Coming off of their first victory of the season in Dallas, the Kings have no time to wait as the up-and-coming Denver Nuggets squad is waiting to quash all optimism in their opposition’s locker room. Lead by Nikola Jokic and newcomer Paul Millsap, Denver’s playoff hopes hinge on finding any production at all in their guards. Last season’s third highest scoring offense struggled in their first game of the season against the formidable Utah Jazz, and will be looking to get back on track with a win against the Kings. How will De’Aaron Fox fair against the quickness and size of Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay? Will Skal be able to handle the Swiss Army Knife that is Paul Millsap? Who will Mike Malone point to on the Kings bench to let us know we’ll always be his first and truest love? Let’s talk Kings basketball.
When: Saturday, October 21st; 6:00 pm PST
Where: Pepsi Center; Denver, Colorado
Radio: KHTK Sports 1140 AM
For Your Consideration
Early Adjustments: The Kings are two games into their season, so take all this with a couple grains of salt. As good as the young guys and vets have played together, there’s a some awkward couplings so far this season. For example, the early emergence of De’Aaron Fox as a legit point guard in the league and not a long term project, Koufos has found himself playing with a point guard always ready to go 110 miles per hour. If the first two games are any indication, Koufos and Fox are going to take a little while to adjust to one another. Already more than once this season, Fox has found a opening with Koufos in scoring position, only to toss a high lob for an alley-oop; something Willie Cauley-Stein might be able to snatch, but that Koufos barely got finger tips on. Koufos in general is in a wierd spot this season. The Kings have committed to Willie Trill in the starting lineup early on and Willie has rewarded them with 15.5 and 10.5 rebounds a game. Designated to a reserve role, Koufos then plays with Fox and when (not if) Skal takes a starting spot from Zach Randolph, you’ll have Koufos and Randolph running (or light jogging, really) the paint together. I’ve enjoyed Kostas time here in Sacramento, and I’m not advocating for a trade at all yet, he just isn’t in positions to succeed on the offensive end of the floor early on this season.
Another adjustment that probably ends up getting made in Justin Jackson being moved to the bench in favor of Garrett Temple or Bogdan Bogdanovic. I think Dave Joerger has done a solid job of mixing his vets and youth together, and even if he has a tendency to sit on struggling lineups for a bit too long, I think this is more a tool for teaching his players, rather than a reflection of who he’d really want out there during critical junctures in the game. Justin Jackson has been a solid fill-in at the starting small forward; he’s not Rudy Gay, but no one has expected him to be. In two games, Jackson is at 3 points, 3 rebounds in 18.5 minutes per game and has yet to make any impact on the game. If Joerger decides he’d like a little more punch or some extra ball handling to start the game off strong, I think his move is throwing Bogdan into the fire early and see if he can spark that extra offense. Is that it? Did I miss any early tweaks to the roster that need to be handled?
Our Homeboy, George Hill: George Hill is better than advertised. I’ve heard stories about Gregg Popovich being heartbroken when he traded Hill for the pick that ended up being Kawhi Leonard, I bought into the justification for his contract early on but these first two games have really opened my eyes to the calming presence of a good veteran point guard. If De’Aaron Fox is adrenaline, George Hill is melatonin. The guy is patient, finds the right guys at the right time, is unselfish and still able to find ways to score when it is needed. In fact, two games in he’s leading the Kings in scoring at 18.5 points per game, shooting 65% from the field and 80% from three (2.0 makes on 2.5 attempts per game). The biggest surprise was seeing he’s only averaging 2.5 assists. On more than a few occasions in Friday night’s game where the game looked like it was getting out of control, and Hill pulled back from his attack to set something up; add in that he’s also clutch, and we’ve got ourselves a fan favorite in the making. If it weren’t for having a glut of shooting guards right now, I’d be screaming for Hill and Fox to start together ASAP. Look for Hill to have another solid game tonight, Denver isn’t known for their point guards, with Jamal Murray and Emmanuel Mudiay both still struggling to find their rhythm at the position.
Matchup of the Game
Nikola Jokic vs. Willie Cauley-Stein: There’s no question that Nikola Jokic will be the best player on the floor Saturday night when the Kings take on the Nuggets in Denver. The guy is a passing savant, a good scorer and rebounder and coached by a genius (trust me on that last one, all Sactown Royalty writers think that, especially Tim and Bryant). But, if you set your clocks back last season to February 23rd, something might stick out to you. On their first night without DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings took on the Denver Nuggets in Sacramento, and it was Willie Cauley-Stein who feasted; 29 points, 10 rebounds for Trillie. And Jokic? 4 points, 2 assists, 11 boards. Now, you might get curious and happen upon the fact that the Kings played Denver once more that season and Jokic had 20 points, 14 rebounds and 2 assists in a Nuggets victory, but even in that affair, Willie held his ground fairly well with a 13-5-5 game. Willie has shown that he can rise to the occasion when it is called for, and knows he can put up a variety of stats against Jokic in particular. This season the Kings center has started out red hot, averaging a double-double with 15.5 points and 10.5 boards with 2 blocks to boot, and while the thin Denver air might play up any symptoms of Willie’s sickle cell trait, I think this game is ripe for opportunity to show the fanbase that those first two games weren’t a fluke. If tonight things go well for Willie and the Kings, some of us fans here might have to start chipping in for an “I’m Sorry” themed Edible Arrangement.
Prediction: The Kings will come into the Pepsi Center feeling no ill effects of the elevation of the city. What was once an advantage for the Nuggets has suddenly been neutralized! The Kings push and push the ball, outrunning the Nuggets every which way, and end up put a whooping on the hometown team. After the game, Mike Malone goes to Dave Joerger in shock; “What training program did you use to get your guys in that good of shape?!” Dave Joerger smiles, winks and whispers “No training, we had all De’Aar-on-the-floor we needed with Fox in the game”.
Kings: 107, Nuggets 101