Kings

Kings listless in loss to Grizzlies: 'Every one of us [needs] to look in the mirror'

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AP

Kings listless in loss to Grizzlies: 'Every one of us [needs] to look in the mirror'

SACRAMENTO -- Some losses you can’t hide from. It’s not about losing to a better team or dropping a tough one at the buzzer.

There is no excuse in the book for trailing by as many as 33 points to the team with the worst record in the Western Conference. Especially when that team is playing on the road for the second night of a back-to-back.

“We got our butt kicked,” George Hill said following the Kings 114-96 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on New Years Eve. “It’s not fun losing. We’ve got to figure it out.”

The Kings fell behind big early. Despite starting four veterans and a 25-year-old rookie, Sacramento went down by as many as 16 in the first quarter.

“I don’t know if we were just exhaling being at home or relaxing from being on the road a long time, but this is not a good performance,” Dave Joerger said following the game. “Lack of focus and lack of force. ”

After falling behind by 24 in the second quarter, they made a run to cut the Grizzlies lead to 14 at the 2:28 mark, but it was all downhill from there.

“Sometimes we let our offense dictate our emotions and things like that,” Hill added. “When we’re not making our shots, we kind of go into a slump.”

The Kings couldn’t find the basket and they couldn’t stop Tyreke Evans. The 2011 Rookie of the Year looked like an All-Star, hitting his former team for 26 points, seven rebounds and five assists in just 25 minutes of action. Evans was the only Memphis player to score more than 11 points on the night.

“He was in a rhythm, man,” Joerger said of Evans. “He’s very comfortable and he was very locked in. When he is able to make his jumper at that ease, he is very difficult to guard.”

With the loss, Sacramento fell to 12-24 on the season. They have now lost two in a row and four of their last five. Following the game, the coaching staff asked the players to take a solid look at what they are bringing to the table and how they can help the team snap out of the current funk.

“Each guy just has to own his own stuff,” Joerger said. “It’s not a finger pointing deal, it’s a ‘how can I get better?’ This is a little bit part of the process of maturing, locking in and getting focused.”

Joerger has turned to countless lineups to start the season. He’s found some combinations that work, but overall, each game has its own challenges. At some point, the players need to show consistent production.

“Like coach said, each and every one of us [needs] to look in the mirror and figure out what we can do better,” Hill said. “It’s not about making shots or this or that. How can we help the team get better in every aspect of the game.”

The Kings are taking New Year's Day off with the hopes of starting fresh Tuesday evening when the Charlotte Hornets roll into Sacramento. It’s another opportunity to get a win against a sub-.500 team.

After tough start to season, Kings make organizational shift towards youth

After tough start to season, Kings make organizational shift towards youth

The time has come. After losing five straight and 10 of their last 12 games, the Sacramento Kings sit at the bottom of the Western Conference standings at 13-30. With playoffs well out of reach, the team is making an organizational decision to go young.

You could say that the Kings made this decision last February when they dealt DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. You could also point to draft day 2017 when the team traded down and turned the 10th overall selection into picks 15 and 20, giving the team three first round selections, an early second rounder and rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic coming from overseas.

Sacramento walked into the 2017-18 campaign with ten players on rookie scale deals, including nine first round selections with two years of NBA experience or less.

After a rocky first half, the team is going to a complete youth movement. The plan is for the veteran core of George Hill, Garrett Temple, Kosta Koufos, Vince Carter and Zach Randolph to rotate in and out of the lineup over the final 40 games of the season. 

Both management and the coaching staff is on the same page with the decision, NBC Sports California has confirmed. Two or three players will sit each night as they team explores what they have in youngsters.

"Going forward, what I'm going to do is, we're going to play a rotation where two of our five veterans are going to be out every night. It might be some times there'll be three. It's an opportunity for some other guys to get some minutes as we go throughout the course of the season. I've got it laid out...I've got about five or six games laid out, and every week I'll go out again because you want to communicate with those guys when they're not going to play. Other guys, they've got to be ready. If you're in the first three years of your contract, you can expect to play a little, or a lot, or none, but you should be ready to play," Joerger told the media after the Kings' loss to the Thunder on Monday night.

Developing young players was the top priority coming into the season. With the team struggling, the franchise's decision to speed up the transition from veterans to inexperienced players comes as no surprise.

Prized first round selection De’Aaron Fox has already 22 of 35 appearances for the Kings and is settling into the starting point guard position. Since returning from injury, the 20-year-old out of Kentucky is posting 14.3 points and 6.7 assists over 32.5 minutes per game.

Despite early season struggles with consistency, the fifth overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft is improving. With the ideological shift in direction by the franchise, it is now Fox’s show, but he’s not the only one expected to produce.

Willie Cauley-Stein has taken a huge leap forward in his third season with the team as well. After struggles in his first two years in the league, Cauley-Stein is averaging career-highs in points (12.0), rebounds (6.5), assists (2.2), steals (.9), blocks (.8) and minutes played (26.2).

