The point guard position is crowded in Sacramento. So is the shooting guard position, and both forward spots, and the Kings have three centers vying for minutes as well.
It is general manager Vlade Divac’s job to fill up the roster with as much talent as possible and this might be the deepest Kings team that’s been assembled in a decade or more.
Having so many bodies to work with is a blessing. Having so many hungry mouths to feed is a curse. Divac did his job and now it’s on new head coach Luke Walton to figure out how to piece all of these players together.
In case you missed the player profiles earlier this week, the Kings depth chart at the point guard position coming out of the summer has De’Aaron Fox as the starter and Cory Joseph and Yogi Ferrell scrambling for minutes behind the talented 21-year-old.
Sacramento played at an incredible pace last season and the plan is to do more of the same this season. Fox is the focal point of the uptempo style of play and in Year 3, he is ready to take even more of the load at the position than he did last season.
The numbers don’t lie. When Fox was on the court, the Kings were a better team. Sacramento’s pace dropped from 104.1 with Fox on the court to 100.2 when he sat. Their offensive rating with Fox on the court was 111.7 versus 109 with him off the court and the team’s opponent offensive rating jumped from 110.7 to 113.7 when Fox left the game.
There is a balance between playing Fox major minutes and keeping him fresh throughout the season, but that number is higher than the 31.4 minutes per game. In his 81 games last season, Fox played between 30-39 minutes per game 57 times, averaging 34.1 minutes per game during these contests. He posted 18.8 points and 7.9 assists in these contests while running a +3.4 per game in the plus/minus category.
Walton needs Fox on the court as much as possible. The days of starters averaging 40+ minutes per game is over. Bradley Beal led the league in minutes played last year with 36.9 and only four players posted 36 minutes per game or more.
Point guards like Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker all played around 35 minutes a night, which is probably in line with what Fox will play this season.
If Fox is eating even close to that number, what does it mean for Joseph and Ferrell? They are in a fight for time and there isn’t much to spare.
Joseph signed a 3-year, $37 million deal over the summer to be Fox’s primary backup. At 6-foot-3 and 193-pounds, Joseph is a big, physical guard that can play either the one or the two.
Last season in Indiana, Joseph posted 25.2 minutes per game and was a defensive stalwart for the Pacers. While Nate McMillan’s team posted slight decreases in both pace (97.1 to 97.8) and offensive rating (110.4 to 111) with Joseph on the court, his defensive presence more than made up for the dip.
The Pacers opponent offensive rating with Joseph on the floor was 104.7 with him on the court and 110.1 with him off the court. With the Western Conference loaded with top notch guards, Joseph’s ability to slow down the opposition is a welcomed sight.
Walton is going to have to find time on the court for Joseph. That probably means stealing time at the shooting guard position and playing Fox and Joseph together for at least a few minutes per half. But even that should limit the 28-year-old to between 16-18 minutes per game.
Where does this leave Ferrell? We don’t even need to dig deep into the stats. He’ll open the season as the team’s fifth guard, but even that might not capture his situation. Fox, Joseph, Buddy Hield and Bogdan Bogdanovic can all play major minutes and all but Hield can man the point.
In order to fit all four of his frontline guards in the rotation, Walton is going to have to get creative and steal minutes for the group at the small forward position as well, where he already has veterans Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza.
Ferrell might get occasional scraps, but barring a major injury, it’s likely he is going to struggle to step foot on the floor on most nights.
It’s a difficult position to be in for Ferrell. He’s primarily an offensive player that needs time on the court to find a rhythm. He’s also entering the final year of his contract and is sitting behind two players that combined to play 163 out of a potential 164 games last season.
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Ferrell will have time to prove his worth in the training camp, but he’s likely walking into the season with an understanding that minutes will be tough to find.
A prediction for the season has Fox averaging 34-35 minutes per game with Joseph scratching and clawing his way to 16-18 minutes and Ferrell on the outside looking in. Things can change, but Sacramento has invested heavily into both Fox and Joseph and they’ll get plenty of time to run the show.