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Plenty of intrigue for Kings in the final 25 games


Plenty of intrigue for Kings in the final 25 games

All-Star weekend is a break from the grind of the NBA season. It’s a moment for players to catch their breath and prepare for the final stretch of 25 games. It is also a moment for some of the game’s brightest lights to shine.

For a team like the Sacramento Kings, being represented in the festivities is a glimmer of hope for their fan base that has patiently waited for even the smallest sign of improvement over the last decade. The Kings were represented by three young players at the Rising Stars challenge for the first time in franchise history, which hopefully means they are on the right path.

In the end, accolades like this mean very little. The fact that Bogdan Bogdanovic took home the MVP trophy from the game won’t change the final outcome of the 2017-18 season. Former King, Chris Webber, couldn’t even say his name correctly when handing him the hardware.

Two weeks from now, no one will remember that Buddy Hield dropped in 29 points to lead Team World. And De’Aaron Fox’s four-point performance is a tiny blip on what should be a decade-or-more long career.

It’s nice to see headlines splashed across the country like the one on, “Team World, led by two Sacramento Kings, dominate Team USA.”

But when the ball tips off Thursday night against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the reality of the Kings’ situation will return. They are an 18-39 team with nine players on rookie scale contracts.

It’s not all doom and gloom. This season was never about wins and losses. It’s about proving up talent, figuring out what the team’s needs are going forward, and development.

Here’s a look at the top five reasons to tune in over the final 25 games of the 2017-18 season:

Fox and Bogdanovic backcourt - Fox took a big spill in the final game before the break and is beat up. Since returning from a leg injury in December, the 20-year-old point guard has averaged 13.8 points and five assists per game. He’s cranked up his defensive effort and his 3-point percentage has climbed dramatically.

Bogdanovic looks like a man possessed, not just in the Rising Star game, but over the final five games leading to the break. The 25-year-old Serb posted 15.4 points on 43.3 percent shooting from behind the arc over the stretch, and he averaged 5.4 assists.

It’s a pairing that should work long term. Fox has the speed to break down defenses. Bogdanovic is a high basketball IQ, jack-of-all-trades player. They compliment each other well and will get a 25-game audition to show they are ready to handle the show next season.

Can Skal Labissiere get back on track? - Labissiere came into the season with a lot of promise, but inconsistent play and a shoulder injury have slowed his progress. He has the skill set to be a high end scorer for the Kings and he’s shown an ability to rebound.

On the downside, Labissiere has struggled to defend on the perimeter and he gets lost in defensive rotations. He’s worked hard to get stronger, but he still gets shoved off the ball, especially when rebounding.

Sacramento needs Labissiere to make a huge step in the final 25 games. They have promising big man Harry Giles waiting in the wings for next season. They also need a stretch four moving forward. Skal will have an opportunity to show he’s a player, but his position is going to get a lot more crowded moving forward.

More than a shooter - The Kings have the highest scoring second unit in the NBA, averaging 45.9 points per game. Buddy Hield has found a home with the reserves, but the Kings need him to be more than just a volume scorer.

Hield has improved on the defensive end, but he’s still a work in progress. Where he can really take a step forward is in his ability to create for others. During the month of February, Hield is averaging just 0.7 assists in 20.6 minutes per game and his assist percentage is one of the lowest amongst the Kings’ regulars.

There’s no question that Buddy can score. He’s shooting 42.5 percent from 3-point range on the season and he’s second on the team in points per game. But if he wants to keep his minutes up, he has to find a way to make the players around him better.

Consistency from Willie - Cauley-Stein has made more poster dunks this season than any Kings player in a while. He has the athleticism and length that teams are looking for as the center position evolves, and his production is starting to rise.

The 24-year-old has a lot riding on the final 25 games of the season. He is eligible for an extension this summer and has yet to establish his market value moving forward.

If he wants the big bucks, he needs to continue to improve his rebounding numbers and become the defensive stopper he was in college. The scoring numbers are improving, but that is just a bonus.

Earn your minutes - With the Kings going young, the door is open for Justin Jackson, Frank Mason III and maybe even Bruno Caboclo. Dave Joerger gave Jackson the opportunity to start the 10 games leading up to the break and the 22-year-old wing showed flashes. He scored in double-figures in six of those games and he’s steadily improving his stats across the board.

