In losses to Thunder and Spurs, young Kings take their lumps

In losses to Thunder and Spurs, young Kings take their lumps

A month ago, a scheduled back-to-back against the Oklahoma City Thunder and San Antonio Spurs on the road looked ugly for the Sacramento Kings. They were in a playoff chase and at best, they were hoping for a split.

The team’s record means very little now and after falling in OKC and then again in San Antonio the next night by a final of 118-102, the Kings are positioned slightly better in the lottery standings.   

It’s a change in perspective that was forced upon the group after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins. The franchise’s ideological transformation has taken place and a youth movement is in full motion.

A lot can be gleaned from a battle with San Antonio. They are the gold standard of professional franchises and they play their very own distinctive brand of hoops. If you can’t learn from watching and playing against a team like the Spurs, maybe you don’t belong in the league.

“They’re professionals, man, it’s the Spurs,” Buddy Hield told reporters. “They find a way to grind it and win. It’s a culture, it’s an issue they’ve shown. It’s good to learn from a team like this.”

The Kings aren’t going to forfeit any games down the stretch. They are going to show up and take their lumps with a rotation that now features a slew of first and second year players. Injuries have hurt their depth and with two players away from the team due to personal reasons, the team is undersized and outmanned.   

“They come at you at you in waves and waves and they did a great job,” Dave Joerger said of San Antonio. “The biggest story is they are just bigger and more experienced.”

Sacramento can fix the issue of size during the offseason, specifically at the small forward position. They can even bring in players with more experience, but half of the Spurs roster has been together for six years or more and that familiarity is extremely tough to overcome for a newly formed team like the Kings.

“We’re young, but we still have to find a way to compete and get back in the flow and execute much stronger and think harder,” Hield added.

Hield has played in 13 games with the Kings since coming over from the New Orleans Pelicans. He has a moxy to him that was sorely needed as the Kings hit the reset button on their roster. The 23-year-old shooting guard even found himself matched up against the league’s best two-way player in Kawhi Leonard and he held his own.

“We’re not backing down, we’re in this league too, no one is going to feel sorry for us” Hield said. “We’ve got to keep getting better and keep growing.”

Hield finished the night with 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting. He added five rebounds and five assists in his 32 minutes of action and continues to show signs that he is a starting level NBA player moving forward.

That is what this Kings season has become - a job interview for next season for the young players.

Hield has shown flashes in his brief stay in Sacramento. He can score both from the perimeter and in the lane. He has shown an ability to rebound for a wing player and Joerger and his staff are building a list of items that they will ask the rookie to work on over the summer.

While Hield has played more minutes in year one, he’s in a very similar spot that fellow rookie Skal Labissiere is in. The 21-year-old Haitian product continues to put up numbers, despite very limited exposure to the NBA game.

“It’s a great learning experience, it’s all about growth right now,” Labissiere said. “Whenever I go out there I try to learn as much as I can for the next game or the next season coming up.”

Labissiere dropped in 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting and grabbed seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action. He continues to improve and has now scored in double-figures in four straight contests for Sacramento.

“I work so much on my skillset, I feel like I can score the basketball whenever,” said Labissiere.

Hield and Labissiere have Kings fans excited, but fellow first rounder Georgios Papagiannis has been a complete unknown.

After spending most of the season in the D-League, the 7-foot-1 Greek-born big has played a combined 46 minutes over the last two games (98 minutes total for his career). He set career-highs in points (14) and rebounds (11) against the Thunder and backed that up with a 6-point, 10-rebound game against the Spurs.

Papagiannis has tremendous size and a soft touch. Getting to play against Steven Adams one night and Pau Gasol the next is both overwhelming and instructive. The fact that he’s grabbed double-digit rebounds in both games shows promise.

Second-year big Willie Cauley-Stein added 18 points, five assists and four rebounds in the losing effort to San Antonio. Like Hield, Labissiere and Papagiannis, Cauley-Stein continues to show improvement as the season winds down.

These four, along with the injured Malachi Richardson, make up the Kings’ young core moving forward. They will have nights where they shock teams like Orlando or Phoenix, but they will also have tough night’s against perennial playoff contenders like the Thunder and Spurs.

It’s a process. Patience is required as a new generation of Kings players build from the ground up.

Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

Out of playoff picture, Joerger loosening reigns on young Kings

SACRAMENTO -- A little over two weeks ago, the Sacramento Kings beat the Denver Nuggets to draw within a half game of the eighth seed in the Western Conference playoff race. After Saturday’s 105-92 loss to those same Nuggets, Sacramento has dropped eight straight and their playoff dreams have been put to bed.

“It was one of those games,” coach Dave Joerger said. “We looked heavy legged, made some mental mistakes and some physical mistakes but Denver is playing very, very well.  They cut well, they pass well, they’ve got some good, young ball players.”

