There was a time in Sacramento when Kings were kings and a bunch of backups were loved and celebrated in ways that lionized bench players such as Jon Barry, Bobby Jackson, Hedo Turkoglu and Scot Pollard.
They called them the Bench Mob and they were an integral part of Kings teams that challenged for Western Conference supremacy under former coach Rick Adelman around the turn of the century. Now, there’s a new crew in Sacramento — affectionately known as Yogi, Bogi, JJ, Bagley and Giles — a new-age band of brothers who bring character, charisma and life to Golden 1 Center the way the Bench Mob electrified Arco Arena a generation ago.
“They’ve been huge for us all year,” said De’Aaron Fox, the team’s starting point guard. “Guys come in off the bench and ... they bring so much energy. They’re able to put that ball in the basket. We’ve got guys coming off the bench who could possibly be starting, so our bench unit has definitely been playing well for us.”
The Kings (23-22) will continue a season-long six-game trip when they visit the Detroit Pistons (19-24) on Saturday. This stretch could set a course for the rest of the season for a team seeking its first playoff appearance since 2005-06. If the Kings are to stay in contention until they come home nearly two weeks from now, they will need key contributions from their backups, who have routinely outscored the opposition’s bench.
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There’s Yogi Ferrell, the undersized combo guard who is shooting 47.6 percent from 3-point range over the past 10 games; Bogdan Bogdanovic, the Serbian sniper whose buzzer-beating 3-pointer beat the Los Angeles Lakers last month; and Justin Jackson, who has rewarded coaches for their patience and emerged as a dependable 3-point shooter and defender after struggling in his rookie season. Then there’s Marvin Bagley and Harry Giles, rising rookies who represent a promising future for a long-suffering franchise.
The biggest key to the bench unit’s success has been Bogdanovic, who started 53 games as a rookie before moving into a backup role this season. He’s averaging 15.4 points, 3.8 assists and 3.6 rebounds.
Bogdanovic has come off the bench 26 times since missing the first 10 games while recovering from knee surgery. The Kings had an advantage in points off the bench in 20 of those contests. They are 14-12 when Bogdanovic comes off the bench. They are 2-5 when he starts.
Bogdanovic is capable of playing multiple positions and frequently handles point-guard duties when Fox goes to the bench.
“He’s a pro,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “He’s been in a lot of big games throughout the course of his career, especially overseas, and so he’s been a joy for me to coach. You can do a lot of things with him. He’s a very cerebral, high-level thinker, and the things he can do with the basketball ... he can make a lot of plays for himself, but actually, I think he’s a better playmaker than he is a shooter, and I think he’s a heck of a shooter.”
Jackson, who started 41 games last season, is shooting 41.2 percent from 3-point range since Nov. 1 and has established himself as one of the team’s best perimeter defenders. He logs most of his minutes at small forward and has carved out a role as a small-ball power forward.
“I think the guy is just getting experience and playing a number of games and feeling comfortable, and the game is slowing down a little bit for him,” Joerger said. “Some of these matchups he’s seen six times over the course of two years, and you just feel a little bit more comfortable finding your spot.”
There is a great deal of excitement over Bagley and Giles, who could make up the team’s front line of the future. Bagley was the No. 2 pick in last summer’s NBA Draft. Giles was selected with the 20th pick in 2017 but was projected as a potential No. 1 pick before a series of knee injuries nearly crippled his career.
Bagley averages 12.5 points and 6.5 rebounds in 23 minutes per game despite missing 14 games due to back and knee injuries. His averages per 36 minutes of 19.6 points, 10.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots hint at the kind of player he could be as a starter.
Giles averages 5.5 points and 3.3 rebounds but has recently established a regular role in Joerger’s rotation after struggling with aspects of the game early this season. Despite those struggles, Giles has per-36 averages of 16.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, 4.4 assists and 2.2 steals.
Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said each young big man has a bright future.
“They play hard,” he said. “They’re going to make mistakes, but if you make mistakes going hard, it’s acceptable. ... They’ve got to learn somehow, and they’re getting the time to experiment with their game and learn.”
Kings small forward Iman Shumpert said the bench unit has been critical to the team’s success.
“They can score that ball,” Shumpert said. “I think bringing Harry back and allowing him more minutes has given us a comfort with that second unit. We already had Bogi and Yogi playing at a high level, (and) Justin’s shooting the ball really well. When you have Harry with that vision in the high post as well as the finishes in the low post, I think it just calms us down.”
Jackson said the backups have embraced their roles.
“I was joking with Yogi on the bench like, ‘Man, there should be an award for the best second unit,’” Jackson said. “We just try to go in there and do our job, bring energy and make some plays while the starters get some rest, and I think we’ve been doing that on a pretty consistent basis.”