National pundits have ridiculed the Kings for more than a decade, but some are beginning to acknowledge signs of progress after the team made a series of moves to overhaul and improve its roster over the past couple of years.
Sports Illustrated included three Kings in its Top 100 Players of 2020, an annual list that was completed with the unveiling of the Top 10 on Thursday. Sacramento didn’t have any players in the Top 100 a year ago.
Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox was the Kings’ highest-rated player, debuting at No. 33. Shooting guard Buddy Hield made the list at No. 54. Small forward Harrison Barnes was No. 72.
Second-year power forward Marvin Bagley III did not make the list, but he has as much upside as anyone on the Kings’ roster. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, showed tremendous potential as a rookie and seems poised for a breakout sophomore season.
Barnes made the list at No. 59 as a member of the Dallas Mavericks at the start of the 2018-19 season before the Kings acquired him in a trade. The only other player on the Kings’ roster who received any consideration last year was Hield, who Sports Illustrated halfheartedly identified as one of the “biggest snubs.”
“Kudos to Vlade Divac,” SI wrote. “The Kings not only failed to land a single player in the Top 100, they failed to have one seriously considered. Unless Marvin Bagley III hits the ground running, De’Aaron Fox takes a massive leap forward, or Bogdan Bogdanovic suddenly learns how to play competent defense, Hield is the most likely King to make next year’s list.”
Fox answered that call and Hield emerged as one of the game’s elite 3-point shooters, helping Sacramento win 39 games to finish ninth in the Western Conference last season. Now the Kings are hoping to end the NBA’s longest playoff drought after 13 consecutive losing seasons.
Sports Illustrated has taken note and changed its tune on the Kings in this year’s Top 100.
“These are exciting times for the Kings, who are on the cusp of something because of the way De’Aaron Fox has come of age as a point guard,” author Rob Mahoney wrote. “For a 21-year-old, that qualifies as being ahead of schedule. Typically it takes years of reps before a playmaker starts to grasp the interconnected, 10-man web of cause and effect that is a professional basketball game. Fox is, apparently, precocious – as you might guess from his leap outside the Top 100 all the way to 33.”
The top three players on SI’s 2020 list were reigning MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, Kawhi Leonard of the Los Angeles Clippers and LeBron James of the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Brooklyn Nets had six players in the Top 100. The Boston Celtics, Clippers, Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz each had five.
Nine Western Conference teams had at least four players on the list. The only teams in the west with fewer than three players were the Dallas Mavericks (2) and Phoenix Suns (2). The Charlotte Hornets were the only team without a player in the Top 100.