Find out how Johnson has embraced coming off the bench and Robinson has progressed during his rookie campaign. Plus, Hayes dishes on keys to stopping Orlando.
Minutes before Sacramento tipped-off against Toronto on Wednesday, James Johnson — who spent a season-and-a-half in Canada – met and exchanged pleasantries with several of his former Raptors teammates at center court.
No. 52 – noting he was familiar with the games and tendencies of Toronto’s wing players – submitted one of his best all-around performances of 2012-13, notching six points, a season-high eight rebounds and two blocks.
“He was due for a great, energetic, active, scoring, defensive game like he had,” said Chuck Hayes. “We know what he’s capable of doing – he’s a phenomenal talent, he can guard multiple positions and do a lot of different things (to help us win).”
“All in all, it was just great beating (my) former team,” said a smiling Johnson postgame.
The contest marked the Wake Forest product’s eighth coming off the bench after entering the season as Sacramento’s starting small forward. Growing more comfortable in his new role, Johnson has shot 54.2 percent from the field and chipped in 2.4 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 0.5 blocks in 13.8 minutes per contest as a reserve.
“I’m picking and choosing my shots better,” he said. “I’m learning when to take my guy (to the basket) and when to pass the ball – it’s working out.”
Kings Head Coach Keith Smart compliments the 6-foot-9 forward’s progress, revealing Johnson suggested he’d benefit as a reserve by watching the initial flow of a given contest.
“I think the game may have slowed down a little bit for him,” said Smart. “He has been in great spirits about everything, and actually, when I talked to him about making the (starting lineup) change, he actually said, ‘Coach, I was going to ask you about the change.’ That’s really good to have a guy thinking as a team player.”
Johnson acknowledges at the time he felt his energy and on-ball defense were more suited for the second unit.
“I felt like I wasn’t shooting the ball very well and not getting to the bucket like I wanted to, so it was time for me to come off the bench and earn my spot back,” he said. “(I’ll) just keep playing hard and it’ll come back around, but right now, I’m just more worried about wins.”
Smart believes Johnson – who’s helped limit opposing small forwards to 38.4 percent effective field goal percentage, according to 82games.com – can develop into the team’s defensive specialist.
“As we more forward with the rest of our season, there can be a situation where we can have him in the game guarding a really tough offensive player,” said the Kings leader. “I think having the benefit of having that, and having him in that role can be good for our team.”
– While Thomas Robinson admits the early portion of his rookie campaign has been up-and-down, the big man is constantly working on finding his niche.
“(I’m trying to catch up with) the pace, reading my defender, knowing the situations of the game,” said No. 0. “When to take a shot, when not to take a shot.”
Smart has been pleased with the Kansas product’s development, disclosing he’s shown the forward how similarly built pros – including Utah Jazz standouts Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson – have thrived in the League.
“He has those skills (to) run the floor, get the extra rebound (and make) plays,” said Smart. “He’s doing a good job with his extra work on trying to make sure he finishes plays around the basket.”
The humbled Kings draftee has quickly recognized the benefits of studying established NBA players’ moves.
“I realized … there’s nothing wrong with still watching film of guys who are better than you, because there are lot of bigs who are obviously better than me in this league,” he said. “Millsap is the main person – he’s an undersized big, he has a lot of up-and-unders (and) he’s a great finisher around the rim.”
On the defensive end, Robinson’s energy and athleticism have been on full display, as he’s come down with several chase-down blocks to prevent easy opponent scoring opportunities.
“I think out of the bigs I’m the youngest, probably with the youngest legs, so I don’t think anyone (else) probably will be doing that,” said Robinson with a chuckle. “I think that’s something I have to have in my defensive package because I’m not 6-foot-10 like (Jason Thompson) and (DeMarcus Cousins) and I don’t exactly have the IQ yet on defense that Chuck has, so I have to use my athletic ability.”
Smart affirms the rookie has the skill set to impact games unlike any other player on Sacramento’s roster, and expects Robinson’s hustle to help the Kings even more once he gets a firmer grasp of the NBA game.
“Plays (in which) he’s run down and blocked a shot you thought were an easy two, when he does those things, he’s going to always have a chance to be on the floor,” said the Kings leader.
“Now, I’m just getting him to where in the critical moments of a basketball game, (he doesn’t) think about trying to make plays for himself, but (thinks), ‘Let me do the little, dirty things,’ because that’s what helps you win,” he added. “The extra rebound, that 50-50 ball, a good, solid screen for a shooter – those are things we need.”
– Hayes, praising his teammates for staying positive and pulling out a hard-fought win Wednesday, believes ball movement and all-around commitment will continue to be instrumental for Sacramento to triumph over Orlando.
“(Magic Head Coach) Jacque Vaughn has created a great environment there,” said No. 42. “They may be undersized, they may not have a superstar, but they have guys on that team that can play, who’ve been on winning teams.”
Robinson adds the Kings frontline needs to match the intensity of the Magic’s Glen Davis.
“He plays hard the whole game,” said the first-year forward. “He’s a strong body down there, he’s going to get up on you, so we have to keep our post-ups strong and just play as hard as he does.”