• While the Kings began the 2018-19 season with plenty of exciting young players on their roster, expectations for the team were about as low as possible. That’s the reality for teams still in the early stages of developing a core, and despite owning the longest playoff drought in the NBA, the Kings are about as close to the beginning of the development process as a team could be.
    With that said, the team has started off well. After ranking at or near the bottom of the league in just about every measure of offensive or defensive aptitude last season, the Kings have shown a commitment to playing fast, and the offense has seemingly taken a few steps in the right direction.

    Defense, on the other hand, has been another story entirely. The team gave up a combined 272 points to the Jazz and the Pelicans, with more than a few stretches where the team just couldn’t get a stop. So, while the offense has been enticing, it would be fair to wonder how much these defensive results matter for a team so young that doesn’t truly expect to compete.

    The answer isn’t exactly straightforward. Some of their poor performance can be chalked up to it being a small sample. For these two matchups in particular, the Kings’ results are almost certainly biased by the fact that they have dealt with two teams well-suited to exploit their young bigs. According to NBA stats, the Kings currently rank in the 16th percentile guarding the ball handler in pick and roll situations and rank in the 0th percentile guarding the roll man.

    It’s easy to see why the Kings would struggle with these two teams. The Jazz have an abundance of athletic wings and guards that are crafty with ball screens, as well as an elite lob target and roll threat in Rudy Gobert. The Pelicans have an even more dangerous roll threat with Anthony Davis, along with plenty of highly skilled big men, and two great facilitators in Elfrid Payton and Jrue Holiday.

    Both teams did a great job of taking advantage of the Kings’ lack of experience as well. In the video below, you can see that Willie Cauley-Stein doesn’t come up and contain Joe Ingles after he comes around the screen set by Gobert, leaving him with a wide-open runner in the lane:

    Cauley-Stein, who has been much better this season in terms of defensive effort and awareness, does a good job of containing after that, but he still got burned by Ingles multiple times. In this next clip, you can see an improved reaction from Cauley-Stein, but he ultimately struggles to stop Favors from getting to the rim:

    The Kings’ younger frontcourt players have also contributed to the team’s defensive issues. Giles and Bagley have both played with an encouraging commitment to the defensive side of the ball, but the game does still seem to be slowing down for them. Giles didn’t play much in the first game, but he was given plenty of opportunity against the Pelicans. He was immediately tasked with guarding Davis when he came in off the bench, and understandably struggled. According to NBA stats, Giles defended Davis for 15 possessions, giving up 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting.

    Davis was able to get past Giles whenever he wanted, and off the ball he was sure to take advantage of any mistakes the rookie made. In the example below, you can see Giles get caught watching the ball for a split second in transition, leaving Davis wide-open for an alley oop:

    Bagley has been more encouraging through two games, but he’s certainly had his struggles. According to NBA stats, Bagley defended Nikola Mirotic for 32 possessions, giving up 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting. While his energy and activity has led to some highlight-reel defensive plays, you can still see him adjusting to the speed of the game and the talent level in the NBA.

    To be fair, Bagley does a good job of containing Jrue Holiday, and I would also argue that Cauley-Stein should have been more decisive with his help defense, but ultimately Bagley should have gotten back to Mirotic earlier.

    Part of this can be attributed to the talent level of both teams, as well as the Kings’ lack of experience. For that reason, these numbers should get better as the team gains experience and plays against less talented teams. At the same time, as Hoop-Ball’s own Aaron Bruski pointed out on twitter, the Kings should focus on finding a talented interior defender:

    The team should hope that Bagley and Giles can develop into more effective defenders, but adding a more talented defender in the short-term would provide stability and facilitate their development.
    That Kings don’t have that type of player at the moment, but for now they’ll need to rely on Cauley-Stein to provide that stability. Nemanja Bjelica has helped when he’s on the court, but Cauley-Stein is the only player on the roster with the size, athleticism and experience to protect the rim.

    Acquiring a player of that ilk should be a priority to help with the frontcourt’s development, but that’ll be easier said than done. The Kings are going to go through stretches where they struggle to get stops, but more important is the fact that the team has been playing a much better style of basketball, and the young players have shown a commitment to playing with energy and effort.  At this point, that’s really all you can ask for.

