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The Kings bench is providing big minutes

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For a unit that was quiet early on the season, they are coming along and giving the team a much needed boost.

Kimani Okearah

It’s January 16th, 2019 and the Sacramento Kings have established a record of 23-21 through 44 games. No one and I mean no one, could’ve predicted the insane leap this team has taken this season (and no one did). While the team continues to get better, a big part of their recent success has been the improved play of their bench.

The main bench rotation of late has been Yogi Ferrell and Bogdan Bogdanovic handling the ball carrying duties, Justin Jackson at the three, and Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley as the bigs. Bogdanovic and Bagley have been solid already for most of the season, but Jackson is becoming a different player than before and Giles is showing his phenomenal potential in different ways every game. Even Ferrell has been good off the bench, providing the speed on offense that De’Aaron Fox can bring while also being capable of hitting threes (37%) and finishing at the rim. Ben McLemore, Kosta Koufos, Skal Labissiere and Frank Mason are all out of the main rotation for now, but they’ve each had their moments here or there.

I just can’t help but think how much the bench unit has grown and changed since last year. Mason and Labissiere used to hover around 20 minutes a game, now they see the floor in blowout situations. Buddy Hield, now the team’s leading scorer, used to come off the bench along with the great Vince Carter. Towards the end of the season, Sacramento had guys like Bruno Caboclo (deemed the Brazilian Kevin Durant) and Nigel Hayes as well who didn’t pan out.

Times have certainly changed. Now, the bench has starting caliber players in Bogdanovic and Bagley. Giles is going to be a starter soon, too, but I can see why he is coming off the bench now. Justin Jackson’s play has also elevated the bench. In January, Jackson is averaging 9.4 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists. He’s also shooting the three at 44%, his highest mark of the 2018-19 season. In October, he was a dreadful 21% from three. Not only is Jackson finding his way on offense, but he’s arguably better on defense. Take a look at these numbers, courtesy of our own Tim Maxwell:

Earlier in the season, Jackson was starting and we couldn’t wait to find his replacement. Now you could make the argument that he probably should be starting over Iman Shumpert, but regardless he’s playing well in the role he has now. The Kings still desperately need a small forward and Jackson is providing that off the bench. No game highlighted that more than his career-best 28 point game against the Golden State Warriors earlier this month.

Let’s talk more about Bogdanovic. As mentioned earlier, he’s a starting caliber player and there is no questioning that. However, I’m more comfortable with him coming off the bench because he’s a reliable spark. Despite coming off the bench, he still manages to play a lot. He averages almost 28 minutes per game, which is the fourth most on the team, trailing Fox, Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein. He also scores 15.4 points a game, grabs 3.7 rebounds and gives out 3.9 assists.

Marvin Bagley is going to be a starter on this team sooner rather than later. He’s just too good on both ends of the floor to not be. He averages 12 points a game and six rebounds, but in the four games he’s played since returning from a knee injury, here are his numbers:

Marvin Bagley since returning from injury

vs. ORL vs. DET vs. CHO vs. POR
vs. ORL vs. DET vs. CHO vs. POR
8 points 10 points 11 points 13 points
6 rebounds 7 rebounds 9 rebounds 11 rebounds
20:18 minutes 20:14 minutes 25:14 minutes 23:26 minutes

He didn’t play in the loss against the Phoenix Suns after the Orlando game, but since returning, the Kings are 4-0 when Bagley plays. Just imagine how his numbers would be if he averaged almost 30 minutes a game. He’s already proving to be a double-double machine if given the time. He’s also adept at drawing fouls, but has been poor from the free throw line recently. If he can make those at a consistent rate, his point total and effectiveness is only going to increase.

Moving towards the bench unit as a whole, as of January 15th, 2019, the Kings have the seventh highest scoring bench in the league. The unit scores 43.1 points on a collective 47% overall from the field. That shooting mark ranks fourth overall in the league, trailing only the benches of the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Clippers and Indiana Pacers.

These numbers and more get better during this five game stretch where the Kings have a record of 4-1. Sacramento’s bench is scoring 48.2 points a game, which is good enough for fifth in the league all while having a percentage of 49.5. They have also gotten considerably better at rebounding. On the season, the bench brings in 18 rebounds a game. In the last five games, that goes up to 22.6, good for third in the league. Having Bagley and Giles certainly helps in that department and it is definitely no coincidence that when these two play, the rebounding numbers go up. These players go for every single rebound they can.

In Monday’s victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, the same five players I’ve been talking about scored 58 points, compared to Portland’s 34 bench points. Those 58 points were one more than what the starters put up. One point isn’t the biggest difference, but it’s a good thing to be able to call someone’s number on the bench and know they can produce in multiple ways.

Even in the loss to Phoenix, the bench put in 45 points, led by Ben McLemore’s 20. He’s not one of the main bench producers and hasn’t been consistent, but came up big when called upon, even in a tough loss. Without Ben, that loss would have been even worse.

Recent reports indicate that the Kings are interested in Jeremy Lin of the Atlanta Hawks. He comes off the bench in Atlanta and averages 10.8 points per game on 48% overall shooting with 3.6 assists. If that were to happen, he does make the Kings bench better.

Barring any injuries or changes, the Kings bench should continue to provide big minutes when the starters come out for rest. They’ll be big factors in helping the team gear up for a playoff push as we barrel toward the end of the regular season.