PHOENIX — You never know when a door will open in the NBA. All you can do is be ready when your number is called and try to take advantage of every opportunity.
With Richaun Holmes out with a right shoulder strain and Marvin Bagley still nursing a midfoot sprain Tuesday night against the Phoenix Suns, Kings coach Luke Walton turned to 21-year-old Harry Giles as his starting center and, when he needed something different, called seldom-used big Dewayne Dedmon off the bench.
“Harry getting the chance to start for a young player is a great opportunity,” Walton said after Tuesday’s 114-103 win over the Phoenix Suns. “I thought he gave us some good minutes.”
Both of Walton’s moves were bold, but he had very few options. Giles responded early, scoring six points and grabbing four rebounds in the first quarter.
The second-year pro was under control on both ends of the floor, neither fouling nor turning the ball over in his opening eight minutes of action.
“It felt amazing,” Giles said after the win. “I’m blessed just to get the opportunity, especially from where I was just at. I’m excited about that and I’m just trying to build on from there.”
Where Giles was at just last month was a dark place. The 21-year-old was supposed to compete for minutes at center at the beginning of the season, but his knee flared up on the first day of training camp and he quickly got lost in the shuffle in Sacramento.
After missing all of training camp, the preseason and the first eight games of the season, Giles played a handful of minutes in seven games during the month of November, but then he was back to the bench.
Giles waited patiently for 15 games while Walton went a different direction. And then on Dec. 29, Walton went back to the former top-20 pick and slowly started feeding him minutes.
With Holmes sidelined, Giles knew he had to be more cautious on the defensive end and stay out of foul trouble. While he limited his personals to just a single touch foul on a rebound attempt, it might have taken away some of what makes him special as a player.
“I wish I would have went for it a little harder just because I feel like sometimes when you’re trying to not foul, it takes away your aggression, you know what I’m sayin’?” Giles said. “It puts you in a weird state. I was in a state of trying to be aggressive but trying to be smarter at the same time. It just comes with reps and time.”
Giles has plenty of potential, but he was part of a group of players that struggled after halftime. With his team following behind big in the third quarter, Walton pulled a hockey-style line change and swapped out four of the five players on the court.
One of those players Walton subbed into the game was Dedmon, who had just come off a six-game stretch where he did not play. The veteran picked up three “DNP-CD”s and then was entirely left off the active roster in the last three games.
“’DD’ has done a nice job of keeping himself ready,” Walton said. “He took full advantage of that today and played for his teammates.”
The Kings invested heavily in the 30-year-old 7-footer during the summer, but their return on investment has not been what they expected. With another opportunity in front of him, Dedmon made the most of his minutes, and Walton left him on the court from the mid-third quarter on.
“Everybody sees the game, but they don’t see sometimes the work players put in behind the scenes and that’s what he’s been doing,” guard Cory Joseph said. “He’s been waiting for his moment and his moment was today, and he executed and he delivered for us.”
Dedmon played a season-high 32 minutes, finishing with a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double. His veteran presence on the defensive end helped slow the Suns’ attack. Without him, it’s unlikely the Kings would have erased a 21-point third-quarter deficit to come away with their second straight win.
“He’s a true professional,” point guard De’Aaron Fox said. “He was ready when his number was called, and he helped us win this game.”
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On the second night of a back-to-back, the Kings outscored the Suns on their home floor 55-23 over the final 16:50 of the game. They accomplished that feat without the services of Holmes, Bagley and sixth man Bogdan Bogdanovic.
With the victory, the Kings jumped over the Suns and Minnesota Timberwolves in the standings. At 15-23, they are currently eleventh in the Western Conference standings, just a game-and-a-half behind the San Antonio Spurs for the eighth and final playoff spot.