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.
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.
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.