Kings basketball is back tomorrow with the start of training camp. Soon enough, a better grasp will be gained on what this team will look like, who will stand out, and how much collective success they can generate.
But before camp even begins, there are key areas of focus regarding each of the 20 players and the outlook on either their season or their chances for making the cut.
Let’s explore them.
Will De’Aaron Fox hit the ground running this season?
It’s probably been the biggest inhibitor to his chances of making an all-star team thus far in his career, so reversing the trend of slower starts is pivotal.
This year could be the opportunity for Fox. After Domantas Sabonis joined him last February, Fox thrived from a couple different factors. For one, he found an exceptional pick-and-roll connection. Additionally, Sabonis’ ability to facilitate a pass-heavy offense provided better opportunities. And of course—perhaps most important—Fox’s place as the foundational centerpiece of this team was solidified.
Rejuvenation as a result of the February trade was illustrated in the notable image of the first Fox and Sabonis hug after their first win against Minnesota as well as the point guard’s incredible finish to the season before his hand injury.
It was mentioned a lot throughout the closing months of the season that while everything felt smooth and improved with the addition of Sabonis and a half-roster full of new guys, the formation of chemistry on the fly did not allow for the full potential to be unleashed.
With camp getting underway, the next few weeks will offer a rich chance to cultivate that chemistry organically, not just boosting the team’s prowess, but allowing Fox to lock into the mission from the start.
More than just a potential all-star appearance—which would still be a symbolic victory for Kings fans—a chance at making the playoffs rides on Fox having a consistent season, start to finish.
Will Sabonis continue to be the engine that makes everything function smoothly?
The answer to this better be a yes otherwise Sacramento is going to have some problems.
As mentioned, everything changed when the Kings traded to get Domas. Not only was he coming in as one of the best big men and a two-time all-star, he instantly made everyone around him better. Fox benefitted, looking arguably the best he’s ever looked with easily the most complementary on-court partner he’s had since joining the league while the team itself suddenly looked like it was from an alternate reality.
So with an influx of perimeter shooters, the results over the course of the whole season look like they could be beyond promising.
In fact, the effect of Sabonis is such that the full benefit of some of these new additions may be more effective than initially realized.
Huerter has never played with such a skilled facilitator at the center position. Monk benefitted from the playmaking of LeBron James, so what might Sabonis provide him? His presence may ease the burden of the rookie Keegan Murray’s transition into this league. And similar can be said of other guys.
As is obvious, yes, Sabonis will continue to be the largest factor into how the engine of the team runs. How smoothly it can rumble along will be fascinating to find out.
Is Barnes still the third option on offense?
Right now, it looks that way. With Fox and Sabonis looking to combine for probably more than 40 points a night, Barnes is probably next, at least off the bat.
Things could change quickly as anyone can admit judging by the impressive performance of Keegan Murray this summer, which was icing on the cake regarding an already solid draft selection. It would not be surprising to see Murray assume that third option by the end of his rookie campaign, especially if he’s truly making a run to snag the ROTY award (more on that in a moment).
In that case, that could actually be a good sign for both the Kings and Barnes himself. For one, there’s the obvious notion that in this hypothetical situation, Murray is tearing it up to some degree. Two, however, is the fact that Barnes might be assuming a role better suited for him.
Barnes is a close to 40% three-point shooter with a ton of experience and an ability to score effectively near the basket. He has what it takes to be a decent third option, but one of the things Sacramento has struggled to get out of the veteran small forward is an aggressive approach that is consistent enough. Somewhere within he has what it takes to score 36, but he almost coils into a more conservative style out of instinct.
Looking back to his time in Dallas, James Ham noted a few years ago that “Barnes was used as a volume scorer from all over the court,” noting that his shot chart with the Mavs was “a mess.” By comparison, Barnes became a far more consistent scorer in Sacramento by limiting his looks to within 10 feet or beyond the arc, as evidenced by his Kings shot chart.
Not to get too far ahead here, but if Barnes is actually less depended on as a scoring option, the upside of his impact may grow significantly. And as he grows older, this could prevent burnout late in the year, which would be vital if this team is serious about playing beyond early April.
Can Huerter tie the strings together to be a true two-way player?
Kevin Huerter projects to be the starting two guard for this Kings team. Out of the group of him, Malik Monk, and Terence Davis, Huerter offers the most versatile skillset. That is to say he’s the best two-way player.
As noted in this space before, Huerter is admittedly on the lower tier of two-way players.
Offensively, it’s hard to nitpick. Huerter is an excellent and dependable three-point shooter who’s expanded his efficiency and the variability of his scoring ability with each year. The worst thing that can happen is he falls into a momentary funk, as he did starting last season.
Defensively, though, he’s a little bit of a mixed bag. He’s still a net positive on defense overall, but he is not entirely consistent on that end. He is smart and has a good understanding of how to play passing lanes and contest shots, but with a wingspan equal to his height on top of average athleticism, he really has to be engaged in order to maximize his defensive efficacy.
This past year for Atlanta, Huerter posted a pretty forgettable 117 defensive efficiency rating. But in 5 playoff games against the Heat, he posted a 113.2 rating. As a whole, in 23 total playoff games, his defensive rating is an impressive 112.5, which shows he has the ability to be a plus defender.
