Kings Rookies: Mid-Season Report

We've (almost) reached this midway point of the season, and we are taking a look at the progress of the youth movement in Sacramento.

The Sacramento Kings were one of the busiest teams in last years NBA Draft. They owned 3 of the first 34 picks and flipped one of them in exchange for two more. The four players that Sacramento selected, along with a Serbian guard whose rights they traded for a year earlier, would make up the Kings 2017 rookie class. Despite the fact that one of those rookies has yet to log an NBA minute, Sacramento has more rookies in its regular rotation than any other team.

As the midway point of the season approaches, it is time for a report on the play and progress of the rookies.

DeAaron Fox - Point Guard - (5th overall pick)

The pre-season assumption was that De’Aaron Fox would be the crown jewel of the Kings draft. There is still plenty of time for Fox to bring that assumption to fruition, but his rookie season has started off a bit slower than expected. In his 33 games played, Fox is averaging 10 points and 4 assists with 41/29/68 shooting splits. His assist to turnover ratio is 1.70, not outstanding when compared to fellow rookie and top-5 selection Lonzo Ball (2.51).

The comparison to Ball is something that Kings fans embraced at the start of the season, though things have cooled off since. It took 32 games for De’Aaron Fox to achieve his first double-double, while Lonzo already has seven (and two triple-doubles). Ball is already living up to the early comparisons to Jason Kidd, while Fox struggles with both his shot and his consistency.

Ball does, however, get eight more minutes of playing time per game, and his shooting splits are worse (35/30/48). 

While the jury is still out on De’Aaron Fox, and will be for the foreseeable future, early returns are mixed. His two biggest weaknesses are ones experienced by most rookies: inconsistency and erratic shooting. His playing time may increase, however. With instability involving veteran point guard George Hill, Fox has been starting at the point since late November. His 25 minutes per game will almost assuredly increase when Hill is predictably shipped out before the trade deadline. 

Justin Jackson - Small Forward - (15th overall pick)

With the offseason departure of Rudy Gay and the logjam in the frontcourt, the Kings were in desperate need of a small forward. The draft took place two weeks before the Kings would sign Vince Carter, who along with Jackson are currently the only two small forwards listed on the Kings active roster.

Justin Jackson was the 2017 ACC Player of the Year, beating out Jayson Tatum, Jonathan Isaac, and Dennis Smith Jr. He was a First-Team All American, and lead the North Carolina Tar Heels to back-to-back National Championship appearances, winning the latter. The Kings liked his length and his shooting touch.

Other than a two-game stretch when he scored 16 and 19 points, Jackson has been underwhelming thus far. He has reached double-digit scoring totals just three times and hasn’t in his last fifteen appearances. He has become lost in the shuffle of coach Dave Joerger’s rotations, with Garrett Temple and Bogdan Bogdanovic splitting the bulk of the small forward minutes. Justin Jackson has even bigger worries than that. He has been assigned to the Kings G-League affiliate on three separate occasions, trailing only George Papagiannis in miles traveled between Sacramento and Reno.

Like many of the young players on the Kings, Jackson’s playing time has been reduced because of the lack of minutes to go around. It is possible that the coaching staff and front office have a different plan for Jackson in the second half of the season, depending on what the roster looks like after the trade deadline.

Harry Giles - Power Forward - (20th overall pick)

For the second draft in a row, the Sacramento Kings took a flyer on a player who underachieved at a big university. In 2016, it was Skal Labissiere, and 2017 was Harry Giles. Both players were the #1 ranked recruits heading into their freshman seasons in college, but both suffered huge setbacks to their draft stock. For Labissiere, it was simply a struggle regarding his own consistency and a coach who admittedly underutilized him. For Giles, it was his own body that held him back.

A dominant force before his injuries, Giles tore the ligaments in each of his knees while he was in high school. He played a mere 11.5 minutes per game during his only season at Duke, averaging 4 points and 4 rebounds. He went from being a possible top-3 pick to fearing he wouldn’t be drafted at all. The rebuilding Kings had a spot to stash him while they continued developing their other young pieces, giving Giles ample time to rehab and get to full strength. Sacramento took him with the 20th overall selection.

