SACRAMENTO -- Going young. The Sacramento Kings put their core of 20-somethings to work Saturday night at Golden 1 Center. Five players with three years of experience or less played more than 25 minutes, with four of those players hitting the 30-minute mark.
This has been the plan since the start of the new year, but injuries have derailed coach Dave Joerger’s rotations. With seven healthy youngsters and a mystery man in Bruno Caboclo hiding on the end of the bench, it’s time to see what the Kings have.
“I want our team to go out and learn, I want our team to go out and play the right way and not just run up and down,” Dave Joerger said before the Kings faced off with the Los Angeles Lakers Saturday evening.
Wins are great, but learning experiences are just as valuable for the 2017-18 Kings. With the game in the balance in the fourth quarter against the Lakers, Joerger mostly went away from his veterans.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Willie Cauley-Stein, Frank Mason and Skal Labissiere all played major minutes in fourth quarter as the Kings tried to pull out the win. They clawed to within one point with 12 seconds remaining and had the ball with an opportunity to tie moments later. These are the types of situations the Kings young players need to see and learn from.
“I think we’re improving a lot from early in the season,” Bogdanovic told NBC Sports California following the loss. “I can say, we don’t have those games where it’s 20-30 points and it’s already lost. I think we compete every single night.”
The Kings are taking baby steps. They took the Oklahoma City Thunder down to the wire on Thursday night, only to lose on a buzzer beater with one second on the clock. They stumbled in the final moments against the Lakers, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort.
“Sometimes it just comes with experience,” Fox said of the loss. “A lot of other teams, they’ve had the same core and they struggled early on, but with that experience, you get better. You start seeing what guys can do a few years into the league.”
Individually, the numbers are up for almost every one of the Kings’ young players since January 1st. The team is looking for signs of improvement and an outline of what the future may hold is taking form.
Fox and Bogdanovic are building chemistry as a starting backcourt. They combined to score 34 points, dish out 10 assists and grab seven rebounds against the Lakers on Saturday. It’s a one-game sample, but they compliment each other well as players.
Hield has become a valuable asset as a bench scorer and he’s starting to show he can do more than just shoot. After posting 19 points and nine rebounds against the Thunder on Thursday, he finished with 21 points and eight boards against the Lakers.
Cauley-Stein posted an 18-point, 15-rebounds double-double against LA. He is showing more consistency this season as a whole, but the Kings are still looking for nightly numbers they can start to pencil in for the 7-footer.
After a strong finish to the the 2016-17 season, Labissiere has struggled in Year Two, especially on the defensive end. He missed a few weeks of action due shoulder injury and he’s looked like a different player since returning action.
His offensive numbers might not jump off the page, but Labissiere put the clamps on Kyle Kuzma and his defense against Carmelo Anthony on Thursday was solid. If Labissiere can defend the perimeter against stretch fours, it changes his trajectory as a player.
Mason is on a minutes limit, but the team already knows that he brings a toughness to the court. Justin Jackson is still trying to find a niche, but he’s going to get an opportunity to start plenty of games as the season winds down.
This young group needs as much court time as possible, but that’s just the start. The coaching staff has worked to develop an offseason program for each of the group, they just need a fast forward button.
“This is an important summer for our young guys and probably a lot of them would like to start it right now,” Joerger said. “Because you’ve seen what you want to work on and you can’t really work on it while you’re competing for the next 24 games.”
“Some of them have got to work on the range of their shot, some of them need to work on consistency,” Joerger continued. “They’ve gotten a good bite of the apple, they’ve learned a lot and we’ve got to continue to go out there and teach and compete. I think that’s the way that you learn the best.”
The Kings are playing with effort and energy. They are competing. They are developing. Losing doesn’t feel good. But if losing now with young players means winning in a year or two when they mature, the Kings might be better for it.