Usually in the NBA, when a team acquires a star in a trade, that team is the winner of the trade. Is that really the case with the New Orleans Pelicans acquiring DeMarcus Cousins from the Sacramento Kings?
Right around the same time as the final buzzer of the 2017 NBA All-Star Game, the Kings traded their superstar center to the Pelicans for veterans Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, then rookie Buddy Hield, and first and second-round picks in the upcoming draft. The two veterans were nothing more than placeholders; the payoff was the draft, which brought Sacramento Justin Jackson and Frank Mason, as well as Hield, the clear centerpiece of the trade.
Hield led the Oklahoma Sooners to the Final Four his senior year. The Pelicans thought they were getting a budding star to go alongside Anthony Davis when he was drafted, but he struggled while averaging only 8.6 points per game before the trade.
I joked with Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry that the reason Hield was traded to Sacramento was because he dropped beads at Mardi Gras and mistakingly picked them up from the ground, which is considered to be bad luck. It wasn’t enough to simply exile Hield; it had to be the furthest place possible. It turns out the trade was a blessing in disguise for both Hield and the Kings.
After the trade, Hield’s rose to 15.1 ppg with his shooting percentage going from 39.3 to 48.0 as a rookie. Hield averaged 13.5 points coming off the bench last season and his 43.5 percent clip from beyond the arc showed that the potential of a breakout season was there. Now as a seemingly established starter, Hield is averaging 18.6 points in his third year.
Hield seems to be the best player on a Kings team that is on the rise. It comes as no surprise that he has scored over 20 points in each of the Kings’ five consecutive wins. However, since that stretch, Hield has only topped 20 points once, and the Kings are 2-4 in those six games.
Meanwhile, Cousins is now the Golden State Warriors’ secret weapon in waiting. He suffered a major injury last season, and the Pelicans seemed better off without him anyway. He’s not expected to be playing at all during the regular season but will make the Warriors an even stronger force in the playoffs.
Kings might finally be a winner this season
The last time the Sacramento Kings were this hot, Chris Webber was on the team.
Of all the teams expected to make the jump from the bottom to the playoffs in the Western Conference, Sacramento was not one of them. It looked like the same old Kings after they started the season 1-3. A five game winning streak that included a sweep in Florida has the Kings thinking .500 or better this season.
In a league dominated by offense, scoring 100 points seems like the minimum. To hold an opponent to below the century mark seems like a defensive achievement. So far this season, the Kings have been able to do that against the Memphis Grizzlies, Orlando Magic, and San Antonio Spurs.
“Our defensive is definitely coming along,” King center Willie Cauley-Stein said after beating the Magic. “We’re starting to come together as a communicational flow. We’re started communicating with each other which is making everything a lot easier.”
Given all the young college stars the Kings stockpiled in the draft, maybe it shouldn’t come as a surprise that things are finally coming together for the Kings. Cauley-Stein has found his role as the starting center, averaging 15.6 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. Nemanja Bjelica was signed onto the fray after spending the previous three seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves. So far, the four-year veteran has been providing plenty of balance as a small forward, averaging a career high 11.3 points.
The Fox Factor
Right now, the guy who is leading Sacramento’s charge to relevancy is point guard De’Aaron Fox.
Fox was drafted by the Kings out of Kentucky last year and had a hard time catching fire as a rookie. In his second year, Fox has improved from 11.6 to 19 points per game, which leads the team. His shooting percentage is up from 30.7 to 42.3 from the three-point line. Fox also leads the team with seven assists per game, which makes him the type of point guard that can lead a team in today’s NBA.
“His ability to stop on a dime is unguardable,” Cauley-Stein said on Fox.
It has seemed crazy for years, but the Kings may finally break their long postseason drought. The 8th seed in the Western Conference is surely within reach for the Kings.