What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

What Marvin Bagley's return means for Kings after missing seven weeks

The wait is over. Power forward Marvin Bagley finally is ready to return to the court after breaking his right thumb in the Sacramento Kings’ opening night loss to the Phoenix Suns.

Bagley is listed as probable for Thursday night's game against the Oklahoma City Thunder, after missing the previous 22 games.

Seven weeks is a long time to be away from live action, but Bagley has been active during the layoff. He was on the court within days of the injury, working with the team’s player development staff and staying in shape.

There is no word on whether Bagley will wear the soft cast that he has sported the last two months, but it’s unlikely he will have a minutes restriction when he enters the game for head coach Luke Walton.

After starting just four games as a rookie, Bagley opened the season with the first team, but a lot has changed since Oct. 23.

Richaun Holmes wrestled the starting center position away from veteran Dewayne Dedmon after only four games. Dedmon currently is out of the rotation after shooting a lowly 40.8 percent from the floor and 22.9 percent from 3-point range.

In addition to Holmes, Nemanja Bjelica has played well filling in for Bagley with the starting five over the last 22 games. Bjelica started 70 games for Sacramento last season and he’s currently averaging 11.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and shooting a team-best 42.6 percent from long range.

Where does Bagley fit in? Will Walton hand him his starting job back over a red-hot Bjelica? Will Bagley need time to integrate back into the system? What combinations of bigs will work together on the floor?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered, all while the NBA schedule continues. With Bjelica and Holmes playing side-by-side, the Kings have found a rhythm as of late.

Holmes is a pick-and-roll specialist that brings energy and defensive intensity. He’s averaging 12.5 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.4 blocks and is second in the league in both field goal percentage and true shooting.

Bjelica is a floor spacer who Walton recently has begun using to run the offense through in certain sets. He’s posting a career-best 2.6 assists per game, including 3.4 assists per game in December.

While Holmes continues to stack up double-doubles, Bjelica has been instrumental in the team’s win in Dallas on Sunday and again in Houston on Monday when he won the game with a 33-footer at the buzzer.

Bagley is the future, and before the injury, the present for Sacramento. The 6-foot-11 big is the team’s best low-post offensive weapon and arguably the Kings’ best rebounder. Like Holmes, he has springs in his legs, but is a more versatile offensive player.

There is a legitimate concern that a Bagley-Holmes pairing would clog the lane and create issues for the Kings’ offense. Neither is considered a distributor, and they both have limited range at this point of their careers, which is why the Kings brought in Dedmon.

But the Kings don’t really have a choice. Bagley and Holmes both are dynamic players who need major minutes. Walton has shown an ability to make adjustments, and he’ll have to find a way for his two best athletes to co-exist on the floor for at least short stints. 

In the previous two games, Walton has tightened his rotation to eight players, with Dedmon sitting out both as a healthy scratch. This doesn’t bode well for a player the Kings invested a three-year, $40 million contract in over the summer.

With Bjelica playing well, Walton has his stretch player to play alongside both Holmes and Bagley. Walton also can steal minutes at the four with Harrison Barnes, but will need to figure out how to distribute time amongst a talented group.

Expect Walton to bring Bagley along slowly as they integrate him into the team’s system. The Kings slowly have began feeding the post over the last few games and the balance is needed.

[RELATED: Nemanja Bjelica comes up clutch again]

Eventually Bagley will get back to playing 30 minutes per game. He’ll put up numbers, but Walton has the difficult job of managing the development of a 20-year-old player with unlimited potential who has missed nearly two months of action with a new coaching staff.

After digging out of an 0-5 hole to start the year, the Kings have a soft spot in their schedule and a legitimate shot at making a run at the .500 mark over the next week. Expect Walton to be cognizant of that as he tries to add an intriguing, but inexperienced piece back into the fray.

Why Kings replaced Buddy Hield with Bogdan Bogdanovic in starting lineup


Why Kings replaced Buddy Hield with Bogdan Bogdanovic in starting lineup

Changing of the guard.

Needing some sort of spark to shake things up, Sacramento Kings head coach Luke Walton is making a switch in his starting lineup. Bogdan Bogdanovic will start in place of Buddy Hield at shooting guard Friday evening in Chicago as the team looks to snap a six-game losing streak.

“It’s the same message I’ve given all year, look, we’ve had however many starting lineups all season long and it doesn’t matter, we’re a team,” coach Luke Walton told reporters prior to the game against the Bulls. “We’re struggling to win games right now, so we’re looking to see different groups give us a better chance of doing that.”

