Kings' Starters, Second Unit Show Flashes of Promise Vs Lakers

The Sacramento Kings fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in their preseason opener on Tuesday night by the score of 103-84. The final outcome wasn’t pretty, but preseason games are more about collecting information than they are about wins and losses.

“We watch video of practice and stuff, but it’s a great opportunity to see someone else,” coach Dave Joerger said before the team left Anaheim on Monday afternoon.

Joerger played his team in waves, giving the starters a long look in the first half before turning to the bench and the young players in quarters three and four respectively. The starters, with an assist from the second unit, built a 52-39 halftime lead. But a soft start to the third quarter by the reserves and a drubbing of the Kings’ young players in the fourth allowed the Lakers to come away with the 19 point victory.

The outcome wasn’t pretty, but the Kings don’t have much time to make adjustments. They return to the court Thursday evening to face the Golden State Warriors in San Jose. Golden State is fresh off a 47-point win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Tuesday night.

The Starters

It wasn’t clockwork, but for a newly formed group of veterans, the starters played well. DeMarcus Cousins showed glimpses of what he can do in the high post, finishing the first half with 11 points, six rebounds and four assists. He turned the ball over three times in 15 minutes, but he is still trying to learn all of the options he has in Joerger’s system.

Arron Afflalo jumped off the page, scoring 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting from the field and 2-for-3 from long range. He added five rebounds and a steal in 18 minutes and wasn’t nearly the sieve on defense that many believe he is. His addition gives the Kings a reliable third or fourth option in their offense, something they haven’t had in awhile.

Rudy Gay stuffed the stat sheet in his 16 minutes of action, coming away with eight points, four rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block. This is the type of performance the Kings need out of Gay this season. His isolation game works as a nice change of pace to the motion offense that Joerger is instituting. Last season, he was left out of the offensive plan and his overall game suffered. Sacramento needs as many distributors as they can get.

Neither Darren Collison, nor Kosta Koufos stood out in their first opportunity with the first unit. Collison needs to find a rhythm with the starters before he has to sit out the first eight games due to league suspension. He’s a smart player that knows Afflalo’s game well from their time at UCLA. Koufos and Cousins have struggled to find continuity on the court together in the past. Willie Cauley-Stein will likely get a shot to run with the starters during the preseason if the chemistry between Cousins and Koufos doesn’t develop quickly.

The Second Unit

Joerger started the second half with a lineup of Ty Lawson, Ben McLemore, Omri Casspi, Anthony Tolliver and Cauley-Stein. He even peppered in a few minutes for Garrett Temple as the Lakers erased the Kings big first half lead. As a whole, the second unit’s plus/minus showed that they were about even with the Lakers' for the game, which isn’t that bad considering the way the momentum shifted.

Lawson and McLemore form an interesting backcourt. They are both extremely quick for their positions and McLemore looked noticeably bigger and stronger. Lawson will begin the season as the starter while Collison sits, but Joerger will rely heavily on the 28-year-old point guard to get the second unit going. McLemore looked confident in his 15 minutes of action, scoring seven points on 3-of-10 shooting. Sometimes the shots fall, sometimes they don’t, but he played in the flow of the offense.

Omri Casspi fits really well with this group, but his shooting stroke will also open the floor for starting unit as well. Expect to see Casspi early in games after the Kings start big to both push the tempo and space the floor. Casspi finished the night with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting in 17 minutes.

Cauley-Stein and Tolliver are an interesting pairing. Cauley-Stein looks like an antelope running the floor and Tolliver not only adds shooting, but his hard nosed defensive approach is a welcomed sight. Neither player had a big offensive night, but Cauley-Stein’s three assists in 19 minutes matched his season-high from his rookie campaign. Does Koufos work better with this second unit as a defensive anchor or will the Kings look to run and gun with bench?

Temple had the pleasure of playing 24 minutes with the second and third units. His -40 plus/minus was a team low, but plenty of that came as the game slipped out of hand with the rookies on the floor. Temple is a jack-of-all-trades type player that Joerger will use all over the court. One preseason game isn’t going to change that.

The Young Guys

It’s tough to run four young players out on the court at one time and expect anything other than a complete train wreck. Skal Labissiere missed all four of his shots and got pushed around a bit in the box by NBA strongman Tarik Black. That is to be expected as the talented 20-year-old makes the adjustment to the NBA game.

Georgios Papagiannis looked slightly overwhelmed by the action, although he had a monster finish at one point. He has soft hands and did his best to run the offense, but he’s green and will need time to develop. Malachi Richardson finished the night with five points on 2-of-4 shooting and Lamar Patterson scored four in 11 minutes of action. Both wing players finished with identical -24 plus/minus evenings.

In defense of the young players, they will never find themselves on the court together for long stretches, unless it’s with the Reno Bighorns.

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