The Court Jester – King’s Training Camp & Preseason Preview – Pt. 1
Every year at this time, a group of young NBA hopefuls gather at the Sacramento Kings’ training facility in an effort to impress the coaching staff enough to get a shot at their dream – making an NBA roster.
Usually, prospective players are brought in only to give the main roster someone to scrimmage against or in case someone goes down with an injury. The difference this year is that it looks like two of them have a real chance of making the team and getting playing time.
With 10 spots all but sealed-up, there should be some real competition going on during training camp and early in the preseason.
In this two-part look at what the Kings’ options appear to be in searching for the ultimate starting lineup, I will analyze who should be starting and why, and who should make the team from the group of young talent that is just drooling at a chance to make the roster.
With training camp starting next week, the 10 who will be on the team barring some major trade or injury situation are as folows.
At guard are Beno Udrih and Tyreke Evans.
In the forward position, there are several players who are trying to show they deserve significant time on the floor: Omri Casspi, Francisco Garcia, Donte Greene, Carl Landry and Jason Thompson.
At center, they have DeMarcus Cousins, Samuel Dalembert and Hassan Whiteside. Eugene “Pooh” Jeter has signed a two-year deal with the second year not guaranteed, and Antoine Wright has signed for one year.
That’s 12 players with contracts. Knowing that Jeter and/or Wright could be waived and just paid off with little salary consequence, the last few spots on the opening-day roster will be up for grabs.
To date, the other training camp invitees are Connor Atchley, Joe Crawford, J.R. Giddens, Luther Head, Darnell Jackson and Donald Sloan. Out of those, only Sloan is guaranteed anything, and that is just $10,000. After watching Sloan during the Las Vegas Summer League, his showing was lackluster at best. I would bet he won’t make the final roster.
The Kings are in a rare situation as of late. Not having any real veterans who are assured to make the team is not the norm.
Since guys like Ime Udoka, Andres Nocioni and little-used Kenny Thomas are not around this campaign, someone in this group should get some significant playing time.
Sacramento really has only two point guards. Francisco Garcia can bring the rock up the floor, but I really don’t think that is the position the Kings want to put themselves in. He is a two guard at heart and really as good a small forward also. Unless Coach Paul Westphal falls in love with him or he’s setting the hoop on fire with made baskets during preseason, I don’t really see him getting the start on opening day (not counting Evans’ one-game suspension). Considering all that, we still must throw him in the mix to play quite a few minutes at one guard spot or the other. Going into the year with only two and a half guards is living on the edge.
So let’s accept the fact that we should hope that one of these point/shooting guard invitees play well enough to not only make the roster, but also have a chance of making a difference during the long season.
Let’s take a brief look at the contenders:
Joe Crawford, a guard out of Kentucky a few years back, had a very brief stint with the New York Knicks. He’s a 6-foot 5-inch shooting guard with decent hands. While on the Wildcats, he averaged 18 points and 3.4 assists per game his senior season. Director of Player Personnel Jerry Reynolds said Crawford is a good defender, but his offense was what he questioned.
J.R. Giddens, a shooting guard with a little NBA experience the last two years, was Mountain West Co-Player of the Year his senior year of college. Giddens offers a little bit of everything as his final season numbers reflect – 16.2 points per game, 8.8 rebounds, 3.1 assists and an astonishing .626 shooting percentage! It was the very good player in a good conference scenario.
Donald Sloan, the leading scorer from the New Mexico Aggies, didn’t do much in the previously mentioned summer league. Although he averaged 17.8 points per game in his last year in college, he failed to shine in Vegas. Some might say he got lost in the shuffle that can be the summer league. I say he got enough time to prove himself.
Take Jason Thompson’s younger brother Ryan, for example. He was also on the Kings’ summer roster and fared somewhat better. The younger Thompson averaged more points, rebounds and a better shooting percentage, all while getting a little less time on the floor. Having watched every game over the summer, it sure looked like Thompson had more to offer than Sloan. For the record, Thompson is looking to catch on with the San Antonio Spurs this season.
Pooh Jeter has been trying to get on with an NBA team since 2006. He had an outstanding summer run with the Cleveland Cavaliers averaging 14.4 points per game and 5.4 assists all while shooting an admirable 48 percent from the field. In the 2008-09 season, he played with ViveMenorca and Unicaja Málaga out of Spain and averaged 16 points, 3 assists and 3 boards while playing 32 minutes a game.
