Sacramento - The information is coming fast and furious to Kings players as they try and take in as much of coach Dave Joerger’s offensive and defensive schemes as they possibly can. It’s overwhelming at times, especially for the rookies, but this is the NBA and the learning curve is steep.
The competition is fierce as Joerger and his staff attempt to evaluate their deep and versatile roster. Through four days of training camp, there is confusion and aches and pains, but also a renewed sense of optimism around the team.
“I love it,” rookie Malachi Richardson said of the competition. “Everyone’s going hard. Everyone’s been competing. It’s making everyone better. Teams aren’t going to take it easy on us, so we can’t take it easy on each other.”
Richardson, like fellow rookies Skal Labissiere, Georgios Papagiannis and Isaiah Cousins, is sitting behind two or three veterans on the depth chart. He has no choice but to make his mark in training camp or risk sitting for long stretches during the season.
The rookies aren’t the only players fighting for minutes. Sacramento welcomed 11 new faces into camp, with at least eight new players expected to make the opening night roster. The competition is intense and only going to get more fierce as we move towards games that matter in late October,
“I think it’s huge,” veteran point guard Ty Lawson said. “Everyone is fighting for a spot. From rookies coming down and playing well, everybody’s playing well and just trying to play hard and get everybody better. I feel the competition level is at an all-time high right now.”
It’s still way too early in camp to make predictions on starters and rotations. First the players must learn the system. Those who jump ahead of the learning curve might have an early advantage, but the best 8-10 players will see action once the season begins.
“They’re all just trying to figure out what we’re trying to do,” Joerger said. “There’s good spirit. You know, guys want to be successful. It’s been a tough road here, so guys have been very receptive to coaching and they’re playing hard.”
Joerger cut practice a little short on Friday and had the team stretch together instead of shooting drills. The plan was for a full scrimmage during the evening practice and then another morning session on Saturday, followed by the team’s annual Fanfest on Saturday night.
Lawson looks to move forward in Sacramento
Lawson is coming off a miserable season in which, by his own admission, he lost his confident. But the NBA is filled with stories of redemption and Lawson is hoping he can turn things around either as a starter or reserve for the Kings.
“I feel good,” Lawson said of where he is at mentally. “I feel like that’s last year. It’s in the past. So this year, I feel I’m back to my regular self.”
After posting big numbers in Denver during the 2014-15 season, Lawson was dealt to Houston during the offseason. Paired in the same backcourt with James Harden, Lawson’s numbers dropped to career lows and he was eventually waived. He was picked up late in the season by the Indiana Pacers, but by that time, his season was basically lost.
“Time will tell,” Joerger said when asked if he thought Lawson’s confidence was back. “You put your arm around guys and try to give them confidence. Ben McLemore is kind of the same way. I want it to work, (but) the first bad thing that happens can’t make it not work for the whole year.”
“Trust me,” Joerger said of what he is telling his players. “I’ve got your back. Things are going to come and things are going to go, but I believe in you.”
Despite the newness in Sacramento, Lawson said he already feels comfortable. It doesn’t hurt that he is playing with Arron Afflalo, one of his backcourt mates from his time with the Denver Nuggets.
“He’s a good friend,” Lawson said of Afflalo. “I’ve known him for what, 6-7 years.”
Lawson also came in with relationships with both Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins. It’s a small league and most players are familiar with one another.
According to Joerger, the talk of Lawson’s demise is overblown. He’s gone back and looked at the tapes and if anything, he found that Lawson was quicker last year than in his previous seasons in the league.
“I don’t think he ever lost it,” Joerger said when asked whether Lawson had regained his speed. “I pulled the numbers from the SportVu cameras and in fact, he was faster last year than he was the year before.”
Lawson, as well as Darren Collison are having to work overtime to get the system down. Both are healthy and if things go well, they should form a nice 1-2 punch at the lead guard spot.
“He’s in good shape,” Joerger said of Lawson. “He’s giving great effort defensively and like all of those guys, especially the point guards, it’s even harder or more difficult because they not only have to know what their job is, they should know what everybody else’s job is.”
Afflalo gets defensive...
Lawson isn’t the only newcomer to Sacramento that has heard the rumblings around the league. Entering his 10th NBA season, Arron Afflalo is ready to prove the naysayers wrong about his ability to still play defense.
“I just want to get back to defending,” Afflalo said on Thursday afternoon. “I’ve heard a lot of the small talk about the defensive end of the court, at least me personally. Playing defense is a key component to playing winning basketball and that’s the culture I know they’re trying to set around here.”
Afflalo has had to reinvent himself multiple times in the NBA as he’s moved around from one team to the next. Each coach wants something different from him, but being a defender is nothing new for the 30-year-old wing.
“That was my calling card coming into the league,” Afflalo said about his defense. “For me, it kind of takes me back to my roots a little bit.”
Joerger demands that his players play defense first or he will find someone who is willing. Afflalo isn’t going to morph into a Tony Allen-type defender during camp, but if he can stay in front of his man and provide stability on both ends of the court, he should be able to solidify the Kings weakest position on the floor from a season ago.