Nobody expected the Kings to compete for the playoffs this season. Anyone even predicting that the team would have a chance to finish with 31 wins, something that they’ve already accomplished with over a month remaining, would’ve been seen as foolishly-optimistic at best. A better-than-expected start had the team seemingly in the hunt to at least sniff the postseason, but even then it didn’t seem all that likely.

    The reality now is that while Sacramento is still just a game and a half out of the playoffs in late February, and those early-season hopes are seeming less foolish by the day. It’s also true that staying the course wouldn’t have been enough, and the Kings wouldn’t be anywhere near contending for one of the final playoff spots if it weren’t for some much-improved play from their bench, most of which can be credited to the development of Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley.

    Both Giles and Bagley were given an opportunity to earn regular rotation minutes to start the season, but neither truly grabbed hold of a spot the way that coaching staff had clearly hoped. Giles quickly found himself riding the bench, and eventually in the G-League, and while Bagley was able to retain a spot, he was inconsistent and not a featured part of the team most nights. Bagley was beginning to show signs of a breakout in December, but a bone bruise in a game against the Warriors sidelined him for the rest of the month. At this point, the team was forced into full reliance on Willie Cauley-Stein, Nemanja Bjelica and Kosta Koufos.

    All three of those players are veterans that should be capable of at least playing well enough to fill in while the two rookies were ready to go, but none are an ideal fit. Willie Cauley-Stein certainly fits the mold of the type of center that you’d want in a system that prioritizes playing in transition and that regularly works out of the high post, but his inconsistency and lack of rebounding made it difficult to ask him to play 30+ minutes every night. Bjelica and Koufos weren’t good fits in the system, and while they were able to provide a stable presence when the team needed it, players like that are best served in more sporadic roles.

    Bagley returned to the team on January 7th, and since then both he and Giles have been regular members of the team’s rotation. That date also marks the beginning of the Kings’ best stretch this season that saw them go 12-8, tied for the 10th best mark of any team during that time period.

    Some of the improvement can be chalked up to Buddy Hield, who has been as hot as any player in the league in 2019, but Bagley and Giles’ play off the bench has kept the team from squandering leads that the starters had built, and in some cases has even bailed the team out after a rough start.

    Sacramento was able to start the year far better than expected, but the bench still seemed to be holding them back. Bogdan Bogdanovic provided a spark when the team needed it, but this wasn’t enough to mask the team’s lack of depth. Kosta Koufos was completely unable to fit in with the team’s offense, and without a true go-to scorer outside of Bogdanovic, the offense could completely stagnate until coach Joerger mercifully brought in De’Aaron Fox of Buddy Hield.

    Over the last month, Bagley has not only filled the need for scoring off the bench, he has excelled as the that unit’s number one option. This has effectively taken a stretch during games where the team just hopes to get enough production to stay competitive, and turned it into a group that actually has a chance to bring the team back into games that they couldn’t have competed in previously.

    Giles’ contribution has been more poorly-defined and inconsistent, but his energy on both ends of the floor has given teams trouble. No other player on the roster can fill Cauley-Stein’s role as a facilitator out of the high post like Giles can, and while he can get into foul trouble quickly, his activity on defense has given the team a much-needed spark on more than one occasion.

    The starters didn’t have the same problems as the bench, but Cauley-Stein’s inconsistent effort and the regular exploitation of Bejlica’s defense proved to be too much to overcome some nights. Neither Giles nor Bagley has taken the starting role from Cauley-Stein, but their emergence has allowed the team to limit his minutes in games when he’s not providing the contributions that they need, and has also led to Bjelica being played out of the rotation over the last two games.

    It’s hard to imagine the Kings having much of a shot at the playoffs if Giles and Bagley were still playing the way they did to start the season. There have been too many games that the team’s bench wouldn’t have been able to save them, and too many more where the bench would’ve squandered the lead. De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield will need to continue to be the driving force behind this team’s success during this final stretch, but continued development from Bagley and Giles could be what pushes Sacramento over the edge into the playoffs.

Fantasy News

  • Steven Adams - C - Oklahoma City Thunder

    According to Jake Fischer of SI, the Thunder are looking to shed salaries of players like Steven Adams, Dennis Schroeder and Andre Roberson to get under the salary cap and are willing to toss in the No. 21 pick to sweeten the deal.

    Fischer isn't typically a big newsbreaker but there have been several stories indicating that the Thunder are attempting to shed some salary. Steven Adams has two more years on his contract that will pay him a total of $53M. Despite the big price tag, there will be interest in the Kiwi by some teams with cap space in need of a rim protector, especially when the Thunder throw in a first round pick.

    Source: Jake Fischer on Twitter

  • David Vanterpool - Team - Minnesota Timberwolves

    The Wolves have hired David Vanterpool as an assistant coach.

    Vanterpool was a popular name on the interview circuit this summer but ultimately did not land a head coaching job. An assistant with Portland for the last seven seasons, one would expect that Vanterpool's responsibilities will increase in Minnesota.