During the 2009-10 campaign, he was in Israel playing for Hapoel Jerusalem. Even though he only averaged about 10 minutes per game, he still put up almost 11 points per contest.
And last is Luther Head, the candidate with the most professional experience. Head has spent time with the Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and the Indiana Pacers since 2005. He averaged 7.6 points per game in only 17.3 minutes with Indiana last year and is a career 38 percent shooter from beyond the arc.
Not really an assist guy, Head could really add a boost from the outside. His magnus opus last season was a 30-point outburst on Dec. 30 against the Memphis Grizzlies. In that game, he also had seven rebounds, made all six free throws and sank four three-pointers. In all, Head scored more than 10 points in16 games. It seems that when given significant time on the court, Head can deliver. For his impact to be felt, he is going to need to average at least 20-25 minutes a night.
The competition is going to be fierce. There seems to not be enough room for more than one of them if we are to believe that the late summer acquisition of 6-foot 7-inch forward/guard Antoine Wright means anything. If Wright makes the squad, it will certainly only leave one unassigned spot.
Of course, the Kings, along with many other teams, find a way to keep an extra player or two just in case. And that method is known as the injured list. Considering that you can have up to three players on the list during the season, a team can really break camp with up to 15 players. Not very often will a team use all three spots. But usually you can’t look around the league without finding a player or three that come up with plantar fasciitis or some other unprovable injury that is just waiting his time for someone to really go down.
So, whom do you keep? Is it a critical question whose answer is going to mean the difference between a possible .500 season or making the playoffs? Realistically? I think probably not. Possibly? Yes, it could matter, and I’d feel better if a couple of these men grabbed the brass ring while they had the chance.
After all this information – it boils down to this. The Kings really need someone who can handle the ball. I think that cutting down on being third-worst in turnover ratio last year is more important than trying to increase the sixth-worst scoring average. Besides, most of this young team is only going to get better at the offensive game.
The Kings just flat out need another guard.
Evans is still young and may get into foul trouble on occasion. And Udrih is better off not playing starter-like minutes for the entire season. They really look like they need a guy who can run and pass and play some decent defense.
They may get lucky and be able to hold onto two of these guys if the injured reserve list works out for them. That would be the ideal. That way they could grab a guy who is more of a scorer to shore up the shooting guard position. Remember, this is based on that the Kings will not sign some well-known, semi-superstar right before the season starts or something else crazy.
In scouting this group of guys and assuming that none of them have really raised their game in the offseason, the Kings should grab the two guys who have the legitimate experience.
The real ball handler here is Jeter. This young man has busted his tail overseas for years now and finally deserves his shot. He can provide an even keel on the floor and will keep up with the rest of the guys on the break. He can deliver the ball nicely and will afford assured stability while on the hardwood. He really impressed in his stint during the summer, and his minutes should be limited, so there isn’t much concern here.
For the other guard spot, unless Crawford or Giddens really surprise, I think you need to run Luther Head out there. He could be a blessing in disguise, or he could be just about out of his 15 minutes of fame.
I think chemistry is going to be the question with him. Will he just be happy to be on an NBA roster again? One that really looks like it is on the "rise", so to speak? And will he gel with the younger stars on the roster? At this point, he really is a young veteran. Let’s give him a chance and see if he can fit in. He skill set is one that the team could really benefit from.
Head and Jeter are my picks to shore up the shortage of guards on the Kings.
I’m convinced that Head can come off the bench for 8-10 minutes maybe twice a game and put up some points. Maybe he won’t have quite as many rebounds, but kind of Bobby Jackson-like minutes, best-case scenario.
Jeter will be able to bring the ball up the court and get it to guys who are darting through the lane. His improved focus on passing the ball really showed during the summer. He ran circles around defenders and reminded me of a poor man’s version of Steve Nash.
They’re worth the gamble. If they don’t work out, the team can make a run without them or whoever ends up being our 11th and 12th men. The waiver wire is ready for the picking right before the season starts. We may even be surprised by who lands on waivers when preseason is over.
Once again, that’s why the Kings should give them the shot. They both work hard and have made improvements in their game. They offer what the Kings are truly lacking. No doubt about it, if they play the way they are capable of, they can help.
Coming soon in part two, I will take a brief look at the forwards and centers who are trying to show what they can offer. I will also examine the possible lineups the Kings will run out there and a couple that they probably won’t, but should.
Photos are Pooh Jeter and Luther Head