Kings forward Harrison Barnes was already on the floor for practice Sunday just two days after joining the team in Florida.
Coach Luke Walton was encouraged by what he saw, saying Barnes might even be able to play when the Kings scrimmage the Los Angeles Clippers on Monday at Walt Disney World Resort. Walton will have difficult rotation decisions to make now that Barnes is in the NBA bubble, but he will welcome that challenge after illness and injuries created weeks of roster uncertainty.
During a Zoom call with reporters following Sunday’s practice, Walton described what he was seeing from Barnes and talked about what that might mean for DaQuan Jeffries, an undrafted rookie who impressed in the first two scrimmages.
“Today was a non-contact day for us … but we have (Barnes) playing some 3-on-3, 4-on-4 right now since practice has officially kind of ended,” Walton said. “He looks good. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow and if he feels well we’ll try to get him out there a little bit in that Clipper game.”
Walton also said center Richaun Holmes will play Monday. Holmes wasn’t sick or injured, but he has been limited to practice since last week when he completed his mandatory 10-day quarantine for breaking bubble protocol.
Barnes tested positive for COVID-19 over the Fourth of July weekend. Barnes said he was “primarily asymptomatic,” but it took nearly three weeks for him to test negative on two consecutive tests, as required under NBA guidelines. Kings center Alex Len is still working on conditioning after developing symptoms during his 24-day battle with the coronavirus, but Walton said Barnes is showing no adverse effects.
“He never got any symptoms, so I think he’s probably doing as well as you can when you’re in quarantine for a long time,” Walton said. “He looks good. He passes the eye test. He’s moving around and he feels confident, and he wants to play, so that’s all good news.”
Barnes is the only player who has started all 64 games for the Kings this season. Walton starts him at small forward, but Barnes has logged 54% of his minutes at power forward, according to Basketball Reference.
Walton started Kent Bazemore in place of Barnes in the first two scrimmages, bringing Jeffries and Corey Brewer off the bench in backup roles. All three have played well.
Bazemore played a total of 48 minutes against the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, averaging 13.5 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting 37.5 percent from 3-point range.
Jeffries logged 49 minutes in those games, averaging 11 points and 3.0 rebounds. He made 5 of 6 from the field and 2 of 2 from 3-point range against the Heat and stuffed the stat sheet with 10 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocked shots against the Bucks.
“He’s been impressive and he’s doing everything we’re asking of him, and a lot of what I’m impressed with about DaQuan is the little things,” Walton said. “It’s the switching on defense, the two verticals at the rim he had (against Milwaukee), rebounding. Those little things that are important for role guys to do, he’s really embraced that, so we’ll see what that looks like. Obviously, when Harrison’s back, Harrison’s our No. 1 at that spot and Baze is right there, too, so DaQuan is doing everything he can and then it’s my call to make the minutes decisions.”
Brewer played six minutes in the first scrimmage and 14 in the second, but he was active and efficient, averaging 9.0 points and 3.5 rebounds while making 6 of 7 from the field and 3 of 3 from 3-point range.
There won’t be as many minutes available for the reserves with Barnes back in the lineup, but Jeffries said he will keep pushing to establish a role as a switchable 3-and-D wing with great length, great strength and explosive leaping ability.
“If HB comes back, I can’t take steps back,” Jeffries said. “I’ve got to keep going forward and make my presence felt on the floor.”
There would be more minutes available on the wing if Walton chooses to deploy more small-ball lineups with Barnes at power forward. Advanced statistics show the Kings have been at their best with those lineups this season. Walton has pointed to the effectiveness of those groups on a number of occasions throughout the season.
Over the weekend, Walton was asked if he was considering starting Barnes at power forward when the Kings begin their eight-game playoff push against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday. Walton sounded like he might be considering it.
“That’s all going to depend on how Harrison looks,” Walton said. “If Harrison is completely healthy and ready to go, then we’ll take a look at that, but right now we haven’t seen him in a while, so it’s too early to make that call.”