With training camp fast approaching, Sacramento’s roster comes to mind.
Withholding judgement on what they can actually accomplish, it’s evident this team is coming into the year with the most depth it’s had in years.
Ahead of camp, it’s clear the Kings have an extremely high offensive ceiling with a prospective rotation comprised of legitimate talent, but there are also a few minor competitions for some of the roster spots.
Notably, on the front of a third point guard, Sacramento is bringing in Matthew Dellavedova and Quinn Cook to compete for the role.
The other less glamorous competition, if you will, is the one for what looks to be the final roster spot.
You’ve got Fox, Sabonis, Barnes, Holmes, Huerter, Murray, Monk, Mitchell, Davis, Lyles, Len, Metu, and Bazemore (whose contract is not yet official), that’s 13 guys. Add in the winner of the Delly-Cook battle, and that’s 14.
The 15th and final spot is the other competition. Chima Moneke, KZ Okpala, and Sam Merrill will look to make the case for a roster spot, albeit a spot that will probably be more inactive than active on a nightly basis.
How might each of those three make the case for themselves?
For now, let’s dial in on Moneke.
A former UC Davis Aggie and a preliminary member of the Nigerian National Team (prior to the final cuts) when Mike Brown was coaching during the Olympics, Moneke is aiming to establish a role in the NBA after four seasons overseas.
Professionally, he has made a modest yet admirable ascent from France’s second tier league—where, with his first team, he was cut after three games—to the preeminent French league and then to Spain’s top league with the team BAXI Manressa.
In his professional career—which includes those four seasons plus his stats from the 2022 Basketball Champions League, a club tournament that he was MVP of—Moneke has played 134 games, averaging 14.3 points (.566 FG%/.345 3P%/.748 FT%), 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, and 1.2 steals.
Moneke, as Sean Cunningham noted in July, “will bring defense, athleticism and length,” which can complement a young team that can run the floor and who will be preached defense by Mike Brown and company.
Of all the roles Moneke could fill, his underdog story, connection to Davis, and remarkable athletic ability make him a candidate to be a spark off the bench.
Two-way bench player would obviously be better, but sticking to a realistic viewpoint, Moneke could be a dose of juice for this team.
Throughout the years, various different guys have made a name for themselves as energetic, explosive jolts of excitement for a team and, if at home, the fans. Guys like Chris “Birdman” Andersen come to mind. And thinking specifically of the Kings in recent memory, others like Reggie Evans, Quincey Acy, and Richaun Holmes all assumed that role with boisterous force.
Moneke could do the very same thing, and he might be aware of it, too, telling Sean Cunningham this week that he feels he can be “a fan favorite.”
Watching his highlights, it’s easy to see how his physical abilities can distribute a thundering bolt of excitement throughout a stadium.
He is extremely springy, able to get up high for a block attempt or for an offensive rebound. Also, he runs the floor like a race horse, can chase down a defender (this example is just mean), and is able to finish at the rim with surprising finesse or emphatic dunks. On that note, it’s particularly his dunking prowess that stands out (see here, here, here, and here) because that is how the fuse is lit.
So it’s clear he has many of the requisite characteristics coming in.
And it’s worth noting that the presence of Matthew Dellavedova–especially if they both make the cut–could be a huge developmental help since the two overlap on a few prominent similarities. Moneke was born in Nigerian, but grew up in Australia, where Delly hails from. Both went to WCC schools, went undrafted, and relied on grit and determination to achieve—or, in Moneke’s case, have the opportunity of achieving—the NBA dream. They could bring the best out of each other.
But before getting too far out ahead, there’s more to being an NBA player worthy of consideration for a role. As much as this sounds like it’s coming from a broken record, if Moneke wants to see the floor, he’ll have to be a convincing threat on the perimeter.
Moe Harkless is a skilled and versatile defender, but his shooting was not enough of a threat at the 4 following the Sabonis trade, which not only outed him as an offensive liability, but also in turn held back the other four guys on the floor because whoever was guarding the forward never had to stick with him all that close.
If Moneke is a brick mason from the three-point line, it will negate any help he can provide in terms of defense and even energy.
Having shot around 35% professionally, Moneke will need that to be a hard baseline. He needs to be able to hit open looks consistently, and seeing how numbers rarely directly translate from just any level to the NBA—there’s usually a drop off, or an adjustment period at the very least—then a lot of work will need to be put in.
That is to say, it would be remarkable if Moneke shot over 34% from three, though it’s not impossible.
More specifically, one problem on the three-point shooting issue is the fact that—judging by some of the tape—his made three’s usually come on pull-up attempts. Moneke seems to thrive off the dribble with his jumper, especially if his momentum is already moving towards the basket.
With the ball movement this Sabonis-led Kings team will be utilizing, any looks from three will likely be open catch-and-shoot attempts. Open looks will present themselves, but they still have to be executed.
Can Moneke do that?
Who knows at this point?
Training camp will be the first opportunity to ascertain some idea of that answer.
For now, though, Moneke has a lot of things that could work in his favor as he tries to win a spot on this roster. He would be a nice candidate for a bolt of energy off the bench—a quintessential role in Sacramento—but he’ll definitely have to hit three’s to solidify his chances.