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Kings’ Dave Joerger plans to play small even with four centers on roster

New Kings coach Dave Joerger looks to evaluate roster while still preaching defense

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There were plenty of jokes early in the offseason about whether the Kings planned to be the only NBA team to start five post players.

DeMarcus Cousins at point guard, anyone?

I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that are big in their second unit, so I don’t think you’re going to come out and play small to start. I think it’s something you’ve got to be able to go to and be able to match up and defend. And be able to match up and play small and be versatile.

Dave Joerger, Kings coach

The past two years, the Kings have drafted a center in the first round (Willie Cauley-Stein, George Papagiannis) despite already having an All-Star center in Cousins. Last season, they also signed Kosta Koufos, a solid center, and in June, they drafted 6-foot-11 forward Skal Labissiere, giving the team five players listed at 6-11 or taller.

That’s a lot of size in a league where small ball is the way of life for many teams. Coach Dave Joerger is beginning to formulate his strategy for his big men this week in training camp. But he said he’s not inclined to go with big frontcourt lineups for extended stretches of games.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that are big in their second unit, so I don’t think you’re going to come out and play small to start,” Joerger said Wednesday. “I think it’s something you’ve got to be able to go to and be able to match up and defend. And be able to match up and play small and be versatile.”

With Cousins, Cauley-Stein and Koufos already on board, the addition of Papagiannis was surprising. Joerger also plans to use Matt Barnes as a power forward, and Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi can play both forward spots, so minutes for big men besides Cousins could be hard to come by.

Cauley-Stein said the second day of training camp was too soon to worry about playing time.

“We’re not really playing against each other yet,” Cauley-Stein said. “You’ve got to do the things you can control, which is be on time, get your extra work in, make sure you’re crisp running through plays. Really just the little things, talking, doing all of that because that might separate you from someone else that’s running in your spot.”

Regardless of the lineup, Cousins will anchor the frontcourt. He will operate in the high post, similar to how Marc Gasol played for Joerger for three seasons with the Memphis Grizzlies.

But Joerger does not plan to plant Cousins in one spot. Cousins’ role will change depending on the personnel alongside him.

We’ve got one of the best offensive players in the league (DeMarcus Cousins) and he’s going to get most of the touches. So you’ve got to be able to stay mentally in the game, and if you’re in a spot to score, you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop and be able to finish. Other than that, you’ve got to be able to play team defense and make sure you’re anchoring down and talking on defense because that’s really where that spot’s going to be.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Kings center-power forward

“Sometimes (Cousins will play) with Kosta. Sometimes he’s going to play with Matt Barnes,” Joerger said. “When you’re with this guy, you’re more of a pop guy; with this guy, you’ll play more high-low; in this situation, you’re more of a playmaker at the elbow. I’m hoping that, and from what I’ve seen, he’s got a pretty good IQ to be able to play chess with him and move him around a bit.”

In the offseason, Cauley-Stein worked on skills to help him fit into Joerger’s system. He said Joerger wants his big men to look to score and be aggressive.

But Joerger is preaching defense every chance he gets, so big or small, that will be a key in earning playing time.

“We’ve got one of the best offensive players in the league (Cousins) and he’s going to get most of the touches,” Cauley-Stein said. “So you’ve got to be able to stay mentally in the game, and if you’re in a spot to score, you’ve got to put the ball in the hoop and be able to finish. Other than that, you’ve got to be able to play team defense and make sure you’re anchoring down and talking on defense because that’s really where that spot’s going to be.”

Joerger was an assistant coach in Memphis under Lionel Hollins with Gay.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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