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The Kings’ bench is unlike any other in the NBA. How backups are outperforming starters

Buddy Hield: 'We are trying to get better'

Buddy Hield scored 19 off the bench, but the Kings fell 109-104 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in a game they trailed by as many as 20.
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Buddy Hield scored 19 off the bench, but the Kings fell 109-104 to the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday in a game they trailed by as many as 20.

A record can be impressive and infamous at the same time.

Last Saturday, the Kings’ bench scored the team’s first 29 points in Milwaukee, tying the record they set against Oklahoma City on Nov. 7. The previous record was 23 by Milwaukee’s bench at Orlando in 2011.

It’s an encouraging sign for the Kings’ reserves, but in both cases the starters’ ineptitude put them in that position.

Sacramento’s lineups have performed inconsistently at the beginning of the first and third quarters. The Kings have used nine starting lineups this season, and some of those players have performed better as reserves. Bench players benefit from often avoiding the opponents’ best players. But the Kings’ bench is unlike any other in the NBA.

Sacramento is the only team to split minutes evenly between starters and reserves, on average. The bench entered Thursday averaging league highs of 49.8 points and 24 minutes per game.

“We all try to stay aggressive because that’s what we are, we’re a bunch of scorers that’s what we do,” guard Buddy Hield said of the reserves. “When coach puts us in, if the team’s not in the game we try to get them back in the game, bring some type of spark, some type of energy and get us going again.”

Hield has increased his accuracy with the second unit, where he can be the focal point of the offense. He was shooting 35.4 percent in seven games as a starter, but in 15 as a reserve, he’s shooting 49.7 percent, including 56.7 percent on 3-pointers.

Center Willie Cauley-Stein and guard Bogdan Bogdanovic have also increased their productivity by coming off the bench.

Cauley-Stein averaged 7.9 points and 5.2 rebounds in 15 starts compared to 14.5 points and 7.1 rebounds in eight games as a reserve. Bogdanovic is averaging 10.2 points in 12 games off the bench and 8.8 points in nine starts.

Point guard De’Aaron Fox, meanwhile, has seen his production dip after becoming a regular with the first unit, averaging 8.6 points in 12 starts and 11.6 points in 12 off the bench.

Frank Mason III, who hasn’t started a game this season, is emerging as a solid point guard. Mason said the past six or seven games, the bench has continued to come together.

“If not the same five (players), it’s been like the same three or four,” Mason said. “I think we’ve been playing pretty well together, first or second unit. We just have to keep doing that, cut out the transition points and take a lot more pride on the defensive end.”

But for all the Kings’ impressive bench stats, their starting lineup ranks on the opposite end of the spectrum, averaging an NBA-low 45.8 points per game, 10.9 points worse than Memphis, which ranks second to last.

Sacramento’s starting lineups have a league-worst point differential of minus-7.2. The differential for the reserves is minus-2.7, 25th in the NBA.

The Kings’ backups speak of the freedom they feel coming off the bench. Sometimes that means protecting a lead, but more times than not, it’s trying to overcome a deficit. In many cases, reserves find themselves finishing games.

“I feel like guys are scoring and sharing the ball and playing at a high level,” Hield said of the reserves after scoring 17 points Wednesday in a loss at Cleveland. “We’re moving without the ball, we look for each other in transition and try to make the right play.”

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

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