With his confidence at an all-time high, Cauley-Stein is going to be asked to do even more with a reduction of minutes by Zach Randolph. The lanky 7-footer will have an opportunity to prove he is a go-to weapon in the final 40 games of the season.

The Kings have a pair of wings that appear ready to excel in Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield.

Bogdanovic has made tremendous strides through his first few months in the league and he’s clearly ready for a bigger role. The presence of Hill and Temple has forced Bogdanovic to play out of position at the small forward position.

The 25-year-old Serbian has already seen a surge in minutes and production during the month of January. Bogdanovic has scored in double-figures all six games this month and he’s averaging 15.3 points on 55 percent shooting from field and 50 percent from long range. He has a maturity to his game after spending years playing professionally in Europe and Joerger has relied heavily on him throughout the early season.

Hield has improved in year two, especially on the defensive end. He came out of Oklahoma as a pure scorer and hasn’t disappointed. The 6-foot-5 shooting guard is shooting over 44 percent from 3-point range this season and showing a good feel for the game as a volume scorer off the bench.

The front office and coaching staff have an outline of what Fox, Cauley-Stein, Bogdanovic and Hield project as players, but there are plenty of other youngsters on the roster that the club needs more time to assess.

Skal Labissiere has fought his way out of a rough patch and is showing signs of improvement. His rebounding numbers have steadily jumped up and he’s figuring out how to defend stretch fours on the perimeter.

Before his injury, Frank Mason III was making strides as the team’s backup point guard. The second round pick is solid, but struggled with his shot before going down with a plantar fascia injury. He’ll be back in early February and should slide right back into the rotation.

Justin Jackson and Malachi Richardson have taken turns bouncing between the Kings and  the Reno Bighorns. Jackson has a maturity about him on the floor, but he’s been inconsistent with his shot and needs to get stronger.

After earning his way into the rotation last season, Richardson has struggled when given the opportunity this year. He’s worked tirelessly on his body and he’s a great practice 3-point shooter. He’s learning to play the 2, 3 and even some stretch four this season, which shows versatility, but he passes up too many open looks.

Lastly, the Kings have a complete unknown in 7-foot-2 center Georgios Papagiannis. Like Richardson, the giant out of Greece has worked hard to reinvent his body. He’s clearly quicker and more agile than he was in his rookie season, but at 20-years-old, he’s still considered a project.

It might be 10-15 games earlier than expected, but at some point this season, the Kings were going to throw their young players to the wolves and see how they fair. Sitting out games is a tough pill to swallow for veterans, but with just 13 wins through the first three months of the season, the writing has been on the wall for a while.

Gameday: Kings begin challenging road stretch with a visit to OKC, Westbrook

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USATSI

Gameday: Kings begin challenging road stretch with a visit to OKC, Westbrook

Sacramento’s lost four straight and they begin a stretch of seven of the next eight games on the road. They start the gambit in Oklahoma where the star-studded Thunder await them on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

The Kings are coming off back-to-back losses to the Los Angeles Clippers which sunk them to the bottom of the Western Conference standings. Willie Cauley-Stein put up 23 points and 13 rebounds, but the Clippers jumped out to a big lead early and coasted home.

OKC is playing tremendous defense, but they still haven’t figured out how to put it all together. Russell Westbrook’s numbers are steadily climbing as he adapts to additions Paul George and Carmelo Anthony. This team is in the middle of the pack in the west, but they are one hot streak away from jumping up in the standings.

BETTING LINE

Thunder by 11.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

De’Aaron Fox vs. Russell Westbrook: Take 2 -- Fox seems to have turned a corner since returning from injury. But the 20-year-old will guard one of the toughest assignments in the NBA. Westbrook is fresh off an MVP season and he’s getting dangerously close to averaging a triple-double on the season.

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 13-29, fifth place in Pacific

Thunder: 23-20, second place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT

Kings: PG Frank Mason III (heel) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out.

Thunder: SG Andre Roberson (knee) questionable.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

Youth Movement -- Dave Joerger has slowly turned to his younger players as the season’s gone on. Fox is starting at the point and Cauley-Stein is playing a big role on the front line, but Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield are starting to see an increase in minutes as well. Players are developing, but it doesn’t always look pretty.

Get a Body on Him -- Steven Adams is a beast. The giant out of New Zealand plays physical and he’s strong as an ox. Someone is going to have to keep a body on him or he’ll dominate the glass all game long. Cauley-Stein, Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and maybe even Georgios Papagiannis have their work cut out for them.

Live in the Moment -- Games like this against superstar players can be overwhelming for young players. The Kings need to stick to the game plan and play each possession like it’s their last.

SERIES HISTORY

The Kings shocked OKC in early November, coming away with a 94-86 win at Golden 1 Center. The Thunder hold a 142-86 all-time lead over the Kings and an 85-50 advantage in the Sacramento-era.