It takes a lot to become a steadily utilized and trusted piece on an NBA roster, even for a backup center.
The already steep path to carving out a career in the association is only made more rigorous when a player is a second-round selection. While there are lists out there of great selections in the final half of the draft, there are plenty more who have their name called that never come close to developing into a rotational piece.
The Kings’ 39th pick last year was Neemias Queta, and with an appealing mix of size and athleticism, the possibility of him maturing into a useful piece always existed. Though it was potential meant to be regarded with a grain of salt.
Aside from Isaiah Thomas in 2011, who’s the best second-round pick by the Kings in this millennium? Hassan Whiteside only played 19 games in his initial stay in Sacramento before heading overseas and reaching his potential in Miami, so for the sake of the point, he doesn’t count. So, is it Frank Mason? Ray McCallum?
For all the maximum amount of potential Queta may have within him—and there’s plenty—just watching a little of the big man during his time at Utah State as well as in last year’s Summer League was enough to show he required some considerable refinement. With all there is to build on, there’s a lot of work to be done on the raw product.
However, after a good overall performance in 7 Summer League games, Neemias Queta showcased how far he’s come in a little less than a year’s time and why he’s someone fans should continue to keep an eye on.
In those performances, he averaged 12.6 points on 60.3% from the field, 6.6 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks in a little over 22 minutes per game.
His ability to switch out defensively toward the perimeter, run in transition, and finish offensively around the rim after rolling to the basket or even off the dribble were perhaps his most impressive characteristics.
It wasn’t like Queta was moving out to the perimeter to shut down everyone, but what has always been one of his strengths has shown steady growth. There were a few times where smaller opponents would nail some tough shots when the big man switched over to cover them, but it was Queta’s defense that made those looks difficult in the first place.
The defensive versatility to switch out there is reminiscent of Damian Jones, whose perimeter defense never provided a cake walk for the opponent, no matter how good the offensive player was. It’s critical to being a center in the league today when the ability to seamlessly switch and play together is imperative for defensive efficacy.
His athleticism pads his ability on defense, but it also makes him useful in transition as a rim runner. This is particularly the case when Queta was already near the top of the perimeter on defense because his route to the basket was shorter, but he nevertheless gets off pretty quick so he can run ahead or with his teammates.
Offensively, not only did his field goal percentage finish above 60%, but watching Queta’s summer highlights, the thing that stands out the most is his finishing, especially when it came to his use of the spin move and converting contested attempts.
One of the moves he executed very well was actually off the dribble with a spin move and step-through, which he displayed against the Warriors and Suns. His spin move would be very controlled when he’s in full motion, so it even proved effective at one point in a transition situation. Queta was also solid at posting up and when rolling to the basket after screens, converting some nice finishes.
With that, his shot blocking prowess, especially against the Pacers (5 blocks) and Thunder (4 blocks), his tendency to be active and slippery on the boards at times, and his pair of perfectly sunk deep balls—which includes the “You don’t know me, bruh” shot against Paolo Banchero and the Magic—were also strikingly better when watching him play in these summer contests.
Even those aspects could use some improvement though. Moreover, while Queta has shown a definite improvement, and his outlook to become an NBA player has only gotten better, he’s also illustrated why he’s not quite there yet.
In this space, the big man was described as having “the air of a pony” because he remains considerably raw, especially in terms of his feel for the game.
Part of the reason Queta’s finishing skills were really impressive, besides being statistically efficient, was that there would be these sparks of moments where he’d look like a fluid, modern NBA big man. It was a stark contrast to other moments on the floor, when it’s easy noticing how awkward he can look during a game.
There are times when Queta mistakes passes to others as intended for him. Against the Lakers, a pass didn’t exactly look intended for an alley-oop, but Queta gave it a shot anyway, but to no avail. And though he ultimately scored at the basket, there was one point in transition against the Magic where he took a pass meant for Keegan Murray. These aren’t blowing up opportunities for his team, but they show the need to improve his feel.
And while athletic, sometimes his body movements are sudden, jerky, and clumsy. The referees missed a clear foul committed by Queta when he grabbed Miami’s Orlando Robinson when he was about to grab a rebound. And there was a moment where Queta made an erratic attack on the rim that, to his credit, he actually hit, but there’s no word other than ‘awkward’ to describe it.
It can all definitely be ironed out, and he looks far better than last summer, but it shows why he’s got plenty more work to do.
Even in regards to things that looked like they could be strengths of his.
It’s already been said that there were times when Queta looked like a true rim protector, but mixed throughout the summer were instances where he showed areas in need of improvement. There were moments where he didn’t step in to close in on a penetrator, or where he didn’t use the space behind him to get better positioning, or even where he looked caught off guard or even flat footed when an opponent approached.
Similar to that, his high conversion percentages on offense can’t hide his biased favorability to use his right hand. It’s been considered a weakness for the big man for a while, and it was the area that might need just as much work as anything else.
There were so many instances over the couple weeks of play where he would use his right hand when he should have used his left (see here, here, and here). He is so committed to his right hand that, at times, he even seems to make shots more difficult than they need to be.
Of course, he was making those looks, right?
Well, the above 60% from the field thing just can’t be expected to translate against NBA defenders if Queta remains so predictable and one dimensional. At that level, guys will dare you to use the other hand, and make you pay more often than not if you don’t.
But again, there is a feasible outlook to improving this as well. He just needs to grow some more after making some nice progress so far.
With that requirement to mature, cultivate a better comfort level, and improve overall, it’s not like Neemias Queta can’t be an NBA guy. Among recent second-rounders for this franchise, he has a good chance relative to the whole lot, especially with another year of consistent minutes with the Stockton Kings.
His two-way contract keeps him in the Kings’ back pocket for the NBA level if needed at any point, and Queta has at least proved he can be trusted with that role where he’d be able to transition from Stockton to Sacramento whenever necessary.
After 7 Summer League games that showed laudable improvement, Queta is showing he could be on the right track to fight for a place in the rotation. Though, with his need to improve, that may still be a little while.