Cauley-Stein not only Kings player to thrive in first game without Cousins

Cauley-Stein not only Kings player to thrive in first game without Cousins

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings fell behind by eight at the 6:23 mark of the first quarter and the tension inside of Golden 1 Center was palpable. A spattering of boos could be heard from a fanbase that had just watched their franchise cornerstone sent packing over the weekend. The worst fears seemed to be playing out.

And then Willie Cauley-Stein happened.

Head coach Dave Joerger summoned the second-year big man into the game and he responded with a dunk off a Ben McLemore pass. He followed that up with a put back slam and then a driving lay-up and then a 15-foot jumper. By the end of the first quarter, Cauley-Stein had poured in eight points on 4-of-4 shooting and Sacramento held a 29-26 lead.

“He didn’t feel us,” Nuggets head coach Michael Malone said. “We didn’t have great execution with our pick-and-roll defense. He got behind us. We weren’t covering the rim. It was easy for him.”

The lanky 7-footer has been waiting for his opportunity and with DeMarcus Cousins now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, he is getting his shot.

Cauley-Stein continued his strong play in the second quarter as the Kings pushed their lead as high as 20. In 15 minutes of action before the break, Cauley-Stein posted 19 points on 9-of-12 shooting. He finished the night with a career-high 29 points and chipped in 10 rebounds in the win, but he wasn’t the only Kings player to post big numbers.

Sacramento used a team effort to pull off a 116-100 shocking victory. Six players scored in double-figures, including rookie Buddy Hield and veteran Tyreke Evans who joined the Kings in the Cousins trade over the weekend.

“Everybody’s unselfish,” Hield said. “When you play unselfish, I feel like everything is possible. Guys aren’t worried about who’s getting the most shots up. It doesn’t matter in this group.”

The rookie out of Oklahoma turned heads in his first appearance in a Kings uniform, scoring 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting. He knocked down a 3-pointer and showed a pretty tear drop in the lane.  

“Buddy is real confident, especially for a rookie,” point guard Darren Collison said. “He can shoot the ball really well. He can create a little bit off the pick-and-roll and he gets after it on defense too.”

Evans dropped in 15 points, grabbed four rebounds and handed out three assists off Dave Joerger’s bench. This is the second go-around in Sacramento for the former Rookie of the Year and there is a clear need for his ball-handling skills on the current version of the Kings.

In addition to Cauley-Stein, Hield and Evans, seldom used rookie Skal Labissiere put in a solid effort in his 14 minutes of action. The Haitian-born big man will likely play plenty of minutes down the stretch as the Kings adjust to their new, guard heavy roster.

Labissiere brought an energy and excitement to the game, scoring 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting. He was active, which the veterans in Sacramento have seen in practice sessions, but Labissiere hasn’t been given the chance in real game action until Thursday night.

“Skal has been working since he got here,” Collison said. “I’ve seen that kid work after the games, in the gym by himself, before practice, after practice, before games, after the games. So it’s good to see that work finally paying off for him.”

Collison added 15 points and 10 assists in 32 minutes. Ty Lawson chipped in eight points and six assists starting alongside Collison and Ben McLemore knocked down two 3-pointers on his way to 10 points.

It was a team effort for a group that has had very little time to gel together. The Kings’ second unit scored an incredible 72 points on the night, outscoring the Nuggets reserves by 28.

With the win, Sacramento moved to within a half game of Denver for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. They head back to Golden 1 Center on Saturday afternoon for a 2pm start against the Charlotte Hornets who have lost 12 of their last 13 games, including an overtime stunner on Thursday against the Detroit Pistons.

Dave Joerger, Kings facing reality of starting over in 2018-19 NBA season


Dave Joerger, Kings facing reality of starting over in 2018-19 NBA season

SACRAMENTO -- 25.5 wins. That’s the Las Vegas line for the Kings. It’s also a slight drop from the 27 wins the team earned a year ago. 

The bookies are usually pretty accurate with these things. 25.5 wins isn’t good, but that is where Sacramento is in its rebuild.

There is always a possibility that the Kings catch lightning in a bottle. They could jump the predicted win total and surprise a few people. They could also fall upon hard times and struggle to reach the mark. 

This is the reality of starting over. You are banking on the production of young players. Sometimes, converting potential to production takes that other p-word that no one wants to hear.


“Development, it’s going to take two or three years,” Kings head coach Dave Joerger said last week. “It just takes time. They’re learning something every game they go out. Most of the time, I’m going to be pretty positive with them individually and coach them, trying to keep them up.”

