On Day 3 of training camp, take a look at the five-player competition for the starting small forward spot. Plus, an inside look at the Kings unique team building exercise.
With four talented incumbents and one rising newcomer, Sacramento features veteran experience and breakout potential at small forward.
“We have guys who are trying to find their way … and it’s good to have competition,” says Kings Head Coach Keith Smart. “One thing in the NBA is you can’t relax.”
Each player brings a distinctive skill set that separates him from his peers and provides the Kings with depth and lineup flexibility on both ends of the court.
James Johnson, acquired in an offseason trade with the Toronto Raptors, submitted his best all-around season in 2011-12, by averaging 9.1 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. In the process, the versatile and athletic 6-foot-9 forward became one of only seven players – including new teammate DeMarcus Cousins – to register at least one swipe and one swat per contest (minimum 500 minutes played).
“(James is) a guy who has good defensive principles, he understands where he’s supposed to be – having the background of going from a place like Chicago, going from Toronto – he has good principles, and he’s lending himself to us with that,” says Smart. “He’s very vocal, he sees the play from a defensive standpoint (and) he’s willing to buy into that side of the basketball, so that’s all a plus as we’re trying to create something here that we can have fun on both sides of the ball.
“We could’ve sat back and said, ‘You know what, we have a bunch of guys (at small forward) already,’ but we want to continue to upgrade our roster with guys who are talented to fit needs while still being able to play the style of play I want to play, and he does that.”
During three-on-two drills in Wednesday’s practice, in which the Kings worked on contesting shots on the fastbreak, Johnson took the ball strong to the basket, made a nifty behind-the-back pass on the next possession and later came up with a blocked shot.
“I feel like (I need to) do whatever it takes to stay on the floor and help (our) team win,” said Johnson during Kings Media Day. “I feel like, to be an all-around player and to be a basketball player, you have to play both ends of the floor. I feel like, if you’re scoring on somebody and you can stop him, it takes a lot of heart and it takes a lot of heart out of your opponent.”
On the offensive end, No. 52 uses size, strength and quickness to post up or blow by opposing small forwards and has exhibited sound ball-handling and distributing skill.
Following Thursday’s practice, Johnson put on an impressive dribbling display while working out with point guard Isaiah Thomas and Assistant Coach Bobby Jackson.
“I’ve always been able to handle the ball, but I feel like this year – like all years – (when) I get the ball off the rebound, I’m going to push it,” says the Wake Forest product. “I know Smart has the trust and the confidence in me to do that, and it’s just part of my game.”
Ten-year veteran John Salmons, who, like Johnson, is capable of guarding forwards and guards by using his sturdy frame and quick instincts, has been recognized for his perimeter defense and rebounding. Last season, No. 5 led all Sacramento small forwards in boards (134) and steals (37), in addition to points (344).
“Any time you have guys with know-how, I can play them in multiple positions as a bonus,” says Smart. “He has an understanding of how to play the game on both sides of the ball, and I think he’ll get back to the level he had been playing (at his peak).”
A proven passer and playmaker, Salmons showcased his court vision and outside shooting in the second half of the 2011-12 season, averaging 8.3 points on 51.4 percent shooting from the field and 35.5 percent from long range, to go along with 2.5 assists in 25.2 minutes. During crunch time, meanwhile, Salmons shot 52.6 percent in clutch situations, according to 82games.com.
“After the All-Star break, (the coaches) used me in a different role and it was better for my game, and I think helped the team, as well,” he said.
“I’m just expecting to have a good year, help the team have a good year and hopefully we can have some fun and make a Playoff run.”
The athletic and energetic Travis Outlaw has shown speed and explosiveness around the basket, throwing down numerous alley-oops and put-back slams, as well as the ability to stretch the floor, shooting 40 percent from long range in nine 2011-12 April games.
Standing 6-foot-9, the forward ranked third on the team in block percentage (3.1) and blocks per 36 minutes (1.5).
Finishing his first campaign in Northern California on a strong note, Outlaw started the final four contests and set or tied his season-high in points (20), rebounds (seven), steals (four) and blocks (two) against the Oklahoma City Thunder while being matched up against All-Star Kevin Durant on April 24.
Drawing high praise from Kings Director of Player Personnel Jerry Reynolds for his relentless desire to improve, No. 25 worked out extensively at the team’s practice facility during the offseason to enhance his game.
“I’ve been working on post-ups, spot-up threes, screen-and-rolls, handling the ball a little bit more and some of my old moves, like one dribble pull-ups,” said Outlaw, adding that he has spent time in the weight room working on getting his explosiveness back.
Eighth-year veteran Francisco Garcia, who exhibits great range and a versatile game, led all Kings forwards in 2011-12 in three-pointers made (38 in 49 games) and has knocked down 39 percent or more from long range in three of his last five seasons.
Playing for the Dominican Republic National Team in the 2012 FIBA World Olympic Qualifying Tournament, Garcia ranked third on the team in scoring with 14.2 points per game, and notched 28 points in a win over the Republic of Macedonia on July 6.
One of the premier shot-blockers at his position, No. 32 ranked second on the team in blocks per game (0.8) and block percentage (3.4) last season. The veteran swatted a season-high three shots, to go along with 12 points and five rebounds, in a win over the Washington Wizards on Feb. 22.
“I’m looking forward to playing against each other and all that competition with my teammates,” said Garcia recently of the position battle. “It’s going to be fun – whoever will help the team will play.”
“El Flaco” has consistently set a positive example for his young teammates – including second-year forward Tyler Honeycutt – with his professionalism and respected presence in the locker room, while his leadership and mentoring continue to help guide the team’s rising, young stars.
“Whoever is willing to listen, I’ll be here for them, and I’ll show them the right ropes,” Garcia added.
While he didn’t earn consistent playing time in 2011-12, Honeycutt showed flashes of his athleticism as a rookie, running the floor well and finishing with authority in transition, as well as the versatility to develop into a consistent defender. In his most extensive NBA outing, the 22-year-old scored seven points, tallied five rebounds and dished two assists in 15 minutes in a win over the L.A. Lakers on April 26.
The exclusive between the legs 360 instagr.am/p/Px-bN7xIRc/
— Tyler Honeycutt (@thoneycutt23) September 20, 2012
After adding muscle to his frame by working out with Kings Strength and Conditioning Coach Daniel Shapiro during the offseason, the high-flying forward has the physical tools to develop into a terrific two-way player.
Although No. 9 has been sidelined during training camp (stress fracture), he remained active during drills at Thursday’s non-contact practice by passing the ball to his cutting teammates.
– In lieu of holding a Friday morning practice, the team traveled to Action Learning Center at Broadmoor Resort for team building exercises.
To get a behind-the-scenes look at the outdoor activities, Click Here.
Which small forward do you think will earn the start on Opening Night?
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