James Ham

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

As Kings rookie Marvin Bagley surges, is starting role on the horizon?

The time is coming. Whether it’s this week or two weeks from now or the start of next season, young big man Marvin Bagley III is going to work his way into the Kings’ starting lineup, where he could reside for the next decade or so.

His talent is undeniable, and he continues to show flashes of brilliance. His 32-point, seven-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns last week comes to mind.

But the stretch run is here, and for the first time in more than a decade, the Kings are playing for more than just lottery balls. In most seasons, this is when Sacramento usually turns the team over to players like Bagley for crucial developmental time on the court.

With just 25 games remaining and Sacramento just a game back of the eighth seed, coach Dave Joerger is still trying to balance the future and the present. Yet It’s becoming more and more clear that the future and the present are one in the same.

Over the first six games of February, the game is slowing down for Bagley, and he’s playing his best basketball of his rookie season.

Since returning from a knee injury in early January, the former Duke star is posting 14.2 points and 8.1 rebounds per game off of Joerger’s bench. In February’s first six games, those numbers jump to 15.7 points and 8.7 rebounds in 27.7 minutes per game.

Bagley’s ability to score in the post gives Sacramento’s high-octane offense a new wrinkle. As his shot selection improves and he develops as the roller in the two-man game, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft is only going to get better.

“He has a special talent, nobody can block his jumpshot,” teammate Buddy Hield said last week. “He’s gifted and I just want to see him succeed at the highest level.”

In Sacramento’s equal-opportunity offense, having a big body to feed in the post is a nice luxury. It also doesn’t hurt that Bagley is one of the best rebounders on the team, especially on the offensive end.

“He jumps so high, it doesn’t matter what anybody does,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “Just pick a spot, get to it and be able to just rise up.”

[RELATED: Webber confident Kings are headed for brighter days]

With Bagley stepping up his game, veteran Nemanja Bjelica has seen a reduction in court time. After carrying the team through stretches early in the season, the former Euroleague MVP struggled in January.

Bjelica has bounced back a bit in February, averaging nine points on 38.1 percent shooting from 3-point range in 18.8 minutes per game. Bagley has taken some of his playing time, but newcomer Harrison Barnes has seen time at the four as well.

Joerger has been clear throughout the year that Bjelica’s shooting ability opens the spacing on the floor for Fox and the team’s up-tempo style. The addition of Barnes at the deadline may give Joerger even more flexibility with his rotations.

Bagley has been shooting with the guards following practice, and he’s pushed his 3-point attempts to nearly two per game during February.

The rookie is shooting just 27.3 percent from behind the arc on the month, and 25.5 percent on the season. If teams don’t have to defend Bagley on the perimeter, it complicates things for the Kings’ offense.

If the Kings were struggling, it’s likely that Bagley would already be starting. With the team in the thick of the playoff race, Joerger has a tough decision to make about if or when Bagley assumes his position with the opening group.

2019 NBA All-Star Saturday Night: Buddy Hield shines in 3-Point Contest

2019 NBA All-Star Saturday Night: Buddy Hield shines in 3-Point Contest

Taking advantage of his first invitation to the 3-Point Contest at NBA All-Star weekend, Kings shooting guard Buddy Hield put on a show on Saturday in Charlotte. 

Hield crushed it in the first round, scoring 26 points to advance. He joined Brooklyn Nets guard Joe Harris and Warriors superstar Stephen Curry in the finals.

After watching Harris go for 26 to open the final round, Hield struggled early. He cleaned up in the final rack, but his 19 points weren’t nearly enough to come away with the win. 

Curry made his first nine to open his final round, but he went cold from the top of the key. He needed five makes on the final rack to force another round, but the two-time MVP only hit four

With the win, Harris became the first Nets player in team history to win the 3-point contest. Hield came in third place, but represented Sacramento well in his first visit to the event.

Messed around and got burned...

Speed kills, but in the Skills Challenge, the 3-point shot is just as important as every other skill. 

Matched up against Hawks rookie Trae Young in the first round, Kings point guard De’Aaron Fox raced through the course like a dart. He flew through the dribbling portion, had no problems with the pass or the lay-up. 

Fox’s lead seemed insurmountable. 

After missing his first 3-point attempt, Fox released a second shot which was on line. But Young sent a laser from deep, which flew past Fox’s second attempt hit pay dirt first.

Young looked like was going to walk away with the Skills Challenge trophy in the finals, but Boston’s Jayson Tatum chucked a half-court shot to stun the crowd and steal the hardware. 

Kings trio puts on a show at 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge in Charlotte

Kings trio puts on a show at 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge in Charlotte

If you like defense, then you probably didn’t enjoy Friday night’s 2019 NBA Rising Stars Challenge. If you’re all about highlight reel dunks and ill-advised alley-oop passes, then bring on the rookies and sophomores.

In a wild up-and-down game, Team USA ran away from the World Team for a 161-144 victory to help open up the first day of NBA All-Star weekend in Charlotte, N.C. 

If you needed a quote to describe the action on the court, 40-year-old honorary coach for the World Team Dirk Nowitzki had you covered.

“Our transition defense is like I’m out there,” Nowitzki said during the broadcast. 

Kings star De’Aaron Fox picked up the start for the American team at point guard, and looked to set up his teammates. He scored just two points, but chipped in a game-high 16 assists in the win, including a clean look to Sacramento teammate Marvin Bagley III. 

After taking home the MVP hardware last season, Kings sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic started for the World team and finished with 15 points on 5-for-11 shooting from long range. He added six assists and five rebounds in the loss.  

Bagley, meanwhile, brought his jumping shoes, and put on an aerial assault on the rim. 

The 19-year-old made an impact on the offensive end, finishing with 14 points and five rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench. He and Fox both missed a pair of crazy dunks in the final minute, but Bogdanovic threw his rookie a bone to finish the night.

[RELATED: Fox sdends message on potential Kings-Warriors series]

Los Angeles Lakers guard Kyle Kuzma dropped in 23 of his 35 points in the first half for Team USA, and came away with MVP honors. Philadelphia 76ers guard Ben Simmons scored 28 points on 14-for-17 shooting to lead the World Team.

Fox will return to the Spectrum Center to compete in the Skills Challenge on Saturday. He’ll likely stick around to cheer on Kings teammate Buddy Hield, who is scheduled to compete in the 3-point contest later that night.