He just has to be consistent.
It’ll be important to let that playoff level of effort flow out of him, whether he unleashes it himself or Mike Brown extracts it from him. And if he can, he’ll continue his evolution in this league in a very remarkable fashion.
Can Mike Brown tap into Holmes’ max potential?
Ever since he joined Sacramento in 2019, Richaun Holmes has always been one of the better players on the roster and, moreover, one of the better centers in the league due to his athleticism, defensive upside, and offensive efficiency.
However, while much of that remains an undeniable fact, it gets lost in the shuffle sometimes.
After the Sabonis trade, one of the best players on the Kings lost his starting job. And with off-the-court factors near the end of the season that piled on top of a lot of missed time for Holmes, it was not clear whether he’d even be on this team going into this year.
Though, as the offseason commenced, it was quickly looking like Holmes was staying put. After Mike Brown was hired, Holmes was one of the Kings players present at the press conference, being cited by name as someone who could really help this defense. And just as free agency was underway, signs indicated the Kings could not find sufficient return for the center, which on top of Brown’s fondness seemed to lock Holmes in as the backup center.
Why not, too? He remains one of the best players on this improved team, and Matt George noted last week how the big man has “impressed in the… player pick-up games at the practice facility.”
The question funnels down to whether that talent can shine. And much of that is contingent on how effective Sabonis and Holmes can be on the floor together. Not as starters or as a heavily relied upon duo necessarily, but as a viable option in the case of specific matchups.
Compared to Sabonis, Holmes most certainly would add a defensive punch since he can better guard opposing big men with more athleticism. On the other end his offensive efficiency around the rim could help him as a cutter in a pass oriented offense, making the case that the two playing together could be useful on both sides of the ball depending on matchups.
Was McNair out of his head referring to Monk as an “underrated” defender?
What Malik Monk does on the offensive end is incredible. He’s an excellent shooter in a variety of different ways as well as just an all around efficient scorer inside and out. Playing around experienced playmakers like LeBron and Westbrook in Los Angeles allowed Monk to capitalize on open looks from all around the perimeter, something he should be able to do more of in Sacramento.
But as everyone knows, for all the good Monk offers on offense, his defense is seriously lacking.
At the introductory press conference for Huerter and Monk, GM Monte McNair described the newcomers as “defensively underrated.” As mentioned, Huerter has a lot of tools that, if tied together, would make him a consistent two-way player. But at 6’1″ Monk just doesn’t appear to bring the same juju.
We’ll have to see how Brown and company can formulate a collective commitment to defense and what that will look like. Will Monk surprise and prove McNair right?
Can Keegan Murray win the Rookie of the Year award?
It sounds so silly, here in early September, asking that question with little to go on like you’re half drunk on a casino floor, but let’s start there.
After all, Murray is one of the most promising players coming out of the draft with many apparently considering him the easy number-two behind first overall selection Paolo Banchero. What his career will look like is an exercise for the imagination, but looking ahead at the upcoming year is a little more grounded in reality.
Returning to the question, yes, Murray absolutely can. He already had good odds that only got better when the competition was reduced slightly with the unfortunate injury to Chet Holmgren.
But also think about arguably the most used appeal for drafting the forward out of Iowa rather than picking Jaden Ivey or trading back. With a need at power forward on a team with youth, (newly acquired) shooting, as well as the tandem of Fox and Sabonis, it made too much sense for Murray to come to the Kings.
Murray was always a perfect fit for this Sacramento team, and his ability to seamlessly plug into a starting role will allow him the best chance to succeed and grow. He has probably the best stability around him of the draft’s top selections.
He won’t necessarily start the year as the third option—though, that hasn’t yet been entirely established—but he is in a position and has more than enough talent to move up that ladder.
Long and athletic, he’ll reap the benefits of cutting and moving around on offense. A sound shooter, he’ll have plenty of good looks from deep fall in his lap. A hard worker, he’ll help on the glass and the defensive end.
In short, the opportunity to be a difference maker is there without forcing Murray to do too much. Because of all of that, he can definitely win the award and make that first step towards greatness. It’s all lined up for him.
Can Mitchell establish consistency as a second year player?
An NBA player’s second season should be a far cry from the inexperience of a rookie year. By year two, guys have gone around the carousel once before, gaining familiarity and comfort with the way things function.
How a player transitions into that second season is monumental.
Davion Mitchell did not have a statistically amazing rookie season. He shot just 41.8% from the field and 31.6% from beyond the arc. However, statistics do not tell the full story.
Mitchell’s best trait is defense, and that was definitely impactful. And despite some unimpressive moments, Mitchell played stretches of basketball that indicated his tremendous upside. Most notable was the way he closed out the year, fulfilling the starting role in the place of the injured Fox and stepping up in assuming some responsibility as a vocal leader.
With a season under his belt and a better sense of confidence, Mitchell’s sophomore campaign has plenty of promise. And it gets better considering his role is pretty clear cut as the backup point guard behind Fox. More than simply the backup, his defense puts him in a position to contribute in closing lineups, and any steps forward in offensive consistency will substantiate that.