While it was reported that Giles wouldn’t make his NBA debut until January, it seems as though we’ll have to wait a bit longer. There has been no word from the organization on the likelihood of Giles’ return, and all we’ve really seen is this video of him shaking a ball boy out of his shoes.

Frank Mason III - Point Guard - (34th overall pick)

While De’Aaron Fox attempts to make his case as the crown jewel of the 2017 draft, Frank Mason III continues to be the most impressive rookie point guard throughout the first half of the season. Mason is already a man, 23 years old and coming off of a very impressive four-year career at Kansas. He was the 2017 National College Player of the Year, and he’s shown why in a semi-limited role to begin his rookie season.

In the early season, Mason struggled to get minutes with Joerger playing with the lineups. But, presumably due to the struggles of George Hill, Mason has been a part of the regular rotation since November 15th. For the season, his Per 36 numbers are 14.7 points and 5.6 assists. He shoots 41.9% from 3 (Steph Curry is currently shooting 41.4%), the third best on the Kings behind Hill and Buddy Hield. During a ten game stretch that began in late November, Mason averaged 10.7 points and 4 assists in 21 minutes per game, Per 36 averages of 18.3 and 6.8.

His highest scoring games seem to come against the Kings toughest opponents: 13 in Portland, 13 in Milwaukee, 15 in a near-miss in Cleveland, 14 in a huge win over the Warriors in Oracle, and a career-high 16 in Philadelphia. He came to Sacramento with big games on his resumé after four competitive years at Kansas, and back-to-back Elite 8 appearances. His almost veteran-like experience has caused Joerger to opt for Mason in high-pressure situations over Fox, and the 34th overall pick continues to come up big when it matters.

Unfortunately for Mason, he has been diagnosed with a partial tear of the right plantar fascia. The timetable for his recovery is four-to-six weeks, meaning he will be out until at least early February.

(Side note: The Frank Mason pick concluded the asset haul stemming from the DeMarcus Cousins trade. When all was said and done, the trade was: Cousins and Omri Casspi for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, Justin Jackson, Harry Giles, and Frank Mason III).

Bogdan Bogdanovic - Shooting Guard/Small Forward - (Trade with PHO)

His numbers do not reflect how impressive Bogdan Bogdanovic’s early rookie season has been. Of all the rookies in Sacramento, “BB8” has shown the most upside and looked the most NBA-ready. This can most likely be attributed to Bogdanovic’s already-rich basketball history.

A Serbian native, Bogdanovic has been playing professional ball in Europe since 2010. His list of accomplishments is long, including four Serbian league championships, two Turkish league championships, and was the Serbian Player of the Year in 2017. He came to the NBA with the European accolades, and his play has begun to earn him accolades with some of the NBA’s top dogs. After a recent game against the San Antonio, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich had this to say about Bogdanovic:

“He's a pretty good enough athlete, but he's a fantastic basketball player. He really understands innately how to play the game. He's just built for it mentally, whether it's shooting the ball or understanding spatial arrangements on the court, who he's playing with, what shot's good, what shot's not, how to play with his teammates. He's really got a high basketball IQ. On top of that, he's got good skills. He handles the ball, he passes, he shoots. He doesn't have any fear, he's not intimidated by the NBA and he comes right in and plays."

In what is probably the best moment of the first half of the season for the Kings, Bogdanovic scored the game-winning points in Oracle Arena by taking the reigning Defensive Player of the Year to the hoop for the off-balance layup.

In his last seven games, BB8 is averaging 13.4 points and 5 assists on 52/47/87 splits, his best stretch of basketball thus far. With Sacramento struggling to find an answer at small forward, and the instability of the backcourt through injuries and potential trades, look for Bogdanovic’s role to increase even more. Coach Joerger gives more minutes to the Serbian than any of the other rookies, edging out Fox by a fraction. Barring any mammoth changes, Bogdanovic should be penciled in as a starter when the beginning of next season rolls around.

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