Monte McNair and Luke Walton spent much of their 2021 exit interviews talking about the need to build functional depth. With limited cap space this offseason, the most plausible way for the Kings to be better in 2021-22 is through internal improvement.
The Kings have a solid stable of young players, some of whom are getting regular time with Sacramento — De’Aaron Fox, Tyrese Haliburton, and Terence Davis top that list — and some who didn’t get much playing experience this past year. That makes the Stockton Kings critical to the overall development of the franchise. So long as the Sacramento squad plays to win, the young guys will need to find some place to get minutes, and it behooves the Kings to make that environment as similar to an NBA setting as possible.
As such, it came as no surprise that one of the primary takeaways of Bobby Jackson and Paul Johnson’s introductory press conference as head coach and general manager of the Stockton Kings was their desire to mirror the Sacramento team.
“When you look at it, you want the G League to mirror the Sacramento Kings, and I think that’s a great relationship that me and Luke (Walton) already have,” Jackson said. “Whether it’s going to be offensive concept, defensive concepts, everything is kind of going to be the same.... He’s gonna give me the freedom to be a coach and for me to run my own team, but it will mirror everything that the Sacramento Kings is doing and that’s winning, building great habits, being confident and consistent, and figuring out how to be successful on the floor.”
“I’m the VP of player development and GM of Stockton so those two are going to go hand in hand,” Johnson added. “We’re creating an environment in Stockton where we can develop our guys, where we’re building winning habits, but I’m talking to Monte and Luke, Bobby’s talking to Monte and Luke, and that was probably a lot of the reason why Bobby’s here. Just having continuity amongst the staff, allowing him to already have a relationship with Luke and know what’s going on inside of Luke’s staff and know how to run his plays, so I think it’s a seamless transition.”
When the Kings sent two of their rookies to the G League bubble this season, Walton’s message for Jahmi’us Ramsey and Robert Woodard was to have fun playing basketball and learn how to be a professional. Although both Ramsey and Woodard got significant minutes for the Agua Caliente Clippers and Austin Spurs, respectively, it was hard to translate that work back to Sacramento. It was good for them to get run in, but they weren’t more prepared for what the Kings specifically wanted to do.
Now that Stockton will be running a system exactly like Sacramento’s, it will be easier to call up players on a day-to-day basis to plug and play if they have confidence in their knowledge of the playbook. It also becomes clear why the Kings only interviewed internal candidates for the Stockton job given that they wanted to maintain continuity between the NBA and G League teams.
The organization still hasn’t put together a complete staff in Stockton, but the key pieces are in place. Beyond Jackson, Akachi Okugo, who has been in player development with the Kings since 2016, will be an assistant coach. Katie Babcock will stay on as the head athletic trainer in Stockton, a position she has held since 2017.
While the roster is mostly empty, as is the nature of the G League, the three headliners will be 2020 second-round picks Woodard and Ramsey, and Louis King, who the team signed to a two-way contract on April 30.
“I think we got three quality guys that are skilled and talented,” Jackson said about the trio. “They’re getting better, they’re working on their games as we speak right now, and I think, with the right coaching and being in alignment with what Coach Luke wants in developing these players, I think it’s going to be exciting.... That’s three wing players that’s going to be a tremendous for us, and we can build around that. So now the next step is developing their game this summer so we see those improvements once the season starts.”
With any luck, those improvements are going to matter beyond Stockton. The reason Jackson has this job is to get his players ready for the NBA level. The Sacramento Kings are relying on him.