Entering their 76th season in the NBA, the Sacramento Kings appeared to be satisfied with their roster construction as there was little movement from last year. Their hope? To come away with their 2nd NBA Championship in franchise history.
With the talents of Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray, surrounding All-Stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, the Kings believe they have enough to continue on an upward trajectory towards a title.
The last and only time they won a title? That was in 1951. As the Rochester Royals. Five years before that, they were the NBL Champions in 1946. They have been itching for another for some time now and there are plenty of positives pointing in that direction, although the team hasn’t been in the NBA Finals since 1951. They’ve made it to the Western Conference Finals twice: 2002 and 1981 (as the Kansas City Kings).
One of the driving forces is at the literal center of this Kings offense: 8th year big man Domantas Sabonis. It’s a name that was connected to the Phoenix Suns at the 2021-22 trade deadline as a potential replacement for Deandre Ayton while the Indiana Pacers were shopping him. At the time, Sabonis was a two-time All-Star with the Pacers, and Ayton was (and continues to be) living on the see-saw between loved and hated by Phoenix Suns fans.
Ayton knows now about the hate, and like we talked about countless times already this offseason, he will have aplenty to prove this season. Sabonis, now a three-time All-Star, still has a lot to prove as well.
They both are attempting to change their respective narratives.
This upcoming season is monumental for both franchises. This King’s team, which made the playoffs for the first time since 2006, settled this offseason with what they believe is enough to win a title. And this Suns team went on a spending spree, buying, trading, and acquiring enough to give them the prettiest team on paper in the NBA.
Even after all of the movement, it comes down to one player for the Suns, the ultimate x-factor. Deandre Ayton. That should be his wresting name if the WWE is hiring.
What Ayton does to prepare himself for the playoffs this year will be the difference in the Suns winning a title or not. The Kings and Suns matchup is most likely to happen somewhere in the postseason, and the key matchup between Ayton and Sabonis will most likely decide the victor.
The Regular Season Matchup History
Ayton and Sabonis have only faced each other four times while Sabonis has been with the Kings. In hopes that Ayton stays with the Suns long term, this will always be a matchup I have my eye on. This can blossom into something that is impactful in the Western Conference, but maybe I’m just dreaming.
Sabonis needs to prove that the Kings they don’t need the extra guy like a Draymond Green or some high-priced veteran to help them get over the hump to win the championship this year or the next. And that he’s not just a poor man’s Jokić, with the lack of defense on the interior.
Sabonis can missile the ball around and work his way to the rim like the best of them. but he always continues to find ways to get open and has great spacing while finishing hard at the rim. He is one of the most aggressive centers in the league, and at times might seem undersized, but plays bigger than he is.
His IQ is of course great. The son of an NBA player and basketball legend in Arvydas Sabonis, he grew up around the game and understands the cerebral aspect of it.
That is where Ayton comes in, and his development throughout the season will be tested when playing against Sabonis. Can Ayton, over the span of the season, prove that he can keep up with a center like a Domantas? He already has the physical tools and at times will overpower Sabonis, but can he remain consistent from one matchup to the next?
The matchups this upcoming season are pretty spread out and will be a great evaluator on how these teams are progressing throughout the season.
Ayton, the Difference Maker
Currently, what seems to be the biggest worry for the Suns is how will the three stars on this team — Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, and Bradley Beal — split the points. Ayton shouldn’t be included, right? I think in the past few seasons, yes, Ayton wouldn’t care, but this upcoming season he has too much to prove to not care about his points and offensive production.
He may finish the season shy of 20 points per game or even below 15 points per game, but in huge games this year, including games against the Sacramento Kings and Sabonis, this is where Ayton will need to be the star.
In a season chalked full of intriguing matchups, the Pacific Division rivals is one of many. But it is one that we should have our eyes glued to for it will be a good litmus test as to where DA stands in his efforts in changing the narrative.