The Knicks ride high into their next NorCal battle with the offensive-minded Kings, losers of the last four games.
The Knicks are making the next stop of their west coast road trip in Sacramento for a showdown with the Kings.
New York (8-8) has won three straight games and is coming off of a solid 119-104 victory over Golden State, where it led the Warriors for a majority of the game. The Knicks will look to continue that winning momentum on Friday night.
Sacramento had a promising 3-1 start to the year, where it beat the Denver Nuggets twice and split a back-to-back series with the Phoenix Suns. Since then, the Kings have struggled, entering Friday with a 5-10 record and a four-game losing streak.
It’ll be the first meeting between both teams this season. Last year, they split the regular-season series. Sacramento won the first game on November 3rd, 2019, but the Knicks got their revenge a month later on December 13th, 2019.
Tip-off is scheduled for 10 p.m. ET on Friday night.
De’Aaron Fox leads a formidable Kings offense that enters Friday’s game averaging 113.1 points, placing them in the top 10 of the NBA’s team scoring rankings.
Fox has been known for his speed and quickness, making him a threat in transition or when he goes downhill and attacks the basket. He’s also a disruptive defender and a fine facilitator who can take advantage of opposing defenders collapsing in to stop him, only to have him kick it out to an open shooter on the perimeter. Fox also added a new wrinkle in his game, boasting an improved three-point shot in the early stages of the 2020–21 season. He’s cashing in on 35.5% of his threes this year, compared to an ugly 29.2% clip last year. So far, it’s helped him average a team-best 20.8 points, 5.9 assists, and 1.5 steals per game.
Aside from Fox, Buddy Hield is a perimeter threat. Although he’s on pace to shoot below 40% from long-range for the first time since his rookie season, he can be dangerous when he heats up. Hield has been inconsistent this month but enters Friday averaging 15.2 points per game and a 37% showing from deep.
Harrison Barnes and Marvin Bagley III are solid secondary scoring options for the Kings. Richaun Holmes is an underrated piece on Sacramento’s roster. While he doesn’t provide any eye-popping numbers—just 13.6 points and 7.5 rebounds—his presence in the paint and on the glass has been a welcomed boost for the Kings since he first arrived in Sacramento back in 2018. According to NBA.com, when he’s on the court, the Kings post a 115.9 Offensive Rating and 117.3 Defensive Rating. When he’s off the court, his absence provides the biggest difference analytics-wise, as the team’s offensive rating plummets to just 100.3 and the defensive rating worsens to 121.1.
A mature rookie
The Knicks aren’t the only ones who have a rookie point guard performing way ahead of schedule and well above expectations. Through 13 games, Tyrese Haliburton has already established himself as a dependable player and early NBA Rookie of the Year candidate behind LaMelo Ball.
While he won’t be dethroning Fox, he’s shown that they can work well on the court together, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep the 20-year-old rookie on the bench. He’s been productive with big minutes, averaging 11.1 points and 5.1 assists, with just 1.4 turnovers per game. Haliburton is shooting 50% overall, with a 49.2% clip from long range. He’s a composed guard that makes good decisions and takes care of the ball. Haliburton is only going to continue to grow, but so far, the rookie has looked impressive.
The Thibs Effect
It’s still early in the season, but how can you not get excited for what head coach Tom Thibodeau has done? It’s been a revolving door of coaches over the last few years, but in less than two-dozen games, Thibodeau seems to have brought stability and some form of competency on the court.
There are still ways to go, after all, the Knicks are 8-8, but the vast improvement defensively has been noticed and well documented.
The Knicks seem to have bought into Thibodeau’s defensive mindset and the emphasis on that end of the court has resulted in New York boasting the top scoring defense in the NBA, holding opponents to 102.8 points per game.
The defense will be crucial in stopping a fairly good offense from the Kings, keeping players like Fox, Hield, and others in check. Sacramento isn’t as strong scoring-wise as the Warriors, who the Knicks clamped down on. While Stephen Curry managed to put up 30 points, as a team, the Warriors shot 38.4% overall and 23.7% from beyond the arc.
On the other hand, Sacramento has one of the worst defenses in the league, allowing an NBA-worst 123.0 points per game. It’s shown in the Kings’ losses. While they might have the firepower, cold-shooting stretches and an inability to defend consistently have been their downfall.
The Knicks’ defensive effort should set the tone on Friday night and will open the door to ideally another stat-stuffing night for Julius Randle, R.J. Barrett, and company.