Kings

Kings rookie Harry Giles passes another test: 'Went better than expected'

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USATSI

Kings rookie Harry Giles passes another test: 'Went better than expected'

SACRAMENTO -- Kings fans have Harry Giles fever. He’s become their version of the Loch Ness Monster. They see grainy video of the 20-year-old dunking in practice and the excitement only builds. 

It’s hard not to like him. Giles is charismatic and has a huge smile. He speaks with a deep southern drawl and he’s a bit of prankster. The question is, after tearing his ACL in both knees as a prep and needing a follow up surgery at Duke, will he ever be the same player that made him a household name as a high school kid?

Step One in Giles’ return happened during summer league, both in Sacramento and Las Vegas. After redshirting the 6-foot-10 big man last season, the Kings had no issues running him out there, even for back-to-backs during the exhibition seaosn. Giles held up fine and prepared for the next step.

In Monday’s preseason opener in Phoenix, Giles made a splash, scoring 14 points, grabbing six rebounds and handing out three assists in 23 minutes of action. It wasn’t a perfect showing, but it was definitely something to build on.

“I finally got one in the books for me,” Giles said following practice on Wednesday. “It went well. It went better than expected. It actually slowed down a little bit faster than I expected and I just had a great time out there.”

It’s all a learning experience for Giles. After missing all but the first game of his senior year in high school, Giles played just 300 total minutes at Duke under head coach Mike Krzyzewski. 

The Kings selected him with the 20th overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, but chose to put Giles in the hands of their training staff for a year and build the strength in his legs and core. The hope was that he would be able to return to his previous form with a little luck. 

Still considered a rookie coming into this season, Giles has barely played in three years. He knows the system and the language used by Dave Joerger and his staff from his time being around the club last season, but he’s missed out on valuable court time during the development years.

Against the Suns, Giles got in foul trouble early and eventually fouled out. He also took and missed an ill-advised 3-pointer with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter, much to the chagrin of Joerger. Sacramento’s coach could be heard yelling at Giles as he ran back on defense after the miss. 

“The first three I shot, it was bad timing and situation,” Giles said. “It was a tie game and I probably could have got a better shot.”

During the break leading to the fourth quarter, Joerger pulled his team aside. In the huddle, the veteran coach drew up a play for Giles to take another 3-pointer to open the quarter, but with better spacing and in rhythm.

“Coming out of the timeout, (Joerger) kind of showed me that this is the better option to shoot your three right here,” Giles said. “It worked out perfectly. I hit the shot. It also just showed me confidence, believing in my shot.”

For Giles, basketball questions are a welcomed distraction. He’s spent the last few years fielding technical questions about bilateral ACL recovery and faced the possibility that he would never make it to this point in his basketball career.

“It’s great to be on the other side of it, finally getting away from the injury questions, how rehab’s going, how this is going, instead of how’s the game going, how are you adjusting to how you’re playing,” Giles said.

Giles didn’t feel nerves coming into the contest. He was ready to play, like he has been for a while. The injury history will always be there. He can’t escape the questions and he can only do the work behind the scenes and hope for the best in the future. 

For now, he is just another young player looking to make his mark in the league. He’s looking forward to playing the Lakers and Warriors in back-to-back games this week. He’s excited share the court with LeBron James and is ready for what comes next.

What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

The wait is over. Power forward Marvin Bagley finally is ready to return to the court after breaking his right thumb in the Sacramento Kings’ opening night loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Bagley is listed as probable for Thursday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after missing the previous 22 games.

Seven weeks is a long time to be away from live action, but Bagley has been active during the layoff. He was on the court within days of the injury, working with the team’s player development staff and staying in shape.

There is no word on whether Bagley will wear the soft cast that he has sported the last two months, but it’s unlikely he will have a minutes restriction when he enters the game for head coach Luke Walton.

After starting just four games as a rookie, Bagley opened the season with the first team, but a lot has changed since Oct. 23.

Richaun Holmes wrestled the starting center position away from veteran Dewayne Dedmon after only four games. Dedmon currently is out of the rotation after shooting a lowly 40.8 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range.

In addition to Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica has played well filling in for Bagley with the starting five over the last 22 games. Bjelica started 70 games for Sacramento last season and he’s currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting a team-best 42.6 percent from long range.

Where does Bagley fit in? Will Walton hand him his starting job back over a red-hot Bjelica? Will Bagley need time to integrate back into the system? What combinations of bigs will work together on the floor?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, all while the NBA schedule continues. With Bjelica and Holmes playing side-by-side, the Kings have found a rhythm as of late.

Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist that brings energy and defensive intensity. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is second in the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting.

Bjelica is a floor spacer who Walton recently has begun using to run the offense through in certain sets. He’s posting a career-best 2.6 assists per game, including 3.4 assists per game in December.

While Holmes continues to stack up double-doubles, Bjelica has been instrumental in the team’s win in Dallas on Sunday and again in Houston on Monday when he won the game with a 33-footer at the buzzer.

Bagley is the future, and before the injury, the present for Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big is the team’s best low-post offensive weapon and arguably the Kings’ best rebounder. Like Holmes, he has springs in his legs, but is a more versatile offensive player.

