Kings Lead

5 Players Who Exceeded Opening Week Expectations

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Man, is this nice to see.

The Kings opened the season with a sub-.500 start, but beating Oklahoma City was no easy feat. Here are five players who exceeded expectations in week one:

De’Aaron Fox

It was a great start to the season for De’Aaron Fox, especially in the Kings’ exciting win over the Oklahoma City Thunder. In our season preview, he was who we wanted to highlight the most. He is the most important piece on this roster, and if these three first games are any indication, he’s going to make a big leap, and as Greg said– he’ll be a real problem for the rest of the league. We’ll be covering Fox extensively all season, so we wanted to hit on some more under the radar notes after the first three games.

NEMANJA BJELICA

Where did this guy come from? He was a positive on Minnesota last year, but with a remarkable number of possessions not ending with Karl Anthony-Towns having the ball, Minnesota was largely unwatchable (which has continued). The Kings signing Nemanja Bjelica in the offseason was met with mostly “another big man?” from myself and many others.

Through three games of Sacramento Kings basketball, Bjelica is already having big impact and is just a smart, all-around skilled basketball player. He can pass, rebound, shoot, and make defensive plays, without turning the ball over or fouling. He actually leads the Kings in +/- per 100 possessions. Consistency will be difficult for this young Kings team, but this 6-10 Serbian’s ability to impact the game in limited minutes and usage rate, in a clogged frontcourt rotation, will be huge in helping them establish an identity throughout the season. Expect Dave Joeger to have Bjelica in most 4th quarter crunch time lineups going forward. His shooting, passing and full court awareness are just too important on this team, and they were on full display in the Kings big win (only their 2nd time ever) in Oklahoma City.

WILLIE CAULEY-STEIN

Well, Willie Cauley Stein is really doubling down on his desire to get paid, isn’t he? Through three games, he’s averaging a robust 18.7/7.0/2.3, while shooting 62.5% from the field, and making some big plays on both sides of the court. He matched up against Rudy Gobert about as well as you can in a really close loss to the Jazz in the 1st game of the season. WCS was +17 in that game, while Rudy was -9.

WCS went at Rudy with an aggressive confidence that we’ve yet to see consistently from him. His scoring and playmaking was huge in keeping a win within the Kings’ grasp the entire game. It would be nice to see Willie and Bjelica share the floor a lot more, as they have a really nice two-man game developing (see below highlights). Cauley-Stein’s progress and consistency will be under a microscope this season more than ever. Three games in, he’s succeeding admirably.

BUDDY HIELD

Buddy Hield has been a joy to watch in this young season, but I still want to see him shoot a lot more threes than the four per game he’s currently averaging. His ball-handling and passing has improved though, and he’s clearly making an effort to show that. Against Oklahoma City, he found a mismatched Steven Adams on him in the corner, and instead of shooting the three, Buddy put a move on Adams on the baseline, blew by him with his off hand, and made a really nice layup. Buddy wasn’t making that play two years ago, and his efforts were a big part of thwarting off numerous Thunder — and Westbrook —  efforts to get back into this game.

IMAN SHUMPERT

How ’bout Iman Shumpert? He only played one preseason game and limited minutes in the Kings’ first two games this season. But against the Thunder? What a huge 1st quarter, and big time 3-and-D game for a Kings team lacking in both. His comeback from extensive injuries has flown under the radar, but he’s finally healthy, and as Jason Jones over at The Athletic covers in detail, he couldn’t be happier to be back on the court. I think the Kings agree.

‘“Being able to play that preseason game, that was a different type of happiness for me after sitting out a year,” Shumpert said. “I joke about it a lot but I be serious as a heart attack when I say it: I don’t wish that on nobody, not being able to play. I wasn’t able to play, I wasn’t able to practice. Like, literally had to be on bed rest for a while and it was the most frustrating thing in the world for me.

“I told coach, win, lose, two minutes, 30 minutes, it don’t matter, I’m just trying to play basketball with no pain and it was great (Sunday).”

I never thought I’d say this after he came to town from Cleveland last season, but I’m thrilled to have Shumpert on this Sacramento team. The Kings need his capable 3-and-D skills when healthy, and he’s helping fill the veteran leadership void left by Vince Carter and Garrett Temple‘s departure.

Photo Credit: Alonzo Adams/USA TODAY Sports

SUMMARY

Quick stat dump for you (courtesy of basketball-reference.com): The Kings are actually 1st in pace this season so far, Leading them to a shocking 125.7 points per game– good for 2nd in the league. Unsurprisingly, they’ve also given up the 2nd most points per game. They have the 6th best offensive rating, but the 27th best defensive rating as a result. They are shooting 52.8% as a team, however, and a nifty 40.9% from three. They could rebound better. They need to defend better. But man, the Kings have pleasantly surprised us by this scorchingly paced 1-2 start to the season against three legit Western Conference Playoff teams.

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About J Maxwell Bash

Vinyl loving, League Pass watchin' NBA diehard stuck with little fanfare, nerding out about pour over coffee, in the Land of Iowa. #SacramentoProud

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