Willie Cauley-Stein

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

Kings notes: De'Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield flash skills in loss to Rockets

It was a track meet from the opening tip Saturday night in Houston. The Rockets looked like an inspired team after a rough start to the season, running over the Kings over for a 132-112 win

Houston rained down 3-pointers at a startling clip, and when it wasn't burying the 3-ball, it was finishing at the rim. James Harden dropped in a game-high 34 points, and Chris Paul added 24 points and nine assists in the Rockets' win.

The Kings had plenty of chances, but their inability to slow the Rockets' offense cost them any chance at a win.

Here are six notes as the Kings fell back to .500 on the season at 8-8.

Buddy scores

After failing to reach the 20-point plateau for four consecutive games, Buddy Hield found the basket against Houston. The third-year guard posted 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting to go with seven rebounds and two assists.

Hield has taken a few games to adjust to Bogdan Bogdanovic's return, but the Kings' second-leading scorer should be just fine.

How good is Fox? 

In his second season, De’Aaron Fox has put the NBA on notice. Not only is he a Most Improved Player candidate, he should be in the discussion for an All-Star bid.

Against a future Hall of Famer in Chris Paul, Fox finished with 19 points and three assists in 25 minutes of play. He can’t control whether his teammates hit open jumpers, but if he’s playing 36 minutes per night, the Kentucky product is putting up nearly 21 points and eight assists.

Bogdan impactful

Bogdanovic completed the second biggest step in his recovery from offseason knee issues. First, he made his way back to the court. On Saturday, he completed his first back-to-back and should be cleared for regular duty ASAP.

The Serbian-born wing finished Saturday's game with 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting and added five assists in the loss. He’s ready for stage three, which is returning to the Kings' starting lineup.

Play me

Marvin Bagley struggled against the Grizzlies and clearly was outplayed by fellow rookie Jaren Jackson. Bagley had a bounce-back game in Houston, finishing with 16 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

[RELATED: Kings deny report that coach Joerger, front office have disconnect]

Bagley is a talent, but he needs time to figure out the defensive end. There will be a point this season when he jumps ahead of Nemanja Bjelica in the Kings' starting rotation, but he first needs to show activity on both ends of the floor.  

The disappearance of Willie Cauley-Stein 

If nothing else, Cauley-Stein has been consistent this season. Often times, he’s been extraordinary. Against Clint Capela, Cauley-Stein was less than serviceable.

Cauley-Stein shot 1 of 9 from the field and finished with three points and five rebounds in 18 minutes. It’s possible he was winded on the second night of a back-to-back, but he can’t have nights like this if he hopes to cash in this summer.

Play some D 

The Kings struggled to contain the Rockets from the early stages of the game. In the end, Sacramento couldn’t stop penetration, struggled with the pick-and-roll and allowed Houston to shoot as many 3-pointers as it could muster.

The Kings gave up 132 points on 56.8 percent shooting, and allowed the Rockets to hit 20 of 47 from long range. It’s hard to stay in a game when your opponent outscores you 60-33 on 3-pointers. Sacramento's defense has to get better, especially against top-tier teams.

Kings should take long look at changing their plans for 2018-19 season

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USATSI

Kings should take long look at changing their plans for 2018-19 season

The Philadelphia 76ers call it “The Process.” Others call it a rebuild or asset collecting. Some might even call it tanking.

For more than a decade, the Sacramento Kings have been on a perpetual road to nowhere, gambling on the NBA draft and, more often than not, coming up empty. 

Excuse the sample size, but things appear to be turning in Sacramento’s favor.

Four years in, Willie Cauley-Stein looks like a ball player. The acquisition of Bogdan Bogdanovic's draft rights is paying off. Buddy Hield has become more than just a scorer, and De’Aaron Fox looks like a top-tier player

The Kings appear to have a core group of young players to build around, and we haven’t even mentioned rookies Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III, or young players with potential, such as Justin Jackson, Frank Mason and Skal Labissiere.

At 8-6, there is a buzz around the Kings for the first time in years, and it’s probably time to start looking long and hard at the short-term and long-term plan for this franchise.

[RELATED: In Year 3, Kings have unleashed Buddy Hield into way more than a scorer]

The initial idea coming into the season was to leverage the team’s $11 million in salary-cap space and bevy of expiring contracts. Sacramento planned to facilitate transactions for other teams around the league with the hopes of replacing the 2019 draft pick the Kings lost via trade.  

Sacramento was mentioned in deals surrounding Jimmy Butler, but only as a third team willing to take on a contract. The Kings can wait for another deal like that to materialize and potentially land a non-lottery level draft selection in exchange for a bloated contract. 

It’s a perfectly reasonable plan coming into the season, but at some point, Vlade Divac and his group might need to reconsider their approach.

With the team playing well and the roster still incomplete, this might be a season when the Kings consider buying instead of selling.

There are high-budget teams around the league that are struggling and on the hook for major tax bills. There also are teams around the NBA looking to clear space for next summer’s bonanza where nearly half the league can become free agents.

