By signing a 33 year-old Kent Bazemore to a one-year deal, the Sacramento Kings have added some needed depth to their lot of forwards.
Prior to that addition, the situation among the forwards on the Kings is a mixed bag, with a lot to like and a lot to question.
For one, the Kings drafted Keegan Murray, who looks to be the starting 4. They also retained an exceptional rotational piece in Trey Lyles as well as Chimezie Metu, who has shown glimpses of offensive production despite inconsistency. Then combine it with the steady, dependable veteran presence of Harrison Barnes.
Pivoting off of that last guy, there is the unknown. One of the things the Kings have lacked year after year is an adequate backup to Barnes. This has resulted in some burnout from the former champion, which affects the team because of his important role.
Having the versatile Murray as well as the 6’7″ Kevin Huerter and Terence Davis’ 6’9″ wingspan does seem it could sort of converge as a form of depth behind Barnes, especially with the likely use of three-guard lineups, but questions were always going to surround the two guys who appeared to be brought in as Barnes’ primary backup.
KZ Okpala has NBA experience, but he hasn’t exactly found his footing, let alone proven he’s worthy of earning a rotational spot. And Chima Moneke may also have intriguing upside, but the international journeyman simply doesn’t have any experience in this league.
That’s what makes the Bazemore signing so important for this team. Regardless of the fact he’s surpassed his peak, they now have a veteran player who can be trusted with a bulk of the load behind Barnes as well as depended on to be a rock on the wing defensively.
With a mix of dependable guys and question marks, the roster’s depth at forward will be interesting going into this year.
Harrison Barnes is recognized around the league as a good overall player. A ten-year veteran and former NBA champion, he’s a force of stability for this young team.
Assuming he isn’t moved before the season starts, Barnes will continue starting at the small forward position, commanding a large portion of the nightly minutes. On the floor he’s an efficient shooter as well as a solid and versatile defender. Off the floor, he’s an even bigger professional, always maintaining his physical shape and his discipline.
He’s a consummate pro and starter who gets better year by year and, if anything, has been charged with being too passive. At the same time, he’s seemed to fall just as short in regards to his gas tank since he’s never really had an adequate backup behind him on the bench.
Bringing in Kent Bazemore to back him up just makes a lot of sense. The two of them were rookies together in 2012-13 for Mark Jackson’s Warriors, and a decade later they’re looking to form a nice duo of depth on the wing.
Granted, the 33 year-old is coming off his worst season statistically with the Lakers last season. He’d been coaxed into joining LA after having a nice year with the Warriors that could have resulted in a return to Golden State and—although he didn’t know it—a championship, and it ended up the way one might very well imagine.
Compared with that year in San Francisco, he really took a step back. After averaging 7.2 points (.449 FG% and .408 3P%),3.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, and a steal in 67 games for Steve Kerr, Bazemore averaged 3.4 points (.324 FG% and .363 3P%) 1.8 boards, 0.9 assists, and 0.6 steals in 39 games. Not to mention his defensive rating went from 108 to 113 from one year to the next.
Frank Vogel actually claimed Avery Bradley off waivers just before the start of the season and ended up giving LA a nice season. In short, Bradley, and others like Malik Monk and Austin Reaves, gobbled up most of the minutes at guard. Bazemore’s season—as illustrated in this comical slip up—provide some explanation as to why that is.
But, as Kings fans saw in 2020, Bazemore is still regarded as one of the more dependable 3-and-D wings in the league.
Put particular emphasis on the defensive aspect, though. At Old Dominion in 2011, he won the Lefty Driesell award as the NCAA’s top defender and was brought in as an undrafted free agent to Golden State, where he played a lot with the Santa Cruz Warriors. From there, his defense became proof that he belonged in the league.
Throughout his career, he’s been an exceptional defender, using his high motor and aggressive style to be a disruptive guy on the defensive wing. It’s no wonder advanced stats site Crafted NBA ranks him in the 72nd percentile for deflections and the 97th percentile for defensive turnovers.
Offensively, Bazemore can provide three-point shooting, and certainly has, but the consistency of that shot is not perfect. After shooting over 40% from deep with Golden State two years ago, he followed it up with a 36.3% clip the next year with LA.
Still, he’s an experienced veteran who can run the floor, pass, handle the ball at times, and provide his usual dose of effort on that end as well.
And even if he has a year like or worse than last season, Bazemore will always be counted on to provide cheerleader-level enthusiasm on the team’s bench.
Bringing him in may not be viewed as the perfect move, but honestly, the Kings kind of had to do something. Three-guard lineups could work to mitigate lack of depth behind Barnes, but there is just too much shrouded in the unknown regarding KZ Okpala and Chima Moneke.
The two of them are said to be able to provide excellent length and defense off the bench, but the uncertainty in regards to their shooting ability makes their chances for nightly minutes doubtful. Okpala is a career 27.3% three-point shooter in 63 career NBA games, and Moneke shot 30.3% from deep over his last two international seasons.
They’ll have their chance to prove otherwise in training camp, but being a plus defender and a liability on offense just won’t be enough to crack the lineup.
Nevertheless, Mike Brown did gush about Okpala being a potential Defensive Player of the Year candidate one day, and Moneke has earned considerable recognition for his play in Europe. It’ll be worth keeping an eye on whether they can impress.
Things are a little more straightforward regarding the power forward position in comparison to the wing.
The order of rookie Keegan Murray, Trey Lyles, and Chimezie Metu may not be as deep as the ocean, but a team would have trouble complaining about that three-man depth at the 4 position.
