If there’s a team that really needs its development-league affiliate, it’s the Kings.
That’s evident after observing them for more than a quarter of the season, and it reminds of a conversation with a former league executive over the summer.
“There’s a reason teams don’t want three and four first-round picks in the same draft,” the former executive told me. “It’s tough enough to focus on developing one or two guys, much less four.”
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Well, the Kings have faced that scenario in back-to-back seasons, with three first-rounders from both the 2016 and ’17 drafts. In all, they have nine first- or second-year players.
That’s why assigning rookie Justin Jackson and second-year players Skal Labissiere and Malachi Richardson to the Reno Bighorns, while an unpopular move, is the right decision. It came as a surprise, considering Jackson was in the starting lineup on opening night and Labissiere also spent time as a starter. But this is where the Kings are now.
There’s no need for young players to waste away on the bench. Practice time becomes sparse as the grind of the season continues. Labissiere was struggling while Jackson and Richardson barely played. So there’s no better place for them, or Kings’ 2016 top pick Georgios Papagiannis, than in the G League with Reno when minutes are scarce.
Labissiere, Jackson and Richardson were recalled Saturday after the Kings’ two-game trip.
Yes, they could all play if the veterans just happily sat and conceded minutes for the sake of the future. That’s not good for their development, or for the eyes. Is it really fun to watch the freshman team get blasted by the varsity squad?
“It’s just generally not great practice for us if we put at least four young guys on the floor together,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “It can get ugly.”
The Kings are committed to playing De’Aaron Fox. They believe he will be their franchise player, and they’re willing to let him figure things out.
It’s impossible to keep the Kings’ other rookie point guard off the floor these days, too. Frank Mason III’s play and toughness are reminiscent of a young Derek Fisher.
Bogdan Bogdanovic, a first-rounder in 2014, is the oldest rookie and has overseas experience, but is still adjusting to the NBA.
That’s already three rookies in the rotation.
Buddy Hield is the only second-year player with enough of a track record to justify a consistent place in the rotation.
Toss in third-year center Willie Cauley-Stein and that’s five players in a 10-man rotation to develop while also trying to remain competitive.
The Kings use 10 or 11 players every night, which is annoying for veterans who like to know they’re getting extended run or young players who want more than a few minutes to show their mettle.
Going down to an eight- or even nine-man rotation might make it easier to evaluate players, but it also means fewer young guys in the mix.
“We’ve got to see what we have,” Joerger said. “Our front office needs to see which guys are productive with which guys and what the future is. And I need to look at our team and who plays well with each other.”
So while the Kings try to prove you can develop a lot of players at once, they’re wise to rely on Reno.
Zach Randolph is going to get some consideration for Western Conference Player of the Week. Whether he wins or not is unimportant. Just consider that at 36, Randolph is doing what he’s always done and having his way on offense.
He’s averaging 25.0 points and 10.8 rebounds over his last four games.
Home games for now. The Kings are in the midst of playing eight of 10 games on the road. The Kings have won three of their last five road games, and are 4-11 on the road this season.
Speaking of developing players, the Kings visit Minnesota this week, which has two recent Rookie of the Year winners (Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns), but finally have the look of a playoff team because they added veterans like Jimmy Butler, Taj Gibson and Jeff Teague.