Kings

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

How Kings' Nemanja Bjelica has filled gaps, according to Zach Lowe

Ever since the Kings signed forward Nemanja Bjelica to a three-year, $20.5 million contract in the 2018 offseason, it quietly has been a great deal for Sacramento. 

Bjelica averaged career highs in points (9.6) and rebounds (5.8) for the Kings last season, and he has been ever better in Year 2 with the Kings. 

The 31-year-old is averaging 12.3 points and 6.4 rebounds per game over 54 games this season. He also is shooting 48.5 percent from the field and 44.9 percent from 3-point range, both career-bests. 

For his ability to give the Kings quality minutes at center, Bjelica landed on Zach Lowe of ESPN's latest "Ten things I like and don't like." 

"The Kings needed something to fill the void after injuries to Marvin Bagley III and Richaun Holmes -- who had been killing it as their starter -- and whatever the hell happened with Dewayne Dedmon," Lowe wrote. "Credit Bjelica for stepping up.

Lowe notes that per Cleaning The Glass, the Kings have outscored opponents by almost 10 points per 100 possessions with Bjelica as a small-ball center. 

Holmes has missed 17 straight contests with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. He attempted to return to the court last week but had a setback after one practice. Bagley, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, has only played 13 games this season and isn't sure if he will suit up again this year after aggravating his sprained left foot

[RELATED: Kings' Holmes 'definitely ready to get back' after setback]

The Kings traded Dedmon back to the Atlanta Hawks months after signing him to a three-year, $40 million contract this past offseason. 

In what feels like yet another lost season in Sacramento, Bjelica has been a bright spot the Kings can count on.

Five things to watch from Marvin Bagley's breakout game vs. Spurs

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Five things to watch from Marvin Bagley's breakout game vs. Spurs

Programming note: Watch the re-air of the Kings’ victory over the San Antonio Spurs from Feb. 4, 2019 tonight at 6 p.m. PT on NBC Sports California.

To pass the time while the NBA figures out it’s next moves, NBC Sports California is bringing fans some of the best games from the last few seasons.

In our eighth installment, we go back to last season when the upstart Kings were riding high heading towards the NBA All-Star break. 

While we know the final outcome, sometimes the details become murky over time. Here are five things to watch from the Kings’ 127-112 win over the San Antonio Spurs at Golden 1 Center.

Marvelous Marvin

Marvin Bagley has played in just 13 games this season, so it might be easy for some fans to forget how talented he is. This game is a reminder of the potential hiding in the 21-year-old power forward.

While Bagley already has posted a string of double-doubles, this was his breakout game. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft posted 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with 12 rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 31 minutes off the bench. 

Bagley came up huge on both ends of the court against veteran LaMarcus Aldridge and his four assists are a career-high. 

Put them away early

The Kings have a bad habit of letting teams stick around in games, but not in this one. Sacramento got off to a fast start, dropping 37 points in the first quarter on the Spurs. 

They let San Antonio back in during the second quarter, but still took a four-point lead into the break. In the third quarter, De’Aaron Fox put on the jets, scoring 11 of his 20 points.

Fox played well enough in the third that coach Dave Joerger needed him for fewer than three minutes in the final frame. 

Yo-Gi ...Fer-rell

In his first season with the Kings, Yogi Ferrell not only played spark plug off the bench, but he became a fan favorite. Against the Spurs, Ferrell was lights out.

Ferrell scored 19 points on a perfect 7-of-7 shooting from the field, including four makes from long range, in just 17 minutes off the bench.

Ferrell has seen his role reduced in Year 2 with the addition of Cory Joseph, but he has had a few moments here and there. When the Kings need a bump off the bench, he has the ability to score quickly.

Value the ball

The Kings played at a crazy pace during the 2018-19 season, but that didn’t mean they were sloppy with the ball. This game is a prime example of the team valuing the possession against a solid veteran club. Sacramento turned the ball over just eight times on the evening and posted a 26-to-8 assists to turnover ratio. 

Sacramento was efficient in their offense, shooting 55.6 percent from the field and 40.6 percent from behind the arc in the 15-point win.

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Second team blows up

Bagley broke out, Ferrell was perfect from the field and Harry Giles and Bogdan Bogdanovic were solid as well. Overall, the Kings’ second unit was terrific in this game.

The Kings’ reserves dominated the Spurs, coming away with a 60-32 advantage in bench scoring. Those are numbers you would expect to see in a complete blowout, which this was not. 

Sacramento’s bench ranked fifth in the league last season, averaging 42.7 points per game. They were solid all season long, but this game was over the top.

