The search for answers starts Friday when the Kings play the Portland Trail Blazers in their home opener after an abysmal trip to Phoenix raised concerns about the team’s health and playoff prospects just 24 hours into a new season.
Kings coach Luke Walton said following Friday’s morning shootaround he will start Nemanja Bjelica in place of Marvin Bagley III, the team’s prized young power forward. Bagley is expected to be sidelined four to six weeks after suffering a non-displaced fracture of his right thumb in a 124-95 loss to the Phoenix Suns in Wednesday’s season opener.
The Kings went 9-11 in games Bagley missed due to various injuries last season, but losing him now could further disrupt continuity as they implement a new system under a new coaching staff with a number of new rotational players.
“That’s a little bump in the road as far as what we’re trying to get done, but it’s part of the game,” Walton said. “It’s unfortunate and we’re going to miss (Bagley), but we’ve got to keep moving forward to find groups that give us the best chance of winning.”
Bjelica started 70 games for the Kings last season, averaging 9.6 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.9 assists. He shot 47.9 percent from the field and 40.1 percent from 3-point range.
“(Bjelica) is going to give us some spacing,” Walton said. “Belly’s a vet. He’s done this before. We’re very confident in what he can do in knowing the offense with either group at that spot.”
Walton said the Kings will also continue to use small-ball lineups with Harrison Barnes at power forward and Bogdan Bogdanovic or Trevor Ariza at small forward.
Additional help could be on the way with center Harry Giles III nearing a return after left knee soreness caused him to miss the preseason.
Giles started participating in noncontact drills last week. He was a full participant in Thursday’s practice and could be cleared to return soon, but the team won’t rush him back as a result of Bagley’s injury.
Giles has a history of severe knee injuries and hasn’t appeared in a game since March. He missed the last 11 games of the 2018-19 season with a left thigh contusion. The team later held him out of summer league action.
“I’m excited,” Giles said. “No timetable still, but when I get out there I’m going to be excited and do what I do.”
Giles made no excuses for the blowout in Phoenix, but he said the team is still developing chemistry and cohesiveness.
“We’ve just got to learn each other still,” Giles said. “Not to say we should go get beat by 30, but still you’ve got to be patient. We’ve got to wait for it to gel and it’s going to take some time — new faces, new teammates — but we’re going to get it together.”
Portland Trail Blazers: OUT — Pau Gasol (left foot fracture), Jusuf Nurkic (left lower leg fracture).
Kings: OUT — Marvin Bagley III (right thumb frature), Harry Giles III (left knee soreness).
Sacramento Kings upcoming schedule
Oct. 25 vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Oct. 26 at Utah Jazz
Oct. 28 vs. Denver Nuggets
Oct. 30 vs. Charlotte Hornets
Nov. 1 vs. Utah Jazz