The Kings will enter training camp this month rostering five rookies, which is an unprecedented youth groundswell in the franchise’s history.
Dave Joerger had his fair share of criticism last year for his veteran heavy rotations, but the strong development of Skal Labissiere showed dividends in his patient approach. And unlike the last few years, no one around the organization is even hinting at the “P” word - everyone knows this team’s record isn’t going to be very good, but no one is in a rush this time.
When asked how the Kings will define success for the season, Joerger had a critical answer for ABC10’s Sean Cunningham.
“The amount of minutes that our young guys can accumulate.”
Accumulate is key here - minutes the young guys can handle AND earn. Joerger made clear that those minutes won’t just be freely given, and said he’d rely on the veterans to “protect” the rookies and get them through the 82 game slough. But “accumulate” describes Skal’s minute and development curve last year, so Joerger’s earned quite bit of leeway on that front. Reno is going to be used, as are the veterans, so expectations need to be properly reigned in.
Five rookies with five different career arcs and five very different minute expectations. Here’s my expectations for the quintet.
Fox’s athleticism and full-throttle motor will earn him minutes immediately, and he’s one of only three proven play-makers on a roster that’s going to NEED consistency in it’s ball-control. There’s not gonna be anything better for this young team than Fox “accumulating” those minutes running with Buddy, Bogdan, Skal, and Cauley-Stein, and utilizing his passing and footspeed to learn how to breakdown these faster NBA defenses.
But George Hill isn’t Fox’s biggest obstacle to starter minutes - his shot is. At Summer League, Fox showed similar shot success to the conclusion of his Kentucky career - it’s trending up (especially the mid-range part of it!), but it’s not there yet. And unlike Hill, whose 40% three-point rate provides him solid off-ball value, Fox’s value will likely evaporate if the Kings try to play him off-ball. Defenses will have to monitor him, but they’re gonna be able to slide off him, and this team is going to have enough spacing problems as is.
Fox will get minutes, and he will produce highlights. He’ll remind us nightly why he was a top pick and why the franchise gambled so heavily on him. But until that shot materializes, he’s going to need more patience than I think the fanbase is preparing for.
Jackson showed off high ball-IQ and craftiness in Summer League (16.9 PPG, albeit on 37.9% shooting) that 90% of his matchups couldn’t match-up with. He worked on defense, was a solid rebounder, and was the Kings best player in Vegas. He’s earned serious optimism going forward.
Kings Jackson was 12-20 on runners and 1-9 around the rim in the half-court in SL. Of course.— Cole Zwicker (@colezwicker) August 5, 2017
That 1 in the 1 of 9 was a vicious dunk, but still. His runner can be a solid weapon, but it’s not the least predictable move, especially when Jackson’s not gonna beat many of his matchups on a physical standpoint.
If he’s used as nothing more than a floor-streacher, Jackson’s still gonna deserve minutes. He’s not gonna make mistakes, he’ll keep the ball moving, and he’s always been a high-motor player. But I think come January/February, the lineup imbalance we’ll be most disappointed the most with is Jackson’s ratio compared to Carter, Bogdan at the 3, and Malachi at the 3.
The biggest question mark (and the biggest lottery ticket) of all is Giles, who didn’t play at all in Summer League... which, by itself, shows us how patient the Kings will be. Giles played a total of 300 minutes at Duke last year, so I’m expecting he starts with similar minutes restrictions in Reno. Whether he makes that NBA minutes transition late in the season (like Skal did last March), or they wait the whole year (my bet, given their big man rotation) is truly up to how many Reno minutes Giles can “accumulate.”
Mason is almost certainly slotted as the third point on the roster. He’s one of only six Kings I’d call an above-average shooter (Hill, Jackson, Carter, Buddy, Bogdan, and Mason) and the team desperately wants more floor spacing. But as an undersized point who isn’t a consistent positive on defense AND doesn’t efficiently attack the basket (he clearly was trying to work on this at Summer League, but he’s still got a long way to go), he isn’t guaranteed anything.
He can play off-ball and still provide some secondary handling help in the role - he did that last year at Kansas when he played off Josh Jackson - so I wouldn’t be shocked if he stays on the active Kings roster. But most likely, he’s going to be running the Reno offense full-time (until George Hill reminds us injury history is due to repeat itself, or the Kings ship Hill out if Fox goes Super Saiyan). Mason has made doubters look stupid for four years, but this is an uphill climb.
Bodgan is the only rookie I’m confident will break the 25 MPG mark. He’s a veteran of the game compared to the rest of these rooks, and while any transition from Europe to the NBA game will require a speed-adjustment on Bogdan’s part, he’s a high-volume shooter on a team desperate for the skill. Plus, he’s got ice water in his veins.
While he’s not the long-term answer at small forward, it’s logical to expect he gets featured in a ton of small ball lineups considering the only true threes on the roster are Jackson and Vince Carter. I think Bodgan is clearly the Kings highest minute/scoring rookie, and if he shows an ability to shine in a small ball lineup (which requires a big defensive jump from the Kings speedy bigs...), Bogdan could keep name in the ROY conversation late into the season.
Another Joerger comment to Cunningham rings strongest when considering rookie expectations - he wants to play ten guys. Ranking those ten, it’s safe to predict minutes for Skal, Buddy Hield, Willie Cauley-Stein, George Hill, Garrett Temple, Vince Carter, Zach Randolph, and Kosta Koufos (seven). That leaves two spots for five rookies, and Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis also will be fighting for time.
Joeger admitted that while balancing this roster will be “difficult,” he also feels the team has a direction for the first time in a good while.
“What is the direction of the Sacramento Kings?... going to go young, and then we pivot, and going to go old... that’s just a product of a lot of different coaches and a lot of different general managers. We’re solid now... we do have a direction, our management and coaching staff are all in it together.”
“You’re going to get sick of hearing it, we might have a terrible record but that doesn’t mean we’re going to have a terrible team.”