What will it take for Mike Brown to change the Kings’ starting lineup?

Milwaukee Bucks v Sacramento Kings
Milwaukee Bucks v Sacramento Kings / Ezra Shaw/GettyImages

Last season, the Sacramento Kings ran the highest-scoring offense in league history at that point. The starting lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, and Domantas Sabonis was a huge part of that. 

Murray and Huerter both shot 40 percent or better from three, Sabonis averaged a double-double, Fox ascended to an All-Star level, and Barnes played his role as the veteran presence well. It was great to watch for Kings fans who had to suffer through years of bad basketball. 

By now, just one season later, frustrations with this starting lineup are growing. It seems that it has stalled out. The Kings have dropped all the way to twelfth in offensive rating, as things aren’t running quite as smoothly as before. 

There are several reasons for that. The Kings haven’t been as healthy this season, missing Fox, Huerter, and Murray at times. Teams guard them differently now, and they rarely take opponents by surprise anymore. The threes aren’t consistently falling for their best shooters, and the defense has not been reliable all season long. 

Despite all that, Kevin Huerter has been blamed for a lot of the team’s struggles, and many of us continue to call for Mike Brown to move him from the starting lineup to the bench. 

Kevin Huerter has not had an easy season

Being an athlete comes with a lot of mental strain, and Huerter has been on an emotional rollercoaster this season. He has become the poster child for all of the Kings’ defensive shortcomings and is on track for his worst shooting season in the NBA yet. 

Focusing on getting his squad to play better defense, Coach Mike Brown played with the idea of putting Chris Duarte in Huerter’s spot early in the season. He didn’t like what he saw, and for a while, it seemed that Huerter’s role was secured. Then Keon Ellis burst on the scene, playing great defense and shooting 39 percent from three. 

This month, there have been several games already in which Brown gave a huge chunk of Huerter’s minutes to Ellis and Davion Mitchell, relying on their defense. In three games—against the Lakers, the Spurs, and the Knicks—Huerter played 16 or fewer minutes and only scored two total points.

He clearly has a much shorter leash and little to no room for mistakes. That messes with your head, and Huerter is understandably struggling to find his rhythm. His struggles and Ellis’ emergence as a fan favorite have dominated the discourse around Sacramento, but Mike Brown is not ready to move Huerter to the bench. 

“You don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions to anything, and it takes time to make any decision…You want to make sure it feels right, and it’s the right thing for the team for hopefully the long term,” he explained during media availability, adding that he would make changes if necessary but didn’t feel that way yet. 

Huerter is a great fit next to Fox and Sabonis in the starting lineup. He moves well without the ball and stretches the floor. Even if his shots aren’t falling, opponents can’t risk him catching fire from three. Brown likes that in his starting five and prefers to adjust the minutes throughout the game. Even if he doesn’t start, Ellis can get 20+ minutes when Huerter is struggling. 

What will it take for Brown to change the starting lineup?

At this point, it doesn’t seem like Brown is very eager to mess with his lineups so late in the season. If Ellis continues to impress and Huerter continues to struggle, that could change quickly, though. 

If Huerter isn’t scoring, as we just saw against the Knicks for example, he does little to impact the game. Right now, every game matters, as the team is trying to secure a playoff spot. They cannot afford to have one of their main guys not impact games. 

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