One player whom coach George Karl has raved about during training camp says he can help the Kings’ offense without scoring or making an assist.
Kosta Koufos says a good screen can be just as important as finding an open shooter, which he learned by dedication to his craft.
“Patience, experience and just being efficient – those little things (translate) to big things.” Koufos said after Friday’s practice at UC San Diego. “If you’re rolling to the basket and you’re not getting the ball, you’re still getting other guys open on the wings. Little things like that carry over in the long run.”
Koufos wasn’t Sacramento’s flashiest free-agent signing during the offseason. The 7-foot, 265-pound center enters his eighth season averaging 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds. But Koufos’ patience in refining his game could prove to be exactly what the Kings need. His presence on offense could allow DeMarcus Cousins more freedom to play away from the basket.
On defense, Karl sees a player who will provide rim protection and improve Sacramento’s overall play, which has been among the league’s worst. Koufos knows about defense, having spent the past two seasons playing in Memphis’ grinding style.
Before that, he spent two-plus seasons playing for Karl in Denver. Along the way, Koufos has played with talented big men.
“I’ve been with some real good company, especially post players,” Koufos said. “I’ve been through it all, and all those experiences have helped me become a solid player.”
Nene and Kenyon Martin were with Koufos in Denver. All-Stars Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph were teammates of Koufos in Memphis.
Playing in Denver helped shape Koufos, a first-round pick out of Ohio State by Utah in 2008. He spent his rookie season playing behind Mehmet Okur, a center with a good outside shot, when Koufos wasn’t playing in the NBA Development League.
After two seasons in Utah, he was traded to Minnesota. He spent part of the 2010-11 season with the Timberwolves before being dealt to Denver, which changed his career.
“I think the first year I was in Denver – with Nene and Kenyon Martin, and learning from those guys in practice and the aggressive manner in which they play and how much heart they play with – helped me out a lot,” Koufos said. “Every year I wanted to build, do the little things right, and be consistent and healthy. God willing, I’ve been healthy so far and blessed to be in the league a long period of time.”
Karl recalled coaching Koufos.
“Kosta, when I had him, was a young player; you didn’t give him a long leash,” Karl said. “When he didn’t play well, you didn’t play him a lot.”
In Karl’s last season in Denver, Koufos averaged career highs of 8.0 points and 6.9 rebounds. Karl said Koufos is better than in that 2012-13 season.
“Kosta’s developed a game now where fundamentally he doesn’t make many mistakes,” Karl said. “He’s a very good big-guy defender. He knows how to stay on the court. He’s not a flashy player, but he’s a guy you’re going to like having on the court.”
Koufos said Cousins is a “unique talent” because he can handle the ball in addition to play in the post and on the perimeter. In early practices, Koufos has spent time playing center with Cousins next to him as a power forward.
Having played with Gasol and Randolph the past two seasons, Koufos is adept at blending his game with All-Star talent. Cousins gladly refers to Koufos as a “banger.”
“You just learn how to play off the talent,” Koufos said. “With DeMarcus, I’m learning how to play off and space for him and whoever else is in the game with me. And that’s just how it is – you play smart; you play efficient.”
Karl obviously trusts Koufos. Whether he will start next to Cousins or come off the bench to stabilize the second unit has not been determined.
Koufos said he can handle either role.
“I’ve shown in this league I can start,” Koufos said. “At the same time, I’m a professional, and whenever I’m going to play, I’m going to play hard. That’s always been my motto.”