Kings

Kings searching for balance without DeMarcus Cousins

Kings searching for balance without DeMarcus Cousins

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings looked every bit the part of a team trying to reinvent itself on the fly Monday evening when the Minnesota Timberwolves rolled through Golden 1 Center. It wasn’t pretty. A young and athletic T-Wolves club ran circles around the home team, coming away with a 102-88 victory.

There is a gaping hole in the middle of the Kings rotation left by the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Sacramento doesn’t have another 28 points per game scorer on the roster. If they have a chance to compete on a nightly basis, it will take a team effort, but also a player or two stepping out of their comfort zone and into a feature role.

“It’s going to take some time,” Darren Collison said. “It’s always going to take an adjustment period when you have a situation like this.”

Sacramento has had very little time to practice as a unit. They’ve played just three games together and had varying degrees of success. They are using stripped down offensive sets to simplify things and the defensive rotations are still a work in progress.

“I don’t feel that the comfort level is there 100 percent yet and it shows a little bit,” Kosta Koufos said.

It’s going to be a process as coach Dave Joerger tries to work newcomers Tyreke Evans and Buddy Hield into the rotation, as well as rookie Skal Labissiere, who has spent most of the season with the Reno Bighorns.

“That was a welcome to the NBA moment for me, it just shows you that anything can happen at anytime,” Labissiere said of the trade. “Everything is still pretty new to me. I’m shocked by it, but things happen, that’s the nature of the game.”

Joerger is trying to balance a game plan for his regulars and then pepper in players that don’t know the plays. So far it’s been a roller coaster ride for everyone involved.

“Our problem right now is trying to figure out the best way to move forward on a consistent basis and have more continuity,” Collison said. “There’s nothing you can do about that. We’ve just got to continue to help each other, figure out how we’re going to play together.”

As one of the primary ball handlers, Collison is still getting used to playing without Cousins, like the rest of the team. The star big not only led the Kings in points and rebounds, but also assists. Collison was the beneficiary of plenty of those passes from Cousins and the big man’s presence on the floor opened up driving lanes and spacing for Collison to work.

Willie Cauley-Stein is quickly learning that carrying the scoring load night in and night out is much more difficult than it looks. Like many of his teammates, he hasn’t been a primary scoring option for an NBA team, let alone a player that the entire offense runs through.

“This is the first time in my whole life I’ve been in this position, but this is one of the things I’ve been wanting to do my whole life, so it’s lit,” Cauley-Stein said.

The second-year center spent three years at Kentucky playing second fiddle to players like Towns and Lakers power forward Julius Randle. Cauley-Stein posted 29 points in his first game without Cousins, but just two points in Sacramento’s next contest following the trade. In game three, Cauley-Stein found a happy medium.

The 7-footer managed to drop in 14 points, six rebounds and five assists against the T-Wolves. He’s a quick learner, but trying to replace a player like Cousins, who boasted the league’s second highest usage rate (37.5 percent) is an incredibly tall order.

Patience is needed, but also a little bit of perspective. Dealing a franchise cornerstone in the middle of a season left a void in the center of the Kings’ universe. The race to fill the loss will likely take a lot more than the 22 games remaining on the schedule.

Sacramento will get another chance to pick up a win Wednesday when the Brooklyn Nets swing by Golden 1 Center. They sport the NBA’s worst record, but they are catching a Kings team in a major state of flux.

Dirk Nowitzki likely makes last trip to Sacramento, talks Kings future

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AP

Dirk Nowitzki likely makes last trip to Sacramento, talks Kings future

SACRAMENTO -- During pregame of the Kings and Mavericks game on Thursday evening, a tribute video for future Hall of Famer Dirk Nowitzki played on the monstrous scoreboard hanging high above the court at Golden 1 Center.

While the 40-year-old power forward hasn’t officially announced his retirement yet, it is likely that his 21st NBA season is his last.

When Nowitzki entered the court midway through the first quarter, Kings fans gave the 14-time All-Star a standing ovation. It was a nice moment and Nowitzki was appreciative.

Following the Kings’ 116-100 victory, Nowitzki spoke to the media and was extremely complimentary about the squad they are building in Sacramento.

