Constant cross-country travel, numerous back-to-backs and grueling practice sessions over the course of a nearly seven-month schedule wear down even the most well-conditioned athletes in the world.
But while a brief rest and recuperation period is crucial for many NBA veterans after each mentally- and physically-exhausting season, Sacramento’s first- and second-year players have no plans for a summer hiatus from the hardwood.
“I love the gym and I love getting better,” said Buddy Hield, who appeared in all 82 games despite a midseason trade that sent him from New Orleans to Sacramento. “Whenever I’m doing nothing, I just feel bored. This is my job. You want to secure it, you want to show improvement and you want to crave results. The more work I put in, the better results I feel I can get.”
Despite leading the Kings in scoring (15.1 points per game) and three-pointers made (59) since slipping on a purple and black uniform in mid-February, the March Western Conference Rookie of the Month is his own toughest critic when it comes to evaluating his inaugural NBA campaign.
“Once I get comfortable, (I need to) get more efficient, get to the foul line – that’s something I feel I can do better,” he said.
“I’m never satisfied,” he continued. “I always keep trying to push as hard as I can. No matter if I get 20 points or 30 points, I’m still thinking I can do better. I think about all the shots I missed, all the triples I (missed), or the passes I could’ve made to better my teammates or better myself.”
With an eventful and vital offseason on tap in advance of September’s training camp, the Oklahoma product has his sights set on bigger goals in upcoming years.
“Next year, it won’t be Rookie of the Month,” said Hield. “You’re trying to get Player of the Week. I’m here in a good situation now. I’m going to attack the offseason, keep working and attack my weaknesses … I just want to get better, and whatever accolades come with that, I’ll take it.”
Although Hield’s rookie teammates shuttled between starting in the D-League and earning sporadic minutes in the NBA to begin their respective careers, Kings big men Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis demonstrated substantial all-around improvement following the All-Star break.
After confronting a staggering difference in both the level of competition and physical stature of opponents in the pros, the Sacramento draftees expect to put their bodies through rigorous offseason training regimens.
“I have to get stronger, faster and more explosive,” said Papagiannis. “I’m going to (work on) my skills in the post and my mid-range (jumpshot). I’m going to improve everything so I can be (better) next year.”
In addition to joining the Kings Summer League Team in Las Vegas for the second consecutive season, the 19-year-old is honored to represent his native country in the FIBA EuroBasket 2017, even if it means giving up most – if not all – of his limited downtime.
“There’s going to be no rest,” he said. “I have to play really well in Summer League. I have to play really well for the Greek National Team. These are going to be my opportunities to be ready for the next year.”
No. 13 has already shed 30 pounds since entering the League, according to The Sacramento Bee, and anticipates working with coaches in both the U.S. and abroad to further enhance his conditioning and physicality.
“For sure, I have to slim down – probably 10 more pounds – because today’s game is fast,” he said. “And while I’m slimming down, I’m going to try to bulk up, too. It’s going to be hard, I know, but I have time to do all that.”
Labissiere – who credits partaking in as many as three games per day in the AAU circuit for helping him stave off late-season fatigue in the NBA – similarly aspires to add muscle to his wiry, 6-foot-11 frame and alter his diet.
“Just hit the weight room really hard and eat properly,” said No. 3 of his primary agenda. “(I don’t want to) get too big too fast (to) still be able to move like a guard.”
The Haiti native hopes to spend “a little bit” of time in his homeland, but vacation plans aren’t on his summer itinerary. Lauded for his tireless work ethic, the versatile standout – the first member of his Draft class to notch a 30-point game (32 on March 15) – intends to further hone each facet of his craft.
“When I work out, I work on everything,” he said. “I’m a basketball player. I don’t think I have a position on the floor.”
As he prepares for his third season, Willie Cauley-Stein – on the heels of his own second-half offensive breakout – has more defined offseason goals, recognizing limitations which have kept him from maximizing his full potential.
“Getting to rack and being able to finish through contact – I think that’s a big thing for me since I’m not shooting threes,” he said. “I have to try to get threes some other way, so that’s ‘and-one’s and free throws.”
Upon testing his endurance and mental toughness over the course of a six-week Navy SEALs training program, the Kings big man will shift his attention to perfecting his shooting mechanics.
Expanding his offensive repertoire, No. 00 attempted nearly twice as many jumpshots in 25 games since the midseason break (106) than he did throughout his first 50 appearances of 2016-17 (63), per NBA.com.
“(I’m starting to) get my jumper (to) where I’m shooting it the same way every time, so my big focus now is no matter what shot (I take), I’m shooting on the way up,” he said. “Though the summer, that’s going to be one of the big things – 700 shots a day, just make sure I’m shooting on the way up. And I’m still working on passing. It’s going to be a cool summer, I’m excited about it.”
While Kings Head Coach Dave Joerger expects each player to follow the coaching staff’s individually-designed fitness and nutrition schedule, he ultimately hopes Sacramento’s up-and-coming nucleus will both work and flourish as a collective unit.
“I think it’s a commitment by the entire organization of how we’re going to bring these guys along,” he said. “My preference would be that they come along together. I think that when you’re talking about doing workouts in the offseason, it’s a lot more fun the more people you have … They can build that camaraderie together as teammates. Going through hard work together, I think is positive.”