SACRAMENTO -- The Kings are in a rut. They’ve lost five straight games and they are spiraling down the standings. Injuries are starting to become an issue, but so is the overall play of the team.
With some players missing time and others just playing well below the expected standard, coach Luke Walton has had to go deep to his bench. Perhaps he has found something he can work with for the present and the future.
After sitting out 14 straight games, Nemanja Bjelica has filled in for both Marvin Bagley and Richaun Holmes over the last week. The 32-year-old forward has put in quality work and earned a longer look moving forward.
"I worked my a-- off, that's what everybody is supposed to do when you are like, out of rotation or don't play or play less,” Bjelica said. “You just need to do some extra work."
The extra work paid off against Miami. Bjelica scored a season-high 25 points on 11-of-21 shooting and grabbed eight rebounds in the 118-110 loss.
In the space of four games, he’s gone from a complete afterthought to playing 35 minutes in a game.
“We always talk about what being a pro is and one of the things about being a pro is always being ready,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Even during the stretch when he wasn’t playing, he’s always here, obviously, he’s one of the first guys in, he’s always working out, he’s shooting the ball.”
Bjelica has been mentioned in trade rumors in the last few weeks and if he continues to shine, they may heat up even more. He’s a versatile player and while he’s struggled from long range this season, he can help space the floor if given time to find a rhythm. He’s also in the last year of his contract.
While Bjelica may be nearing the end of his run in Sacramento, another player is just getting started.
Like Bjelica, second-year forward DaQuan Jeffries came to play. After missing the first 24 games of the season with a back and then ankle injury, he is working his way back into shape.
Known for his defense, Jeffries didn’t play in the first half. But with Buddy Hield throwing up bricks and getting torched on the back cut, Jeffries got his shot in the third quarter and may have stolen some more minutes on the Kings’ five-game road trip.
“It’s big, it’s big,” Fox said of Jeffries. “We know what he brings for us -- some athleticism, physicality, a guy that can guard. And tonight, he was someone who brought energy off the bench whenever he got in.”
The Kings were missing an ingredient and Jeffries brought it to the table. In his first five minutes of play, Jeffries had 11 points and helped pull the Kings from a 23-point deficit to within 10 heading to the fourth quarter.
“DaQuan is a very hard worker, it’s one of the reasons we really like him and wanted to get him into the system,” Walton said. “From the time we spent with him last season, just seeing toughness and who he is as a person and then his work ethic.”
Jeffries finished with a career-high 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field and a whopping 5-of-5 from long range. He stayed ready for his chance and was impactful on both ends of the court.
“As you build stuff, you want certain types of people in, certain types of workers, professionals and we just felt that DaQuan fit that from a number of different areas,” Walton said. “We’ll take the 5-for-5 from three, it probably won’t be that great every night, but it’s always good to see young players get rewarded for putting in hard work like he has.”
Walton may have to play short-handed for a few more games. He’ll likely need both of these players to continue to give him solid minutes when called upon.
Bjelica is auditioning for all 30 NBA teams. Jeffries is proving he’s an NBA player. Both are hungry and have worked hard to be ready for this opportunity.