After earning a spot in the rotation, Mason missed the entire month of January and has yet to suit up in February due to a heel injury. Mason has played solid ball when healthy, but the Kings need to know if he is their backup point guard moving forward.

Caboclo came over in a deadline deal for Malachi Richardson. He’s logged a total of 113 minutes over four seasons since being drafted with the 20th pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. He’s put up solid numbers in the G-League and there’s a chance the Kings give him an audition down the home stretch.  

For next year's All-Star game, NBA should focus on what really matters


For next year's All-Star game, NBA should focus on what really matters

The National Basketball Association got only one real lift from All-Star Weekend, and that is that LeBron James got to summarily dismiss Laura Ingraham.
Other than that, the big announcement after a largely uninspiring weekend was that Commissioner Adam Silver is going to televise more of the only thing the All-Star Game is actually good for – the assembling of the teams.
I suppose that isn’t exactly the bounce the league was hoping for from its first experiment in a format the National Hockey League abandoned as dated and the National Football League couldn’t make people care about their Pro Bowl, but the league’s bounce is the league’s problem.
So are the introductions, which one supposes will be sped up next year in Charlotte so as not to allow folks to remember why the game was in Charlotte two years after it was supposed to be in Charlotte.
But the only real production values the league ought to care about are the identities of the players on the two teams, if only because of our obsession with what we erroneously call “snubs.” If the idea is to see players irked by not being named, or elated by being named, then that is where the league’s focus ought to be.
That point was made fairly clear when Chris Haynes of ESPN was given the identities of the last two players drafted on this year’s teams – Boston’s Al Horford and San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. That was supposed to be a closely guarded secret apparently at the behest of Stephen Curry (who had a tough weekend himself), and yet it tumbled out like so many others – because it was one of the few curiosities about this event.
So if the idea is that the selection of the teams is the only real value other than the weekend price-gouging, then Silver’s job is to finish the job that begins by televising the draft – specifically, to televise the selections of the backups from which the draft emanates.
I mean, why do the players have to show their work while the coaches do not? Why is secrecy allowed for the suits but not for the sweats? What sort of anti-egalitarian message is being sent here? Fight the power! Rage against the machine!
And then when that’s done, the league should cozy up to Las Vegas again to undo some of the damage caused by its ridiculous “integrity fee” fiasco. After all, one of the undertold stories of the weekend was the way the betting line for the total plummeted once the smart guys figured out the two teams would not try to break 200, and everyone loves a betting coup. Thus, keeping up to date on betting trends, one of Silver’s ongoing initiatives, would seem to be an imperative in the years to come.
Well, that, and coaxing some fringe political yammerhead to insult one of the players for no decipherable reason. That one never fails to stick the landing.

Kings rookie Bogdanovic wins MVP of Rising Stars Challenge, Hield lights it up


Kings rookie Bogdanovic wins MVP of Rising Stars Challenge, Hield lights it up


For the first time in franchise history, the Sacramento Kings were represented by three players for the Rising Star Challenge at All-Star weekend. Bogdan Bogdanovic and Buddy Hield were early picks for the World team and rookie De’Aaron Fox was a late addition to the USA team due to an injury to the Lakers’ Lonzo Ball.

Bogdanovic was one of the first subs off the bench for the World team and he didn’t disappoint, leading his team to a 155-124 win over Team USA. The Kings 25-year-old rookie took home the hardware, winning the game's MVP award.

The Serbian sharpshooter started dropping in triples from 30 feet out to oohs and ahhs from the crowd. He scored 26 points on 7-of-13 shooting from deep. He added six assists as he looked to set up his teammates.

Hield started the game at the shooting guard spot for the World Team and hit his first two 3-point shots to get his team out to an early lead. He finished the game with a team-high 29 points on 5-for-14 shooting from long range. 

For much of their time on the court, Bogdanovic lined up opposite Fox. The Kings’ starting backcourt appeared to have a great time playing All-Star Game matador defense against one another.

Fox nearly missed the festivities after taking a big spill late in Wednesday’s loss to the Rockets. Despite requiring stitches above his right eye and on his chin, Fox was able to suit up and score four points on the night.

Jaylen Brown led the way for Team USA with 35 points and 10 rebounds, but it wasn't nearly enough.