De'Aaron Fox stepping into Kings leadership role as his game grows

De'Aaron Fox stepping into Kings leadership role as his game grows

The talk started before the 2016-17 NBA season ended. While the Kings were gearing up for another early summer, they were already out scouting players and one name continued to come up.

Sacramento was in rebuild mode and they tabbed Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox as their centerpiece long before they jumped to the third pick in the draft and slid back to five due to an earlier trade that didn’t work out as planned.

When Fox fell to the Kings at No. 5, general manager Vlade Divac couldn’t get his selection to commissioner Adam Silver quickly enough. 

In Year 1, Fox looked out of sorts. Long and athletic with elite speed, the 6-foot-3 New Orleans native needed to bulk up and find his confidence at the NBA level.

When he returned to the court before his sophomore season, Fox turned heads in camp. He added 12 to 15 pounds of muscle, but he came into camp with a swagger that wasn’t there just a few months earlier.

The added muscle and moxie helped earn him a top-three finish in the NBA’s Most Improved Player award and gave the Kings a glimmer of hope that they had found a star to build around.

In Year 3, Fox has taken another step forward. He’s averaging a team-high 20.4 points and 6.8 assists. An early-season ankle injury cost him 17 games and also slowed his progress, but since Jan. 1, Fox has been on a tear.

If and when the NBA season returns amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Kings' chances of snapping their 13-year postseason drought likely begin and end with their 22-year-old leader. 

How good can De’Aaron Fox be as a player? 

This is the $150 million question for the Kings, with all likelihood, the team will offer him a five-year, max contract extension later this summer. Fox likely will sign on the dotted line.

And then the real work begins.

The good news for Kings fans is that Fox might be ahead of the curve. In a recent conversation on the Purple Talk podcast, NBA lifer Jerry Reynolds had some thoughts on where Fox’s career path is heading. 

“He’s better in almost every phase of the game, but he knows he’s the leader,” Reynolds said. “He clearly didn’t his first year.”

The Kings brought in veteran George Hill to help tutor Fox in his first season and that didn’t exactly work. Hill struggled with splitting time and the Kings were lucky to get out from underneath his contract midway through the season. 

Last summer, Divac and his group brought in Cory Joseph, a high quality player, but a career reserve, to support Fox. The pair work well together and it has been a much better fit.

“This year, there is no doubt that De’Aaron knows it’s his team, he’s the point guard, he’s supposed to make things happen and he seems to be releshing that role,” Reynolds said. “Having said that, I think he can get better. I would like to see him be even more of a leader -- get on guys a little bit, be a little harder edge to him like a [John] Stockton, like a Chris Paul.”

Fox is developing this aspect of the game. You can see that he has the talent to be one of the best the league has to offer at his position. The question is, can he translate all of that into not only points and rebounds, but wins for his team. 

Developing as an NBA point guard takes time. Very few walk right into the league and instantly dominate in every aspect of the game

Fox is ahead of where players like Mike Conley and Kyle Lowry were at the same point in their careers and right on par with All-Star players like Damian Lillard, Steph Curry and Russell Westbrook. He’s even well beyond where Hall of Famers like Stockton, Gary Payton and Steve Nash were through three seasons.

But that doesn’t always point to future success. 

“What does that mean?" Reynolds asked when comparing Fox to players like Curry or Nash. “Well, it doesn’t mean anything actually. It means he’s on the right track and you don’t know where it’s going to go.”

For every player like Lillard, Stockton, Nash and Curry, there are other players who peaked after their third season and for one reason or another never continued to improve, or ever regressed. 

Injuries robbed Derrick Rose of his star potential early in his career. Players like Tyreke Evans and Steve Francis fell apart after success coming into league. Predicting future success or a player’s arc is extremely difficult.

[RELATED: Kings launch 'In this Together' campaign]

“There is no assurance that anyone is always going to keep getting better,” Reynolds said. “That’s what you’re hoping for though.”

Fox has all the talent in the world. That is why the Kings selected him with the No. 5 overall pick and he would probably go even higher than that if the league were to redraft the 2017 NBA Draft. 

With the Kings, he will be given every opportunity to grow into his role. Be it Dave Joerger or Luke Walton, the coaching staff has had a strong grasp that this team will go as far as Fox can take them. 

“The potential is almost unlimited,” Reynolds added. “Here again, that doesn’t mean it will be reached. I’m hopeful, but also, I’ve been to the county fair and realistic that it isn’t always the case.”

There will come a moment when you know what Fox will bring to the table every night as an NBA player. We haven’t really come close to that moment. What year will we see it? Is the player we see now as good as it gets? Only time will tell.

If there is a saving grace for the Kings, they have the opportunity to get it right with Fox. They can bring him along in a way that he can grow into the player they hope he can become.