As taken from my original post on Kingsfans.com (this is only here to prove to anyone reading this blog that I am in fact still alive):
Alrighty folks, well that certainly was an exciting start to the season wasn’t it?
While the outcome wasn’t ideal and the refs once again found a new way to screw over the Kings, there were encouraging performances all around and a halftime performance by Lil Jon for some reason. It looks like I’m going to be doing grades for the majority of the season so let’s get things rolling shall we?
Skal Labissiere (C+) — 33 min, 12 pts, 10 rbs, 1 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 5 tov, 1 pf
With Z-Bo slow to recover from some oddly timed dental surgery, Skal got the season opening start and performed, well, adequately. On offense Skal showed flashes of the smoothness that makes him such an appealing prospect. Additionally he travelled repeatedly (as reflected in his team leading 5 turnovers). On defense, Skal’s twig-esque lower body largely went unpunished by Mike D’Antoni’s three-or-dunks offense and he was able to challenge Ryan Anderson much better than he did last season (which isn’t saying much because all Ryan really does is just sorta stand around the corner regions of the court and wait for Harden to throw it to him). He also made a visible effort on the boards tonight and wound up with a double-double, although a lot of those boards came because the entire Rockets team was standing twenty feet away from the hoop to take a three). Overall, it wasn’t a bad night for Skal but there was definitely room to improve.
Justin Jackson (C) — 19 min, 5 pt, 2 rbs, 0 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 0 tov, 1 pf
If you had told me that one of our five rookies was going to start the season opener, Justin Jackson would not have been the first name that came to mind. With Joerger notorious for taking a careful approach with his rookies and young guys, the fact that J-Jax is already getting the starting nod speaks volumes about his coach’s trust in him (and also about the lack of depth at the 3 spot on this roster). Though the stats from his debut aren’t exactly gaudy, I thought the rookie played within himself and the system for his first game. Struggled shooting the ball early off then settled into the game in his second stint and showed off his nice floater game. On defense, he didn’t make too many mistakes (aside from letting Luc Mbah a moute sneak behind him for a dunk), though once again the Rockets system isn’t exactly designed to single in on and punish rookies. Overall, a perfectly average shrug of the shoulders as a game start to Justin’s NBA career.
Willie Caulie-Stein (A-) — 32 min, 21 pt, 10 rbs, 1 ast, 0 stl, 3 blk, 1 tov, 1 pf
For one night at least, those people looking to ship Willie off to Philly for Okafor or whatever are going to have to eat crow as Trill turned in perhaps the best performance of the night for the young Kings team. When Willie started the game off by rushing a forced shot on O, I thought we were in for once of those nights but, much to my pleasure, Willie soon settled in and made plays off of boards and around the rim. While 10 rebounds is barely above average, they’re a good sign that the notoriously board averse former-Wildcat was dialed in and ready to roll. In the second half, started showing up as a rim protector, charting three blocks in the third quarter, all while showing off an improved jump shot (kinda) to go with the inside action on offense.
Now, I know some of you are going to point at Capella going off for twenty points tonight as some indication of Willie’s deficiency on defense but, to be fair, some of that (at least in the early going) seemed to be more on the team’s emphasis on keeping Harden from simply waltzing into the paint than Willie pooping himself when his team didn’t have the ball. After halftime, Joerger seemed to make a bit of an adjustment in the defensive scheme and from there on, I thought Trill did a much better job of pressuring Capella than in the first half (the stats would also seem to bear that out).
Overall, an encouraging start to the season from the apparently black sheep of the Kings prospect group. If Willie somehow turns in performances like this every single night, our team will be in very good shape going forward.
George Hill (B) — 32 min, 16 pt, 3 rb, 3 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 4 tov, 3 pf
This was a solid debut by perhaps our biggest free agent signing in the last ten years and I’d imagine we’d all be very happy about George Hill’s future as our starting point guard were it not for the fact that his backup may just be the most exciting player in the NBA (okay, that’s an exaggeration but still the point remains). The Indianan was just solid in almost every facet of the game: defense, offense (turnovers aside), intangibles (just watch the dude coach up his guys at almost every dead ball). In the third when the game started to slip away, Hill started to turn up his own offensive output to keep the team within range and did a fairly good job of making the Rocket guards work for their cake. Teamed with Temple and Fox to wreak defensive havoc on the Rockets in the second half. Those of you already plotting ways to get him off our roster should probably hold that thought. The Floor General should be a key cog of our squad going forward.
Buddy Hield (B) — 33 min, 19 pt, 5 rb, 4 ast, 1 stl, 0 blk, 2 tov, 5 pf
It was a tale of two halves for Buddy. In the first, Hield looked as bad as he had for most of summer league and preseason: forcing shots, misplaying possessions on defense, generally trying to do too much. In the second half, Buddy pretty much looked the same except for one key difference: his shots were going in. It sounds simple but that’s the gist of it. When Buddy’s shot is off, it’s like getting a root canal with no novocaine while one of the nurses jabs you in the privates with a cattle prod. When Buddy’s shot is on, it’s like getting a root canal with no novocaine while one of the nurses jabs you in the privates with a cattle prod except your a 40-something-year-old Japanese business who frequents SM bars after work and enjoys these sorts of things. Nevertheless, one can only hope that the third quarter explosion is more of an indicator of things to come in the season going forward.
