Six games into the NBA season makes it the perfect time for the Kings to … panic.
Ah, just kidding. It’s Halloween. Didn’t mean to scare you. To begin this series of occasional columns glancing at the Kings’ recent past and peeking into the future, there are several topics to discuss about the local team that made changes in color scheme (more gray, less black), age requirements (mostly very, very young) and executed a serious overhaul of the on-court product.
There is reason to be encouraged, or at least intrigued, but any team that loses five of its first six games – and is coming off one terrible second half (New Orleans Pelicans) and an entirely abysmal performance (Washington Wizards) – is experiencing growing pains. So here we go.
De’Aaron Fox dazzles, except against the Wiz
The No. 5 overall draft pick leads the Kings in scoring (12.7), assists (5.0) and charisma (off the charts). His change-of-pace dribble enables him to freeze defenders and explode to the basket, and his speed is ridiculous. Imagine when he fully exploits his quickness (a la the preachings of Kentucky coach John Calipari) and understands when to probe, when to be a distributor and improves that jump shot. As Fox grows into his slender 6-foot-3, 175-pound frame, he will become a more effective defender as well. But the classes continue. He has to shake off Sunday’s 1-for-8 performance and get ready for the speedy Darren Collison on Tuesday at Indiana.
Dave Joerger’s lineups can trip you up
The Kings coach has warned everyone within hearing distance. He plans to tinker and tweak and experiment with his combinations, occasionally even diagramming units completely out of the box. That 25-and-under starting lineup (Fox, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, Buddy Hield and Willie Cauley-Stein) Sunday against the Wiz? That created a buzz, for sure, though most of the kids apparently forgot to set their alarm for the 3 p.m. tipoff. The afternoon debacle was decided by the end of the first quarter. What will Dave do now? I don’t know, but I am curious, and I want one of those WWDDN bracelets.
The coach calls the shots, and weaknesses
Joerger predicted there would be nights like these (Sunday and second half Friday vs. the Pelicans), and so far, he hasn’t missed on his team’s most glaring weaknesses: shooting and rebounding. Among the 30 franchises, the Kings rank near the bottom in defensive rebounding (27th), points per game (28th), field goal percentage (27th) and assists (29th), the latter stat correlating to poor shooting. But the most perplexing stat might be this: The Kings are 26th in pace (possessions per 48 minutes). Hmmmm. The plan is to play fast and play to Fox’s strength, but transition opportunities come with steals, rebounds and a willingness to run.
Bogdan Bogdanovic is a player, not a rookie
Officially, the Serbian guard ranks among the rookie leaders in steals (first), field goal percentage (second), scoring (seventh) and assists (ninth). Unofficially, he is 25 years old, a EuroLeague star and a bona fide starter. Against the Wizards, he hit a 3, scored on a crafty reverse, stole a pass, deflected another pass and threw a perfect outlet to Buddy Hield for one of the Kings’ three transition baskets.
… And the Kings got Skal Labissiere in that trade, too
While the other principal (Georgios Papagiannis) in the 2016 draft-day swap that sent Marquese Chriss to Phoenix for the rights to Bogdanovic and No. 28 (Skal Labissiere) hasn’t cracked the rotation, Labissiere continues to progress nicely. His high-arching jumper is impossible to block and he is crafty in the post, able to convert jump hooks with either hand. When he is aggressive and concentrates on defending and rebounding – and despite his length, neither skill is instinctive – his upside is tantalizing. In his words: “That’s something I am still learning about the NBA. Games, practices, the whole process. Your level of energy has to be there for everything every day.”
Justin Jackson sort of resembles Tayshaun Prince
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A Detroit Pistons scout recently noted the physical resemble between the former Pistons small forward and the Kings’ wiry, long-limbed rookie, but said Prince was more athletic and a more proficient shooter when he entered the league. It’s obvious that Jackson comes from an elite program (North Carolina) and knows how to move, cut and pass, but his career ultimately will be defined by his ability to knock down jumpers, particularly short 3s from the corners.
Final thoughts as Kings hit the road
I like the 7 p.m. start, love Golden 1 Center, but am awaiting more consistent rebounding and rim protection (to go with his deft passing and improved mid-range shot) from Willie Cauley-Stein; wondering if Vince Carter’s 0-for-6 effort Sunday is attributable to his 40 years, or just a bad day; would enjoy more passing and less dribbling – better execution, essentially – on the offensive sets; and no more more of those lackluster Sunday afternoon displays. Kids, get your sleep, eat your cereal and grab a coffee en route to the arena next time.