When training camp began, Michael Malone said Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins were the only guaranteed starters. Everything else was ups for grabs.
The rest of the starters have since been identified as Darren Collison (PG), Ben McLemore (SG) and Jason Thompson (PF). That leaves numerous questions about the roles that the bench players will have and what the minute distribution will look like. Malone provided some insight into his thinking about the competition at shooting guard and the backup small forward position at the team's practice Sunday - the players in question being rookie Nik Stauskas, Omri Casspi and Derrick Williams.
Here is Malone's thinking about how McLemore's experience gave him the starting nod over Stauskas.
"Ben going through it for one year, that being the best teacher in the world. But they are going to push each other, and just because they are starting out that way doesn't mean it is going to be that way the whole season," Malone told Sactown Royalty. "So it's Ben's job right now, but we fully expect Nik to come off the bench and provide a scoring punch with Ramon [Sessions] and Carl [Landry] and some of the other guys; and [he] needs to also be able to guard his position. But right now, Ben just has the luxury of having gone through it for a year and I think Ben has really improved in that one year from his understanding as well as to his confidence and knowing where he needs to be and what he needs to be doing."
Malone seems to like Stauskas' basketball IQ and the lift he provided in the fourth quarter on Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, but again mentioned his need to hit the weight room.
"He has a competitive spirit and fight about him, but getting stronger in the weight room is going to help him out because he can get through the length and demands of the season," Malone told Sactown Royalty. "He's a shooter, he knows how to play. He hit some big shots down the stretch of that Laker game for us to come back and win; hit a big three. Knows how to play, but he's got to be more than just an offensive player - he's got to be able to guard his position on the other end, then when he's open I want him to shoot it and not hesitate and then be aggressive and look to make plays."
Who is getting the bulk of minutes behind Rudy Gay seems to still be up in the air as Casspi has had a good preseason, but Malone likes the progress Williams has made.
"Last game, obviously, I went with Derrick and did not play Omri and that's not a slight on Omri because you can play either one of those guys. But Derrick has been very aggressive and he had a very good game against the Lakers. We put him in the post, he was attacking, using his size, his athleticism. So right now, Derrick has done a few things and played very well and he's in the best shape that he has ever been in in my eyes," Malone told Sactown Royalty. "So he's a guy that is kind of taking those backup minutes, but I'm going to try to find time to get Omri in the game whether it's at the two, the three or as a stretch four because he definitely brings some of that versatility."
Malone said Williams has to do a better job of rebounding. Williams scored 14 points on Friday against the Lakers, but only collected one rebound in 25 minutes of playing time.
"Nik had four rebounds and Derrick had one. Derrick at times has shown he can be a very effective rebounder, but to play as many minutes as he played at the small forward position, and we've talked to him about it, one rebound is unacceptable," Malone said. "So I definitely noticed it, we talked about it and he knows that he has to be a hell of a lot better than just one rebound per game."
Malone has decisions to make about who is backing up Thompson and Cousins as well with Carl Landry, Reggie Evans and Ryan Hollins on the bench. Not to mention trying to get Ray McCallum some minutes behind Collison and Ramon Sessions. A lot of this will likely be situational and depend on whether he wants to go with a big or small lineup based on the opponent.
Who is backing up who was not the first thing on Malone's mind when summing up the preseason, however. He expressed disappointment in the fact that the Kings weren't able to play consistently enough and weren't able to put together a "48-minute effort." They finished with a 3-4 record.
Malone said the Kings had a plane delay coming back from Las Vegas and didn't land until 4 a.m.
"It's like this China trip just never ends, it's like Groundhog Day," Malone said.
The Kings will have to get over that jetlag soon because they welcome the Splash Brothers and the rest of the Golden State Warriors into Sleep Train Arena on Wednesday in the season opener.