Though he’s entering his rookie season, Murray should be a valuable piece to this Kings team this upcoming year and for seasons to come. Smart, aware, and efficient on offense while at the same time long, versatile, and robust on defense, the former Iowa Hawkeye has what it takes to follow through.
After having the best season in all of college basketball, Murray made a strong initial case for why he’s the best rookie coming into this year with his Summer League performance. Yes, it’s meaningless action against sub-NBA level talent, but the degree of consistency and soundness from San Francisco to Las Vegas has plenty of spectators excited for a reason.
Not only is he making the case for being the best rookie, he’s probably made even more progress in convincing everyone that he’s the best shooter of his class. A high and repeatable release combined with his poise and mindfulness could make him an excellent deep threat, both spotting up and coming off of screens.
He’s also a great rebounder, excellent in transition, and full of defensive potential.
And backing up the rookie will be Trey Lyles, who really won over a lot of basketball fans in Sacramento with his stint with the team last year. The deal that brought him in seemed to highlight Donte DiVincenzo as the prized addition, but in hindsight, the case could be made that Lyles was the notable high-value asset.
The seven-year veteran, as Monte McNair said of him, “combines the size of a power forward with the ability to shoot like a guard.” He’s an adequate team defender and a real plus on the glass. Crafted NBA has him in the 90th percentile in defensive rebounding, showing how valuable he is for a team trying to secure possessions.
At the same time, he has some touch from range. One of the things about Lyles that makes him valuable is that he keeps defenses honest. He doesn’t shoot a super high percentage (35% in the last three seasons), but he hits enough to help open the floor. In his 24 games with the Kings last year, it seemed all Lyles needed to do was hit one of those first threes of the game and he’d force defense’s to keep tabs on him for the rest of the night.
With that combination of tools he provides on both ends of the floor, as well as his experience in the league, it’d be difficult to ask for a much better backup to Keegan Murray.
Adding to the depth behind the rookie is Chimezie Metu. Beloved by the fans, the athleticism of Metu dictates a potentially high ceiling for a guy who has honestly been very inconsistent so far.
Of course, given his skillset, Metu can be a spark of energy off the bench as a cutter and as a long-armed (7’0″ wingspan) body to lob balls to.
With that length and athleticism, he also offers what some could consider underrated defense. It may not pop out, but Metu uses his long, quick arms to be a disruptive defender, and Crafted NBA ranks him in the 83rd percentile for deflections. He may not be exceptionally savvy on defense, but he’s skilled and fairly versatile.
More than anything, though, the focus has to be offense for Metu, mainly three-point shooting. That’s also where the inconsistency thing comes most into play.
From deep, Metu shot just 30.6% on 3.1 attempts per game on the season last year. While that sounds and is subpar, it was the final stretch of the season where Metu displayed how valuable he can be.
In the final 22 games of the season, Metu shot 39.6% from deep, which includes a 41.7% clip on catch and shoot attempts. It was in that time frame, as well as at other various points, that Metu showed he has what it takes to ascend into Mezie Mamba level.
How well he can manage to transform into that version of Chimezie Metu remains to be seen, but with the comfort with Coach Mike Brown, who coached the former USC Trojan last summer for the Olympics, perhaps he can tie it together. In 3 group phase contests for Team Nigeria, Metu did hit 7 out of 11 (.636) three-point attempts, so it’s no pipe dream.
If Metu can be an athletic stretch-4 who proves reliable, then he’ll be able to fill a coveted role in this league. If he can’t exactly do that, he still serves as a potentially useful reserve with his ever intriguing upside.
Murray, Lyles, and Metu just aren’t that bad of a group.
The forward position in a nutshell
Fans must have a pretty good idea of what they’ll get from Harrison Barnes. That is stability, experience, efficient scoring, solid defense, and a considerable load of minutes. Behind him questions remain.
Bazemore is a nice add, but his year with the Lakers really calls into question how effective he can be. Among others, Frank Vogel favored Avery Bradley because he was shooting better than Bazemore, and the latter had definitely taken a step back defensively anyway. How he can bounce back from that down year has pretty large implications on this upcoming season.
If Bazemore proves he’s still a stable backup—not necessarily playing to the same level he was two years ago, but close—then that looks to make the effort to provide adequate backup behind Barnes easier. However, if he’s not making as big of an impact, more might have to come from unproven guys like Okpala and Moneke, or else some kind of move may need to be made.
Again, the depth at the two guard and the potential for three-guard lineups, among other things, could partially solve that issue, but lacking a clear backup behind the veteran small forward for another year could spell some trouble.
Of course, Keegan Murray can help there as a long, athletic combo forward.
And looking that way, it’s evident that with Murray, Lyles, and Metu, the Kings have an appealing set of options at the 4 position.
If all goes well—which is not implausible—Murray should be playing significant minutes and competing for the Rookie of the Year award, if not becoming one of the top options for his team in the process. Trey Lyles is about as serviceable and trustworthy of a reserve 4 that a team can ask for given his size, rebounding, and shooting. And Chimezie Metu and his ceiling make him a worthy third guy who can contribute when needed while not being a detriment if he’s succumbing to inconsistency.
In all, the situation regarding the team’s forwards may not be as ideal as the other position groups—the wing retains unanswered questions while the 4 seems pretty satisfactory—but it still appears to have the potential to be good, especially with reliable pieces sprinkled in with some younger question marks.