JaKarr Sampson shines light on huge hole with Kings' roster


JaKarr Sampson shines light on huge hole with Kings' roster

The NBA game is about mismatches. Good teams know how to exploit their advantages. Teams like the Sacramento Kings look for ways to hide their deficiencies. 

Sacramento came out of the offseason knowing they had an issue in their roster make up. The team lacked a combo forward that could handle bigger wings and also slide over to the power spot to challenge stretch fours. 

Rookie Justin Jackson was the only small forward on the roster listed above 6-foot-6 and he is slight of frame at 6-foot-8, 200 pounds. At the power spot, Skal Labissiere and Zach Randolph have plenty of skill, but guarding the perimeter is an issue.

Enter JaKarr Sampson.

Sampson signed a two-way contract with the Kings during the offseason, giving Sacramento the ability to call on the 24-year-old forward for up to 45 days during the season. Listed at 6-foot-9, 215 pounds, Sampson stepped up against 13-time All-Star and four-time league MVP LeBron James on Wednesday evening and made a tremendous contribution.

He finished the night with a modest six points, but his 16 rebounds and physical defense against James shined a light on the Kings' glaring hole in the roster. 

“JaKarr had been playing me tough all game,” James said of Sampson following the game. “I know him, he knows me from our summertime workouts back at St. V. But you know, big brother’s always going to have the last laugh.”

James came away the win. His Cavs team is fresh off two straight NBA Finals trips and they were riding a 12-game winning streak. They came into the night favored by 12.5 over Sacramento and barely escaped with the 101-95 victory. 

After playing for the Reno Bighorns earlier in the week, Sampson started and played 32 minutes for Dave Joerger. The argument could be made that the athletic forward didn’t play enough. 

When Sampson went to the bench at the 3:29 mark of the third quarter, the Kings held a five-point lead. He returned to a tie game with 6:34 remaining in the fourth. James scored 10 of his game-high 32 during that stretch and he found his range from the perimeter.

“I’m just happy to see him back at this level,” James said. “Works extremely hard, is a great competitor. I’m happy Sacramento is giving him an opportunity.”

There is something to be said about knowing your role. Sampson came into the night knowing that he needed to bring energy and physicality when going against James. His incredible rebounding night was just icing on the cake. 

“He was excited and he was up for the challenge,” Vince Carter said. “He’s aggressive, he has a high motor, he loves to play and he’s not really afraid.”

Sacramento doesn’t have another player like Sampson. He fits an immediate need for the ball club, but his contract status limits the way they can use him moving forward. With 15 players already on standard roster, the Kings would have to either trade or waive a player if they wanted to make a permanent spot for the St. John’s product. 

With only five veterans on the roster and commitments to 10 young players, nine of which were first-round selections, the Kings are in a difficult position.

Expect Sacramento to pick and choose their spots with Sampson. They have plenty of time to make a decision on his future with the team. For one night, he was the designated LeBron James stopper.

Things could get interesting for Kings if this version of George Hill sticks around

Things could get interesting for Kings if this version of George Hill sticks around

SACRAMENTO -- There was a George Hill sighting Tuesday evening at Golden 1 Center. The veteran point guard has struggled both on and off the court early in the 2017-18 season. But against the Phoenix Suns, he looked like the player folks have become accustomed to seeing over his 10-year NBA career.

“He was very assertive offensively, got a couple of shots to go down,” head coach Dave Joerger said following the 99-92 victory. “We need him to be a playmaker.”

Hill started early, scoring eight of his team-high 18 points in the first quarter. He knocked down two 3-pointers in the period and picked up three early steals as the Suns played hot potato with the ball.

“It was really nice to see him make some shots and not only that, he made some plays (and) rebounded pretty good,” rookie Frank Mason III said. “I think it’s really good to see him get going and I still think he can play better.”

Sacramento spent big money on Hill over the summer, locking him up on a three-year, $57 million deal. The hope was that he could solidify the point guard position while helping to develop Mason and fellow rookie De’Aaron Fox.

“I’m just trying to help the young fellas learn and mentor them and try to figure it out as we go,” Hill said.

Down from his career-best 16.9 points per game last season in Utah, Hill came into the game against Phoenix averaging just 9.0 points and 2.4 assists in 25.5 minutes per game. He’s shooting the ball well, but he’s not getting the volume of shots he’s become accustomed to during his decade of service in the league.

