Domantas Sabonis, De'Aaron Fox get high praise from Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett

KG, Pierce praise Sabonis, Fox, Kings' culture change originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

If you’re still snoozing on the Kings this season, maybe a couple of NBA legends can serve as your wake-up call.

15-time NBA All-Star and Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett and 10-time All-Star and Hall of Famer Paul Pierce discussed what's been brewing in Sacramento, the dynamic duo of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis and how the Kings can maintain a top seed in the Western Conference.

Garnett believes the blockbuster trade that sent Sabonis to Sactown last season, a couple of offseason additions including drafting rookie Keegan Murray and the arrival of Mike Brown all led to an immediate “culture change” for the Kings.

“I’m a believer in the Kings,” Pierce said on the latest episode of SHOWTIME Basketball’s “Ticket and The Truth.” “That trade, grabbing Sabonis, they lost [Tyrese] Haliburton which was like, ‘He’s going to be an All-Star,’ but so is Sabonis.”

The term “All-Star” has recently been linked to both Sabonis and Fox. The former cracked the top 10 in the third and final fan voting returns for the 2023 NBA All-Star Game starters Thursday after being left out the first two rounds.

Fox entered the top 10 in the second All-Star fan voting update, collecting enough votes to rank 10th among Western Conference guards.

While the West is loaded with a surplus of talent, Pierce pointed out that injuries have taken a massive toll on players and teams. This has allowed players like Fox and Sabonis, who typically don’t get as much national recognition as the Anthony Davis’ of the world, to showcase what they’ve been doing all along.

“I don’t know if Fox will make it but Sabonis definitely will,” Pierce said. “If they stay [in the] top-four seed, I think you got to throw D. Fox in there. When you got guys like AD, who’s an All-Star, but he’s been dealing with injuries, Zion [Williamson], who’s an All-Star and dealing with injuries, [Devin] Booker, Chris Paul, [Brandon] Ingram, those guys haven’t been out there. These guys have been out there every night.

“They’re a top-four seed, they deserve -- both of them -- to be in the All-Star Game. I’m just saying, because the consistency of them being there every night. Who would’ve thought Sacramento would be in the top four seed at this point of the season?”

Probably no one.

But the reality is the Kings (26-18) currently are the No. 3 seed in the conference, only behind the Memphis Grizzlies (31-14) and the West-leading Denver Nuggets (33-13).

Sacramento has won six consecutive games and is on a mission to snap their NBA-record 16-year playoff drought.

"This doesn’t look like the same Sacramento team we’ve been seeing for the past five, 10, 15 years," Garnett said. "They’re playing totally different. They play harder. You don’t want to see this Sacramento team. Sabonis, it starts with him."

The two applauded Sabonis' game, comparing his presence to the "steady" and "even-keeled" nature of their former Brooklyn Nets teammate and seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson.

Sabonis' consistency, unselfishness and playmaking ability have caught the eyes of many, including Pierce and Garnett. He leads the league in double-doubles and has recorded 21 consecutive double-doubles.

"He’s one of the more underrated players in the league this year," Pierce said. "Because when you look at his numbers, he’s giving you close to 20 points, tops in rebounds, he leads the league in double-doubles. He’s made like 20 straight maybe. He’s underrated. His game isn't sexy, but at the end of the day, when you look at the numbers, I’m right here."

And the praise didn't end with the players.

Pierce and Garnett gave props to coach Brown, and credited him with the "super change" in the Kings' culture. They also added Brown will be in the run for Coach of the Year at the conclusion of the 2022-23 NBA season.

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While the increase in attention the Kings are received surely is nice, the job isn't finished. If they can continue to be healthy and light the Beam a whole lot more, Pierce and Garnett believe this team is more than just hype.

"I think they're going to be up there if they stay healthy," Pierce said. "Because a lot of these older teams behind them aren't consistent, they dealing with injuries. They’re young, they’re spry, they’re a team you don’t want to see on a back-to-back.

"You come to Sac, they’re pressing the Beam. They got a whole new energy out there. The energy has shifted in Sac."

That energy has been felt in the 916 since early in the season, but it's now being felt around the league. And if the Kings do in fact make it the postseason, good luck to any opposing team coming into Golden 1 Center.