Kings

Two positives and two negatives from Kings' preseason opener

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USATSI

Two positives and two negatives from Kings' preseason opener

The Sacramento Kings shook off a shaky start to come away with a 106-102 road win Monday evening against the Phoenix Suns. They pushed the tempo, made their shots and even got to the free throw line an uncharacteristic 28 times. 

It’s a work in progress. Not everything went as planned, but the performance was pretty solid considering the youth of the team and the fact that four veterans and Bogdan Bogdanovic sat out.

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

POSITIVES:

The guards came to play

Point guard De’Aaron Fox set the tempo early for Sacramento, pushing the ball up the court at the direction of head coach Dave Joerger. Fox missed a few shots early, but once he settled in, he looked strong and active on both ends of the floor. He finished in traffic and his stepback 3-pointer in the third quarter is something the Kings need more of.

When Fox yielded to the second team, Frank Mason and Yogi Ferrell looked like they’d played together for while. Mason had a quiet 11 point, three assist evening, knocking down both of his shot attempts and hitting a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. He’s in a dogfight for minutes, but he showed he belonged. 

Ferrell lit the Suns up with a barrage of 3-pointers. He played with an energy and quickness that the Kings need from their second unit. He might not post 26 points on many nights this season, but he can handle plenty of the scoring load for the reserves. 

Buddy Hield struggled with his shot, scoring six points on 3-of-10 shooting. He looked out of sorts in Game 1, but the Kings are expecting big things from him this season.

Sacramento’s guards pushed the tempo and gave a glimpse of the style of play the Kings hope to play this season. It wasn’t a perfect night, but it’s a nice starting point for the young group. The backcourt is becoming a strong point of the club and it’s only going to improve once Bogdanovic returns from injury. 

Harry Giles III is ready to contribute

There are so many questions coming into the start of this season for Sacramento. Harry Giles’ health and his ability to compete this season after playing just 300 minutes of hoops over the last three years is at the top of the list. 

In his debut, the 20-year-old played a lot at the center position, but he showed the ability to switch and defend other positions as well. He’ll have plenty of nights where he picks up six fouls and has to watch from the bench, but Giles’ tenacity is contagious and he’s only going to get better. 

The rookie big stuffed the stat sheet with 14 points, six rebounds and three assists in 23 minutes of action. He even drilled a 3-pointer off a nice play call by Joerger. 

It’s early, but the redshirt season seems to have helped Giles slow down and get comfortable on the court. After one game, he’s showing that he might be more prepared to contribute early in the season than top pick Marvin Bagley III.

NEGATIVES:

Defense needs work

The offense is clearly ahead of the defense early in the preseason, which is to be expected. Sacramento struggled with Deandre Ayton, which was inexcusable considering that Willie Cauley-Stein started the game on the rookie and has three seasons of NBA experience. 

In addition to Ayton, who dropped in 24 points and nine rebounds in his debut, the Kings allowed T.J. Warren to take over the game for stretches. Sacramento struggled with combo forwards last season. 

Justin Jackson, who might be the best matchup the King have against Warren, was on the bench for much of the offensive outburst. Nemanja Bjelica, another option for Joerger, missed the game with a sore knee. 

On the plus side, the Kings held the Suns to just 3-of-22 from behind the arc and 44.6 percent shooting overall. For a team that looked to push the tempo, they did a solid job of getting back and holding the line on the defensive side. 

Production at the wing

Sacramento passed on the option to fill the small forward position during the draft and most of free agency. They added Bjelica, who can play some minutes at the three, but he’s more of a stretch four. 

Monday in Phoenix, Joerger started with Jackson at the small forward spot and he struggled to stand out. The second-year forward out of North Carolina finished the evening scoreless on 0-for-3 shooting in 19 minutes of actions and added two rebounds and an assist.

Ben McLemore came off the bench behind Jackson to score six points on 2-of-6 shooting over 22 minutes of play. 

The Kings need solid defense out of the wing and an occasional 3-pointer. They could also use a stat stuffer at the position. Bogdanovic will likely play plenty of minutes at the wing once he’s healthy, but until then, Joerger needs players like Jackson and McLemore to produce.

Kings player profile: Can Harry Giles carve out niche in second season?

Kings player profile: Can Harry Giles carve out niche in second season?

Vlade Divac took a gamble with the 20th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft when he selected Harry Giles out of Duke University. Two years later, the Sacramento Kings are cautiously optimistic that they have another piece to the puzzle in the talented 21-year-old.

After multiple knee injuries, the Kings have taken a patient approach to bring along the 6-foot-10 big man. They even hedged their bets this offseason when they brought not just one, but two centers to compete for minutes with Giles.

