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Why Fox, Kings need aggressive play from Murray, Barnes

With Malik Monk and Kevin Huerter both likely out for the rest of the 2023-24 NBA season due to injuries, De’Aaron Fox and the Kings will need heightened aggressiveness from the next men up.

Besides stars Fox and Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento will rely on forwards Harrison Barnes and Keegan Murray to help carry much of the load.

In talking to reporters on Monday at Kings practice, Fox and coach Mike Brown explained the importance of Barnes and Murray, among other role players, stepping up.

“Davion [Mitchell’s] minutes have gone up, Keegan has to step up [and] HB has to step up,” Brown said. “Now, we get Sasha [Vezenkov] and Trey [Lyles] back, we still got some things we got to figure out. So, it’s going to lead to opportunities for others.”

Monk averaged 26.0 minutes per game before being sidelined at least four weeks with a right UCL sprain, and Huerter averaged 24.4 before suffering a season-ending left labrum tear. Combined, the two leave Sacramento aiming to replace 25.6 points and 7.7 assists per game.

Murray, more than others, will be asked to be aggressive. The second-year wing routinely scores in double-figures and has scored 19.8 points over his last five games.

Brown believes Murray, 23, can handle heavier responsibilities. His shooting ability makes things easier, too, as he has made 46.5 percent of 3-pointers over his last five outings.

“Keegan’s gotten to a point where he’s finding a way to score from all three levels,” Brown said. “[He’s] not just a 3-point shooter. He’s been able to get to the rim. He’s got a nice little pull-up game. And now, he’s shooting the 3 off the dribble and on the move.”

Like Brown, Fox would greatly appreciate it if Sacramento’s role players could be more aggressive. Fox, the Kings’ leading scorer (26.4 points per game) has a lot on his plate and could use the support.

But beyond the individual benefits, Fox wants his teammates to take advantage of the lesser attention they receive.

“I think it spreads the floor out that much more,” Fox described. “If they’re hot and teams continue to load up on me, I think it just makes the game that much easier for them … Even if they’re not making shots, you continue to get them easy looks.

“With someone like Malik out, Domas and I have to be better. But at the end of the day, there are going to be games where you just don’t have it and you need other guys to step up. As a team, we need everybody to step up, not just one who’s going to make up for [Monk].”

Barnes, a 13-year NBA veteran, must step up, regardless of Sacramento’s injury report. He’s only averaging 12.4 points during the 2023-24 NBA season — his lowest figure since the 2015-16 season.

Barnes, a 40-percent 3-point shooter, must take advantage of Fox’s defensive attention.

Echoing Brown’s and Fox’s sentiment, the Kings will need everyone on deck to reach the NBA playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since they made eight straight appearances from 1998 to 2006.

At 43-31, No. 8-seeded Sacramento trails the 44-31 Phoenix Suns by half a game for the Western Conference’s No. 7 seed and the 45-30 New Orleans Pelicans by 1.5 games for the No. 6 seed.

A long road to glory awaits, but it becomes easier to traverse if everyone contributes.