There is a legitimate concern that a Bagley-Holmes pairing would clog the lane and create issues for the Kings’ offense. Neither is considered a distributor, and they both have limited range at this point of their careers, which is why the Kings brought in Dedmon.

But the Kings don’t really have a choice. Bagley and Holmes both are dynamic players who need major minutes. Walton has shown an ability to make adjustments, and he’ll have to find a way for his two best athletes to co-exist on the floor for at least short stints. 

In the previous two games, Walton has tightened his rotation to eight players, with Dedmon sitting out both as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t bode well for a player the Kings invested a three-year, $40 million contract in over the summer.

With Bjelica playing well, Walton has his stretch player to play alongside both Holmes and Bagley. Walton also can steal minutes at the four with Harrison Barnes, but will need to figure out how to distribute time amongst a talented group.

Expect Walton to bring Bagley along slowly as they integrate him into the team’s system. The Kings slowly have began feeding the post over the last few games and the balance is needed.

[RELATED: Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again]

Eventually Bagley will get back to playing 30 minutes per game. He’ll put up numbers, but Walton has the difficult job of managing the development of a 20-year-old player with unlimited potential who has missed nearly two months of action with a new coaching staff.

After digging out of an 0-5 hole to start the year, the Kings have a soft spot in their schedule and a legitimate shot at making a run at the .500 mark over the next week. Expect Walton to be cognizant of that as he tries to add an intriguing, but inexperienced piece back into the fray.

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

How Kings' Cory Joseph stopped James Harden after quirky walk-through

The Texas two-step is turning into a nightmare for NBA opponents. Twenty-year-old phenom Luka Doncic is taking the NBA by storm, and he has transformed the Dallas Mavericks into one of the better teams in the Western Conference.

James Harden is averaging 38 points per game for the Houston Rockets and he has Russell Westbrook riding shotgun in Mike D’Antoni’s up-tempo offense.

For the beat-up Kings, Sunday and Monday’s back-to-back against the Mavs and Rockets looked like a pair losses before they even hopped on the team bus. But that’s not the way it worked out.

Cory Joseph got away with a touch foul on Doncic in the final seconds and the Kings escaped Dallas with a 110-106 win. There was no time to celebrate. Sacramento boarded a flight for Houston to face Harden fewer than 24 hours later without even a shootaround to prepare for the league’s leading scorer.

In a stroke of genius, coach Luke Walton and his staff created a game plan and then used a roll of tape and the team’s hotel ballroom in Houston to walk through an idea.

“When you can’t get to a gym because you’re trying to get the guys more rest, we grabbed some tape, put a little key down on the floor and walked through sets that we need,” Walton told media following the 119-118 win over the Rockets.

Like the previous game against Doncic, Walton used Joseph, his best perimeter defender, on Harden and ran a box-and-one defense for much of the game. The plan worked to perfection.

Not only did Joseph help limit Harden to 8-of-19 shooting from the field and eight turnovers, but he also played defense without fouling.

Harden came into the night averaging 12.8 free throw makes on 14.8 attempts per game. If he continued at that pace, he would finish second all-time in free throw attempts per game.

Joseph didn’t bite on the up fakes or let Harden tangle him up when he sprawled out for 3-point attempts Monday. He didn’t reach and get his hand caught in the cookie jar and when he did make a play at the ball, he came away with two steals and just one personal foul in 38 minutes of action.

“It was a good win for us, back-to-back," Joseph said Monday. "It’s never easy, but we kept the mentality and we were strong. We turned it up mentality wise from the start to the finish of the game. We felt like these last two games, we competed at a high level and that’s what we’re going to need to do night in and night out to give ourselves a good chance.”

Sacramento paid Joseph handsomely in the offseason to back up De’Aaron Fox. An unlucky accident in practice has cost Fox major time, but Joseph has stepped in and kept the Kings afloat over the last 14 games as a starter.

Joseph isn’t the dynamic scorer that Fox is, but Walton has played to the strengths of his team without his starting point guard. He has taken the ball out of Joseph’s hands on most offensive possessions to save him for the defensive end and improve the flow.

Things will change when Fox returns, but like Nemanja Bjelica, Joseph has proven his worth to the team.

It should be noted that Joseph tweaked his lower back against the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday and was questionable against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday.

“You go into what Cory did, we had him on Luka last night, we had him on Harden tonight,” Walton said. “Three days ago he couldn’t even walk, we didn’t even think he was going to play. As we talk about culture and what we’re trying to build, the example that he sets with that type of effort every single night is pretty good for our group.”

Over the last three games, he has fought through the injury and averaged nearly 35 minutes per game against some of the best scorers the league has to offer.

At 10-13, the Kings continue to stick around the .500 mark in the standings despite their slow start to the season. Joseph is a big reason why.

[RELATED: Watch Westbrook say game over, then Kings hit game-winner]

The Kings flew home after the win, and they’ll face another tough guard in Chris Paul on Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center.

There is a chance that Marvin Bagley will return to the court against the Oklahoma City Thunder after missing the last 22 games with a broken thumb. Fox stayed behind on the four-game road trip to rehab his ankle, and he is getting closer to a return as well.