While this is Giles’ second NBA season, it’s actually the third year of his rookie-scale deal after redshirting his first year. With just 58 games under his belt, this is an important season for him to prove he is another piece to the Kings’ long term future. 

Luke Walton has plenty of pieces to work with on the frontline, but Giles' skill set is unique. Whether he can stay healthy and carve out a niche for himself is still unknown, but he has plenty of potential and an infectious personality.

Strengths

Giles has shown flashes of being a complete NBA player. He’s a physically gifted athlete with great court vision and tremendous size for either the power forward or center position. He needs to add weight and get stronger, but he has a frame that can easily carry another 10-15 pounds without hampering his mobility.

His raw numbers don’t jump off the page. He managed to average 7.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.5 assists in 14.1 minutes per game in Dave Joerger’s rotation. He struggled early in the season but found his rhythm after two stops in the G League with the Stockton Kings.

Although he played limited minutes, there were times when the Kings ran their offense through the rookie. He has an advanced feel for the high post and is a tremendous passer. Despite his inexperience, he managed a 15.2 percent assist percentage, which ranked fourth out of the rotational players on the Kings.

Giles struggled with his shot early but was able to bring his field goal percentage to a respectable 50.3 percent by the end of the season. He shot 68.6 percent at the rim and 41.6 percent from 3-10 feet. He has a variety of post moves and showed an ability to take his defender off the dribble.

There were times when Giles was overmatched against bigger players and he was lost in defensive rotations early in the season, but he settled in and held his opponents to negative field goal percentages inside of 10 feet and outside of 15 feet. He’s a work in progress on the defensive side of the ball, but he’s a high-motor player that projects as an above-average NBA defender.

Per 36 minutes, Giles averaged 9.7 rebounds per game and he was only slightly behind Willie Cauley-Stein and Marvin Bagley in his offensive and defensive rebounding percentages.

Weaknesses

Injury concerns are what made Giles topple out of the top five in the 2017 NBA Draft and they will continue to be a topic of conversation until he proves that he can play an 82-game schedule. He stayed reasonably healthy throughout the first three-quarters of the season, although he played limited minutes.

Eventually, Giles missed the final 11 games of the season due to a thigh bruise and spent the early part of the offseason rehabbing. There were nights when he looked spry and other games when his legs looked heavy. It’s part of the process of recovery for a young man that played a total of 300 minutes of basketball over the three seasons coming into last year.

On the offensive side of the ball, Giles is a major cog due to his passing ability, but his limited shooting range hurts the spacing on the floor, especially when he was paired with players like Bagley or Kosta Koufos.

Giles attempted just six 3-pointers on the season, missing all six, and he took 36 total shots from 16 feet out to the 3-point line. The modern NBA big needs to be able to shoot from behind the arc, especially in a wide-open offense like Sacramento’s.

Early in the season, Giles struggled with both turnovers and personal fouls. He cleaned up a lot of the issues as he got more comfortable on the court. His ability to pass is elite, but there are times where he presses and gets too loose with the ball.

Giles is a gritty defensive player that doesn’t back down from a challenge. On many occasions it was a plus for Sacramento -- but he averaged 6.6 personal fouls per 36 minutes -- which cost him minutes. He has to be smarter with fouls and use his feet to play defense instead of his hands.

Path to Improvement

Giles is a raw but moldable piece of NBA clay. He has incredible natural ability and a high basketball IQ.

In order to develop and reach his potential, he needs to work on his range as a shooter and continue to build strength and endurance for a long 82 season. He has a nice jumper from 18 feet, but if he can hit the corner three or step out and drill an occasional triple from the elbow, it will help to diversify his game and space the floor for others.

His body continues to be a work in progress, but this is his third NBA summer. Hopefully, he’s spent plenty of time with the Kings’ training staff refining his body and getting stronger.

He also needs to get comfortable on the court, which will help him reduce fouls and turnovers, as well as improve as a defender. That will come with time and opportunity.

There were times when Giles showed flashes both as a scorer and rebounder. The Kings need more consistency in these areas when he gets time. He has the motor and skills set to post double-doubles on a nightly basis, but he failed to register a single 10-rebound game in his rookie campaign.

Projection

Divac made the safe play when he brought in both Dewayne Dedmon and Richaun Holmes to compete for minutes at the five. Giles is a wild card but comes with a long injury history. Dedmon has missed 38 games due to injury over the last two seasons as well and Holmes has never played more than 70 games in a season. All three players are very different and it's up to Walton to figure out how to use them.

Dedmon will start the season as the starter, but the early plan is likely for Giles to split minutes with him. If Giles can reach the 24-minute mark, he can average 10 points, 6.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists per game and perhaps more.

