ESPN recently shared that no active player has ever faced the Sacramento Kings in the NBA playoffs, emphasizing how long it has been since they last made a postseason appearance in 2006.
It has been a painful 16-year drought for this franchise that was a bona fide Western Conference contender in the early 2000s. The bright spots have been few and far between since then, but there is a feeling around the team that better days are finally ahead.
One of the biggest reasons for this optimism is Keegan Murray, whom they selected fourth overall in this year’s NBA Draft. The 21-year-old forward out of Iowa immediately impressed in his first stint in a Sacramento jersey as he was named the Most Valuable Player of the NBA 2k23 Summer League 2022.
In four appearances, his versatility as a two-way wing was on full display. The 6’8 Murray averaged 23.3 points on 50% shooting from the field and made 40% of his three-pointers along with 7.3 rebounds, two assists, and 1.3 steals.
Murray’s shooting, secondary playmaking ability, and defensive effort stood out in particular and teases that he could become the perfect complementary piece alongside the team’s current stars Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox.
This was a major reason why the Kings selected Murray ahead of guard Jaden Ivey, the presumed pick on most draft boards, which was a decision that was rightfully criticized given the poor history of “drafting for fit” in the NBA.
Sacramento has had its fair share of blunders with this strategy, most recently with their decision to pick Marvin Bagley second overall in 2018 ahead of Luka Doncic, yet this situation with Murray has a strong chance to have a better outcome.
Newly installed head coach Mike Brown is a big reason for this. He is coming off six seasons as an assistant coach with the reigning champion Golden State Warriors and should bring over some of the institutional knowledge that he gained there through the years. The veteran mentor has made a name for himself as a defensive-minded coach and will immediately boost a Sacramento team that had the fourth lowest defensive rating last year.
Given what he showed on defense during his two collegiate seasons, Murray is expected to thrive under the guidance of Brown. Last year’s ninth overall pick Davion Mitchell, known as “Off-Night” for his defensive prowess, should benefit as well and continue to grow in his sophomore year.
These two, together with the pairing of Sabonis and Fox, represent what is arguably the most promising Sacramento team since their last playoff appearance. Veteran center Richaun Holmes also remains on their roster and is poised for a bounce back campaign following an injury riddled ‘21-’22 season. The offseason additions of Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk will also be a major boost to their second unit as well.
While it is a stretch to assume that the end of their postseason drought is coming in 2023, it is at least safe to expect that they will be competitive in the Western Conference’s play-in race. This core group is young, with Sabonis still 26 years old and Fox just 24, and they will only get better with more time together.
Patience is warranted here, though they are likely to have many moments that tease their potential this season. Murray’s development will be especially key in determining what their actual timetable is. What he has shown so far this summer is encouraging and the hope is that his arrival marks the beginning of the end of their journey back to the playoffs.