Nemanja Bjelica

Kings' De'Aaron Fox explains why Nemanja Bjelica starts over Marvin Bagley

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AP

Kings' De'Aaron Fox explains why Nemanja Bjelica starts over Marvin Bagley

It's been one of the biggest talking points among Kings fans this season.

Why isn't 2018 No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III starting? Why is 30-year-old Nemanja Bjelica, who has been a bench player most of his career, starting over Bagley?

Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox shed a little light on that in the latest Posted Up podcast with Yahoo's Chris Haynes.

The answer, though, came out during a question about what Fox's first thought is on a fast break.

"First thing I’m thinking is, get a layup" Fox told Haynes. "Second thing is, if I’m not going to get a layup, I’m going to attack, but it’s really just to see what the defense does because if there’s one defender in front of me, that’s still a layup. For the most part, I’m not looking at who’s guarding me. It’s the second and third level defenders. So if I make a move and somebody helps, I’m just going to kick it."

That's when Fox dropped this nugget.

"And I think with our starting lineup, for sure, and which is why everyone questions why Marvin [Bagley] is not starting and this and that," Fox said. "I think [Nemanja Bjelica] spreads the floor so well and that’s what opens up my lanes, that’s what opens up driving lanes. [Iman Shumpert] is shooting the ball well, everybody knows Buddy [Hield] can shoot the ball and Belly can shoot the ball, they’re both, for their careers, shooting over 40 percent. So, if you help, it’s like pick your poison. Help or don’t help. If you don’t help, I’m going to get a layup or dump off to Willie. If you do help, we’ve got shooters on the wing."

The Bjelica-Bagley dynamic has been a point of contention this season. In November, Haynes reported that there was a "substantial disconnect" between Joerger and the Kings' front office regarding the playing time of Bagley, Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere. The Kings later came out and denied the report.

The Kings like to be patient with their top picks. Last year, Fox wasn't thrust into the starting lineup right away. He came off the bench for the first part of the season and learned behind veteran George Hill.

Now, the Kings are taking the same approach with Bagley. And they are able to do it due to the presence of someone like Bjelica, who fits well with what the Kings are trying to do, which is run, push the pace and spread the floor.

Kings' Bogdanovic, Divac share connection with 14-year-old cancer survivor

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AP

Kings' Bogdanovic, Divac share connection with 14-year-old cancer survivor

In case you haven’t noticed, there’s a Serbian flavor to the Kings’ ascendance this season.

General manager Vlade Divac and assistant GM Peja Stojakovic have steered the front office, acquiring many of the young players that have made a significant impact for the Kings throughout their 19-19 start. Two of those players -- guard Bogdan Bogdanovic and power forward Nemanja Bjelica -- also hail from their native Serbia.

On Wednesday, the Serbian contingent at Kings practice was even larger than normal, as 14-year-old Isaija Pantic was able to attend and see his favorite NBA team up close and personal. It was a joyous occasion for Pantic, whose recent years have been anything but.

A routine eye exam in June 2017 revealed that Isaija had a brain tumor. Four months after emergency surgery to remove that tumor, another one was discovered.

Isaija’s father, Zeljko, snapped into action. After receiving mixed diagnoses from labs in Serbia and London, Zeljko -- who routinely wakes up at 4:00 a.m. to catch Kings games -- decided to bring Isaiah to the United States for additional testing. They required fundraising to finance their overseas trip. Enter Divac.

Divac, along with Bogdanovic, helped raise $150,000 to fund Isaija’s trip to Children’s National Medical Center in Washington D.C., where he underwent both a successful surgery and clinical trial that ultimately eliminated his ailment.

On Wednesday, Divac, Bogdanovic and the Kings invited the Pantics to attend practice to celebrate nearly five months since Isaija’s last tumor was removed.

Isaija got to throw alley-oops to Willie Cauley-Stein, share laughs with Marvin Bagley III and De’Aaron Fox and take on Bogdanovic in a game of one-one-one. Isaija, with a little help from his brother, ultimately pulled off the 5-4 upset.

[RELATED: Kings' Koufos beats Hield 1-on-1, celebrates victory]

That was the only ‘upset’ of its kind on Wednesday, as Isaija was all smiles.