[RELATED: Kings player profile: Can Dewayne Dedmon stay healthy enough to contribute?]

If he continues to struggle with foul issues or has a physical setback, he’ll open the door for Holmes to take his minutes.

Giles needs to build off his late-season success and show an ability to stretch the floor. With a strong start to the season, he could steal a bigger chunk of minutes at the five and establish himself as the long term answer at the position for Sacramento.

Kings player profile: Can Dewayne Dedmon stay healthy enough to contribute?

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Kings player profile: Can Dewayne Dedmon stay healthy enough to contribute?

Continuity is big in the NBA, but Dedmon brings a very specific skill set that should help the Kings, and more specifically, Bagley, take another step forward. He can do a lot of what Cauley-Stein brought to the table, but his ability to shoot from the perimeter and defend the rim are major upgrades at the position.

He’s also a veteran player that’s been around the block and can provide another mature voice behind the scenes.

Strengths

A late bloomer, Dedmon has progressively gotten better in each of his six seasons in the NBA. He’s bounced around the league, but he’s hopefully found a home on the Kings’ frontline, at least for the next two or three years. 

Dedmon shot just one 3-point attempt through his first four seasons in the league and then Atlanta happened. It started under coach Mike Budenholzer and then continued when Lloyd Pierce took over the Hawks.

During the 2017-18 season, Dedmon shot 35.5 percent on 2.3 3-point attempts per game. Those numbers jumped to 38.2 percent on 3.4 attempts per game last season, which is a big reason why the Kings chased him in free agency.

When Dedmon isn’t shooting from the perimeter, he is typically used as the lob man in the pick-n-roll. He shot 70.1 percent at the rim on 129 makes. 104 of those conversions were assisted. 

As a rebounder, Dedmon has posted seasons where he is an elite defensive rebounder, finishing with 30.6 percent, 28.1 percent and 25 percent over the last three seasons. The development of Jon Collins last season likely caused a dip in his numbers, but there is potential for him to be one of the Kings’ best rebounders per minute once the season starts, specifically on the defensive end.

His offensive rebounding numbers have fallen off a cliff over the past two seasons, but that is directly correlated with his increase in 3-point attempts. On the offensive end, he will be asked to camp in the corner on plenty of sets, which will help space the floor for both De’Aaron Fox and Marvin Bagley.

On the defensive side of the ball, Dedmon is active. His 1.1 blocks per game would have led the Kings last season and his 1.1 steals per game is .1 less than what Cauley-Stein averaged. He held his opponents to a -1 percent field goal percent overall, including -1.5 percent from 3-point range and -5 percent inside of six feet.

Weaknesses

Dedmon has struggled to stay healthy over the last two seasons, missing 20 games in 2017-18 and 18 during last season. He’s a young 30 as far as games played, posting just 350 regular-season games, including 176 starts, but he needs to stay on the court.

He’s limited in what he does, but that might not be a bad thing. The Kings don’t plan to run the offense through him and there is a possibility that he will see an increase in 3-point attempts while starting on the frontline with Bagley. 

The Kings need Dedmon to get back to the player that posted +30 percent defensive rebounding percentages. With Bagley hitting the break as a rim runner, there will be opportunities for him that he may not have had in Atlanta. He needs to be a force on the defensive glass. 

Dedmon shot a sparkling 81.4 percent from the free-throw line, but he made it to the stripe just 113 times. He’s not a focal point of the offense, but drawing and playing through contact is important, especially when he has the ability to knock down freebies at such a high clip.

Sacramento needs its new center to be a rim protector. His 1.1 blocks per game were a career-best and the Kings need that number and maybe a little more this season.

Path to Improvement

Shoot the 3-ball. Stay healthy. Block shots. Crush the glass. 

The Kings aren’t trying to invent the wheel when it comes to Dedmon. They chased him in free agency because he is a perfect fit next to Bagley. 

His path to improvement is to do more of what he already does. He doesn’t need to learn any new tricks. If he can average one more 3-point and free throw attempts per game, hit the defensive glass hard and play goalkeeper, the Kings spent their money on the right guy. 

Playing closer to 75 games would be an added bonus.

Projection

Dedmon is going to start the season as the starter, but there are plenty of young bodies ready to steal his minutes. He’ll likely split time with Harry Giles early in the season, but Richaun Holmes is part of the equation as well.

[RELATED: Is Bagley ready to take leap in sophomore season?]

An early prediction has Dedmon averaging 10 points, eight rebounds, a block and a steal in 24 minutes per game. He’ll shoot plenty of triples and be asked to do the dirty work. 

If he stumbles, the Kings have replacements in the pipeline. If those young options don’t show the type of improvement the team needs to see, Dedmon could be asked to play closer to 30 minutes per game.