SACRAMENTO - When the screen lifted at the Sacramento Kings practice facility on Monday afternoon, the court was filled with new faces. Three of the Kings’ four rookies were in attendance for this week’s minicamp leading up to Friday night’s Las Vegas Summer League opener. Joining them was second-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein and a group of NBA hopefuls looking to make a major impression on the team’s coaching staff.
New head coach Dave Joerger, who is scheduled to lead the team in Vegas, had nothing but good things to say of his young group of players. And he's more than ready to get his first official work in with Cauley-Stein, who is expected to play at least for part of the summer league tournament.
“We’re long, we’re athletic, trying to be a tough, defensive-minded unit and get after people as much as possible,” Joerger said. “I’m excited. I’m excited that Willie’s out there and to see the improvement that he’s making.”
The 7-footer out of Kentucky is going to be asked to do more in year two under Joerger. It’s a huge adjustment from the designated rim-runner position that Cauley-Stein played last season under George Karl.
“As soon as mentally you realize that the coach is on your side and had the confidence that you can make that play, that’s when it just shuts off and you can get the hoop,” Cauley-Stein said. “You’ve been beaten for a whole year that you can’t make that play, you’re not supposed to make that play. And now it’s like, you are supposed to make that play. We need you to make that play. So you’re relearning how to hoop, honestly.”
Cauley-Stein looked noticeably bigger. He’s spent plenty of time in Sacramento working on his game and getting to know coach Joerger. He'll be asked to stretch the floor this season with his jumper, as well as take on an active role as a facilitator.
No. 13 overall selection Georgios Papagiannis was also in attendance, but he is not cleared to play yet through FIBA. The Kings are hoping that his buyout is posted and clears in time for the 18-year-old center to take the floor in Vegas. Until then, he is just an enormous spectator.
Also missing from the workout was No. 22 overall pick Malachi Richardson. The 6-foot-6 wing is in limbo while he awaits completion of the trade that sent his draft rights from Charlotte to Sacramento in exchange for veteran Marco Belinelli. The trade should be completed on July 7 when the NBA’s moratorium expires, but until then, he is still technically a Hornet and not allowed in the gym in Sacramento.
Rookie Skal Labissiere took the court and even stopped by to hang out with media afterwards. The 20-year-old hasn’t stopped smiling since being taken with the 28th pick last week.
“This is my first experience with the NBA,” rookie Skal Labissiere said. “Trying to learn as much as I can, because I think the period that’s most important for me is the period between and after summer league and training camp. I’m going to learn as much as I can from summer league and go work on it after.”
The lanky 7-footer made a solid impression on his coach in his first official practice. He’s a project, but one with incredible upside.
“He is really talented by the way,” Joerger said with a smile. “I hope that everything connects for him, because he’s a hard worker, he’s a tremendous human being, really really good guy and very, very moldable.”
Like Cauley-Stein, Labissiere has proven to be a quick study. He takes coaching well and has an ability to absorb information. He isn’t expected to be a major contributor this season, but his upside is off the charts and he was one of the more talented bigs in this year’s draft.
“That’s what the NBA is about, having versatility,” Joerger added. “He can play three positions - 3, 4, 5. He can play inside, he can play outside, he can shoot a little bit, he can handle the ball a little bit. The NBA is becoming a dynamic league. You’ve got to have as many of those guys as you can get.”
Rounding out the Kings draft night selections was Isaiah Cousins, who came to the Kings with the No. 59 pick. The senior out of Oklahoma was leading what little offense we were privy too and the word around the team is that he is a big guard with an advanced understanding of the game.
“He’s got a good presence about him,” Joerger said. “Teammates like playing with him. He’s calm, he’s big, he’s tough. I’m looking forward to seeing more of him.”
Two European prospects, Arturas Gudaitis and Luka Mitrovic, who were acquired in a deal with Philadelphia last summer were both in attendance, although they might just be around for the summer league.
Here is a look at the preliminary summer league roster, although changes could be made as we get closer to the weekend:
Both Malachi Richardson and Georgios Papagiannis are expected to be added. Duje Dukan, who was waived earlier Monday, is still a possibility to join the roster as well.