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When will the Kings start playing the young guys more?

The Kings are playing veterans over youth despite the fact that it’s not really leading to additional wins.

Kimani Okearah

For the first time in quite a few seasons, the Kings don’t necessarily have a young rotation player. In previous years, the Kings almost had to give their youth big minutes out of pure necessity; That’s how we got Ben McLemore starting at SG for almost three years in a row despite his production not being great. But despite drafting three rookies in the first round of the 2016 NBA Draft, Sacramento has opted to almost exclusively play their veterans this season in the search for more wins and a playoff spot.

Here’s the problem though; The Kings aren’t winning. Yes, we’re technically still in the race for the 8th seed, but after an absolutely abysmal homestand which could very well end up with Sacramento going 1-6, the Kings will then have to go on the road for eight straight games. Denver and Portland already are ahead of the Kings in the standings, and Sacramento only has 3 more wins than Dallas and Phoenix, the two worst teams in the West. But the bottom of the West has been so bad that one decent winning streak would put the Kings right back in the conversation for the 8th spot, and so the push continues.

I was curious to find out just how this years’ Kings squad compares to the rest of the league when it comes to playing their young’uns and the results surprised me (although they probably shouldn’t have). There are currently 16 teams with a below .500 record and the Kings play the oldest rotation out of all of them by far. The average age of Sacramento’s top five players in minutes played is 28.8, with the next closest being the New York Knicks at 27.8. If you look at the average age of the top nine players in minutes played, Sacramento gets even older at 29.9.

Under .500 Teams

Team Record Total # of Minutes Played for Rookies Total # of Minutes Played for Sophomores Avg. Age of Top 5 Minutes Played Avg. Age of Top 9 Minutes Played
Team Record Total # of Minutes Played for Rookies Total # of Minutes Played for Sophomores Avg. Age of Top 5 Minutes Played Avg. Age of Top 9 Minutes Played
Charlotte Hornets 20-21 77 952 26 27.1
Detroit Pistons 19-24 83 1,054 25 25.3
New York Knicks 18-24 1,259 1,227 27.8 27.9
Portland Trail Blazers 18-25 179 113 24.8 25.4
Orlando Magic 17-26 32 258 24 25.8
Denver Nuggets 16-23 1,093 1,981 26.4 25.1
Sacramento Kings 16-24 69 364 28.8 29.9
New Orleans Pelicans 16-26 926 0 25.2 25.4
Minnesota Timberwolves 14-27 680 2,362 23.2 24.2
Los Angeles Lakers 15-30 1,328 1,701 25.2 25.7
Philadelphia 76ers 13-26 1,912 1,867 26 25.1
Dallas Mavericks 13-27 1,107 1,045 27 27.2
Phoenix Suns 13-28 1,421 1,479 27.4 25.9
Miami Heat 11-30 965 1,937 27 25.8
Brooklyn Nets 8-32 1,076 843 27.2 26.4

So what about the successful teams, the ones .500 or above? You’d expect older rotations for those teams. Generally, that was the case, as the average age of players played was higher, but there were still only three teams that had an older nine-man rotation than the Kings: the San Antonio Spurs, the Memphis Grizzlies and the L.A. Clippers.

.500 and Over Teams

Team Record Total # of Minutes Played for Rookies Total # of Minutes Played for Sophomores Avg. Age of Top 5 Minutes Played Avg. Age of Top 9 Minutes Played
Team Record Total # of Minutes Played for Rookies Total # of Minutes Played for Sophomores Avg. Age of Top 5 Minutes Played Avg. Age of Top 9 Minutes Played
Golden St. Warriors 35-6 357 264 28.2 29.4
San Antonio Spurs 31-9 506 745 29.8 31.3
Houston Rockets 32-11 39 1,460 28.4 26.6
Cleveland Cavaliers 29-11 241 289 27 29.2
L.A. Clippers 29-14 16 0 30.2 29.9
Toronto Raptors 27-13 934 518 27.6 26
Utah Jazz 27-16 20 1,642 27 27.1
Boston Celtics 26-15 541 718 26.2 26.2
Oklahoma City Thunder 25-18 1,981 94 24.8 23.9
Memphis Grizzlies 25-18 1,888 532 28.8 30
Atlanta Hawks 24-17 1,062 0 28.8 28.3
Washington Wizards 21-19 638 733 26.2 26.1
Indiana Pacers 21-19 80 1,286 26.6 27.7
Chicago Bulls 21-21 404 1,326 30.2 27.8
Milwaukee Bucks 20-20 1,052 176 23.6 26.7

Also, aside from the Clippers, almost every team in the NBA was playing their young players more than the Kings. Sacramento’s three rookies have combined for just 69 minutes this season, and Willie Cauley-Stein, the lone sophomore, has played just 364 (by comparison he played 1,412 minutes last year).

Malachi Richardson is the only rookie that the Kings have played during non-garbage time, and while his performance didn’t exactly blow anyone out of the water, Coach Dave Joerger made sure to mention in his post-game press conference how he would like to work Malachi into the rotation more. Since then, Malachi has played just 46 seconds, all at the end of a blowout loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Now to be fair, the Kings are at least making good use of their affiliation with the Reno Bighorns. All three rookies have already spent substantial time down there this season and will probably get more time as the season goes on. But at some point the Kings need to start giving these guys reps against NBA talent so that we can make evaluations going forward. It also might be a good idea to give up the pipe dream of the playoffs when the Kings can instead secure a top-10 pick and be better positioned going forward, especially considering that so many of the vets that the Kings have been playing this season aren’t necessarily going to be with the team long term anyway. That’s what really gets me about this push to make the playoffs. It’d be one thing if it was giving guys who are gonna be here for a long time experience going forward, but it’s very possible that half or more of the guys that are currently in Sacramento’s rotation aren’t even going to be here in March, let alone next season.

I don’t expect any changes to be made soon, particularly not with Sacramento still technically in the race, but if things start to go south quick, I want to start seeing this rotation get younger. Trades should help in that regard as well, as the Kings now have just about a month to try to get something for Rudy Gay, Darren Collison and others. It should be an interesting month ahead.