The Sacramento Kings walked into Friday evening’s game knowing they were short-handed and they were going to need everyone on the roster to contribute. Unfortunately, they played like a team expecting to lose and sure enough, the prophecy was fulfilled.
Coach Luke Walton’s team didn’t play to their potential and lost 116-97, but there was at least one bright spot for the team.
Rookie Justin James came to play. It took him a little while to get his bearings, but with Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox and Trevor Ariza all out due to injury, the Kings were light at both the guard and small forward position.
“I felt good out there, I was just playing my game,” James told reporters following the game. “I had a lot of mishaps defensively that I’m not too happy about, but coach called on my number and I was ready to play.”
James had played a total of 15 minutes over four games coming into Friday. Against the Nets, he more than doubled that total and came away with a career-high 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting in 32 minutes of action. He also added three rebounds, three assists and a steal during his time on the court.
“Very impressed with him,” Walton said in his postgame scrum. “He’s come a long way in the short time we’ve had him. But to see him out there and the way he was compete...he was playing smart. As far as the play calls and just reading the game, taking on the defensive challenge, a bright spot in a bad night, Justin was very good for us.”
Starting point guard Cory Joseph was questionable leading up to the game and managed to play just 22 minutes. James ran the point for stretches, flanked by players like Buddy Hield and Yogi Ferrell.
“My versatility, being able to guard and spread the floor on offense,” James said of what he can bring to the team. “And just do whatever coach needs me to do.”
It wasn’t always pretty, but the effort and energy was there from the 6-foot-7 guard. He showed off his floater, challenged De’Andre Jordan on a near highlight-reel dunk and even hit a pair of 3-pointers.
At this point, James simply is organizational depth, but the second-round pick might be able to help out, especially if Bogdanovic and Ariza continue to miss time.
He’s made an impact with his positive energy and when he’s not playing, he is cheering his teammates on from the bench with vigor.
That boundless enthusiasm carries over to practice where he is a sponge trying to take everything in.
“He’s one of the most talkative players I’ve been around, but I think that’s helping him,” Walton said. “Every practice and he never shuts up, really. I think because of that, he knows then offense, he knows the play calls. There was one play out there he was directing veterans on the team at where to go. He knows what an amazing opportunity this is for him and he’s doing everything in his power to make it work. He made a nice case for himself tonight.”
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Depending on where Bogdanovic is health-wise, James may get another shot to step up when the Kings visit the Washington Wizards on Sunday. Even if Bogdanovic is a go, Walton may turn to his bouncy rookie with Ariza being away from the team during the road trip.
James made a positive impression. That can’t hurt his chances going forward as the Kings try to survive an early rash of injuries.