Adding to his on-court struggles, Hill has missed two games due to two separate personal family issues off the court, including Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors.

With Hill back in the mix, the Kings found a rhythm late against a talented, but young Suns roster. They erased a five-point deficit in the fourth with a 13-0 run to come away with the win and improve to 5-5 over their last 10 games.

“He’s a big part of this,” Zach Randolph said of Hill’s breakout game. “Without him on top, this game is going to be hard for us. We need G to play like that every game.”

With the game still in the balance, Joerger turned back to his veteran leader at the 5:07 mark of the fourth with the Kings still trailing 85-82. He responded with a basket 30 seconds later to give Sacramento a lead and he helped push the team’s advantage to double-digits at the 25.9 mark of the fourth while seeing time at the power forward position.

It was just the second time this season that Hill has reached 18 points in a Kings uniform, with his season-high of 21 coming in game no. 2 of the campaign. He shot 6-for-9 from the field and knocked down 2-of-3 from behind the arc. He added seven rebounds and three steals to help the Kings improve to 9-18 on the season.

Hill isn’t the only Kings player struggling to find his niche through 27 games, but the Kings are a different team when he is on. Randolph is anchoring the post. Buddy Hield is proving the scoring punch off the bench. If Hill can give the team a reliable backcourt presence, things might get a whole lot more interesting in Sacramento.

Gameday: Kings favored against worst-in-defense Suns


Gameday: Kings favored against worst-in-defense Suns

SACRAMENTO -- With another road trip starting on Thursday in Minnesota, the Sacramento Kings hit their home floor looking for a win Tuesday evening against the Phoenix Suns. They’ll face a young team missing their best player and riding a three game losing streak.

The Kings have been hit and miss throughout the season, but an outline for success is beginning to form. The starting unit is still struggling on most nights, but the reserves are playing out of their mind. Zach Randolph has turned back the clock, and young players like Buddy Hield, Frank Mason III and Bogdan Bogdanovic are carving out niches for Sacramento.

Phoenix can score with the best of them, but they have the NBA’s worst defense, allowing an incredible 115 points per game. They’re without sharpshooter Devin Booker for the next few weeks, but they have plenty of firepower to work with.


Kings by 4.5


Kings: 8-18

Suns: 9-19


Skal Labissiere vs. Marquese Chriss... part II -- Labissiere is fresh off a trip to the G-League to jump start his season. He hasn’t had the breakout campaign that many expected, but he showed signs of coming around against the Raptors. Chriss has struggled all season, both as a starter and off the bench. The Sacramento native will have plenty of fans in the stands as he tries to convert potential to production at Golden 1 Center.


Kings: C/PF Willie Cauley-Stein (lower back strain) game-time decision, but he participated in shoot around and is expects to suit up, PF Harry Giles (bi-lateral knee rehab) is out until January at the earliest.

Suns: SG Devin Booker (adductor strain) out, SF Jared Dudley (toe) questionable, PG Brandon Knight (ACL tear) out for the season, G Davon Reed (knee) out, PF Alan Williams (knee) out.


Sacramento dominated the season-series 3-1 last season, but the Suns snuck out a 117-115 win over the Kings early in the 2017-18 campaign. Phoenix leads the all-time series 132-90 and they hold an 85-51 advantage during the Sacramento-era.


Willie Play? -- Willie Cauley-Stein has made a huge impact off the Kings bench. The third-year big is posting 16.3 points and 7.3 rebounds in 28.5 minutes over seven games with the second unit. He’s missed three straight with a lower back strain, but he was confident following Monday’s practice that he would return to action against the Suns.  

Aggressive Fox -- The Kings have been patient with the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft. The 19-year-old point guard turned the ball over seven times and looked lost against veteran Kyle Lowry on Sunday. He attacked late in the game, showing a side that the Kings’ coaching staff has been begging to see. Tyler Ulis and Mike James are both young and inexperienced, which might give Fox an opportunity to shine.   

Feed the Beast -- Zach Randolph is on a roll. The 36-year-old big man continues to anchor the Kings offense. He’ll get a test against veterans Tyson Chandler and Greg Monroe, but he’s handled himself well against bigger names. The Kings need him to continue his strong play if they hope to start leapfrogging teams in the standings.


“I pretty much released myself today. I wasn’t trying to baby it. I just wanted to get out and blow the air out of lungs and try to get back into playing shape.” -Willie Cauley-Stein on returning to practice on Monday.