There’s no denying the significant role the Kings’ Serbian contingent has played in their feel-good season thus far. On Wednesday, it played an even greater role in providing a feel-good moment for a fan that most definitely deserved it.

Kings Under Review: Bogdan Bogdanovic buzzer beater saves day vs. Lakers

Kings Under Review: Bogdan Bogdanovic buzzer beater saves day vs. Lakers

SACRAMENTO -- Bogdan Bogdanovic turned an ordinary loss into an extraordinary win Thursday evening at Golden 1 Center. Down two with no time remaining on the clock, the Kings' sixth man buried a 27-foot 3-pointer over the outstretched arms of Los Angeles Lakers center Tyson Chandler to give Sacramento an improbable, 117-116 victory.

It was a wild finish that saw the Kings fall behind big in the fourth quarter, and then rally to the finish line. Sacramento's players mobbed Bogdanovic on the court as a stunned sold-out crowd celebrated the win.

Sacramento currently stands at 19-16 on the season. Here are a few positives and one negative from the dramatic win over the Lakers.

POSITIVE

Bogi Takeover

The Kings have been waiting for Bogdanovic to find his rhythm. The sophomore guard didn't just hit the game winner at the buzzer, he put the team on his back in the fourth quarter.

After a knee injury cost him the first 10 games of the season and a foot injury slowed him last week, the 26-year-old wing is starting to look more like himself.

He took on the scoring load for the Kings against the Lakers, finishing the night with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting and 3-for-7 from long range. 12 of those points came in the final period as the Kings climbed back into the game.

Coach Dave Joerger called a timeout to set up the final play with 4.5 seconds remaining. According to the players in the locker room, it was designed specifically for Bogdanovic -- who had proven to be the hot hand throughout the game.

[RELATED: De'Aaron Fox: Kings fed off energy in win despite 'f***ing Laker fans']

POSITIVE

The Other Three Starters

De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are the focal points this season for the Kings. But, the Kings wouldn't be three games over .500 without the contributions of Iman Shumpert, Nemanja Bjelica and Willie Cauley-Stein.

Finally cleared to play in back-to-backs, Shumpert put on a show from the perimeter. The veteran wing knocked down 6-of-8 from long range to account for all 18 of his points. He also drew the tough assignment of guarding lanky Laker Brandon Ingram, and Shumpert did his best to slow the 6-foot-9 forward.

Bjelica failed to hit a 3-ball, but still managed to score 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting to go with six rebounds and three assists. He struggled to stick with Kyle Kuzma, but the athletic four is a tough cover for most teams.

Lastly, Cauley-Stein is a polarizing figure in Sacramento. Some nights he looks lost, other nights he's a force to be reckoned with. Against the Lakers, the 7-footer posted 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists while running a team-high plus-14 in plus-minus. He was active on both ends of the court, and made an impact in a close game.

[RELATED: Kings' Marvin Bagley III to resume basketball activities in two weeks]

POSITIVE

Freebies

Justin Jackson was fouled shooting a 3-pointer with 59.6 seconds remaining and the Kings trailing by three points. He stepped to the line and knocked down all three to tie the game at 112-112.

After a Kuzma three put the Lakers up 115-112, Fox stepped to the line with 39.7 seconds remaining and hit a pair of free throws to pull back within one.

In a game that came down to the final shot, the Kings made all five of their freebies from the line in the final minute. 

If making free throws doesn't seem like a big deal, look no further than the miss from the stripe by Ingram for the Lakers with 4.8 seconds remaining. He left a door open for a game-winner, and Bogdanovic made him pay.

NEGATIVE

The Disappearance of Buddy Hield

Over the last two games, the Clippers and Lakers appeared to put a focus on stopping Hield and it has hurt the Kings' offense. Sacramento's leading scorer failed to hit a 3-pointer for the second straight game, and finished with just six points in 2-of-8 shooting.

Teams are making adjustments to the Kings' style of play. It's a huge game of chess, and it's up to Hield and the coaching staff to make a counter-adjustment.

In the short term, Joerger has turned to Bogdanovic to pick up the scoring slack and he seems to be getting back on track.