Kings notes: Six players who stood out in preseason win over Maccabi Haifa


Kings notes: Six players who stood out in preseason win over Maccabi Haifa

SACRAMENTO -- You play the team on the schedule. On Monday night at Golden 1 Center, the team standing opposite the Sacramento Kings was Maccabi Haifa, an Israeli squad playing an exhibition game.

The Kings did exactly what was expected of them. They dominated Maccabi, coming away with a 132-100 victory to improve to 2-2 for the preseason.

It wasn’t the greatest display of hoops. Sacramento trailed early and went into the second quarter tied at 25. The team continued to struggle on the defensive end, yielding 100 points for the fourth consecutive game, this time to a professional team from Israel.

The game also wasn’t a disaster. The Kings took care of the ball, shot well from the field and turned over the ball just 12 times as a team despite running a new starting five out on the court.

Here are a few notes from the blowout win:

Buddy got hot

Hield is an electric scorer, but he’d had a quiet first three games. Then Kings coach Dave Joerger moved him back to the second unit against Maccabi Haifa, and Hield looked like a different player.

The third-year guard knocked down 9 of 11 shots from the field and hit all four of his 3-point attempts on his way to 22 points. In addition, he dished out five assists, including a couple of drop passes to his bigs.

With Hield pairing with Yogi Ferrell off the bench, someone is going to have to pass.

Harry and Marv are playing together

Sacramento has a talented young duo of bigs. So far in the preseason, Joerger hasn’t shied away from using rookies Harry Giles III and Marvin Bagley III together.

On Monday, Giles went for 16 points, seven rebounds, two assists and blocked four shots. Bagley countered with 12 points, six rebounds and one block in 18 minutes.

They make mistakes and play out of control at times, but they bring a different feel to the game.

Frank Mason starts, draws praise

Mason, who's likely a placeholder for the injured Bogdan Bogdanovic, picked up a start next to De’Aaron Fox, giving Sacramento an undersized but quick backcourt.

Against Maccabi Haifa, it worked.

Mason finished the evening with 13 points, eight assists and five steals. He over turned the ball only once in 28 minutes and now has a 23-to-3 assist-to-turnover ratio through four preseason games.

“Frank does what Frank does,” Joerger said about Mason. “He’s hard-nosed, and he’s a good guy that the coach always knows he can go to and you’re going to get 110 percent from him.”

Nemanja Bjelica shows something different

When the Kings signed Bjelica to a three-year deal late in the summer, it primarily was for his ability to hit the 3-pointer from the stretch-four position. Against Maccabi, he showed he's more than just a shooter.

The 30-year-old forward out of Serbia scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in 18 minutes during his Kings debut. He also blocked three shots and showed a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

“The first couple of minutes weren’t pretty, and I think after that, he was very effective for us,” Joerger said. “He came out of nowhere to block a couple of shots and I did not think he was going to get it. Impressive, team guy, high IQ, spaces the floor and gives out guys room to play.”

Justin Jackson gets it going

Jackson struggled through the first three games of the preseason, but Monday night, he looked like an entirely different player. Maybe it was the competition level or maybe he just came out more aggressively.

The end result was an 18-point, three-assist game in 24 minutes. Jackson shot 7 of 12 from the field and 4 of 8 from long range, and he helped space the floor well by hitting the corner three.

If Jackson can continue this trend, he can add a much needed element at the three.

Numbers game

Sacramento shot 53.1 percent from the field and an impressive 44.8 percent from long range on 29 attempts. The plan to add shooters around Fox and the rest of the guards is paying off early and creating plenty of lanes to run.

The Kings dished out 36 assists and turned over the ball just 12 times as a team. They also hit the hustle board hard, finishing the game with 16 steals, 14 blocks and a 47-36 rebounding advantage.

The numbers look solid, but the talent level of the opponent was not very high.

Two positives, two negatives from Kings' season-opening loss to Jazz

Two positives, two negatives from Kings' season-opening loss to Jazz

SACRAMENTO --After a shaky preseason and a load of questions coming into the season, the Sacramento Kings held their own in the season opener Wednesday evening against the Utah Jazz. 

