With Marvin Bagley expected to return soon, possibly as early as later this week, Kings coach Dave Joerger’s rotations will have to adjust again.
The rookie was rolling before injuring his left knee in the Kings' Feb. 27 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. His absence opened a door of discovery, and two players made the most of the opportunity.
After starting 55 of the Kings’ first 56 games this season, Nemanja Bjelica had fallen out of the rotation at the time of Bagley’s injury. Joerger turned back to Bjelica over the last five games, and he’s played extremely well.
In five games in March, the 30-year-old forward is averaging 9.2 points and seven rebounds in 26.4 minutes per game, and his impact goes beyond the raw stat line. Bjelica is posting a combined plus-45 in the plus/minus category over the stretch, and he earned a spot for the stretch run.
Bjelica is not the only player to show his worth during Bagley’s absence. Rookie Harry Giles doesn’t play the same position as Bagley, but he’s thrived with the additional touches in the offense.
When Bagley left the Bucks game, Giles took over, finishing with 18 points and seven rebounds. He continued that push over the first five games of March.
Giles is averaging 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists in 20.2 minutes per game in the month. Like Bjelica, his plus/minus numbers show that his impact goes beyond the standard box score. He’s posted a positive in four of the five games Bagley has missed, and is a combined +11 over the stretch.
Joerger has shrunk his rotation to eight main players with Yogi Ferrell or Alec Burks picking up a few minutes on the side. When Bagley returns, those extra minutes might completely disappear.
Bjelica can either start or come off the bench at power forward, and he’ll likely share minutes with Bagley as he works his way back into playing shape. Giles is splitting time at center with Willie Cauley-Stein and showing major improvement down the stretch.
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If Bjelica sticks in the rotation, it would allow Joerger to move Barnes back to small forward for more minutes and Bogdan Bogdanovic to eat more minutes in the backcourt.
Joerger is in a never-ending battle to find the right pieces to put into place. The silver lining to Bagley’s injury is that it gave Bjelica and Giles time to build confidence and momentum as the Kings head into the final 16 games of the season.