These two teams could have been fighting all the way down the stretch, but the trade that sent DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans hit a hard reset button in Sacramento. The focus now is on the transition to younger players.

Joerger has been slow to turn to his young core, relying heavily on veterans for most of the season. But over the last two weeks, he has loosened the reigns on Willie Cauley-Stein and rookies Buddy Hield and Skal Labissiere.

“These guys are playing good,” Joerger said of the three. “I played Buddy Hield 30 minutes. I played Willie Cauley-Stein 35 and a half. I played Skal 20. I could play them 48, but I don’t think that’s what’s best for them.”

Hield picked up his second straight start for the Kings and played well. Like Skal Labissiere and Willie Cauley-Stein, he is a work in progress and will require patience. He finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds.

“He really shoots it,” Joerger added. “If he gets a window and gets a clean look, he can really shoot it. I think that’s fantastic.”

Cauley-Stein aggressively attacked the Nuggets front line, which is a positive step. He finished the night just 3-of-11 from the field, but he shot 7-of-8 from the line. His 13-point, five-rebound, five-assist game doesn’t jump off the page, but the fact that he is becoming a consistent threat on the offensive end is a major step forward.

After playing sparingly throughout the first two-thirds of the season, Labissiere is turning heads with his recent play. The 20-year-old big man scored a modest seven points in 19 minutes of action, but that’s because he went an uncharacteristic 1-of-5 from the free throw line.

Labissiere came into the league with a reputation as a player who doesn’t like contact. Since getting minutes he’s shown flashes of brilliance, be it as a rebounder or with his highlight reel dunks in traffic. He needs to get stronger, but the 6-foot-11 big has quickly moved well beyond his reputation and is showing star potential.  

“When I go out the on the court, I try to leave it all out there,” Labissiere said. “I love the game so much and I don’t try to cheat it at all. I’m blessed to even be here playing this game.”  

The Kings remain competitive, despite the youth movement and the extended losing streak. They are in almost every game, but the season is now about development and not a chase for the postseason.

“The young guys are playing hard, the vets are trying to teach the younger guys some things,” Kosta Koufos said. “Everybody is playing their role.”

It’s a tough pill to swallow for the veterans, but the Kings locker room is filled with quality character guys. The season began with so much promise and now the change in focus is to prepare for next year. While the veterans may see a reduction in minutes, their value on the team is just as high as it’s even been.

“We’ve got a young team now, but we’ve got some guys that have been in this situation,” Garrett Temple said. “For those guys who have been in this situation, we’ve got to continue to explain to [the younger players] why we have to stay positive and keep chipping away.”

The Kings finish their three-game homestand Monday when the 24-43 Orlando Magic roll through Golden 1 Center.

 

Instant Replay: Kings' skid reaches eight games after loss to Nuggets

Instant Replay: Kings' skid reaches eight games after loss to Nuggets

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- And then it was eight. The Sacramento Kings can’t stop the skid. After dropping the last seven, the Kings looked exhausted against the Denver Nuggets Saturday night at Golden 1 Center, falling by a final of 105-92.

Gary Harris got loose. The veteran shooting guard torched the Kings for 24 points on 10-of-15 shooting to lead the Nuggets.

With Harris bombing away from long range, big man Nikola Jokic put in solid work down low, finishing the night with 20 points and 14 rebounds.

Mason Plumlee stuffed the stat sheet with eight points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Danilo Gallinari added 15 points and Jamal Murray chipped in 14 points in the win.

Buddy Hield picked up his second straight start and responded with 17 points on 6-of-8 shooting and grabbed six rebounds. The rookie shooting guard has scored in double-figures in all but one of his nine games in a Kings uniform.

Tyreke Evans went into attack mode, scoring 16 points on 2-for-5 shooting from long range. He‘s still working on regaining his explosion, but the former Rookie of the Year is still a load in the open court.

The starting frontcourt did damage for Sacramento. Kosta Koufos started at center and nearly picked up another double-double, finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds. Willie Cauley-Stein struggled from the field, but still managed to post 13 points, grab five rebounds and dish out five assists.

Skal Labissiere energized the crowd with a couple of huge dunks. He struggled from the free throw line, but still managed to score seven points and grab five rebounds in 19 minutes of action.

STANDOUT PERFORMER

Harris took Hield to school. The third-year pro found ways to get open all night long, lighting the rookie up from long range and off the dribble.

TURNING POINT

The Kings hung around for much of the fourth, but Danilo Gallinari dropped in a 3-ball with 4:45 remaining to give the Nuggets a 93-81 lead which sealed the deal.

INJURY UPDATE

Rookie Malachi Richardson is out 4-6 weeks with a right hamstring thickness tear. Rudy Gay is out for the year with a torn left Achilles.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Kings finish their three game homestand Monday night when the Orlando Magic swing by Golden 1 Center. Following the Orlando game, Sacramento hits the road for a three game trip beginning Wednesday in Phoenix.