Kings rookie George Papagiannis was introduced to Steven Adams on Saturday afternoon.
There was no one like Adams in the NBA Development League.
“He’s a really physical player,” Papagiannis said. “I’ve never played against a player like that. He’s strong and was a good matchup for me because I could realize how … to play against centers that are really strong and experienced. It was a great lesson to go forward.”
It’s a lesson the Kings hope Papagiannis can learn as he and the team progress. On Saturday, the Oklahoma City Thunder muscled to a 110-94 win against the Kings at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
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The loss dropped the Kings to 27-42, meaning the franchise will finish with a losing record for the 11th consecutive season.
Papaginannis scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, both season highs.
The Kings have brought along Papagiannis slowly. After a summer league stint that was stalled by an injury, the focus was to get the 19-year-old from Greece in better shape and to allow him to gain as much playing time as possible with the Reno Bighorns of the D-League.
Once the front office shifted the focus from making the playoffs to building for the future, there was more opportunity for Papagiannis to play.
In addition monitoring his conditioning and diet, the Kings drilled Papagiannis to improve his fundamentals on offense and defense.
“I’m in a rhythm right now,” Papagiannis said. “I started with 11 minutes, then 12 and then I got more minutes. I’m getting used to it because most of the time this year I’ve been playing for the D-League. When I got here, the last games were way different. Every game, every practice I’m just trying to get used the players because most of the time I was in Reno.”
Papagiannis (7-1, 240) played more Saturday to see how he’d handle playing against Adams and Enes Kanter, Oklahoma City’s high-scoring big man off the bench.
“(Papagiannis is) a physical guy,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “That’s why I went with him and Kosta (Koufos) at the same time for a little bit, to see if we could bang a little bit more, rebound a little bit better, and he did a good job.”
Papagiannis is learning it’s not easy to overpower players in the NBA, something he might have gotten away with in the D-League.
Adams is one the league’s most physical defenders and is known for his ability to rough up opponents and irk them with his strength and tactics.
“They’re going to come at him every single time as a rookie,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “It’s only going to make him stronger and tougher.”
Adams scored 16 points and totaled 13 rebounds. Kanter had 14 points.
Papagiannis learned much from the encounter.
“It feels different,” Papagiannis said. “In the D-League I’m so strong, but when you come here you see Steven and players like Enes, two strong physical players. It was just a lesson to see how it’s going to be in the next games.”
The Thunder (40-29) won their fifth straight game behind Russell Westbrook’s 28 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Doug McDermott came off the bench to add 21 points.
The Kings had won two in a row, but those wins came against Orlando and Phoenix, two teams nearly eliminated from playoff contention.
The Thunder led by as many as 27 points and never trailed after the first quarter.
“This is the fun time of year where you’re fighting for playoff position, you’re fighting for home-court advantage,” Joerger said. “They played fantastic and we learned a lot, especially in the first half … hopefully that’s where we’ll be in a couple years and keep taking steps forward.”
Welcome back – Kings rookie Buddy Hield received a warm welcome from fans when he was introduced as a starter Saturday.
Hield starred at the University of Oklahoma.
This time a year ago, Hield was on his way to the Final Four, where the Sooners lost to eventual champion Villanova.
“It’s been a crazy whirlwind,” Hield said. “Get drafted by New Orleans and then get traded to Sacramento, but thank God for the opportunity; I’m in a better situation now. I’m just in the position where I can keep getting better and learning and grinding.”
Hield scored 11 points on 4 of 12 shooting.
“Today the shots didn’t go down for some reason and everything was short,” Hield said. “But it was fun. This is the NBA; you got the next day to prove yourself and get better.”
Sitting out – Guards Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore were not with the team for personal reasons. Tyreke Evans, bothered by a sore left ankle, sat out for the second time in three games.