Still little is known of what Tyler Honeycutt can bring to the Sacramento Kings. Since being selected early in the second round of the 2010 NBA Draft, the former UCLA Bruin has seen very little playing time due to combination of inexperience and tough luck that’s stunted his growth.
But after a month-and-a-half long stint in the D-League to start this season, he’s showing strides towards becoming a viable NBA player.
“Last year, he was a frustrated guy,” said Kings head coach Keith Smart of the 22-year-old forward. “He wanted to play. Where now, he knows he has to continue to work on his game.”
Early last week, Honeycutt was recalled from the Reno Bighorns, the Kings’ D-League affiliate. Smart decided it was best for his young wing to spend an extended period of time in the minors for a number of reasons, including recovery.
In the offseason, Honeycutt suffered a stress fracture in his right foot, forcing him to miss all of Summer League in Las Vegas. Then in October, he suffered a similar injury in his right leg that kept him out of action just as training camp tipped off.
“Rather than taking him down there for a week and bringing him back, I wanted him to saturate himself with the team,” Smart said.
It took some time for Honeycutt to acclimate himself to his D-League surroundings. In the first two games of the Bighorns’ season, Honeycutt struggled and scored just seven points total. But, he eventually found his way.
In Reno’s third game, Honeycutt posted 18 points and 12 rebounds against the Bakersfield Jam. His effort was the first of three double-doubles he would record in his D-League stint.
“It was a good experience for me to get some playing time, get on the court, get my timing and stuff back.” said Honeycutt, who averaged 10.9 points and 9.6 rebounds in seven contests for Reno. “I had fun down there.”
In his final four games , he was moved into a reserve role. Honeycutt embraced the move to the bench because it’s the same function he expects to have here with the Kings.
“I tried to work on my defense mostly and just my rebounding,” said Honeycutt, adding that he focused on being a spark for Reno’s second unit. “Being a three-guard who can rebound and take a lot of pressure off our bigs here.”
The 22-year-old forward has come back with fewer inconsistencies according to his head coach. He’s played more under control in practice and is showing some new wrinkles in his game. Honeycutt’s elbow jumper coming off screens and patience with penetrating the lane are two improvements that’s caught his coach’s attention.
And off the court, there’s been growth as well. Questions arose about Honeycutt’s work ethic following his rookie season. But since returning from his D-League stint, the 22-year-old forward has shown an improved commitment to his NBA career.
“I got nothing but great (comments) from the coach and from the owner there saying how pleased they were with him this year compared to where he was last year,” Smart said.
Getting Honeycutt to develop better practice habits and professionalism was part of the plan and Smart made sure to keep tabs. The Kings head coach kept lines communication open with the D-League franchise in Reno and told them to alert him if Honeycutt wasn’t falling in line.
“I wanted him to understand that although you’re in Reno, you’re still under our fine system,” said Smart of how he enforced his policies. “So if you have treatment for an injury, you need to be there. If you missed that, you’ll get fined. If you were late for a practice and they let me know, you’re gonna get fined. “
Since his return, Honeycutt has been limited to garbage time in two appearances, which was to be expected. Though his health is in good condition following two stress fractures, it’ll take time for the second-year wing to reintegrate back into the Kings’ system.
Even though the Kings have yet to find a permanent fixture at small forward, patience still must be exercised when it comes to Honeycutt’s NBA readiness.
“His whole thing (now) is we need to see him play a little bit, work a little bit,” Smart said. “Obviously he’s changed a lot. He’s matured a great deal over where he was last year to now.”