December 2, 2017, 3:11 pm
The NBA has worked to change the reputation of the G-League over the last few seasons, and few teams have been more receptive to that change than the Kings. After the Vivek Ranadive-led ownership group took over in Sacramento, the team entered into a single affiliation partnership with the Reno Bighorns in 2013 and began to invest further into what was then known as the D-League.
While the partnership established in 2013 was seen as an early investment in the league, the team made their most bold moves last season. The Kings bought a controlling interest in the Bighorns prior to the 2016-17 NBA season, and elected to develop all three of their first-round picks that season in Reno.
The move had some risk to it – the logic was sound, but there wasn’t an established history of players being developed in this fashion. By the end of the year, it was clear that all three players had taken major strides in Reno and looked more comfortable in the NBA as a result.
On Thursday the Kings announced that they would once again be sending some of their young players to play for the Bighorns. Justin Jackson, Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis were all sent to the G-League to get more playing time and further their own development. While this was a success last season, the move has different implications for the players involved.
For Papagiannis, who was a known project after being selected 13th overall in 2016, this will be his second season with the Bighorns. The decision to send him back to Reno was likely because he wasn’t getting any playing time, and in that sense, this was a smart move that was the obvious next-step for him.
The issue is that the path forward for him is unclear. Papagiannis will take time to develop into a player worthy of his lottery selection (assuming he ever does), but in his second year the hope would be that he could find 10-15 minutes per game on a team on track to win less than 30 games.
An argument can be made that part of the issue stems from the fact that the team already has four players capable of playing his position, but that doesn’t really tell the full story.
The team could certainly use a player like Papagiannis in the rotation. His rebounding and size would be a huge boost for a team that has been punished by larger big men all season. This isn’t to say that the team would be better for playing him, but the fact that Dave Joerger has yet to find even a small role for him is somewhat concerning.
The other issue is that the logjam at his position isn’t likely to get any better – Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere are much further along in their development, and the team hasn’t been shy when talking about the potential of Harry Giles. Sacramento should be looking to give Papagiannis some opportunity now before minutes become even more scarce.
Richardson is in the same boat. Of the three players sent to Reno last season, Richardson was the first to come up and be asked to be part of the rotation last season, and he handled the responsibility well. He appeared to be making a case for more minutes and a much larger role at shooting guard in the 2017-18 season, but a hamstring injury during a game in February and the subsequent addition of Buddy Hield put that to rest.
Even so, the team has a hole at small forward, and Richardson’s size and skill set should allow him to see some minutes at that spot. The team needs players that are willing to play aggressively on offense, and without a clear option at small forward moving forward, Richardson should be able to find 10-15 minutes per game.
Sacramento has done a good job in recent years of investing the Bighorns and using the G-League as a tool to develop their young players, but at some point it will be important to find a spot in the rotation for these players. Allowing Papagiannis and Richardson to develop in Reno made sense for the team last season, but it’s time to give both players a real opportunity to show what they can do in the NBA.