JaKarr Sampson brings what the Kings need.
He plays with energy, hustle and desire when he plays – 30 minutes or 30 seconds, it doesn’t matter.
But Sampson is on a two-way contract, meaning he has to go back to the G League and rejoin the Reno Bighorns.
“I think he has to go to Reno (Tuesday) morning,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “I think I might postpone his trip.”
Postponing Sampson’s return to Reno was a joke, but the Kings would benefit if Sampson could leave his intangibles in Sacramento following a 104-98 victory over the Chicago Bulls on Monday at Golden 1 Center.
The Kings opened the game looking lethargic, something Sampson would never be accused of doing. Sacramento trailed 28-9 after the opening period, scoring a season low for a quarter.
But, the Kings would win behind their biggest comeback of the season – they trailed by 21 points.
Sampson played 18 minutes and had nine points and six rebounds, but it was his energy that helped the Kings become just the second team this season to score less than 10 points in a quarter and win a game. Miami scored seven points in the first quarter against Chicago and won 100-94 on Nov. 26.
“We were dragging, just a step slow,” Sampson said. “And I just came in and did what I always do, and that’s bring life, bring energy to the game and to my teammates. I enjoy doing that. That’s how I always play the game so it’s easy for me to do that so that’s what I did.”
As the Kings continue to work toward what they hope becomes a winning culture, they need to have players like Sampson around. He is a reminder that hustle and hard work can be considered talents.
“He’s not always up here, but when he’s up here he doesn’t worry about if he’s playing or not,” Kings guard Garrett Temple said. “He just brings that tremendous energy every time he steps on the court and young guys need to see that and understand. They’ve got people that grind and play hard when they come up here so don’t take it for granted that you’re in the NBA, because you’ve got guys like JaKarr on two-way contracts who are grinding.”
The Kings have not collectively played with that kind of energy consistently. Sampson cannot afford to play any other way. He was undrafted out of St. John’s in 2014 and has been able to make it in the pros because of his playing style.
Because he’s a two-way player, Sampson is limited to 45 days with the Kings and must spend the rest of the time in the G League. He makes the most of his opportunities with Sacramento because at 6-foot-9 with strength, athleticism and defensive versatility, he’s unlike any player on the Kings’ main roster.
He doesn’t mind doing the dirty work.
“That’s how you’ve got to be to make it in this league,” Sampson said. “Especially going undrafted and in the position I’m in, that’s what you’ve got to do. So it’s perfect, that’s what my game is for sure.”
Sampson’s selflessness comes across not just in diving for loose balls or chasing rebounds, but his willingness to risk being on the wrong end of a highlight for the sake of the team.
That was the case in the second quarter, when he tried to contest a dunk by Chicago guard and two-time Slam Dunk Contest winner Zach LaVine.
LaVine dunked all over Sampson.
“I don’t care about getting dunked on,” Sampson said. “I just care about making the right play and sacrificing my body for the team.”
Sampson also cares about playing basketball, which is why his style is to do whatever it takes to keep earning a paycheck. He’s always having fun, whether he’s on the court or cheering on teammates.
Sampson has played in 10 games for the Kings this season, but said he doesn’t keep track of how many days he’s spent with the Kings or when he is going to be recalled again.
“This is a game we’ve been playing as kids. You can’t lose that fun, the fun feeling of the game just because we’re getting paid for it,” Sampson said. “That’s the reason why we started playing, because it’s fun and we’re able to take care of our families doing it so that’s what I do, I go out there and have fun and bring energy and bring life.”
Energy and life are what the Kings have to figure out how to have, even when Sampson isn’t around.