The Kings can sit on their nest egg. They have upwards of $60 million in cap space come July 1, and they can dip their toes into free agency like the other 20-plus teams around the league with money. 

Or they can go out, leverage their position as the only franchise in the league with cap space, and start looking for the right deal to help this team win more games now. What is the right deal? That’s complicated. 

Any trade should involve a player who is on the same age arc as the majority of the current roster. Whether that player is locked into a long-term contract or still is working through their rookie scale deal, it shouldn’t matter to the Kings. 

These types of players come at a premium, and the Kings likely will have to absorb a substantial additional contract. 

[RELATED: Kings’ De'Aaron Fox shares reason behind his improved 3-point shooting]

December 15 is a major date to watch in the NBA. It’s the point in the season when players who were signed over the summer are allowed to be traded, and it usually sparks some movement around league. 

It’s also the point when most teams have an understanding of who and what they are in regards to the standings. A team that came in with high expectations and spent accordingly during the offseason might be willing to chat if their season has gone sideways. 

The Kings are in a rare position. They have a ton of power around the league as the only team with any measure of cap space. They can clear up even more room by waiving veteran players on expiring deals or adding them in a package while taking back longer-term contracts. 

The plan to acquire future assets made sense coming into the season, but at this point, the Kings should look long and hard at changing their stance and getting coach Dave Joerger and his squad a piece or two to help improve the club. 

Two positives, two negatives from Kings' nine-point loss to Raptors

Two positives, two negatives from Kings' nine-point loss to Raptors

The upstart Sacramento Kings are turning heads around the league, but they’ve run into one of the tougher patches in the schedule this week.

After dropping one on Sunday to the Bucks, the Kings hosted another top of the standings team in the Toronto Raptors at Golden 1 Center Wednesday evening. Things did not go as planned for Sacramento. 

Sacramento fell behind early, but they fought back in the third and fourth quarters, drawing to within single-digits on multiple occasions. In the end, the experience of the Raptors proved too much.

The Kings currently stand at 6-5 on the season after the 114-99 loss to Toronto.  Here are two positives and two negatives from the game. 

POSITIVES

Big 3 

De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein continue to produce huge numbers for the Sacramento Kings early in the season. Against the Raptors, the trio was at it again.

Fox dropped in 20 points on 8-of-15 shooting and dished out four assists in 36 minutes. He turned the ball over five times, but he continues to thrive in team’s uptempo style.

Hield wasn’t as efficient as he has been this season, but he still managed to drop 24 points on 9-of-22 shooting with four rebounds and three assists. Through 11 games, he’s averaging a team-high 20.1 points per game for the Kings.

Coming off his worst statistical game of the season on Sunday (Giannis Antetokounmpo aided), Cauley-Stein attacked the basket to finish with 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting. He led the team with eight rebounds and added four assists, a steal and a block in 33 minutes. 

Return of Bogi

Lost in the fast start to the season is the fact that one of the Kings best players had missed the first 10 games of the season with a knee injury. 

Bogdan Bogdanovic returned to action against the Raptors and played well in limited minutes. The versatile wing played three or four positions on the evening, finishing with seven points on 3-of-7 shooting in 18 minutes.

The Kings are going to bring Bogdanovic along slowly, limiting his minutes for the first few games. He came off the bench against the Raptors, but there is a good chance he rejoins the starting lineup once he’s back to 100 percent.

Bogdanovic gives the Kings another high basketball IQ player to throw in the mix. He’s a knock down perimeter shooter and one of the best creators on the team. He should fit perfectly into the team’s new style of play. 

NEGATIVES

Fouls 

The officiating crew called personal fouls on the Kings like Oprah Winfrey giving away cars to her studio audience. Every player that stepped on the floor for Sacramento picked up at least one foul, with nine players notching two or more. 

Coach Dave Joerger and his players were cautious not to criticize the crew of Kane Fitzgerald, Ben Taylor and Aaron Smith following the game. That didn’t stop Joerger and Nemanja Bjelica from picking up technical fouls during the contest for arguing calls.

Toronto is a seasoned veteran team and the Kings are young and play out of control at times. The final tally of 26 fouls for Sacramento and 20 for Toronto doesn’t really capture the entire story. During the first half, the foul disparity was 15-7 to the Kings’ disadvantage. The whistles killed the momentum of the game and the delays to conversate about calls came at crucial moments of the game. 

There are plenty of reasons the Kings lost, but the officiating crew didn’t do the home team any favors.

The disappearance of Bjelica 

The Kings are off to a great start on the year, partially due to the addition of Bjelica. Through the first nine games of the season, the 6-foot-10 shooter provided much more than just a perimeter threat, he scored, rebounded well and made his teammates better. 

Whether it’s a matchup issue or just a bad stretch, Bjelica has all but disappeared in Kings’ last two games. After posting four points and four rebounds Sunday against the Bucks, the 30-year-old power forward went scoreless in 19 minutes in the loss to the Raptors.

Bjelica is still finding ways to help out. Despite the poor shooting night, he dished out three assists and picked up four steals. 

With his former team rolling through Sacramento on Friday evening, the Kings need Bjelica to wake from his slumber.