Kings

Kings' more forceful mindset propels them to win, successful homestand

Kings' more forceful mindset propels them to win, successful homestand

SACRAMENTO -- The race for eighth is heating up. In front of another sold out Golden 1 Center crowd, the Sacramento Kings shook off first half drama to come away with a huge 105-99 win over the New Orleans Pelicans.

Sacramento got off to another slow start, falling behind by as many as nine in the first quarter. When DeMarcus Cousins picked up his 17th technical of the season with just over a minute remaining in the period, the Kings looked out of sorts.

“We know that he’s trying his best to keep his cool and he’s done a good job,” Darren Collison said. “He’s done a good job of keeping his poise for the most part.”

Cousins looked stunned by the technical call. He got tangled up with Donatas Motiejunas on a rebound and upon review was assessed a tech for what the officials called a “physical taunt.”

“I’ve accepted it, [explicit], they’re after me,” Cousins said. “Just play. Whatever happens, happens.”

The All-Star big left the court and headed to the Kings locker room to take a deep breath.

“I just tried to gather my thoughts, get myself together,” Cousins said following the game. “The last couple of days have been very frustrating for me. I’m looking for it to ease up at some point and it just doesn’t seem like it wants to or is going to happen.”

Cousins returned to the floor and the Pelicans turned up the physical play. Dante Cunningham picked up a call for trying to shove Cousins off the blocks and then rookie Buddy Hield found himself out of the game after hitting the Kings’ star big below the waist fighting through a screen.

After Hield’s ejection, Sacramento responded with a 14-6 run to end the half. They opened the third quarter up with a 13-0 run and put New Orleans on their heels.

“That was a good win for us -- stayed with it,” Joerger said. “[We] didn’t have a great first half, but came out in the second half with a more forceful mindset defensively.”

Sacramento’s defense held New Orleans to just 39 percent shooting after the intermission and they forced the Pelicans into 12 second half turnovers.

Cousins once again put up huge numbers, finishing the night with 28 points, 14 rebounds and seven assists. He turned the ball over seven times, but it didn’t affect the outcome of the game. He is trying to reinvent himself on the fly to fit into the standards of the league.

“It’s obvious, I can’t be myself,” Cousins said. “Me playing the way I play is what makes me the player that I am. Obviously it’s not acceptable, so I’m trying to find a way to do what these guys are asking me to do. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to find a way.”

Sacramento’s star big wasn’t the only one to contribute. Collison scored 20 points, handed out eight assists, grabbed six rebounds and picked up three steals in 41 minutes of action. With the injury to Ty Lawson, the veteran point guard has been forced to play huge minutes for coach Dave Joerger.

Ben McLemore dropped in a pair of 3-pointers during the third quarter surge and finished the night with 11 point.s Matt Barnes chipped in 12 points and five rebounds, while Arron Afflalo nine of his 10 points after halftime.

“It gives us confidence,” Collison said of the win. “We’re playing some good basketball right now. We do have some lapses where we can get better at.”

Anthony Davis had a big night for New Orleans, but Sacramento made adjustments at the half to slow the All-Star center. After posting 21 points on 7-of-13 shooting in the first 24 minutes of the game, Davis finished the night with 32 points, 10 rebounds and six turnovers.

Jrue Holiday added 16 points, 11 assists, six assists and five steals, but it wasn’t enough for the Pelicans who fell to 21-34 on the season with the loss.

With the victory, Sacramento has rattled off three straight wins and they finished the homestand at 4-2. They moved to within a game and a half of the Denver Nuggets for the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race, but they still have two games on the road before getting a much needed rest at the All-Star break.

Zach Randolph: Kings training camp profile

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Zach Randolph: Kings training camp profile

No one was more consistent on the offensive end for Sacramento than Zach Randolph last season. He fought back father time as long as possible and then finished the season as a spectator when the Kings went young.

Nothing is guaranteed in season two as a King for Randolph. The 37-year-old forward cashed in with the Kings, signing a two-year, $24 million deal in 2017. He’s owed $11.7 million this season, making him difficult to move via trade.  

The Kings plan to go young this year from the opening tip. That doesn’t bode well for Z-Bo, who is nearly twice the age of Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III. 

Strengths

Randolph is a legendary tough guy that brings a grit and a personality to the floor. As he’s advanced as a player, he’s focused more on his perimeter game, extending all the way to the 3-point line where he shot an impressive 34.7 percent last season. 

Still a reliable scorer in the post, the Kings turned to the 17-year NBA veteran on countless occasions last season to help steady the ship. Randolph shot 63 percent at the rim and 50.9 percent inside of 10 feet last season. 

While he struggles to get off the floor, Randolph still managed to post 9.5 rebounds per 36 minutes last season by positioning and using his strength on the blocks.

On the defensive side of the ball, Randolph’s physical limitations hurt the team in transition and against quicker players. He can still hold his position in the post, but as a defender, he’s not a great option.

Weaknesses

The Kings went out and drafted a Ferrari to play the point guard and then paired him with a mack truck. Randolph is too slow to play in the uptempo offense the team hopes to transition to this season and would be better suited playing for a team that place a more methodical half court game.

