Indiana Pacers forward Thaddeus Young passes against Sacramento Kings forward Justin Jackson, left, and guard Buddy Hield during the second quarter at Golden 1 Center on Dec. 1. (Photo retrieved from USA Today)

CRAWFORD ON THE COURT: Young Sacramento Kings team progressing quickly

With the Golden State Warriors reigning over the Western Conference and LeBron James’ move to LA, the West has become even more competitive. Last year, the Kings were one of the worst teams in the league, but the young nucleus of players is beginning to prove itself. There will be an update every 20 games to check in on the team’s progress throughout the season.

Twenty games into the season, the Sacramento Kings were 10-10, an impressive tally considering the team didn’t get its 10th win last year until it was 10-20.

After starting 1-3, the Kings won five games in a row, even without rising star guard Bogdan Bogdanovic.

Due to Bogdanovic’s knee injury, other players contributed in big ways. At 20 years old, second-year player De’Aaron Fox is showing signs of leadership and pure grit. After averaging 11.6 points per game (PPG) and 4.4 assists per game (APG) his rookie season, Fox has jumped to 17.3 PPG and 7.5 APG.

A number of other young players are stepping up as well, notably Harry Giles and Marvin Bagley. They are providing big minutes for the team, even against strong opponents such as the Golden State Warriors. Giles’ and Bagley’s hustle and scrappiness are contagious on the court. They are beginning to prove themselves to coach Dave Joerger, showing progress seemingly every game. (Click here for video of Giles going coast-to-coast in a game against the Utah Jazz.)

Not to mention Willie Cauley-Stein, who is playing All-Star caliber basketball on both ends of the floor. It is evident that all these players trained a lot in the offseason. (Click here for a video of Cauly-Stein providing the decisive points in the Kings’ thrilling 111-110 victory over the Indiana Pacers.)

But the Kings did lose veterans Vince Carter and Garrett Temple in the offseason. Their replacements, Iman Shumpert and Nemanja Bjelica, are proving to be solid starters.

Shumpert’s leadership more or less fills the void left by the other veterans as well. He has been on contending teams before with players such as LeBron James. One of general manager Vlade Divac’s priorities has been to bring in quality veterans to mentor the young core, and it is starting to pay dividends.

So to all you Kings fans out there, I want you to understand that even though a 10-10 record didn’t look great, we must take a step back and assess the situation fairly. With the Kings coming off a 27-55 season last year, we should have been ecstatic to see a 10-10 record to start the 2018-19 season.

Frankly, I recognize we have lost some tight games, including the one-point heartbreaking loss to the Warriors on Nov. 24, so I understand and appreciate your glass-half-full approach. I agree the Kings could easily have had 12 or 13 wins in their first 20 games. But all things considered, we must be very happy with the team’s development, considering the roster averages just 23 years of age.

That being said, if the Kings can maintain their momentum — progressing more and more along the way — they could have a record of 20-20 or better by the next update.

By Jackson Crawford

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