Perhaps no Sacramento King exited the bubble with as much momentum as DaQuan Jeffries. He was a standout during the scrimmage games, earning him a place in the rotation during the back half of the seeding games. Then during the offseason, he earned a fully-guaranteed NBA contract after spending 2019-20 on a two-way deal.
But instead of marking his territory in the lineup to start the season, Jeffries had a back injury during the preseason. On the day he was set to return, he landed on Jabari Parker’s foot during 3-on-3 while he was going up for a layup.
Now, more than seven weeks after the season began, Jeffries is ready to return to the court, and he feels better than he ever has.
“It’s been very frustrating going through an injury and feeling like you can get out there but you can’t really go until you're 100 percent,” Jeffries said after practice Thursday. “But overall, it’s been pretty productive for me. I feel like I’m stronger, faster than I was before, so I’m excited.... I feel like I can run faster and jump higher than I did before. It worked out for me.”
It was the first time Jeffries says he has suffered an injury of this magnitude, and he thought his season was over when he first went down because of the pain in his ankle. But he regained his jumping ability within 3-4 weeks and went through practice with his Sacramento teammates Thursday. Walton has been telling him how happy he is to have the forward’s physical presence back on the court.
Jeffries is coming back to a Kings team that has been rolling, though, and it’s unclear exactly how he fits in. Glenn Robinson III has been the primary backup forward (otherwise, it’s just guards and centers off the bench), and even he isn’t playing in every game. There are matchups where Jeffries’ strength can come in handy — a bruising team like the Magic comes to mind — but he is probably a ways away from being a regular rotation player.
“It’s great to have him back, he plays physical, he hits people, he plays above the rim,” Walton said. “We really liked what he did for us in limited opportunity last season. So we’re excited to have him back. Now that being said, he hasn’t played basketball all season long between the injuries, so we’ll look to get him some opportunities where we can. But you know, there’s not a set amount of minutes I can just throw at him right now, so we’ll be looking for opportunities to get him in there while he continues to practice and play and get some more basketball under his belt.”
Simply having another body the team can count on could be helpful as the Kings finish a compressed first half of the season. They’ll play three games in four days on three separate occasions, so Jeffries could get some minutes by attrition, especially if Sacramento continues to shelve its only other backup forward in Nemanja Bjelica.
Regardless of the role he occupies, it will be good to see Jeffries back on the floor. He’s been out for so long he hasn’t even had a chance to play with Tyrese Haliburton. Jeffries earned his spot on this roster, and his time has finally come.