Kings coach Dave Joerger tipped his hand in Monday’s game against Maccabi Haifa. He will likely present a clearer picture of his regular-season rotation when the Kings play the Utah Jazz on Thursday night at Golden 1 Center before concluding their preseason schedule on the road Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Joerger used 14 players in a 132-100 victory over Maccabi Haifa, but only nine saw significant minutes. De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason III started in the backcourt with Justin Jackson, Nemanja Bjelica and Willie Cauley-Stein. Buddy Hield, Yogi Ferrell, Harry Giles III and Marvin Bagley III played key roles off the bench.
Joerger indicated that those players would make up his core rotation until guard Bogdan Bogdanovic returns from knee surgery in the coming weeks.
“It may not come out exactly like it did tonight, but it’s pretty much the candidates going forward,” Joerger said after the game. “I’ve had a good chance to see guys in different roles and we’ve got two more games to look at some different combinations of guys.”
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Most notable among those who could be left out of the rotation: Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos and Skal Labissiere. Randolph, the team’s leading scorer last season, and Koufos have yet to appear in a preseason game. Labissiere, who started two of the first three preseason games, averaging 8.0 points and 3.7 rebounds, logged only six minutes against Maccabi Haifa.
Mason appears to have played his way into the rotation – at least to begin the season – despite the fact that Sacramento added another backup point guard when it signed Ferrell as a free agent. In four preseason games, Mason has averaged 11.5 points and 5.8 assists. He is shooting 61.9 percent from the field and has made 4 of 7 from 3-point range.
“Frank does what Frank does,” Joerger said. “He’s hard-nosed and he’s a good guy that the coach always knows he can go to and you’re going to get 110 percent from him. He gets to the paint and he fights for every inch of the court, and I think that’s what people respect about Frank.”
Bogdanovic will likely be inserted in the starting lineup when he returns, which could cut into Mason’s minutes. It is unclear whether Joerger plans to start Hield or use him in a backup role as he did last season. Hield started the first three preseason games, averaging 9.7 points on 11-of-33 shooting. He came off the bench against Maccabi Haifa, posting 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting.
“That’s on me to make a decision (based) on what I see,” Joerger said when asked about Hield’s role after Wednesday’s practice, declining to elaborate.
The Utah and Portland games will represent the Kings’ second back-to-back this preseason. Last week, they suffered a 128-123 loss to the Lakers on Thursday and a 122-94 loss to the Warriors on Friday. Sacramento was 5-11 on the second night of a back-to-back last season.
“We have 14 back-to-backs throughout the course of the year, so we’ve got to get better,” Joerger said. “That first back-to-back wasn’t great for us, so we definitely have to perform better in those situations.”
Joerger said he doesn’t know how much the Kings will learn about Utah when they face the Jazz on Thursday, six days before they meet again in the season opener at Golden 1 Center.
“It’s hard to say because you don’t know who they’re going to play,” Joerger said. “I know who we’re going to play. If you’re them and the experience they’ve got, you might not show a lot. If you’re us, we’re so young, we need to get better. Whatever it is that we can work at, we’re not going to be secretive about stuff. We’ve just got to play and continue to improve.”