STOCKTON KINGS

How the NBA’s G-League helps all levels of development for the Stockton Kings

Dec 5, 2023, 9:27 AM | Updated: Dec 8, 2023, 1:13 pm

Sacramento Kings Assistant Coach for Player Development Lindsey Harding looks on during the warm up...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - FEBRUARY 24: Sacramento Kings Assistant Coach for Player Development Lindsey Harding looks on during the warm up before the game against the Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center on February 24, 2022 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

While the Sacramento Kings’ 2023-24 NBA season has been underway, their developmental team in the Stockton Kings, led by Lindsey Harding, is more than halfway through their Showcase Cup.

With plenty of continuity between the two rosters, coach Harding hopes to build on last season’s regular season success in her first year at the helm.

Stockton’s roster has an atypical amount of NBA experience for the G-League, already featuring seven players who participated in Sacramento’s training camp: Jeremy Lamb, Jaylen Nowell, Deonte Burton, Chance Comanche, Jordan Ford, Jalen Slawson, and Jordan Ford. Also, two-way player Keon Ellis may appear but has spent his entire season with the parent club in Sacramento.

After playing three games with the Stockton Kings, Nowell made his way onto an NBA roster with the injury-riddled Memphis Grizzlies, a team that desperately needed more bodies. That’s the nature of the G-League. The players at coach Harding’s disposal will change continuously, and she must adjust quickly.

Recently, Stockton faced off against the G-League Ignite, and Coach Harding had rookie Jones and two-ways Ford and Slawson at her disposal. In a conversation with Sactown Sports following their win, she expressed excitement on nights they joined the team, but it didn’t come without complications.

“For one, you’re excited,” Harding said. “You’re excited because these guys are excited to play because they’re going to play big minutes, the ball’s going to be in their hands, and we’re going. The other side of it, they haven’t been in practice, they haven’t been around the players and it’s really difficult for them, I think, to come in.”

“So, the fact that our guys have done such a great job of trying to do what we’ve been working on and playing the game the right way has been huge for all of us. It’s not an easy position to be in, I’d say, as a coach or player, but that’s the G-League, right?”

With an extremely similar style of play to their parent club, allowing players to go down and get extended minutes can do wonders. Keon Ellis is a prime example. Last year, his rookie season, he spent most of his time with the Stockton Kings and slowly developed his skills as a point guard to the point where he’s been Sacramento’s primary backup for the last few games.

“Getting guys the opportunity to go down there and play significant minutes and work on their craft, but, more importantly, gain confidence is huge,” Sacramento head coach Mike Brown said of the G-League. “It took a little bit, but you’re really thankful that the NBA decided to the direction of having a true minor league system or development system because it has paid dividends for a lot of players in this league.”

After mentioning the obvious impact it’s had on Ellis, Brown referenced Jordan Poole’s opportunity with the Santa Cruz Warriors in the G-League bubble as a key contributor to his confidence boost and eventual NBA explosion.

Where do the Stockton Kings stand?

Through nine games of the Showcase Cup, Stockton currently sits at 4-5. Here’s how the notable contributors’ numbers have looked to this point.

  • Colby Jones (4 games): 21.3 points, 5.3 assists, 5.3 rebounds on 54.7/37.5/33.2 shooting
  • Jordan Ford (7 games): 18.4 points, 6.4 assists, 5.0 rebounds on 52.5/44.7/80.0 shooting
  • Jalen Slawson (4 games): 12.8 points, 2.5 assists, 3.5 rebounds on 43.2/38.1/63.6

Each of the three has varying individual improvements they’re emphasizing. For Jones, it’s about getting an opportunity to play point guard and develop as a lead ball handler, just as Ellis did last season. Ellis acknowledged the similarities when speaking with Sactown Sports.

“(Colby and I) are able to do some similar things. Like how we’re implementing me at the one,” he said. “I do think that he can also add that to his game as well. Just seeing the flashes of what he’s done so far, whether it be in the G, in preseason, or during the season here. I definitely think he’s good enough to be able to handle that.”