    Source: Timberwolves PR on Twitter

  • Al Horford - F/C - Boston Celtics

    Kevin O'Connor of The Ringer is reporting that the Mavs, Lakers and Clippers have all shown interest in Al Horford, with some of O'Connor's sources indicating that the Mavs are the frontrunners.

    Horford was expected to re-sign with the Celtics but the two didn't appear to be aligned in what they wanted moving forward, and rumors have Horford set to cash in on a four-year deal worth more than $100 million. He is an extremely malleable player who does almost everything at a high level, and his availability drastically changes the open market. Horford is a fit on just about any team build and should have no problem commanding a big offer come June 30. He'd be a fantastic pickup for any of the three teams mentioned, and his fit in Dallas next to two young, do-it-all stars would be great entertainment.

    Source: The Ringer

  • Ja Morant - G - College

    Ja Morant says he’s pain-free after undergoing a surgery to remove loose bodies from his right knee, and also expects to play in Summer League.

    Morant is widely expected to be taken by the Grizzlies at No. 2 overall in Thursday’s draft, and Wednesday’s trade of Mike Conley completely clears the runway for Morant to play a ton right out of the gates. Delon Wright will also be around and is good enough to push Morant for minutes to an extent, but the Grizzlies figure to spend most of the season exploring a Morant – Jaren Jackson Jr. pairing and figuring out what works around that. Barring a draft night surprise, Morant looks like one of the safer rookies to project in terms of sheer opportunity. There was some worry that his knee procedure would put him behind the eight ball but it no longer seems like that will be the case.

    Source: Ben Golliver on Twitter

  • Kyle Korver - G/F - Memphis Grizzlies

    Kyle Korver, who will be traded to the Grizzlies when they complete Wednesday's Mike Conley deal, is expected to play one more season, and possibly another beyond that per Marc Stein.

    Korver, 38, was said to be mulling retirement but it looks as though he's going to give it another crack. A notorious fitness nut, Korver keeps himself in great shape and relies on a skill that hasn't degraded at all with age. His place on a rebuilding team is questionable, however, and it would be surprising if he spent the entire season in Memphis. Consider him the same 3-point specialist he always is.

    Source: Marc Stein on Twitter

  • Jae Crowder - F - Memphis Grizzlies

    Jae Crowder is headed to the Grizzlies as soon as Wednesday's Mike Conley trade is officially completed.

    Crowder reasserted himself as a quality stretch four last season after he struggled in his pit stop with Cleveland. He might not hold much utility on a squad that's rebuilding, and Crowder's best shot at fantasy value might be getting re-routed to another team. Regardless, Crowder would only be a late-round guy in 9-cat leagues at best, and he'll likely settle in as a streamer for threes, rebounds and the occasional steal. If he does play out the year in Memphis, he figures to impact the minutes of Kyle Anderson and Avery Bradley.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Grayson Allen - G - Memphis Grizzlies

    Grayson Allen is part of Wednesday's Mike Conley trade and will be headed to the Grizzlies when the deal is completed.

    Allen only appeared in 37 games for the Jazz, though he did end up dropping 40 points in the season finale when Utah rested most of its players. On a rebuilding team, Allen is a lock to play more, but whether he becomes more than a deep-league points and threes guy is up for debate.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter

  • Mike Conley - G - Utah Jazz

    The Grizzlies are trading franchise star Mike Conley Jr. to the Jazz for Grayson Allen, Kyle Korver, Jae Crowder, the 23rd pick in Thursday's Draft and a future protected first-round pick.

    The Jazz were considered the frontrunner to trade for Conley in the last few days and they are able to execute a deal that upgrades their point guard position without selling the farm. It’s now obvious that the Grizzlies will be entering a rebuilding period and Ja Morant seems the obvious choice to replace Conley.

    Source: Adrian Wojnarowski on Twitter

  • Kevin Durant - F - Golden State Warriors

    ESPN’s Jay Williams, a Kevin Durant friend and a partner with KD’s manager, Rich Kleiman, told the NY Post that it’s too early for the Warriors superstar to figure out what the injury means for his free-agent future.

    Williams has spoken with Durant since the devastating injury as he is still trying to deal with the post-surgery period. KD has until June 29th, the day before free-agency courting period, to opt out of the final season of his pact. Even though he will miss next season, he is likely to get a max deal either with the Warriors or elsewhere. The Knicks are still interested, believing that if there’s any player who can come back from this debilitating injury, it is Durant, who will be 32 to start the 2020-21 campaign.

    Source: NY Post

  • Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - F - Charlotte Hornets

    Hornets forward Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has opted into his $13M player option for the 2019-20 season.

    Ugh! This comes a week after Marvin Williams exercised his $15 million player option putting the Hornets in a tough financial situation with at least $98 million already on the books for next year. It’s highly unlikely that MKG would have commanded a salary anywhere close to $10 million per year in an open market so this was a no brainer for him. Kidd-Gilchrist is only 25 years old and is coming off a couple seasons where he struggled with injuries while the lack of a reliable jumper makes it hard for him to have value in today’s space and pace offense.

    Source: Shams Charania on Twitter