Ahead of Summer League, Meet Sacramento’s 5 Undrafted Free Agents

With the conclusion of the NBA draft, the Kings have brought in five undrafted free agents, one of whom has been signed to a two-way contract. Though the roster is already fairly crowded, these names will be worth keeping an eye on during Summer League action.

As The Athletic’s John Hollinger noted last week, the Kings were one of the teams “with roster crunches and multiple seconds,” and as such, were a likely candidate to move their second round capital.

Sacramento originally had three picks at their disposal headed into the draft. They used the 4th overall pick to select Keegan Murray before trading the 37th pick to Dallas for two future second rounders. And prior to either of those moves, the Kings used the 49th pick to acquire the rights to international stretch 4 Sasha Vezenkov, whose roster status for next year remains unclear though he himself is confident about the idea.

In accordance with Hollinger’s observation, GM Monte McNair recently mentioned his draft night awareness of having to manage “both our roster and our roster spots” and the volume of preexisting guaranteed contracts ahead of a pivotal season, saying that with “asset management” in mind, it made sense to exchange the 37th pick for two future selections and an open roster spot. 

However, despite the roster dynamics headed into free agency, the Kings still added some undrafted prospects with the Summer League—from the California Classic to Salt Lake City to Las Vegas—set to begin Saturday, July 2. 

It isn’t easy to be an undrafted free agent, but it’s a journey players are more than willing to take because it’s often the only way to establish a career in the association. Guys like Ben Wallace, Udonis Haslem, Brad Miller, and Jose Calderon all made it work after going undrafted. 

And this year’s undrafted class has some added potential. As Sam Vecenie wrote in his last mock draft, fans shouldn’t “be surprised to see a number of expected draft picks end up unselected.” As he wrote, this is because “teams have been calling about getting players on two-way contracts on picks all the way up in the 30s.”

Plus, the two-way deal component will help with the matter of roster spots. Since two-way contracts serve as a way to retain and pay a player depending on which level they’re playing at—either G League or the NBA level—it allows teams to be more flexible with the restrictions of the 15-man roster. 

So while Sacramento works to construct and maintain a solid roster in order to make the playoffs, the team can hold onto prospects they see promise in without sacrificing a whole roster spot.

Here are the five undrafted players the Kings could find potential in.

Keon Ellis 6’6″ 175 lbs. Alabama SG, 22 year-old Senior

Of this group of players, Keon Ellis was the only one who appeared to have a legitimate chance of being selected among the top 58 since he was listed near the end of a few mock drafts. Because of that, Sacramento signed him to a two-way contract.

Ellis has a serious chance to be 3-and-D rotational player. With length and quickness as well as having been named to the SEC’s All-Defensive Team, he is already a great perimeter on-ball defender. He utilizes relentless effort and agility to fluidly stay with opponents whether they’re headed full speed in the lane or moving in a stop-and-go fashion— in fact, he can come to a stop just as quick as he can get moving again. Also, he uses his long, active arms to contest shots, close out, and flaunt disruptive hands. As a whole, he could accumulate value by being a dependable and pestilent defender.

Offensively, his upside exists almost entirely off-ball, specifically in catch and shoot three-point shooting. In two years at Alabama following a transfer, Ellis shot 37% from beyond the arc. He possesses a nice shooting motion when set with a particular knack for the corner three. In instances where he’s headed towards the rim, he may be able to use his length and athleticism to finish at the rim, which he did at a nice clip in college.

Though, with a considerable deficiency in playmaking and shot creation, there’s some explanation as for why he went undrafted. It’s difficult to say whether he can establish himself at one point as an NBA player, but his foundation of defense and athleticism combined with his spot up shooting potential make him a prominent undrafted signing.

Jeriah Horne 6’7″ 220 lbs. Tulsa SF/PF, 24 year-old 6th-Year Senior

At 24 years-old, there isn’t much more room for Jeriah Horne to develop, but he remains intriguing due to his shooting upside.