For Slawson, the 54th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, it’s an opportunity to continue expanding his positional versatility and shooting. He hopes to be able to play the four or the five but has embraced the fact that it will be a process.

The Furman alum acknowledged that his three-point shot is “probably my biggest limiting factor right now,” but there have been early flashes of progress. Since converting 32.9 percent of his triples through five collegiate seasons, including 39.4 percent on 2.9 attempts per game in his last season, his 38.1 percent rate on 5.3 attempts has been encouraging.

Against the Ignite, the rookie caught fire, knocking down five of his six looks from beyond the arc.

“Defensively, I’m fine,” Slawson shared with Sactown Sports after a recent practice with Sacramento. “But, offensively, we’ve got some kinks to work out, and that’s why it’s been good for me to be able to go down and play with Stockton. Coach Harding, Coach Brown, Wes (Wilcox), and Monte (McNair) all communicate with each other and do a great job. She mirrors the things that they want me to work on, and I’m able to get more reps down there than I am up here.”

Harding was complimentary of Slawson’s competitiveness and malleable impact on and off the court.

“He’s a competitor. No matter what, he will compete,” Harding said. “If I need you to be physical, he will be that guy. If I need you to talk, he will be that guy. The biggest thing is he wants to win, and that energy is contagious. Whenever he comes, it’s like this aura of, ‘We’re going to win.’ So, I love that energy from him, and I expect it every time he comes.”

Meanwhile, Ford has been dominating as a member of the Stockton Kings, with an added confidence boost from being a two-way player this season. His game management skills, touch around the basket, and shot from beyond the arc remain impressive, but he’s focused on defensive improvements.

At 6’1, his physical shortcomings require increased physicality and intelligence to make an impact on both ends of the floor. Ford believes that Stockton’s similar play style boded well for his development early into the 2023-24 season.

“We run most of the same stuff,” Ford said. “So, when I go back and forth, it’s not much change. I feel like this is good reps for the NBA. So, I feel really comfortable when I go back up top.”

More than player development

The job of a G-League head coach is tough with the aforementioned last-minute roster changes, varying travel accommodations compared to their parent clubs, and players fighting to chase their dreams of making it to the NBA. But coach Harding has embraced the challenge.

It’s easy to forget that it’s a developmental league for more than just the players. Through nine games in her new role, she’s learned the importance of patience and communication.

I think I take time to try to look in the mirror a little bit more,” Harding said. “Making sure, ‘Am I explaining things correctly? Am I clear?’

“When I talk about if we don’t run something together, was it me? Did I not explain it correctly? And when I figure out I have explained it correctly, then I get on them, but you’re a teacher. You’re not just a coach; you’re a teacher, and you want to be the most effective teacher possible. So, I’m still learning that.”

During their first matchup against the Ignite, plenty of staff and coaches from Sacramento were in attendance. From front office members Monte McNair, Wes Wilcox, and Phil Jabour to assistant coaches Deividas Dulkys and Jimmy Alapag. Or even the widely experienced former head coach Alvin Gentry, to name a few.

The continuity between the Stockton Kings and Sacramento is apparent, not just schematically but philosophically. They want to win as many games as possible at all levels. The group hopes to build on last season’s league-best 25-7 regular season record that came to a close in the first round of the single-elimination postseason.

Allowing their players and coaches added responsibility and in-game repetitions is crucial for their development. Just glancing at their roster, it’s obvious that the Kings care about their G-League production.

“It’s the same expectation as for Sacramento,” Harding shared. “They want to win, they want to have a good product, they want our team to play the right way, and they are supportive. Anything that I need, any questions that I may have, anything. They’ve always been there, and it’s great to see them come when they can.”

With five games remaining in the Showcase Cup, the Stockton Kings are still ironing out the kinks in preparation for the regular season. Hopefully, just as it did for Keon Ellis, Bobby Jackson (who is now with the Philadelphia 76ers), and Jordan Ford last season, it will allow for promising growth and progress for all involved.

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