Kings will rely heavily on younger players Fox, Bagley

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) – As one of the NBA’s youngest teams for a second straight season, the Sacramento Kings are thinking long term.

It’s not that the Kings are giving up hope on ending their 13-year playoff drought. The roster is laden with young and mostly unproven players, coupled with playing in a Western Conference that got even tougher with the arrival of LeBron James. So Sacramento’s focus is as much on development as instant success.

“It’s a season where we’re going to commit to playing even more young guys than we have in the past,” Joerger said. “It’s an opportunity for guys to develop and it’s an opportunity for the organization to evaluate long-term which guys will still be considered a core guy two, three, four years from now.”

That means a lineup that likely will be in flux most of the season – not surprising for a team that finished 27-55 a year ago.

The Kings last made the playoffs in 2005. They have won more than 35 games just once since then.

Most of the youth comes Sacramento’s last three draft classes.

Point guard De’Aaron Fox, one of three first-round picks by the Kings in 2017, is the centerpiece of Joerger’s offense. Fox averaged 11.6 points but was inconsistent at times and struggled in the half-court offense.

Justin Jackson, who started 41 games as a rookie, returns while center Harry Giles is expected to play a key role after sitting out all of last season recovering from a third knee surgery.

Buddy Hield, a first-rounder in 2016, and Marvin Bagley III, the second overall pick in this year’s draft, will figure heavily into Joerger’s rotation. Hield will start in the backcourt alongside Fox while Bogdan Bogdanovic recovers from offseason surgery. Bagley should provide scoring relief while splitting time at power forward and in the post.

“We have a lot of guys that need the experience,” Joerger said. “Each guy kind of brings a different thing to the party. I’m going to play them all. They all need to be developed.”

MISSING BOGDAN

Bogdanovic was one of the few bright spots during Sacramento’s up-and-down season, providing consistent scoring from the perimeter. But the second-year shooting guard is likely to miss the first month of the season after injuring his left knee playing for the Serbian national team in September.

That means Fox likely will be likely without his backcourt mate for the first month of the season, a significant blow to the Kings offense.

Bogdanovic led Sacramento in minutes played last season and averaged 11.8 points. He was the team’s third-best 3-point shooter and second in assists behind Fox.

VET IN NEW ROLE

Zach Randolph is the highest-paid player on the roster but could find playing time difficult to come by as the Kings move forward with their youth movement.

The 37-year-old Randolph, who led Sacramento in scoring and was second in rebounding in 2017, was in and out of the lineup over the final month.

Randolph still remain a big presence in the locker room because of his leadership, something Sacramento lost when Vince Carter signed with the Atlanta Hawks in the offseason.

BUSY ON BOARDS

Sacramento, one of the worst rebounding teams in the NBA last season, is looking to Bagley to change that. The 6-foot-11 Bagley was the ACC player of the year during his one season at Duke when he averaged a double-double, grabbing 11.1 rebounds a game.

“He’s special,” Randolph said. “He’s got a great attitude, a tough mindset. He just has to keep working.”

THE NEW GUY

Joerger’s desire to improve the Kings depth and slow offense figured heavily in the decision to sign free agent Nemanja Bjelica in the offseason.

Bjelica has traditionally been a stretch-four and Joerger likes him in that role when the Kings go small. But the 6-10 Serbian also could see time at small forward. Bjelica averaged 6.8 points for Minnesota last season while shooting nearly 42 percent from beyond the arc.

MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Given Joerger’s acknowledgment that he’ll reach deep into the bench this season, it’s unknown who will log the majority of minutes at center.

Willie Cauley-Stein started 58 games and averaged 12.8 points and 5.2 rebounds last season for the Kings. But he’ll be a free agent next year and has stated his desire to cash in. That could open the door for increased time for Giles, Randolph, Bagley and Skal Labissiere.

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