an NBA-record 16-year playoff drought.

Jasmyn Wimbish of CBS Sports authored a story entitled: “Kings ace deal by landing Kevin Huerter, Hawks give up valuable role player in surprising move.” Wimbish questioned what the Hawks were hoping to achieve while praising the Kings for adding shooting and depth. The Kings were awarded an A grade for the trade. The Hawks got a C-minus.

The Kings set out to find shooting, length and defense after going 30-52 to finish 12th in the Western Conference last season. They worked quickly and efficiently to address their need for shooting while managing to acquire younger players who fit their timeline with De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.

Floor spacing is critical for Fox to attack the basket and Sabonis to orchestrate in the post. The Kings finished 24th in the NBA in 3-point shooting (.344) last season, but they’ve taken steps to fix that.

They started by selecting Murray, a 6-foot-8, 215-pound forward, in the first round of last week’s draft. He was considered one of the most NBA-ready players in the draft.

Murray, 21, checks a lot of boxes for the Kings with his ability to shoot, score, rebound and defend. He averaged 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.9 blocks and 1.3 steals as a sophomore at Iowa last season, shooting 55.4% from the field and 39.8% from 3-point range.

On Thursday, the first day of free agency, the Kings acquired another shooter when they signed Monk to a two-year, $19 million contract. Monk, a 24-year-old guard who teamed with Fox at Kentucky, was the No. 11 pick in the 2017 draft.

Monk spent four seasons with the Charlotte Hornets before signing with the Los Angeles Lakers last season. He appeared in 76 games, including 37 starts, averaging career highs of 13.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists while shooting 39.1% from 3-point range. His numbers have improved every season with increases in scoring, volume and efficiency.

The Kings made another big move Friday, sending Maurice Harkless, 29, Justin Holiday, 33, and a protected future first-round draft pick to the Hawks in exchange for Huerter. The 6-7 guard gives Sacramento size and length at the shooting guard spot with enough versatility to log minutes at small forward.

Huerter, 23, came out of Maryland as the 19th overall pick in the 2018 draft, and he can shoot, too. He spent his first four seasons in Atlanta, where he started 216 of 274 games. He averaged 12.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists last season while shooting 38.9% from 3-point range, slightly above his career average of 37.9%.

Huerter made 563 3-pointers over his first four seasons in the NBA. Monk made 508 over his first five seasons. Murray made 66 in 35 games in his final season at Iowa. That’s a significant addition of firepower for a Kings team that finished 25th in made 3-point goals last season.

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