The Kings jumped out to a big early lead over the visiting Thunder Monday night, then withstood a furious Russell Westbrook-led surge, then made a series of clutch buckets and free throws in the final five minutes to secure their second win over OKC this season. Five Kings scored in double-figures; the team made 16 three-pointers and dished 29 assists; Marvin Bagley III recorded his first career double-double. It was a good win.
The Kings are now a game over .500. Time will tell whether they’re actually Good now—their offensive and defensive ratings have both sagged into the lower half of the NBA after a pristine start, and their shooting percentages still look unsustainably high. This shit will be fluid as hell for the next couple weeks, still. But, for now, the Kings are for sure feisty and fun and professional-grade, and in the context of recent Kings basketball, that is really not nothing. Dave Joerger should be considered among the early favorites for Coach of the Year, if not mayor of Sacramento.
He also might get shit-canned! Not because the Kings aren’t yet contenders, but because Joerger is prioritizing sticking with what has the team playing its current brand of competitive basketball over what would most gratify the ego and melted brain of personnel honcho Vlade Divac:
Sources said the franchise is growing frustrated with how Joerger is distributing minutes and assigning roles to the team’s young prospects.
The front office views this season as a development year, sources said, but it was still confident that the team would be competitive and grow with Bagley, promising guard De’Aaron Fox, and forwards Harry Giles and Skal Labissiere meaningful minutes.
The upshot of this Chris Haynes report is Divac wants to see more minutes for Bagley, Giles, and [gulp] Skal, and fewer minutes for the very veterans he acquired in free agency. Even though Giles and Skal are bad; even though giving more minutes to young and inexperienced players like Bagley and Giles would almost certainly torpedo the team’s chances of playing respectable basketball on a nightly basis; even though Skal is a hopelessly lost NBA player who personifies buttness.
There is a call from within the franchise for Bagley to receive more minutes, sources said. Bagley — who sources said was projected internally to be among the starting forwards before the season — is critical to the organization’s future.
Labissiere, the 28th pick in the 2016 draft, has only appeared in five games and is averaging a career-low 5.6 minutes. Giles, the 20th pick in the 2017 draft, is seeing just 10 minutes per contest.
There’s no law of physics that says what the Kings are doing under Joerger will for sure lead to a better basketball product a year or two years or five years from now. Playing respectable basketball now might accelerate the development of, say, De’Aaron Fox, who is already a wonderful player, and might make Bagley’s perfectly reasonable 23 minutes a night more competitive and a better proving ground for his expanding skills. And Joerger’s rotations might stunt or halt Giles’s development and ruin his confidence, might foreclose on the last flickering hope that Skal will be anything other than 115 percent of Chris McCullough. The Kings could give Giles 25 minutes a night and get nothing from that effort beyond worse basketball, fewer wins, less optimism around the team, and the firm sense that he’s a tomato can. Divac evidently views that as a more worthwhile takeaway from this season than what is gained by instead giving those minutes to Nemanja Bjelica. Absolutely no one on earth can say which route leads to which result, which is just an enormously frustrating truth to swallow. It’s tempting to use a 9–8 start to the season as the basis for grand pronouncements about the viability of this or that plan, but the fact is Fox could nuke his ACL next week and punt this entire hopeful chapter of Kings basketball back into the swamp. No one knows!
But it’s also a quintessentially cosmic-brained post-Process way of thinking to fret over whether playing good, competitive basketball with one of the youngest, least-proven cores in the league is somehow bad for the development of your young players. From the moment a player is drafted, the odds are extremely against him becoming a star; the odds are strongly against him becoming a starter; the odds don’t think much of him even becoming a top-end rotation player. It’s OK if the Kings don’t wring a ton of value out of Giles this season! It’s OK if Skal is a lost cause! The Kings are winning basketball games. Given their history, it would be downright cruel to throw that back in order to take a longer look at Skal Labissiere. The very last thing in the world your average Kings fan wants is any more looks at Skal.
At any rate, it’s incredibly depressing to watch the fast and fearless young Kings stand up and trade punches with a veteran playoff team and emerge with another encouraging win, and have it lingering in the back of your brain that this cool and exciting thing they’ve got could be thrust back into chaos because Vlade Divac would rather see Bagley get another eight minutes of burn per game in his rookie season, even if it has to come in garbage time, against scrubs. Enjoy this run while it lasts, I guess. Winning basketball is elusive and alchemical and requires tremendous luck. Losing basketball is the most familiar thing in the world, especially in Sacramento, where it apparently remains somehow better than the alternative.