Kosta Koufos (C) — 18 min, 2 pts, 6 rb, 0 ast, 0 stl, 1 blk, 1 tov, 3 pf
Kosta is who he is. While a lot (i.e. almost all) of his offensive production is predicated on whoever the hell else is on the floor with him, you can never really question his effort. While he rebounds better than probably anyone else on this roster and plays the best team defense of any Kings’ big man, the Greek (Bare) Peak isn’t exactly someone you go to and ask to produce offense for you. There were several possessions where De’Aaron tried to squeeze the ball in to Kosta for the highlight lob but that isn’t really Kosta’s game either. Either way, another typically solid game from the veteran big man even if it didn’t result in the spectacular plays we generally want to see when we pay money to watch pro ball.
De’Aaron Fox (B+) — 24 min, 14 pt, 4 rbs, 5 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 3 tov, 2 pf
Well aside from sheer Lebron-scoring-twentysomething-points-on Doug-freaking-Christie-level dominance this was just about the best debut you could possibly expect from your stud blue chip rookie. It was all on display against the Rockets: the insane speed, the crafty handles, smart defense, the jumper with room for improvement. While the shot remains a work in progress, the fact that De’Aaron runs like he’s trying to outrun a stampeding buffalo herd all game renders that a less important point that it would be with another player lacking such a gamebreaking skill. I’m going to talk about Vince Carter not really being athletic enough to play consistently good defense in a bit here but whenever De’Aaron had the ball he made everyone else on the court look like Vince Carter. Maybe Fox’s lack of bulk makes him look faster than he actually is but based on a simple eye test I would have a hard time being convinced that he isn’t already the quickest player in the entire league.
The Kings caught a bit of a break with CP3 missing the game with a “bruised shin” (pulling a Lonzo?), meaning that the Rockets didn’t have a point guard to punish the rookie with. For the most part, Fox played a solid game on that end of the floor. While he had a tendency to creep off of his man on the perimeter, Fox’s elite speed means that he can get back in position before the other team can even swing the ball to the open man.
Considering his age, this debut off the bench was more than enough to help fuel the De’Aaron hype train. At the same time, you could see all the things Fox still can do to get better, be it his floor vision or his shooting stroke. Just don’t try to gift him with In-n-Out
Vince Carter (C) — 14 min, 6 pt, 1 rb, 2 ast, 0 stl, 0 blk, 1 tov, 1 pf
The Kings ran a feature in-arena during one of the quarter breaks where the young Kings tried to figure out whether or not Vince Carter was born before or after a variety of “classic” toys and memorabilia. They got most of the questions wrong. I only point this out to remind you that (a) Vince Carter is older than the hills and (b) Vince hasn’t really been Vinsanity Vince for at least a decade now. Role player player-coach Vince Carter, however, plays for the Sacramento Kings and looked alright… on offense at least. One of the problems with being a 40-year-old in the NBA is that while you may have accumulated decades of knowledge and tricks in your time in the league, your body has sorta gone down the other direction so while Vince Carter, crafty old dude who can hit three pointers, is an asset on offense, Vince Carter, old dude who can’t quite move like he used to, isn’t quite as nifty on defense. This isn’t to say that he was bad or anything, just that I can see why he’s now a bench player limited to fifteen or so minutes a night.
It doesn’t make having a dude who was drafted the same season as Jason Williams and Mike Bibby on the team any less cool.
Malachi Richardson (inc but a D probably) — 6 min, 0 everything, 1 pf
The second year player saw some time in the first half. He didn’t do anything with it.
Garrett Temple (B-) — 30 min, 5 pt, 1 rb, 3 ast, 4 stl, 0 blk, 1 tov, 2 pf
This was an interesting performance in that it combines both incredible defense and ho-hum offense. Garrett came into the game in the first and hit his first three of the game and then largely forgot how to shoot for the rest of the night. Thankfully, the man made up for his offensive struggles by absolutely smothering Harden all night. No, really, this was a Doug Christie-esque “Sure, you’re a superstar but you’re gonna have to work your ass off for your thirty points tonight” performance. Just didn’t give any ground on defense and took advantage of the few times where the 2017 MVP runner-up was lazy with the ball. People like to make fun of Aaron Bruski for his blind love for Garrett Temple but its defensive performances like tonight that remind you that it was an absolute travesty that Garrett didn’t get any votes for the All-Defensive Teams last year.
And that’s all folks. Up next, the Kings hit the road early and take on the Dallas Mavericks and their own rookie point guard firecracker in Dennis Smith Jr. in a Friday evening match-up of teams almost guaranteed to not be relevant in the playoff conversation this year. Don’t miss it. Or do.