Draft positioning taking a hit as young Kings continue to win games

Draft positioning taking a hit as young Kings continue to win games

SACRAMENTO -- Despite shutting down most of their veteran core, the Sacramento Kings continue to find ways to win. Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, it became abundantly clear hours before the game that neither team was going to field a full roster. The two teams tried to one up the other, with Sacramento added both of their point guards to the inactive list two hours before tip-off.

You can take away their depth. You can limit them to just eight uniformed players. But you can’t ask a group of NBA players to lose a basketball game, regardless of what it might mean for the upcoming draft.

“It’s tough not to think about it,” veteran Garrett Temple told NBC Sports California after the Kings’ 98-87 win over the Dallas Mavericks. “We know what everybody else knows, but the guys that are playing, there is no person on this team that can physically go out on the court and try to lose. It’s just not in our DNA, otherwise we wouldn’t be in the NBA.”

Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison, Kosta Koufos, Ty Lawson and Anthony Tolliver all sat for Sacramento for one reason or another. If there was a playoff game tomorrow, the five would have been in uniform.

There isn’t a playoff game tomorrow. And for the 11th straight season, the Kings will finish on the outside looking of the NBA’s postseason. The team has shifted the focus to the young players, that includes three rookies and a second-year player. For them, this is valuable time on the court to adjust to the NBA game and they aren’t taking it lightly.

“It’s all about learning how to win, especially for us - the young crew,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “So it feels good to go out there and get some wins. We’re learning how to close out games.”

Labissiere, along with fellow rookies Buddy Hield and Georgios Papagiannis, as well as sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, all scored in double-figures in the win. They are all showing signs that they can play in the league, even if it is against less than top tier talent.

Cauley-Stein set a new career-high with 16 rebounds and chipped in 12 points and three steals. Papagiannis finished with 13 points, one off his career-high and he continued to clear space for his perimeter players with immense screens.

Fresh off his second NBA Rookie of the Month award, Hield dropped in 16 points on 4-for-7 shooting from 3-point range, giving him double figure scoring in 18-of-21 games in a Kings uniform.

“There are a lot of good rookies in the league, especially in the Western Conference,” Hield said. “I was really happy I got it, but I got to keep working.”

Opposing teams have made adjustments to guarding Labissiere, but he still managed to finish with 11 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of action.

“It’s all about learning how to adjust to things and I’m still learning how to do that,” Labissiere said.

Ben McLemore went off in the second half to score 21 of his 22 points on 8-of-9 shooting from the field and a perfect 5-of-5 from behind the arc in 16 minutes after the intermission. And Langston Galloway finished with 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds starting at the point guard spot for the first time as a King.

“They played hard and made plays and I think at the same time, some of these guys are getting 33.34 minutes” coach Dave Joerger said. “Willie, Skal, we’re playing really young guys. It’s a great experience for them, and to also play to win, compete - that’s what it’s all about. They did that tonight.”

On the downside, the Kings moved the down the board in the draft lottery with the victory. They began the night tied for the sixth worst record in the league with the Knicks, but New York held a 2-0 advantage in the season series.

Following the Dallas game, the Kings are now tied in the win column with the Minnesota Timberwolves with 31 and they hold a 3-1 advantage in the season series with the T-Wolves. With four games remaining, the Kings are teetering on moving from seven to eight in the lottery order.

Joerger is going to play the players he has available and the squad is going to do their best to compete.

“As long as we have five players to play, we’re going to go out there and try to win,” Temple said.

The Kings return to the court Friday night at Staples Center where the 22-55 Los Angeles Lakers will play host. It’s another opportunity for a win.


Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.


Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.