“[De’Aaron] Fox is fantastic, he’s so fast, he’s probably one of the fastest players I’ve seen in this league and he got better from year one to year two,” Nowitzki told reporters following the game. “[Marvin] Bagley’s looked great off the bench. There’s not a lot of guys that get you 20 and 10 off the bench. He’s an instant problem off the bench.”

“All these young guys, they have great upside and they’ll be fun to watch for a long, long time,” Nowitzki added.

While the Mavericks fell out of the playoff race early, Nowitzki thought the Kings would snap their 12-year drought, especially after the addition of Harrison Barnes from the Mavs at the deadline.

“I actually thought the race for the eight would be there's, so it was just a tough stretch there,” Nowitzki said. “They’re a great set up for the future with Fox and Hield and now Giles and Bagley looked fantastic. They have a couple of veterans with Harrison now. They’re set up great for the future.”

Prior to tip-off, he caught up with Kings assistant general manager, Peja Stojakovic. The two battled during international play, at the NBA level and even won a championship together in Dallas during the 2010-11 season.

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Nowitzki ranks sixth all-time on the NBA’s scoring list and he is widely considered the greatest European player to ever play in the league. In likely his last trip to Sacramento as a player, the German-born star hit 1-of-2 from long range to finish with three points in 12 minutes.

Marvin Bagley continues to showcase star potential in win vs. Mavs

Marvin Bagley continues to showcase star potential in win vs. Mavs

SACRAMENTO -- The Marvin Bagley III era of Sacramento Kings basketball is upon us. He can hit you with a spin move, rise over you for a half hook and on Thursday evening at Golden 1 Center, he starting dropping in 3-pointers.

At 20-years-old, there is no telling where the ceiling is for the No. 2 overall selection in the 2018 NBA Draft. Since returning from injury, five games ago, he’s been on fire, despite dealing with a minutes restriction.

“It was just a matter of time before I was able to show out and just go out and play,” a confident Bagley said following the Kings’ 116-100 victory. “Play without thinking and just play basketball. Whenever I’m playing like that I just play free and I’m not worried about mistakes.”

For the third straight game, the former Duke star posted 20 points or more for Sacramento, finishing with 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He added 12 rebounds four the 14th double-double of his rookie campaign and blocked four shots as well.

Suiting up for the first time against fellow rookie, Luka Doncic, Bagley looked fresh and ready for the challenge. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, Doncic looked every bit the part of a rookie who has had to carry the scoring load for his team all season. The Slovenian-born guard finished the night with just 13 points on 4-of-19 shooting to go with 10 rebounds.

Following the game, Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle raved about the Kings’ rookie.

“Bagley is terrific,” Carlisle told reporters following the game. “He’s much improved. Shooting the three consistently, so he’s a big problem.”

While Bagley knocked down the 3-ball at the college level, it was in limited attempts. Since joining the Kings, he’s taken a cautious approach when it comes to hoisting from the perimeter, shooting just 69 3-pointers through his first 51 games.

Tuesday against the Nets, Bagley shot and made two 3-pointers. On Thursday versus the Mavs, he looked confident in his five attempts, hitting a career-best three makes from behind the arc.

“It’s just a progression,” coach Dave Joerger said. “I’ve never told him not to, I’ve asked him that I prefer if the ball comes from inside the line where you’re getting your momentum going forward.”

For Bagley to take the next step in his progression and move into the starting lineup, the Kings need him to at least be a threat from the perimeter. If opposing defenses have to stay with him behind the 3-point line, it keeps the lanes open for De’Aaron Fox to attack the rim.

“He’s a special talent, man,” Buddy Hield said. “Sometime you don’t even run a play for him. He just gets our misses and puts it back in. That’s what comes with a special talent. He’s just going to keep growing and getting better. He’s still not to his potential.”

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In 10 games since the All-Star break, Bagley is averaging 20.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in 27 minutes per game. He’s quickly living up to the hype and showing improvement at almost every step.

With just 11 games remaining in the season, Bagley would like to end on a high note. The Kings need him to continue to develop his perimeter skills during his first real offseason and build some up his strength for the grueling 82 game NBA schedule.