Kings

Preseason Game 1 vs Spurs a night of firsts for Kings rookies

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AP

Preseason Game 1 vs Spurs a night of firsts for Kings rookies

SACRAMENTO -- A night of firsts. When you walk into a season with five rookies, there are going to be a few new experiences for the team’s young players. While none of the Sacramento Kings’ draft class started the game, four of them played a role in the club’s 106-100 victory over the San Antonio Spurs.

Sacramento’ prized rookie point guard, De’Aaron Fox, showed well in the preseason opener, scoring 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting with the second unit. He added two assists, a steal and a block in 16 minutes of action.

Coming off the bench was something new for Fox. According to the 19-year-old speedster, he’s started every game he’s ever played in.  

“Skal (Labissiere) just kept telling us, ‘watch the flow of the game, see what’s going on out there,’” Fox said following the win. “As far as me, I’ve never come off the bench before, it was something different.”

The rookie drew a huge ovation when he came in the game and he didn’t disappoint. He has elite speed and he played under control. He’ll need time to develop, but there’s no question that he is an NBA player.

After years of starring in the European leagues and in international play, Bogdan Bogdanovic suited up in an NBA uniform for the first time.

“Finally, a dream come true, really,” the Serbian wing said. “I felt that I was an NBA player on the court. I’ll take this chance to thank my fans here. I was really surprised they cheered for me after the substitution and the most important thing is the win.”

Bogdanovic, 25, was the first player to enter the game off the bench. He subbed in for NBA legend Vince Carter, who welcomed him to the court with a huge smile.

While his numbers don’t jump off the page, Bogdanovic looked comfortable in his 13 minutes of action, coming away with two points and three rebounds. He made a concerted effort to get his teammates involved and even ran the offense flanked by Fox and second-year shooting guard Buddy Hield.

Frank Mason is no stranger to the big stage. The NCAA National Player of the Year put on show in 17 minutes of play, leading the team in both scoring (17 points) and rebounding (six boards). Coach Dave Joerger is going to have a difficult time keeping the spark plug off the court if he keeps putting up numbers.  

“I really don’t like to talk about myself, it’s all about the team,” Mason said. “I think we did a pretty good job as a team, because we won the game and that’s the main goal.”

Mason was instant offense every time he stepped on the floor. The 23-year-old took the Spurs off the dribble and hit a variety of floaters in the lane. He also knocked down 2-for-4 from long range and 5-of-6 from the line as he attacked San Antonio’s backcourt.

Rookie Justin Jackson had a rough shooting night, scoring just one point on 0-for-7 shooting over 23 minutes. It’s a blip on the radar for the former North Carolina Tarheel. Jackson is expected to fight for minutes at the small forward position this season for the Kings.

Sacramento selected Harry Giles out of Duke with the 20th overall pick, but they plan on taking it slow with the 19-year-old power forward. Despite participating in training camp all week, Giles sat out due to bilateral knee rehab. There is no word on whether Giles will play during the preseason schedule.

The Kings took Tuesday off to rest, but they'll be back on the practice floor on Wednesday and Thursday before flying to San Antonio to face the Spurs for the second time on Friday evening.

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

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USATSI

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.

LINE

Kings by 4.5

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 8-18

Suns: 9-19

MATCHUP TO WATCH

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.

INJURY REPORT

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.

SERIES HISTORY

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.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

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.

QUOTE

“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.