Calling the San Antonio Spurs the model NBA franchise has become cliché, but that doesn’t make it any less true.
They have groomed young players, found gems late in the draft and taken players other teams had no use for and turned them into key components to their success.
For Kings rookie Buddy Hield to be the player he wants to be, he’ll probably have to do what many others have had to do for nearly two decades and that’s overcome the Spurs at some point in his career.
So even though the Kings were beaten soundly, 118-102 on Sunday at AT&T Center, Hield left the arena feeling better about his game. He scored18 points and had five assists.
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“I grew some confidence this game, seeing where I can compete at,” Hield said. “If you can play with these guys, you can play with anybody else.”
The Kings as a whole aren’t ready to compete with the Spurs, who at 53-16 are championship contenders. Sacramento’s early 14-2 lead didn’t rattle San Antonio, which picked up its intensity in the second quarter and eventually lead by 28 points.
There was too much of Pau Gasol (22 points, nine rebounds), Tony Parker (16 points, seven assists) and LaMarcus Aldridge (18 points, eight rebounds), among others.
“They come at you in waves and waves and they did a good job,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “The biggest story is they’re bigger and more experienced and they threw us around, got to the rim, got to the foul line.”
For Hield, that meant being matched up at times against All-Star forward Kawhi Leonard, the two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and considered by many as the league’s best perimeter defender.
Hield doesn’t possess the size, strength or experience of Leonard, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t taking notes on what Leonard does.
“Kawhi’s always active,” Hield said. “And just watching him, he’s always trying to set a tone on defense and change the game. And just competing, he’s a two-way player and still competing on the offensive end, too. Going against him. I’m taking the challenge, too.”
Leonard didn’t have a great offensive game, but he still had a team-best plus/minus of plus-17.
How the Spurs rebounded from losing consecutive games to dismantle the Kings is something Joerger would like to see his team be able to do in future seasons.
The Kings (27-43) have lost two in a row and 10 of 13.
“It’s a high level they’re playing at,” Hield said. “They’ve got a lot of vets, professionals on their team that understand the game and it’s a great example us young guys can learn from them because one day that’s what we’re trying to get. Playing with that continuity and the flow they have. It’s exciting to watch them play.”
Some of those lessons can only be learned through experience. Hield has shown he can score for the Kings, averaging 13.3 points in his first 12 games with Sacramento entering Sunday. But he’ll see the league will adjust and make it tougher.
“(Oklahoma City’s) Andre Roberson was on him last game, so he’s had two (solid) defenders on him the last two games and he’s still been able to put up some numbers and understand where he’s going to be able to get his shots, pick his spots, but also look and see what they do,” Kings swingman Garrett Temple said.
Hield still has room to grow on defense, like any rookie. Teams like the Spurs have the savvy to make most squads look bad on defense.
That end of the court will not be ignored by the Kings’ coaching staff.
“We’ll show him the video,” Joerger said. “Some of it’s physical and some of it is mental and some of it is experience where guys go at guys and get them in spots and you just try to learn through that.”
Willie Cauley-Stein also had 18 points for the Kings. Temple scored 15 points and Skal Labissiere had 14.
Sitting out – Kings guards Arron Afflalo and Ben McLemore were not with the the team for personal reasons. They also missed Saturday’s game at Oklahoma City.
Tyreke Evans was out for the third time in four games with a sore left ankle.
San Antonio rested guard Manu Ginobili. Guard Dejounte Murray was out with a groin injury.