Over the course of his six-year NBA career, Kevin Huerter has shot 44.3 percent from the field and 38.5 percent from 3-point range.
Last season with the Kings, his first year with the team after being traded to Sacramento by the Atlanta Hawks, Huerter averaged 48.5-percent shooting from the field and 40.2 percent from deep across 75 games played.
He quickly became a fan favorite in Sacramento and earned and proudly repped “Headband Huerter” and “Red Velvet” monikers. His lights-out shooting from behind the arc electrified Golden 1 Center crowds more than once, but the performance that stands out most was his game-winning trey against the Utah Jazz last December.
That is the Kevin Huerter that Kings fans got to know and love in just a short amount of time with the team. One season later, that same guy approached the offseason trying to erase a forgettable playoff showing and get back to his Headband Huerter ways.
He put in the work all summer and made it clear that he was focused on the present and the future – not the past.
Despite a semi-concerning preseason showing that would only erase the “semi” if it wasn’t the preseason, Kings coach Mike Brown decided to roll with the same starting five as last season: De’Aaron Fox, Huerter, Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Domantas Sabonis – the unit that played more minutes together than any other starting five in the NBA last season.
In the first game of the 2023-24 season, Huerter had seven points on 33-percent shooting from the field and 20 percent from deep, with five rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes played in Sacramento’s season-opening win over the Utah Jazz on Wednesday night.
On Friday night, Huerter had an opportunity to once again wow the Golden 1 Center crowd just as he did in his Kings debut at this time last year. Instead, the 25-year-old guard went scoreless in 15 minutes as Sacramento lost 122-114 to the Golden State Warriors.
Huerter’s five field goal attempts all came from behind the arc and he missed all of them. In a game where the Kings lost by single digits, Huerter’s offensive spark certainly would have come in handy.
And the frustration from Huerter could be felt all over the arena on Friday. But his teammates still have the utmost confidence in him.
“I mean you stay the course. This league is 82 games. We’ve played two,” Fox said after the game in response to Huerter’s shooting struggles. “Last year we were coming in here and it was, ‘Oh Kev is shooting 60 percent from 3.’ So those things happen. But you want him to stay the course. He got to this level for a reason. He’s stayed at this level for a reason. He got his extension for a reason. Those things don’t happen by accident. You go through tough spells.”
“You’ve seen the best shooters in the world go through rough spells, so we want him to continue to be him. We’re asking him defensively to chase guys and fight through screens. Obviously, that wears on you, that wears on your legs, but that’s part of being a professional and that’s part of being a professional two-guard in this league. You have to do that and then you got to go on the other end to make shots and he knows what his job is. And he’s just struggling right now. So we’re fine, we want him to stay the course.”
Sure, the Kings are only two games into the new season. But if there’s one reason to even inch closer to the panic button, it’s because Huerter’s last few showings on the court weren’t any more impressive.
Huerter helped the Kings reach the postseason for the first time in 17 years. But when they got there, his shot went ice cold.
The Kings earned the No. 3 seed in the West last season and a first-round playoff meeting with Steph Curry and the then-defending champion Warriors. Sacramento took the reigning champs all the way to Game 7, but Huerter struggled during the entire seven-game thriller.
Huerter shot just 20.5 percent from 3-point range in the series, and in the do-or-die Game 7 loss, he had seven points on 22.2-percent shooting from the field and 16.7 percent from deep.
As Fox alluded to, just about every shooter goes through some type of funk.
Keegan Murray experienced it several times last season during his rookie NBA season. Now on the other side of it, Murray disclosed some of the things
“Yeah, I mean he’s one of, if not the best shooter on our team,” Murray said after Friday’s loss. “So just keep being consistent on what he’s doing. And I know that he’s working hard every single day with his shooting and staying in the gym. So we all have faith in him. I have complete faith in him and every time he shoots the basketball, I think it’s going to go in.”
Nearly six months later, at the beginning of a new season, Huerter’s shooting struggles persisted in Sacramento’s home-opening loss to the Warriors on Friday night.
But Brown isn’t the type of coach to pull a player for missing a few shots. Instead, he encourages his players with four words — “let that thing fly” — if they’re open, regardless if they’re struggling or not.
And like Fox, Brown is sure Huerter will turn things around.
“You know, he’s been in the league long enough to where he’s been through some stuff and I think that his mental toughness, us encouraging him as much as we can and tell him, ‘Hey, if you’re open, let that thing fly.’ Us continuing to try to work with him in the areas that we feel he can be better at.
“In my opinion, he’s gonna figure it out. He shot the ball extremely well throughout his entire career, so I don’t see anything different happening this season. I think eventually his shooting is going to be where it needs to be for him to feel good and for him to help us win some ball games.”
If things continue to trend downward, though, Brown won’t shy away from making a change to the starting lineup – but that isn’t limited to just Huerter.
This preseason, Brown mixed things up and started new Kings forward/guard Chris Duarte over Huerter. He said it was just to experiment with the different lineups and rotations, but it surely sent a message to the entire team that no one’s starting role is safe.
“Kevin’s not the only one that made mistakes tonight,” Brown said. “There were plenty of guys that made mistakes. And when I evaluate the team, I’m not just looking at Kevin and thinking about taking Kevin out of the starting lineup. There are other changes that can be made. And so with the flexibility we feel we have with this team, that’s something that I always have to take a look at.
“And again, not just with Kevin but across the board. I got to take a look at it to see how I can put our team in the right position to win a ballgame.”
The team remains confident that Huerter will figure things out. With a little patience and a lot of confidence, Kings fans hopefully won’t have to wait too long to cheer on their favorite headband-wearing player again.