Sacramento Kings general manager Vlade Divac reset his roster over the past two weeks, bringing in four new faces to compete for court time. Now head coach Luke Walton has the tall task of piecing his rotations together on the fly while still dealing with injuries to part of his core group.
Dewayne Dedmon, Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel are gone. Dedmon is headed to Atlanta, while the other three are up in Portland finding their way with the Trail Blazers.
Kent Bazemore and Anthony Tolliver joined the Kings after starting the season with the Blazers and both have played in the last seven games for Sacramento. Newcomers Jabari Parker and Alex Len joined the Kings in a deadline deal on Wednesday and while they are in Sacramento already, they are both currently banged up.
With the team struggling at 19-31, the Kings shook up the squad. It’s on Walton to work through combinations of players, but here is a rough outline of what we should see in the final 32 games of the season.
De’Aaron Fox is on fire and Walton is going to want even more from his 22-year-old point guard down the stretch. He’s averaging 20.2 points, seven assists and 4.3 rebounds per game on the season, but he posted the best month of his career in January and the Kings will feature him down the stretch.
With Fox eating more of the minutes, the means that we will likely see slightly less of Cory Joseph. With Fox injured early in the season, Joseph stepped up and played well for Sacramento. He’s played better with the second unit and provided a nice backcourt mate with Buddy Hield.
Yogi Ferrell probably deserves better than spot duty, but he’s stayed ready and performed well when given the opportunity. Barring an injury, he will likely struggle to get on the court in the last three months of the season.
Since Walton swapped Hield out of the starting lineup for Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Kings are thriving. Bogdanovic is providing spacing and a second ball-handler with the starting unit, which takes a ton of pressure off of Fox. He’s also beginning to hit shots and he’s been extremely efficient. More importantly, the Kings are 4-2 since Bogdanovic stepped into a starting role.
Hield has also found his rhythm with the second unit as the primary scoring option. Since the swap, he’s averaging 22.2 points on 52.2 percent from the field and 48.4 percent from long range. Hield has played better on both sides of the ball and he’s producing better numbers in eight minutes per game less than what he was averaging as a starter. He could use more minutes, but he’s making the most of the time he gets and he’s a big reason the team is surging.
Justin James has seen some time at the two as well, but the rookie second-rounder has played sparingly this season. The Kings love his energy and athleticism, but the chance of him breaking into the rotation this season at either the two or the three is unlikely.
Harrison Barnes has carried the weight at this position for much of the season, but deadline additions may take some of the stress off the 27-year-old forward. His numbers are down across the board in December and January, which might be a byproduct of a busy off-season, that included a late summer World Cup performance for Team USA.
Bazemore has fit right in with the Kings since coming from Portland in the Ariza deal. He plays with energy and enthusiasm, especially on the defensive end, where he utilizes his length and athleticism. Bazemore is a nice change of pace from Barnes and he should play 20 or minutes per game down the stretch for Sacramento, unless they go into development mode late and give James some time at the wing.
The trade deadline may not have helped clear the log jam upfront. In fact, it may have added to the mess. Nemanja Bjelica has stepped in with Marvin Bagley’s injuries and played extremely well for the Kings this season. His ability to stretch the floor and his high basketball IQ make him a nice frontcourt partner for Richaun Holmes.
Bagley is scheduled to come back after the All-Star after aggravating his foot sprain. If he can stay healthy, Walton will eventually have to move him back into the starting lineup, whether that’s alongside Holmes or Bjelica. He’s extremely talented, but he needs as much floor time as possible if he hopes to continue to develop.
In addition to Bjelica and Bagley, the Kings added Parker to the mix. While he was a three coming out of Duke, the 6-foot-8 inch scorer has played more power forward at the NBA level. If he can get healthy, the former No. 2 overall pick can help the Kings with his ability score in bunches off the bench.
Anthony Tolliver is a member of this grouping of players as well, but once the Kings are healthy, the 34-year-old will have a tough time seeing the floor. Known for his ability to stretch the floor, the 12-year NBA vet has hit just 2-of-13 from behind the arc since joining the Kings.
This is a crowded position, but Bagley is the future. He can also play some five but expect the Kings to feed him plenty of minutes after the break as they try to build for the future.
Holmes is on the mend. He hopes to play on Friday after missing the last 13 games with a shoulder injury and he’s proven to be one of the Kings’ most consistent performers. He may need some time to acclimate back to the lineup, but he is likely to see close to 28-30 minutes after the All-Star break.
Harry Giles is set to get some time at the five down the stretch as well. He’ll have to fight with Holmes for time and also Bagley, who can play both power forward and center. Giles has played in 17 of the Kings’ last 18 games after falling out of the rotation earlier in the season. He’s showing signs of improvement, but the center position is crowded.
Len will join this group, but he’s currently nursing a hip flexor injury that could keep him out for the two remaining games leading up to the All-Star break. The 26-year-old has good size and can stretch the floor, but he’s having a down shooting year from the perimeter. He’s also in the final year of his contract and the team has little incentive to find a spot in the rotation for him.