The move is a big change for Buddy Hield, who has started the last 126 games for the Kings. The 27-year-old shooting guard signed a massive four-year, $86 million extension in October, but he’s struggled on the defensive end all season and his shooting numbers are way down.

“There’s nothing permanent with it, it’s not a punishment to Buddy at all,” Walton added. “Buddy’s been great and we expect him to be great for us tonight. But we’ve got to keep looking for something that works for us.”

After shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 42.7 percent from 3-point range last year, Hield is knocking down just 41.6 percent overall and 36 percent from behind the arc this season.

Due to injuries to both Bogdanovic and De’Aaron Fox, he’s been asked to carry a larger load when it comes to ball handling and playmaking, but he’s been forcing the action as of late.

“He’ll be fine,” Walton said. “Buddy’s a professional and he knows how we feel about him. Again, this is not a punishment towards him, we’re just looking at trying to mix some things up, try to give ourselves a little juice and find a way to win a game in this stretch that we’re in right now.”

Bogdanovic was set to be the starter at the two last season, but a late summer knee injury cost him the first 10 games of the season. Hield stepped in and played extremely well in his absence and the previous coaching staff decided to stick with a starting backcourt of Fox and Hield.

[RELATED: Source: Kings unlikely to trade Bogi]

In his third NBA season, Bogdanovic is averaging 14.5 points, 3.5 assists and 2.9 rebounds per game off the bench for Sacramento. He’s the Kings’ most versatile player and one of the better playmakers on the roster.

The Kings are 3-14 over their last 17 games and Walton is looking for a spark to shake things up. Bogdanovic is a restricted free agent at the end of the season and he’ll get his shot to shine after coming off the bench for 33 games this season.

Kings' tailspin continues as team hits rock bottom in loss vs. Pistons

Kings' tailspin continues as team hits rock bottom in loss vs. Pistons

What happened to the Sacramento Kings? They’ve been treading just above rock bottom for the better part of a month, but it doesn’t get much worse than the performance they put forth Wednesday in Detroit.

The Kings looked completely disinterested through the first half, almost as if they were just going to show up in the third quarter and blow a completely depleted Pistons team out of the water.

That didn’t happen. In fact, the Kings were embarrassed by a team missing 60 percent of its starting lineup, falling by a final of 127-106.

“Basketball is a simple game, defend without fouling, make the right play and knock down shots early,” Luke Walton told reporters following the loss. “I feel like we didn't do any of those things. Now, I don't know where our competitive spirit was or because of injuries we thought the game might be easy.”

The Kings looked like a team that has completely lost its way. Players started hunting for shots in the third quarter and throwing up one bad 3-point attempt after another.

Instead of attacking the rim, it was a series of misses, followed by defensive rebounds for Detroit. The only time the offense looked anywhere near cohesive was when Walton went to the bench, turning to a group that included Cory Joseph, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Kent Bazemore, Anthony Tolliver and Harry Giles.

Giles has played sparingly over the last week and Bazemore and Tolliver made their debuts with Sacramento after coming over in a trade over the weekend.  

[RELATED: Kings players react to Bazemore-Tolliver trade with Blazers]

“I think our bad stretches are happening for too long, too many times,” De’Aaron Fox told media members. “There are times where we are out there playing good basketball and there are times where we're not. I said it before, you just try to play the best basketball you can for the most amount of time. I don’t think we're doing that right now.”

On the defensive end, the Kings didn’t move their feet and they fouled at will. 12 of the 13 players who stepped on the floor were called for personal fouls, including five each for Buddy Hield and Dewayne Dedmon.

In total, the Kings picked up 28 personal fouls as a team and sent the Pistons to the line for a staggering 44 free-throw attempts, of which they hit 37. Sacramento was outscored by 25 points at the foul line in a 21-point loss.

“There are times where our defense looks great and then we're not making shots,” Fox said. “There are times where we're making shots but we're trading baskets. We just have to be able to piece it together for as long as we can. Like I said before, we can't let our offense affect our defense or vice versa.”

The Kings have now dropped six straight and they are just 3-15 over their last 18 games. At 15-29, they are rudderless and in desperate need of a win.

“It's about where we're going and I'm a very patient person,” Walton said. “I believe in our group, but we need to do a lot of things including starting games with a much more competitive, engaged mindset. So, I still have all the belief in the world in our team. It's still surreal to be coaching this team, but there are some things that we need to improve on and improve on quickly because it's too late in the season to be having these same types of mistakes so frequently.”

With 38 games remaining in the season, the Kings have officially hit a new low. There is still time to make the season respectable and build for next year, but changes have to be made.

Whether that is a rotational move or a trade or something more drastic, the team needs a shock to the system and the current path the Kings are on is completely unacceptable by any standard.