September 25, 2017, 12:35 pm
Training camp is finally upon us. It was an eventful offseason, not only for the Kings but the NBA as a whole. For Sacramento, with all things considered, it was an offseason that produced many high points that has thrust us into another season of Kings basketball.
Unlike past seasons, the 2017-18 campaign is singing a different tune. Making the playoffs is as much of an afterthought as it possibly can be; that’s far from the goal this season and all the players know that. Not just because of the youth on the roster but based on the fact that the Western Conference is primed to be as good as it’s ever been, and that’s saying something.
Sacramento is building for the future and their moves over the offseason encapsulate that. Bringing in guys like George Hill, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter wasn’t an attempt to push for the playoffs, it was purely for the benefit of the younger players on the roster who are being tabbed as the future.
However, with that said, don’t expect the rookies and sophomores to be gifted playing time; they’ll have to earn it. Especially considering the reputation coach Dave Joerger has with his fondness for playing veteran players.
The rotation is still very much up in the air, Joerger said it himself, which means training camp is going to play host to numerous position battles in which players, old and young, will be fighting for a spot in Sacramento’s rotation.
The Kings point guard rotation may be the most certain among all the positions. George Hill has an 99 percent chance of beginning the season as a starter, with Fox backing him up. It would take an injury or a disastrous training camp/preseason for Hill to not be one of the five names announced on opening night.
Hill is the best player on the roster, and his minutes early on will reflect that. He’s a player that Joerger will fall in love with, probably to a fault but that’s the reality we’re facing.
De’Aaron Fox will have to earn his minutes, and that’s how it should be. Maybe he dominates over the next two weeks and works his way into a starting role with Hill, but that seems like a longshot at this point.
Frank Mason is the other point guard option on the roster. He’ll have a tough time cracking the opening night rotation. Mason will have to blow everyone away during camp otherwise he’ll likely land in Reno.
Mason has defied odds for most of his basketball career due to his height and he fell in the draft because of it. It doesn’t prove a whole lot, but during Summer League he showed everyone what he can do when given playing time.
Mason’s resilience in college was reminiscent of another undersized guard whom the Kings selected No. 60 back in 2011, a player that was named to his first All-Star team this past season, a player the Kings traded away for…. you know where this is going.
There won’t be much of a ‘battle’ as such at point guard, maybe only for some extra minutes in the rotation, but other than that Joerger is probably already set here.
Now THIS is where it starts to get interesting. Figuring out the minutes distribution here is going to be an utter nightmare for the coaching staff. Following the All-Star break last season, Buddy Hield assumed the starting spot at shooting guard but that won’t give him any advantage coming into this season.
The starting spot at two-guard is completely up for grabs. Bogdan Bogdanovic has already submitted his case for the job after a stellar outing at EuroBasket earlier this month but he’ll have to back that up with strong play during camp.
Joerger loves himself some defense, which could favor veteran Garrett Temple, who also has a great chance to start. Temple turned in a career-year last season for the Kings and he certainly earned the coaching staff’s trust after some fantastic defensive performances against elite NBA players.
Hield would provide a reliable source of scoring and shooting if he remains the starter. His defense still leaves a lot to be desired though, which could hurt his chances.
Malachi Richardson is returning from injury and is eager to contribute the way he did prior to his season ending hamstring tear. He may have a better shot competing for minutes at small forward because finding minutes at guard will be tough.
Matt Jones will also be attending training camp after securing an invite. He’s on the outside looking in, so earning minutes will be an uphill battle in the guard logjam. Reno is a likely option for the former Duke Blue Devil.
Joerger and his staff will be paying close attention to the two-guards throughout the duration of training camp. Minutes can just as easily be lost as they can be won so the pressure is on for everyone here.
Like two-guard, the starting small forward spot is also up for grabs. The 40-year-old Vince Carter could make a case to start on opening night, and with his past relationship with Dave Joerger it’s a real possibility.
Carter’s best years are obviously behind him but he can still spot up and is somewhat effective on the perimeter so he would be far from a bad option.
The rookie Justin Jackson is a player to watch after his standout performances during Summer League. He was easily the Kings’ MVP during the tournament back in July. Jackson played with poise and looked ready to contribute right away.
His outside game is NBA ready and he’s also armed with a nifty floater which adds another dimension to his game. His defense still needs work, and he’ll need to bulk up in order to defend bigger forwards but on the whole, he may be the best option for the Kings.
Malachi Richardson has a chance for minutes here too if Carter can’t stay on the floor. He’s added a lot of muscle during the offseason and that will help him tremendously on defense, especially at the three. Richardson can easily work his way into the conversation for minutes if he performs well during training camp.
JaKarr Sampson, who joined the Kings on a two-way deal at the conclusion of Summer League, will be looking to make an impression. He’s essentially already locked in on the roster, and will likely spend most of his time in Reno due to the overwhelming amount of wings on the roster, but a strong training camp could change that. Sampson will be worth keeping an eye on.
Joerger has a combination of youth and experience at small forward so he can go either way. Training camp will be the deciding factor as far as the small forward rotation is concerned because as of now, it’s still up in the air.
Skal Labissiere earned himself the starting job post-All-Star break with some solid play. The addition of Zach Randolph could alter that this season.
Randolph came off the bench for the first time since 2003 last season but still played exceptionally well. During Joerger’s time in Memphis, Z-Bo was a starter so it’s possible we see that trend continue in Sacramento.
Randolph will be willing to do whatever is asked of him, he said it himself during his introductory press conference, so it’ll depend on the direction the coaching staff want to take. If he starts, he’ll provide the Kings with a post threat on offense, as well as tenacious rebounding. The same will apply if he comes off the bench so you can’t really lose there.
Labissiere still looked raw during Summer League which is a little concerning. He’s still just 21 years old though so there will be growing pains. Skal got bumped around on defense a lot last season and if that happens again he’ll lose minutes as a result.
Going up against Randolph in training camp will be tough for Labissiere, but he’ll learn from it big time. Not to mention Summer League sensation Jack Cooley who will grind the life out of you. Cooley has a shot at earning some minutes due to his gritty style of play, but it seems far fetched at this point.
Cooley is facing an uphill battle, but he’ll certainly have the backing of a loyal fan-base which he won over with his countless hustle plays and likable personality.
Harry Giles will presumably be suiting up too during camp. The likelihood that he’s in the opening night rotation is slim at this point, especially considering the cautious approach the Kings are taking with him. So his stint in training camp will likely be purely for development purposes.
Willie Cauley-Stein is the presumed favorite to start at center for Sacramento but there’s no guarantees that the odds tilt his way. He was the starter following the DeMarcus Cousins trade and he turned in some great performances, and some forgettable ones too.
Because of that he’s not a lock to start. Kosta Koufos will be wanting an opportunity to start and he’s got a solid chance to jump ahead of Cauley-Stein if he performs during camp. You know what you’re going to get from Koufos, and it’s because of that that may cause Joerger to go with the more reliable option to start the season.
Georgios Papagiannis looked bitterly raw during Summer League and that has probably already hurt his chances. He’ll have to turn in a strong outing in training camp/preseason if he wants rotation minutes and it just seems like a long-shot at this point.
Papagiannis showed flashes at the end of last season, a legitimate snapshot at the potential he has. But it’s going to take some time to fully unlock that potential so patience will be key with Papa G.
The Cauley-Stein vs. Koufos battle will be interesting to watch. Will Joerger go with reliable veteran production, or athletic upside?
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