Fantasy News

  • Kelly Olynyk
    C, Miami Heat

    Regarding Kelly Olynyk's (right knee bone bruise) role for the start of the season, head coach Erik Spoelstra stressed keeping him active but not forcing Olynyk into more minutes than he can handle.

    The Heat are going to take things slow with Olynyk and make sure the injury does not become a persistent issue. It is a pain for his owners to wait through, but Olynyk looked good in his limited preseason performances. He may not get his full compliment of minutes after being a full participant in practice for only the past five days. However, it should only be a matter of weeks until Olynyk is back to his normal workload.

    Source: Khobi Price on Twitter

  • Tyler Ulis
    PG, Sacramento Kings

    The Kings have waived Tyler Ulis and Hollis Thompson.

    Ulis has been injured during training camp, but had little chance of making the roster with Cory Jospeh and Yogi Ferrell in front of him. Other teams may want to see him healthy before taking a shot on him. Thompson should garner some interest around the league fairly quickly.

    Source: Jason Jones on Twitter

  • Vlatko Cancar
    SF, Denver Nuggets

    Vlatko Cancar (ankle) hurt his ankle during Sunday's practice.

    The ankle injury may put his availability in question for opening night. An update should be coming out with more information regarding the injury, but Cancar should not be on any draft boards regardless.

    Source: Harrison Wind on Twitter

  • Rodney McGruder
    SG, Los Angeles Clippers

    Rodney McGruder (high ankle sprain) is questionable to play in Tuesday's opening game versus the Lakers.

    McGruder is noted to be progressing well, but high ankle sprains tend to be tricky and if re-injured could shelve a player for several weeks. If McGruder is healthy enough to suit up, he figures absorb some of Paul George's allotted minutes.

    Source: Tomer Azarly on Twitter

  • Alen Smailagic
    PF, Golden State Warriors

    Alen Smailagic (right ankle sprain) has a chance to play in Thursday's season opener.

    Smailagic was expected to miss a decent amount of time, so him not being ruled out is somewhat shocking. There is no reason to look at Smailagic in any drafts, but him missing time could funnel more minutes to Jordan Poole.

    Source: Logan Murdock on Twitter

  • Willie Cauley-Stein
    C, Golden State Warriors

    Willie Cauley-Stein (left foot strain) will not play in Thursday's season opener.

    WCS has been cleared fr non-contact drills, but with Kevon Looney looking healthy it makes the call easier to take the cautious approach. WCS is looking like Looney's primary backup.

    Source: Logan Murdock on Twitter

  • Dennis Smith Jr.
    PG, New York Knicks

    The Knicks will not announce their starting point guard until Wednesday.

    Death, taxes and Knicks head coach David Fizdale doing Fizdale-like stuff. The battle has been between Elfrid Payton and Dennis Smith Jr., while Frank Ntilikina sits in the background. It appears that after a few more days of practice Fizdale will have the sample size he needs to make confirm his starter, but for now they both remain as late-round fliers.

    Source: Marc Berman on Twitter

  • Kyle Kuzma
    PF, Los Angeles Lakers

    Kyle Kuzma (left foot stress reaction) has been ruled out of Tuesday's season opener.

    This isn't a shocker considering Kuzma has yet to be cleared for contact. He is still participating in non-contact half-court drills, but has no firm timetable to return.

    Source: Bill Oram on Twitter

  • Kevon Looney
    PF-C, Golden State Warriors

    Kevon Looney (right hamstring strain) will play in Thursday's game and possibly open as the starting center.

    Looney practiced on Sunday and looked good to go. Looney is the favorite to start, it just seems like his health will determine whether or not he does. Looney offers late-round appeal in standard leagues and remains a sleeper on most boards.

    Source: Monte Pool on Twitter

  • Isaiah Taylor
    PG, Toronto Raptors

    The Raptors have waived Isaiah Taylor.

    Taylor signed to a partially guaranteed deal back in September, but did not stand out during training camps. He had a stint with the Hawks back during the 2017-18 season and will likely get picked up by another team and relegated to the G League.

    Source: Josh Lewenberg on Twitter