As his game has moved away from the basket, Randolph’s field goal percentage and free throw attempts have steadily declined. He posted 2.2 assists per game last season, which is well above his career average, but he’s not a natural passer. 

Father time is undefeated. Randolph is stationary on both ends of the court. He can still score in bunches and get a rebound when you need it, but he can’t defend more athletic fours.

Path to Improvement

There is no way to turn back the hands of time. By adding the 3-point shot, Randolph extended his NBA career for few extra seasons, but even that has its limitations. 

The only path for improvement this season for Randolph is taking on an even larger role as a leader and locker room influence behind the scenes. With a fleet of young bigs, the Kings need Randolph to become more of a coach than a player and help teach the ins and outs of being a professional and the finer nuances of NBA post play. 

Projection

This is a complex situation. If the primary focus was just on wins, Randolph could still play 18-20 minutes per game and put up numbers. The Kings are going to run and gun and it’s hard to imagine Z-Bo keeping up. 

Bagley, Giles and Willie Cauley-Stein are the future and the present. Nemanja Bjelica fits the role of stretch four and Skal Labissiere is going to need some minutes as well. It’s a crowded front line and we haven’t even mentioned veteran Kosta Koufos. 

Z-Bo started 57 games and played 25.6 minutes per night last season for Dave Joerger. It would be shocking to see that again this year. Things can change, but Randolph’s court time should be limited this offseason barring a series of injuries or a complete collapse of scheme.

Marvin Bagley III: Kings training camp profile

Marvin Bagley III: Kings training camp profile

Luka Doncic was the easy pick at No. 2, but Marvin Bagley III might have a higher ceiling. After demolishing the ACC as a freshman, the Kings selected Bagley with the hopes that he can be a superstar. Only time will tell if they made the right decision.

Bagley is long and has incredible quickness for a man his size. He’s also young and will take time to develop into a consistent NBA regular. He’ll be counted on for a major role with the Kings this season as they look to push the tempo and go young, but his production will likely be all over the board. 

Strengths

Players don’t typically stroll into the ACC and average 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game as an 18-year-old freshman. Bagley is special on the offensive end and his game should translate well to the NBA game. 

At 6-foot-11, 235-pounds, Bagley will be asked to play both the power forward and center position throughout his career. He has an incredible ability to get off the floor multiple times in a short period of time, which will help him as both a rebounder and a defender. 

He has an advanced post game, range on his jumper and he can really move both in transition and in the halfcourt. As De’Aaron Fox and Yogi Ferrell look to push the tempo, they will find a running mate in Bagley, who gets from one end of the court to the other as well as any big in the league.

In his lone season in college, Bagley shot 39.7 percent from long range and he has potential to play some stretch four at the NBA level. His jumper is solid, although he rushed it a bit during summer league action. Shot selection will be an issue early, but he has a scorers mentality. 

His quick leaping ability draws comparisons to Hall of Famer Dennis Rodman, but it’s a little early to put him in the upper echelon of rebounders. It should also help on the defensive end, where he showed some potential to block and redirect shots during summer league action.

Weaknesses

Bagley comes into the league with the same issues that most young players have. He needs to get stronger, add weight and learn how to play defense. He has good length and an incredible vertical leap, but he’s only figured out how to use these tools on one end of the court.

As a scorer, there is a lot to love about Bagley. There are also some concerns. He relies too heavily on his left hand in the post, almost completely avoiding his right. He’s not the only big to play to his dominant hand, but if he is going to become an elite scorer in the post, he’ll need to learn how to go right.

He’ll need time to develop as a passer and he’s probably going to struggle to hold his position in the blocks. Bagley has a big frame, but it will likely take two or three years to fill out. 

Bagley’s struggles on the defensive end were well chronicled at Duke. Mike Krzyzewski even went to a zone defense to hide him for long stretches. There is potential here, but he’ll have to study the game and improve his basketball IQ if he hopes to hold his own at the NBA level. 

Path to Improvement

If Bagley can bring the same type of offensive firepower he showed both as a prep athlete and at the collegiate level, the Kings might have a Blake Griffin-type offensive weapon. He needs to show that he can score with his right. He needs to hit the glass and pull down 10 boards a game. He needs to engage on the defensive end. 

Until we see the NBA product, it’s hard to guess who and what Bagley will be or how he can improve. What we do know is that he walked into one of the tougher leagues outside of the NBA and dominated at a very young age. 

Projection

Like Harry Giles, Bagley is going to see plenty of court time this season. As a No. 2 overall pick, the Kings have placed a good portion of their future in his development. The coaching staff will work hard to make him passable on the defensive end and they will push him to hit the glass and rebound outside of his zone. 

You don’t sit a player like this. You run him out there and hope he makes adjustments and finds his way. Expect Bagley to either start on opening night at the four or be the first big off the bench. 

An early prediction has Bagley posting 14 points, eight rebounds and 1.5 assists in 27 minutes per game as a rookie. Those numbers could even jump higher if the Kings’ offense finds a new gear. 

Bagley will be a work in progress, but the potential for greatness is there. Expect him to get every opportunity to shine in his rookie season.