The primary thing about Horne is of course that shooting ability. In five seasons played through six years, Horne shot 37.6% in total from deep, and specifically, in his final year at Tulsa, he shot 41.5% from three. Overall, his jump shot is really nice from all over the floor and likewise his free throw percentage through his collegiate years sat at 84.2%.

He has good size which allows him to play solid defense and be an effective participant on the glass. Able to guard multiple positions in college, his athletic ability may not be enough to translate that asset to the next level should he earn it, but the possibility exists.

Horne does need a good deal of overall improvement, though. He lacks an ability to get to the basket at times and displays subpar passing ability. Not to mention his athletic shortcomings aren’t immediately made up for since Horne is not ridiculously big or strong.

Still, shooting is a hot commodity, so he’ll have some form of a chance to create a role for himself as a combo forward that effectively stretches the floor. 

Jai Smith 6’9″ 230 lbs. Overtime Elite PF, 19 year-old

After receiving over 50 offers as a high school senior, Jai Smith opted to take an alternative route towards the NBA, electing to join the newly formed Overtime Elite, which is a three team league that offers a non-collegiate option for basketball players to refine their skills.

In 8 games last season, he averaged 14.2 points on 68.8% shooting from the field as well as 8.8 rebounds. As one might guess based on the route Smith took and the small sample size of statistics, this is a very raw prospect.

Despite the fact one is forced to resort to mostly high school tape, it’s evident that Smith’s size and athleticism shouldn’t be overlooked, though. He does seem to possess solid strength and good leaping ability with plenty of room to grow. 

Not much has been said of his shot making and creation ability, but his physical profile and assets combined with his youth make him a worthy project for the Kings. 

His status as a slight enigma may make him one of the more interesting guys to watch during this year’s Summer League.

Jared Rhoden 6’6″ 210 lbs. Seton Hall SG/SF, 22 year-old Senior

As one is likely to hear, Jared Rhoden has a chance to be a 3-and-D player in this league.

With a 6’11” wingspan and excellent lateral quickness, Rhoden is an agile perimeter defender. He uses those long arms, along with some frenetic effort, to be a great shot contester, closing out and disrupting with admirable efficacy. There will be some work needed to become a more versatile switcher in the NBA, but overall he is very good at keeping himself in front of perimeter opponents.

Last year, Rhoden was a 33.6% three-point shooter, while notably hitting 42.5% of all catch and shoot attempts. Though his shot form is a little funky, his release point is nice and high, and his spot up game makes him a real threat to defenses when his feet are set. Even when moving, such as coming off screens, he shows some promise.

Rhoden will have to improve his passing, his ball handling, and his decision making as a mediocre athlete. And he does need considerable work in finishing at the rim, which he can tend to be unnecessarily aggressive at attempting. 

At Seton Hall he had to rely on self-creation, so he may benefit from smaller roles as a professional player on more talented teams. 

If he can tie it all together, he can be a good 3-and-D guy, but Keon Ellis still has the best chances of fulfilling that potential.

Alex O’Connell 6’6″ 185 lbs. Creighton SG, 23 year-old 5th-Year Senior

Alex O’Connell is a high motor athlete with potential to be an effective shooter.

He’s not explosive by any means, but he’s constantly moving and ready to pounce, whether that be to make a play on a ball or getting open on offense. He makes up for some of that lacking burst by being decisive and displaying sufficient smarts.

O’Connell only shot 32.7% from deep in his final season at Creighton, but his motion is repeatable and features a high release. He also proved fairly capable of shooting both off the dribble and coming from off-ball movement. Again, it isn’t a sure thing, but there’s room to iron that skill out.

As a high effort player, he makes himself a solid rebounder and defender despite not being the biggest or quickest. Though he will have to put that effort into improving other areas of his game, such as ball handling.

Due to his streaky shooting and “master of none” status, the battle is uphill and steep for the undrafted O’Connell. But if he can impress while getting bigger and stronger at the same time, he may be able offer a more versatile package of skills to NBA clubs some day.

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