It’s a roller-coaster ride. There are no guarantees that it won’t all come off the rails at any moment. And there is nothing written in stone that any of the young talent on the roster will reach their potential. 

“We’re on a long journey, not one that’s only two or three weeks long, it’s a couple-of-year journey,” Joerger said. “You’ve just got to keep putting in your work everyday and keep encouraging each other and hold each other accountable to get your work in and come to the gym everyday or come to the locker room everyday and try to be a guy who elevates the room and not someone who saps energy out of it. Just pick it up and bring some juice.”

[HAM: Kings rookie Marvin Bagley ready to prove naysayers wrong in NBA debut]

Joerger is trying to be as honest as he can about the task in front of him and his band of unproven players. He has a couple of veterans hiding on the bench that might positively affect the win total, but it’s a franchise mandate that the youth plays the majority of the minutes.

Through the preseason, Joerger stuck to the plan. Veterans Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos failed to make an appearance. Randolph was a healthy scratch throughout the exhibition season, while Koufos missed a couple of games with a hamstring strain.

30-year-old Nemanja Bjelica is part of the rotational plan for the early part of the season, and there is a possibility that Iman Shumpert will find minutes at the wing if he can stay healthy.

[RELATED: Bogdan Bogdanovic targeting early November return to Kings lineup]

Removing most of the veterans from the equation takes away the safety net for an inexperienced group. It also limits Joerger’s options if the group of 25-and-unders stumble out of the gate. 

The plan is to push the tempo and give the young players a chance to develop with NBA minutes. Judging by the performance during preseason and the oddsmakers' predictions, the team is still a ways away from competing. 

Sacramento is once again asking for patience. More specifically, Joerger is telling everyone that patience is the only option. Hopefully the front office, ownership and the coaching staff are on the same page with regards to what patience means. 

Bogdan Bogdanovic targeting early November return to Kings lineup


Bogdan Bogdanovic targeting early November return to Kings lineup

SACRAMENTO -- Bogdan Bogdanovic is back … well, sort of.

The second-year Kings guard is sitting out while recovering from a knee procedure he had three weeks ago. For the first time, though, he was able to get on the court and do some running, but he’s still a few weeks away from a return.

“I’m pretty confident and I don’t let these little injuries get me down,” Bogdanovic said Monday following practice. “It’s just sad because I really wanted start this season from the opening game, that’s what really bothers me.”

Bogdanovic is targeting Nov. 7 against the Toronto Raptors for his return, although nothing is set in stone. He has tried to sneak on the court, but the coaching staff has forced him to take it easy with the hopes of keeping him healthy long term.

“I miss it a lot, it’s tough to just sit back and do nothing,” Bogdanovic said. “I actually try sometimes to get on the court, but they kick me out. I just try to help with the passes, you know, just to be around the team, but they don’t want me to do that.”

As a young player, being away from your teammates is tough. Injuries can be isolating, especially early in the season when the team is in training camp and working around the clock.

“It’s just to not be able to workout with the guys, to share the effort that they’re putting in everyday,” Bogdanovic added. 

With Bogdanovic sidelined, head coach Dave Joerger is losing an important piece that is very difficult for the team to replace. Joerger has scrambled to replace him during the preseason, using Buddy Hield, Yogi Ferrell and Frank Mason III alongside point guard De’Aaron Fox.

“He’s definitely a cog in what we’re trying to do and he gives us a lot more playmaking and increases our IQ,” Dave Joerger said. “He helps us, definitely offensively. Gives us a lot more versatility and I think settles us too.”

Bogdanovic can run the offense and take some of the load off of Fox. He gets everyone involved with his passing ability and he shot 39.2 percent from behind the arc last season.

“He’s a great shooter, another playmaker that’s on the floor,” Fox said. “He just always makes everyone better when he’s playing. Of course we’re going to miss him.”

During his rookie campaign, Bogdanovic became a coach on the floor for Sacramento. After years of playing in Europe, he’s wise beyond his years by NBA standard and brings a different vibe to the team.
“He’s a special dude, he loves to play and he’s just a really good person,” Joerger said. “He’s always the ultimate team guy, he reminds me a lot of Marc Gasol - always about the team and those are the people you want to be around.”

Joerger has yet to announce who will start on opening night in Bogdanovic’s place. Hield is the logical choice, but he’s played better coming off the bench in his first two seasons in the league. Ferrell and Mason will also draw consideration for Wednesday’s season opener against the Jazz at Golden 1 Center.