Everyone always wants to know who the starters are, but it is the guys who can finish games who really matter.
Venture back a couple of years to De’Aaron Fox’s rookie season with the Sacramento Kings. The team was led by Zach Randolph, playing at a snail’s pace and amassing just 27 victories. The lone bright spot of that season was Fox’s clutch gene, which was on display throughout the year.
He sent multiple games to overtime with buzzer-beating shots, and hit game-winners in a handful of others. His signature moment came in Miami when, down by one with less than five seconds left, Fox came flying through the lane to put back a Bogdan Bogdanovic miss and sealing the victory for Sacramento.
De’Aaron Fox is not the only one with the clutch trait, as his backcourt running mate Buddy Hield had a few clutch moments of his own last season. In a January game in Detroit, Hield scored 35 points, 15 of them in the last 3:30 of play. His fumble-recovery shot at the buzzer won the game for Sacramento, providing one of the signature moments of the season as the team rushed off the court and into the locker room.
So who does head coach Luke Walton go to when the Kings need a basket most? A slew of options awaits him. He could go with one of the two aforementioned. Or maybe Bogdan Bogdanovic, who has a couple of game-winners to his name, has Walton’s favor as the hot hand.
Walton could also throw a curveball, depending on the lineup he puts on the floor in clutch situations. Nemanja Bjelica played a key role in a handful of games last season, and Dewayne Dedmon is one of the best outside shooting centers in the league. Add other players in the mix like Harrison Barnes (39.5 3P% last season) and possibly even Marvin Bagley, and Walton may have more options than he knows what to do with.
He’ll be fine as long as he doesn’t handle late-game situations like former coach Dave Joerger did once last season.
The Kings were playing the Warriors in Oakland and Buddy Hield made two clutch shots in the final minutes to cut the Warriors lead to three. The first of those two shots was a deep three that Joerger apparently didn’t like.
As the Warriors were shooting free throws to extend their lead, Joerger appeared to chastise Hield for his shot selection, despite the made basket. The next three-pointer by Hield with 10 seconds left would pull the Kings to within two points, where they would stay after a pair of Andre Iguodala missed free throws.
On the Kings’ final possession, the inbounds pass to Hield came to exactly the same spot on the floor where Joerger had yelled at him for shooting from, and he was wide open. Buddy hesitated for what seemed like forever, until Klay Thompson was able to close in. Hield panicked, taking a couple of dribbles before attempting a turnaround jumper from the free-throw line. Airball.
The Kings lost that game and every other in which they played against Golden State by less than five points. With a new coach, new late-game options, and an uptick in three-point attempts, the final minutes of Sacramento Kings games should be very exciting this season.