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'Ultimate professional': Young Kings learning from Harrison Barnes' quiet leadership

Jason Anderson, The Sacramento Bee on

Published in Basketball

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The trade deadline hit the Kings locker room like a strike of lightning last season, creating changes in the ecosystem that are still being studied today.

In a flash, Iman Shumpert, Justin Jackson and Zach Randolph were gone, shipped out in separate deals that brought Harrison Barnes and Alec Burks to Sacramento. Those moves frazzled some of the team's young players, altering team dynamics in some interesting and still-evolving ways, but something important happened in the days after that initial jolt.

Barnes showed up to work. He hung his suit neatly, laced up his shoes and quietly went about his business. He did big things and little things and lots of unnoticed things that contribute to a winning basketball culture, all with an unassuming leadership style that was never perceived as a threat to the team's emerging young stars.

They missed their departed teammates, but they respected Barnes and understood what he brought to the squad. They watched him work on his game. They saw him maintaining his body. They noticed his charitable efforts in communities across the country.

"He's the ultimate leader, not just vocally, but the way he acts," rookie guard Justin James said. "He's the ultimate professional. Everything he does, on and off the court, is something somebody can look up to. He's always about doing his job."

Barnes did his job well Saturday at Golden 1 Center, scoring a season-high 30 points to help the Kings storm back from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Denver Nuggets 100-97 in overtime. The Kings (8-10) have won eight of 13 going into Monday's game against the Chicago Bulls (6-14), keeping themselves in playoff contention despite the injury-related absences of De'Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley III.

 

Sacramento went 0-5 to start the season, but over the past 13 games the Kings were seventh in the Western Conference and 12th in the NBA with a plus-2.3 net rating, averaging 109.1 points per 100 possessions while allowing 106.8. Last season, when Sacramento finished ninth in the West with 39 wins, the Kings were 18th in the NBA with a net rating of minus-1.2.

During this stretch, the Kings have beaten the Utah Jazz, snapped the Boston Celtics' 10-game winning streak and rallied to beat the Nuggets, who had won six in a row and 10 of their last 11. Along the way, the Kings nearly knocked off the Los Angeles Lakers and almost beat the Celtics a second time on the road.

Remarkably, the Kings are playing like a playoff team. Despite their early struggles -- despite the losses of Fox and Bagley -- they are tied with the Phoenix Suns for eighth in the Western Conference. They wouldn't be doing any of this without Barnes, who has been one of the team's steadiest, most consistent players since signing a four-year, $85 million deal to stay in Sacramento over the summer.

"He's been huge for us," Kings coach Luke Walton said. "Just his leadership on and off the court, the way he sets the example for young guys to really kind of build their professional habits around, being able to see that every day, coming into games and being a steadying force for us. Sometimes we're out there, especially since Fox has been out, (and) it can kind of get a little wild out there, and Harrison has been that constant, calming force for our team."

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