The Sacramento Kings’ roster is all in for a playoff push, which is why the team added veterans last offseason.
But a good portion of the roster is young. Sacramento added three rookies through the draft in June to go with second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein and fourth-year guard Ben McLemore.
The young players are learning playing time can be scarce on a team eying the postseason rather than taking its lumps with novices.
Including Tuesday’s 100-94 victory against the Detroit Pistons at Golden 1 Center, Cauley-Stein had not played in the last three games. McLemore also had not appeared in the previous two games, falling out of the rotation again after losing his starting job at shooting guard, and he only got two minutes against the Pistons.
Rookies George Papagiannis, Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere spend most of their time with the Reno Bighorns of the NBA Development League. Even though the rookies aren’t playing in Sacramento, their development is important as the Kings try to establish a foundation.
Grooming young talent hasn’t been the Kings’ strong suit in recent years. Part of the reason is poor draft picks. But the team’s coaching turnover in recent seasons hasn’t been conducive to developing young players
DeMarcus Cousins became an All-Star and Isaiah Thomas did with the Boston Celtics, but they are the exceptions among recent Kings draft picks.
Coach Dave Joerger said the Kings are managing the growth of their players on their roster and in Reno.
“We have processes in place for both situations,” Joerger said. “Guys get extra work before games, after games, after shootarounds. You’re still watching video with them. You still want them to continue learning the league. You can wrap it however you want, which terms of development for those guys who aren’t playing as much.”
Assistant coach Larry Lewis often puts McLemore and Cauley-Stein through drills during pregame workouts. They can work up a good sweat, but on some nights, that’s the most time they get on the floor.
So the coaching staff must figure out ways to keep them active, especially with limited practice time during the season.
“What happens is they struggle to find live action, so whenever you can play, whether it’s 3-on-3, any combination of players and coaches to get some live work ... ” Joerger said.
The three rookies play a lot in the D-League. Richardson was supposed to be with Reno on Wednesday, but bad weather postponed the trip, and he was with the Kings.
The Kings recall the rookies periodically to let them be around the veterans, but their on-court growth comes with the Bighorns.
“We keep tabs on them,” Joerger said. “We watch their games and make sure we reach out to them and say, ‘Hey, we watched the game last night.’ So that there’s always a connection when you’re out there.”