The final outcome was a 123-117 loss, but considering all the variable coming into the night, it was an impressive showing for a young group. All five starters scored in double-figures for Sacramento, led by Willie Cauley-Stein’s 23 points. For much of the night, they were the aggressive team and it showed up in the box score. 

Here are two positives and two negatives that can be taken from Game 1 of the regular season.


Turn up the Tempo

Sacramento pushed the tempo at every turn, creating a frenetic paced game that played directly to their strengths. De’Aaron Fox was the ringleader, but everyone got involved. The bigs rebounded and instantly fired the ball forward. When the Jazz scored, the Kings had the ball back in play within moments and heading back the other way.

“They came out with a lot of energy,” Donovan Mitchell said following the game. “You could tell from the tip they were ready. We didn’t do a good job of defending that, playing with the same energy they had.”

Last season, the Jazz ranked second in the league in both points allowed and defensive rating. In the opener, Sacramento shot 51.6 percent from the field and dropped in 117 points. In addition, the Kings turned the ball over just nine times as a team, with eight of those coming from primary ball handlers in Fox, Yogi Ferrell and Buddy Hield.

It’s just one game, but the brand of basketball the Kings exhibited against an elite defensive opponent was fun and exciting. They played well as a group and shared in the spotlight.  

The Starters

Dave Joerger left everyone in suspense until the just before tipoff. When the starting unit of Fox, Ferrell, Hield, Cauley-Stein and Nemanja Bjelica hit the floor, it wasn’t a shock, but it also wasn’t expected. 

Each player brought something to table in the opener. Fox looked confident in running the team and showed off his elite ability to change direction on the fly. He finished the night with 21 points and seven assists while playing solid defense from start to finish. 

Ferrell started in the place of the injured Bogdan Bogdanovic. He wasn’t as aggressive looking for his shot as he could have been, but he hit 2-of-3 from long range and a perfect 4-for-4 from the stripe. He also acted as a second point guard in the lineup and helped Fox push the pace.

Hield quietly posted 19 points on 9-of-18 shooting and added six rebounds. He missed all but one of his four 3-point attempts, shot just one free throw attempt (Crowder technical) and turned the ball over four times, but he’s adjusting to playing a new position.  

The frontline of Bjelica and Cauley-Stein were very good. After toiling away for the last three seasons in Minnesota, Bjelica showed that he’s more than just a shooter, scoring 18 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out two assists. He’s a high basketball IQ player that helps space the floor and he brought energy on both ends of the court.

Cauley-Stein attacked Rudy Gobert in the paint. He got into the chest of the reigning Defensive Player of Year and scored over the top of him on multiple occasions. In 38 minutes of action, the 7-footer stuffed the stat sheet for 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, two blocks and a steal. He needs to grab more rebounds, but this was a very good start for the free agent to be.  


Second Unit Blues

The starting unit jumped out to a big 16-point first quarter lead for Sacramento. When Joerger turned to his bench, things went south pretty quickly. Joerger used Justin Jackson all over the court, playing the 6-foot-8 wing 30 minutes off the bench. He shot 4-of-10 from the floor and missed all four of his 3-point attempts, but his versatility and size makes him one of the few options the team has to defend against small forwards and stretch fours. 

After playing just 14 games last season and appearing in one preseason game, Iman Shumpert looked rusty. In the locker room after the game, the veteran was excited just to be back on the court. He played 17 minutes off the bench, scoring five points on 2-of-7 shooting. All of his shots came from 15-feet and out and he ran a team worst -29 in the plus/minus category. Like Jackson, Shumpert is one of the more versatile defenders the team has, but he’ll need time to get comfortable after a long absence.

Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles were caught up in the Bjelica and Cauley-Stein show. The rookie bigs are expected to contribute this season for Sacramento, but they played a combined 21 minutes in the opener. It’s not what anyone expected. Bagley scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in 12 minutes of action. Giles played less than 10 minutes, finishing with two points, a rebound and an assists while picking up four fouls. It’s the first game of many in what should be two very long and successful careers. No reason to panic. 

With Fox, Ferrell and Hield playing the bulk of the minutes, Frank Mason played just four minutes, scoring three points on the night. 

Defensive Woes Continue

It will take time for the Kings to gel as a defensive unit. Until then, they will continue to get into shootouts. Against Utah and they’re high-efficiency pick-and-roll offense, the Kings tried to limit the production of Mitchell and Gobert. It worked for stretches, but it allowed the Jazz to light the Kings up from the perimeter. 

Joe Ingles dropped 17 of his 22 points in the first half, burning the Kings for a perfect 3-of-3 from behind the arc before the intermission. Overall, Utah shot 13-of-27 (48.1 percent) from 3-point range, outscoring the Kings 39-21 on the deep ball. 

Sacramento made a few adjustments, but that led to a 15-point second half for Mitchell. It’s a balancing act and Utah is a very good team, but the Kings can’t allow their opponent to shoot 51.9 percent from the field on a nightly basis.

Kings notes: Some surprises from season-opening loss to Jazz

Kings notes: Some surprises from season-opening loss to Jazz

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings came out with energy and passion early against the Utah Jazz, leading by as many as 16 points in the first quarter. They hung around late, cutting Utah’s lead down to five twice in the final minute of the game.

In the end, the more experienced team came out ahead with the Jazz knocking off the Kings at Golden 1 Center by a final of 123-117.

A loss is a loss, but for a young Kings team, there was plenty to like from the effort. Here are five notes from Sacramento’s opening night defeat at the hands of the Jazz.

De’Aaron Fox wants to play

Fox came into camp in great shape and with a new mindset. He walked out of the opener with 21 points, seven assists and three steals in 38 minutes of play. If the Kings are going to compete, they need Fox to push the tempo and lead the team. Through one game, he’s showing he might be ready to do just that. 

“We definitely put ourselves in a position to win this game,” Fox told a crowded media scrum. “That’s a playoff team and sometimes the difference is execution and when they needed a bucket, they went and got it. That’s just something we’re learning.”

One down, 81 to go

The battle between Willie Cauley-Stein and Rudy Gobert was surprisingly fun to watch. Cauley-Stein got into the body to the NBA’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year and came away with a stat stuffing, 23-point, seven-rebound, four-assist, two-block performance. This is the type of performance that will make Cauley-Stein a lot of money next summer in free agency, but he needs to find a way to put in this same effort night in and night out.

“That’s one of the things I’ve been training on, is just being consistent, that’s just preparation,” Cauley-Stein said. 

Bjelica goes off

When the Kings landed Serbian-born forward Nemanja Bjelica late in the offseason, it didn’t exactly jump the needle. After his opening night performance against the Jazz, people around Sacramento might be looking up how to pronounce his name. Bee-a-leet-za finished with 18 points on 8-of-12 shooting and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds in 27 minutes. He posted a plus 12 in the plus/minus category and helped solidify the Kings effort. Not a debut for the 30-year-old stretch four. 

“I’m just trying to win, to make my teammates better because that’s part of my game,” Bjelica told NBC Sports California. “I’m not a jealous shooter.”

Buddy Buckets puts up numbers

Before fouling out in the fourth quarter, Buddy Hield strung together a nice night as the Kings’ starting small forward. The third-year guard finished the evening 9-of-18 from the field on his way to 19 points. He turned the ball over four times, but he also hit the glass for six rebounds in 32 minutes of action. 

Harry and Marv sit

Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley struggled to get minute sin the opener. The duo combined for eight points, six rebounds and six personal fouls in a total of 21 minutes of play. It’s not what most people expected, but with Cauley-Stein and Bjelica playing well at the four and the five, it left very few minutes for the young pair. If it helps, there are still 81 games remaining in the season and plenty more opportunities for both players.