Brown challenging Huerter is paying off for Kings in big way


SACRAMENTO -- All season long, Kings coach Mike Brown has challenged Kevin Huerter to prove that he can do more on the court than shoot the 3-ball. 

The sharpshooter accepted the challenge and fulfilled it perfectly in Sacramento’s 135-127 win over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night at Golden 1 Center. 

Huerter finished with a team-high 29 points in his first game back after missing three consecutive games with a leg injury. He shot an impressive 55.5 percent from the field and 50.0 percent from downtown. Typically, the numbers on the stat sheet end there for Huerter.

But not on Friday.  

On top of his lights-out shooting, the 6-foot-7 guard racked up nine boards, five assists, one steal and one block in 32 minutes. His nine rebounds are the most he’s had all season while averaging just 3.4 in his career and 3.2 this season with the Kings. 

After the game, Huerter attributed his aggressive approach on the glass to Brown. 

“Mike, he’s on all of us, especially myself continuously trying to rebound,” Huerter said. “We’re so good when we’re able to get out in transition. But we have to get stops, we have to get out and run. 

“There’s definitely games this year I haven’t been great rebounding the ball, it’s definitely an emphasis. Mike is preaching on everybody to continuously try to rebound.”

Brown, without hesitation, agreed. 

“He’s 100 percent correct,” Brown said of Huerter’s comments. “You know, we had a couple of discussions during the course of the year because there were times where he wasn’t on the floor during the end of games. And I told him, ‘Obviously, we know you can shoot and play make, but we need you and Malik [Monk] and the rest of our guards to get in there and mix it up and come up with some rebounds.’ 

“His ability to rebound tonight was extremely impactful in terms of us getting a win. Obviously, I’ve talked about his shooting and his playmaking, but getting nine offensive boards was huge and we need that. We need him to stick his nose in the right way every game because we’re not a huge team and we’re not naturally gifted when it comes to that across the board. Domas has a nose for the ball but other than that, nobody else really does. 

“So we have to do it collectively as a group and to have a guy like Kevin step up and get nine rebounds tonight was really, really big.”

Despite Huerter averaging career-high numbers in his first season with Sacramento, that simply isn’t enough for Brown and the championship-caliber coach’s standards as he pushes his team to their first playoff appearance since 2006. 

The dynamic goes to show just how important Brown’s impact has been on the team, and why he’s the frontrunner for the 2022-23 NBA Coach of the Year Award. The Kings are disciplined and willing to listen, which is resulting in very good things for the organization and the entire 916 area. 

But, just because Brown wants Huerter to do more than shoot, doesn’t mean the head coach wants him to stop letting them fire from behind the arc. It's not like that was going to happen anyway. 

“I’m always confident,” Huerter told reporters postgame. “I felt good. I didn’t start off great, but I just got back into rhythm. I think I air-balled a layup early in the first or second quarter. I just tried to stick with it.”

Huerter was held scoreless until there were 92 seconds remaining in the first half. But that confidence never left his side, and it paid off. He wound up scoring the Kings’ final seven points of the half and then opened up the second half with a trey. 

That 3-pointer from Huerter was followed by 13 more points during the quarter. His 16-point third-quarter outburst, deemed “fantastic” by Brown after the game, helped pivot the outcome of the game as the Kings went from the outscored to the outscorers in the third quarter and beyond to pull out the win. 

For Huerter’s teammates, it was nice having "Red Velvet" back out on the floor. They see the growth and the impact he has had over the course of the season. 

“He looked fresh,” Kings veteran forward Harrison Barnes said. “I’ve been saying that for a while. It was good to see him out there. He’s been working really hard. … He obviously made a huge impact for us and played great.”

RELATED: Brown shares why he tells Kings to believe in NBA title goals

The Kings play the second game of a back-to-back against the Utah Jazz on Saturday at Golden 1 Center. With the nine rebounds he had on Friday, maybe Huerter’s next challenge will be a double-double. 

Hey, special things are happening this season. Nothing is off-limits with this team. 

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