Kings' Luke Walton forced to get creative at center spot in Orlando

Kings' Luke Walton forced to get creative at center spot in Orlando

What do you do when your most versatile position on the floor becomes a weak spot? You have to get creative.

Sacramento Kings coach Luke Walton has depth all over the floor, but at the center position, he typically has three very different players, each with his own unique ability.

With Richaun Holmes locked in his room for 10 days for violating bubble rules and Alex Len still in Sacramento in coronavirus protocol, that group is now down to just one player in Harry Giles.

To augment the position, Walton has turned to second-year big man Marvin Bagley for minutes in practice, and on Wednesday the Kings’ coach even asked veteran forward Corey Brewer to help fill the void.

Brewer, who joined the team as a late free-agent signing, is familiar with the players from his time in Sacramento last year. He also played for Walton during his time with the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We just felt like everyone had a great comfort level with Corey,” Walton said. “Everything we’ve asked him to do already since he’s been with us -- he has played the three, he has played the four and today when Harry or Marvin needed a sub, we even got him in at some five and he was great.”

It's unlikely that Brewer will ever see actual game time at center, but at least Walton knows that he has additional bodies that can help out in a pinch, especially with so much uncertainty surrounding the NBA's restart.

Bagley began the season as the Kings’ starting power forward, but a broken thumb cost him time, followed by a series of foot issues. He has played in just 13 games this season and Walton has used him primarily at center when healthy.

“We want him to do both, but for right now, with the bodies we’re at, we’re playing him mainly at the five,” Walton said. “When we sit with him and we teach with him, he’s going to be someone we play at both positions. But in the limited time we’ve been here in the bubble, most of his reps have been at the five.”

Holmes will be released from quarantine on July 22, the day the Kings open their scrimmage schedule against the Miami Heat. The Kings have filled his room with workout equipment, but he is inside a much smaller bubble within the Orlando bubble. 

“It’s different with everybody, we’ll see how he looks,” Walton said of whether Holmes can jump right back into the action. “That much time off, he wouldn’t be put right into contact drills, but we’ll see what kind of shape he’s in, how he’s moving and then we’ll make the decision.”

While the center position is at less than full strength, Walton did get Buddy Hield and Jabari Parker back into the mix. Hield went through two-on-two contact drills and made it through roughly 75 percent of practice.

“He looked good, but he hasn’t played basketball in a while and it’s going to take some time,” Walton added. “He’s one of those rare athletes that he can play all day long without getting tired. He’s not back to that level, but because of that, he’ll be back quicker than most people who have been out as long as he has.”

[RELATED: How Kings' rough start could be an advantage in Orlando]

Parker also got on the floor, but isn’t quite as far along as Hield and he has played in only one game since coming to the Kings from the Atlanta Hawks at the trade deadline.

The Kings have plenty to figure out between now and July 31 when they open the eight-game sprint to the finish line against the San Antonio Spurs. This is a fluid situation. Players are going to come and go. The team that can hold it together the longest has the best chance to advance to the playoffs.

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

Harrison Barnes places Kings' flameout in Orlando on himself, veterans

The team that began the Orlando bubble saying “we want all of that smoke” just learned that smoke usually is accompanied by fire.

At 1-4 in the NBA restart, the Kings have shown they aren’t ready for the fire and they might not be ready for prime time.

“I think it starts with individual accountability, just in terms of the effort we are putting out there on a consistent basis,” veteran Harrison Barnes said following the Kings’ 119-106 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on Friday. “It’s hard to win in this league and to be consistent, you have to do that every single night.”

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The Kings have talent. But rarely is that enough at the NBA level.

You have to play together. You have to play for one another. In the end, you have to bring energy and effort every night or a team of no-names, like the squad the Nets threw on the court Friday, will embarrass you.

It’s a common theme with the Kings. They played a tremendous game in a 140-125 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, scoring 49 points in the first quarter

Just over 24 hours later, they looked like a collection of players that had never played together. There was no chemistry. No passing. No rotations on defense.

Just forced and ineffective basketball.

“Frustration is high,” Barnes admitted. “I don’t know if it’s disappointing, but it’s frustrating. Coming into this game, we knew it was more mental than physical. It was meeting force with force. It was being disciplined. It didn’t matter what scheme we had or what game plan we had if we didn’t have any effort.”

Who's to blame for the Kings’ flame out in Orlando? Coach Luke Walton has already drawn plenty of criticism, but at some point the players themselves have to take ownership for the things they can control on the court.

Following the loss to the Nets, Barnes fell on his sword as one of the leaders of the team. He placed the blame on himself and the rest of the veterans.

“I’ll be the first to say it’s definitely on us as veteran players -- guys like myself," Barnes said. "I’ll take responsibility for that because I’ve been to the playoffs, I’ve been to the Finals. I know the energy and effort it takes to win games and if you don’t bring that, you lose.”

“As a group, we have to learn that you can’t just turn it on,” he added.

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The Kings have a choice. They can pout and get their lunch handed to them for the next three games. They can also play spoiler and leave the bubble on as high of a note as possible.

Either way, this isn’t the outcome the Kings were hoping for. They have had a few bright spots, like the play of De’Aaron Fox and Bogdan Bogdanovic, so the experience isn’t a total wash. But after five games, any talk of playoffs is over and changes likely are coming during the abbreviated offseason.

Kings takeaways: What you might've missed in 119-106 loss vs. Nets

Kings takeaways: What you might've missed in 119-106 loss vs. Nets


Consistently inconsistent.

After coming away with a huge win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Thursday, the Kings failed to show up Friday on the second night of a back-to-back against the completely depleted Brooklyn Nets.

Sacramento looked stagnant on offense and a step slow in its rotations on the defensive end. The result was an embarrassing 119-106 loss that all but extinguished the Kings' remaining playoff hopes.

Here are three takeaways from the Kings getting out-hustled and fell to 1-4 in the Orlando bubble.

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Loud Thud

The Kings came into the restarted NBA season talking a big game. They played well enough to win against the San Antonio Spurs and Dallas Mavericks, but couldn’t close out games. Their win over the Pelicans gave folks a glimmer of hope, but blowout losses to the Orlando Magic and Nets were completely unacceptable.

With Friday's loss, Sacramento has completely fallen out of the race for the No. 8 seed and would need a miracle to finish ninth and force a play-in series.

The Kings still have three games remaining in the restart, but general manager Vlade Divac has to take a long look at his roster this summer and make some difficult decisions. Everything outside of trading De’Aaron Fox should be on the table.

Bogi puts up a fight

Bogdan Bogdanovic posted a career-high 35 points in the Kings’ win over the Pelicans, and he was back at it again against the Nets.

One of the few Kings players to stand out, Bogdanovic finished with a team-high 27 points on 11-for-19 shooting, including 4-of-8 on 3-pointers.

A restricted free agent at the end of the season, Bogdanovic has been really solid in four of the Kings’ five games. Unfortunately for Sacramento, it just wasn't enough Friday.

[RELATED: NBA puts money where its mouth is for racial, social justice]

Star still shining

Since the beginning of the restart, De'Aaron Fox has come out aggressive and put on a show. He didn’t match his 27.5 points per game average from the first four games on Friday, but he was effective in his time on the court.

The Kings' starting point guard finished with 21 points and seven assists. There is the outline of a star, but he needs another really strong offseason to take that next step.