Since training camp began, Kings coach Dave Joerger has dropped subtle and not-so-subtle hints that his team might be much further away from being competitive than some might have hoped.
The first true test will come Wednesday night when the Kings open the season at home against the Utah Jazz, the same team that eviscerated them in a 39-point blowout last week at Golden 1 Center.
That performance prompted some candid remarks from Joerger, who might have revealed how far his young players have to go when he mentioned how much he has simplified the team’s playbook.
“You try to simplify it as much as possible,” Joerger said. “The offensive playbook is like 18 percent of what it would normally be. It is very much reduced so we can spend time teaching guys how to pass, when to dribble (and) shoot.”
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The Kings struggled defensively against Jazz center Rudy Gobert, who had 18 points and seven rebounds before sitting out the second half. Utah shot 60 percent from the field and made 14 of 30 from 3-point range while holding the Kings to 34.4-percent shooting overall and 3-of-18 shooting from beyond the arc.
“The game is going awful fast for a lot of our young guys, more so at the defensive end,” Joerger said. “It’s just going to take time. And they’re practicing against each other. There’s no Rudy Gobert in our gym to practice against day in and day out. So practices have been good, practices have been spirited, practices have been competitive. We look good against each other, so we’ve got to keep that spirit up and try to stay positive and keep getting better.”
Joerger would not reveal a starting lineup for Wednesday’s game following Tuesday’s practice, but he noted each of the past two days that data analytics support the idea of playing small forward Justin Jackson at the power forward position. Jackson averaged only 7.8 points and 1.7 rebounds in six preseason games, but Joerger said center Willie Cauley-Stein was better with Jackson on the floor.
“I think the numbers bear out we’re better and faster with Justin Jackson at the 4, playing in space,” Joerger said. “Willie’s plus-minus was always best when he was playing with a small 4.”
The problem with that approach is it could cut into the available minutes for rookies Marvin Bagley III and Harry Giles III, which might put Joerger at odds with the organization’s commitment to develop its young players.
“I’m serving a lot of masters as far as development and trying to get a lot of guys minutes,” Joerger said. “So how you weigh what is the most important and what is also important and how you can accomplish all those things at the same time can be difficult, (but) I’m going to try to do it.”
Giles, eager to play his first official NBA game after sitting out last season, said it will take time for the team’s young core to develop, echoing Joerger’s calls for patience.
“We’re young and it will come together,” Giles said. “I believe in this team. My concern is people are going to think we’re supposed to have it all together in one day or one week or 10 games. It’s a whole process because guys are young.”