SACRAMENTO -- Dave Joerger has a method to his madness. With DeMarcus Cousins now in a New Orleans Pelicans uniform and the Sacramento Kings quickly falling back into the lottery discussion, there is a buzz about playing the young core of the team, instead of veteran players.
At a certain point, the Kings will likely move that way, but not until they feel it’s right for everyone involved. Regardless of the public outcry, Joerger’s job is to attempt to put players in a position to succeed, not just throw them to the wolves and risk slowing their progress.
Skal Labissiere made his first career start against the Brooklyn Nets, but Joerger is unlikely to stick stick with the 20-year-old power forward for the remaining 21 games on the schedule. According to the Kings’ head coach, it was solely based on matchups.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is in his second NBA season and has a lot of room to grow for Brooklyn. Trevor Booker is an energy veteran that does the dirty work off Kenny Atkinson's bench. Joerger looked at the matchups and Labissiere made more sense starting against an inexperienced Hollis-Jefferson, so he got the nod.
“What I’ve tried to do as part of their development is, I think it’s worked out really really well, is try to line them up against second line guys,” Joerger said.
It’s not a slight on reserves or second tier players. Labissiere is still learning how to use his immense skillset. He and Willie Cauley-Stein are in similar boats when it comes to the need for more grooming. They are learning the game on the fly and playing against savvy vets could do more harm than good at this stage in their development.
“Willie and Skal are learning body on body position,” Joerger said. “There’s an art to it, of setting your guy up. Those guys are all big and long and athletic.”
There will come a time when these two are lined up next to each other, but until they refine their game, you will see each in bursts and typically paired with a veteran.
Sacramento has almost an endless supply of young players. Labissiere and Cauley-Stein are getting minutes in the post. 7-footer Georgios Papagiannis works behind the scenes with the staff, as well as earning minutes with the team’s D-League affiliate in Reno.
Malachi Richardson earned back end of the rotation minutes before his injury and would likely be getting a substantial look now if not for a torn hamstring. Despite joining the team last week, rookie Buddy Hield has a green light to hoist up shots as he acclimates to the system.
“Sometimes the game is going a little fast,” Joerger said of his young players. “We can help each other, keep watching video, keep breaking it down for them, keep showing them on the court, keep trying to get better. It’s just a process.”
Most of the team’s veteran players took a maintenance day on Thursday, allowing the young guys to work through offensive sets with the coaching staff. While you aren’t likely to see four rookies on the floor at the same time during an NBA game this season, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t being developed.
It’s a transition for everyone involved, but young players need to earn minutes and veterans will not be cast aside. Joerger will continue to tinker with lineups and player combinations as he starts fresh with just a quarter of the season remaining.
Expectations have changed, but the path is clear. Youth will get opportunities, but they will earn their keep. It's rebuild time in Sacramento.