Having noted that hitting his threes and being vocal are his goals for this season, Mitchell is aware of what he has to do. And with his work ethic, he can definitely establish consistency, and probably anything he sets his mind to.
Heading into a contract year, does Davis have what it takes to stand out?
The only reason Terence Davis is even more of a forgotten man than Richaun Holmes is that, while also now having overshadowing talent accompanying him at his position, Davis got hurt and missed most of last year.
Under contract for this season and still full of upside, Davis will definitely be in the mix among rotational minutes.
The question is how much can he stand out?
Best case scenario, Davis proves he’s as offensively effective as—or at least on par with—Huerter and Monk. In that case, Davis’ 6’9″ wingspan could help him make the case that he is the better two-way player of the three, boosting his time on the floor at either the 2 or the 3.
Worst case, Davis is nowhere close to the offensive production as the other shooting guards on the roster and maybe struggles to steal any minutes from Kent Bazemore on the wing. In that case, Davis becomes the odd man out.
Probably the most reasonable expectation is somewhere in the middle. Because of his talent, Davis projects to be a part of the rotation as a supplementary option at either the two or three. How much he is allotted in terms of minutes depends on how he plays and how other guys play. If Huerter, Monk, and Bazemore are all playing well, that could equate to a more uphill battle for Davis. If one or two face some struggles, Davis has the adequate level of talent on both ends to step up.
Given the better roster, Davis will really have to make himself stand out. But it’s in his hands to earn it, which spells good things for Kings fans because competition brings out the best in athletes.
Will Alex Len be providing range?
It’s pretty hard to venture far from the idea that Sabonis and Holmes should see the bulk if not all the minutes at center on a nightly basis. But one thing could make that less rock solid.
That would be perimeter shooting from the third center, Alex Len.
Over the course of the summer, Len played 10 total games for his national team, ranging from FIBA World Cup qualifiers to EuroBasket 2022. In those contests, Len hit 7 out of 19 attempts (36.8%) from beyond the arc. The final 6 games he played in international competition were at EuroBasket, where he hit 6 of 13 looks from deep, showing he was building momentum from that range as the summer wore on.
Can he bring that into camp and into the season?
It’ll be interesting to find out. If he can, he’ll be making the distribution of minutes a little more difficult, which is a good problem to have.
Can Lyles pickup where he left off as an ideal role player?
It did not take long for Trey Lyles to win over Kings fans. As a savvy, big bodied, and rebound adept forward with range, it’s hard not to like and appreciate his game.
A few games after joining the Kings, Lyles took over the starting power forward position and the Kings never looked back. He helped secure possessions on the glass, provided enough range to keep defenders honest, never tried to do too much while, at the same time, never hesitating when an opportunity presented itself to him.
With Murray here, Lyles looks to be coming off the bench. Assuming he is able to maintain that stable and beneficial presence, he could be one of the soundest options among reserve players.
Though, he’ll have to prove it first. For all the good he did as a starter last year, the bulk of his career appearances come off the bench, and the splits are pretty stark. Compared to his shooting percentages in 126 games as a starter (.459/.386/.767) Lyles is historically far more underwhelming in 323 games off the bench (.433/.318/.727).
Can he be that steady option as a reserve for Sacramento this year?
Will a 33-year old Bazemore have a bounce back year?
Kent Bazemore is thought of fondly by Kings fans. The same can probably be said of fans of the Warriors, Hawks, and Lakers, too. The cheerleader in uniform is a valuable asset on the bench, and his defense and energy usually translates to a net positive for his team.
That is, with the exception of last year. He continued to bring support and enthusiasm on the bench, but on the hardwood, Bazemore had his most regressive season at the age of 32 for the Lakers.
Of course, the season as whole did not go smoothly for that team in general. So it’s not like Bazemore was a complete outlier.
Still, he’ll need a bit of a bounce back year to show he’s worthy of the majority of minutes in relief of his former teammate in Golden State, Harrison Barnes.
Even if he can’t secure a place in the rotation, even if he falls behind Davis or others in favorability, Bazemore still offers plenty of morale boosting enthusiasm and experience.
Though, it’d be hard to write him off yet. After going undrafted in 2012, his whole career has been made of being a useful weapon off the bench, and experience becomes an asset in trying to bounce back.
Will Chimezie Metu be able to secure his footing in the league?
Chimezie Metu has always been an interesting piece. He’s fairly young, possesses some nice potential, and even shows flashes of the Mezie Mamba within him.
At the same time, he’s kind of always been on the outside looking in.
To his credit, he’s still here, having had his contract made guaranteed to return to the tutelage of Mike Brown, who coached him last summer for Nigeria in the Olympics.
And more than just reuniting with Brown, Metu is entering camp after closing out last year with some success, both before and after opportunities opened up for him after Sabonis’ knee injury. Notably, in the 22 games played after acquiring the two-time all-star, Metu hit 39.6% of his looks from three.
But can Metu make the case for himself before opportunities swing open? That’s important because with the improved talent, plump opportunities are less likely to arise.
As it stands, Metu’s chances of making the roster are good. But it’s on him to boost his chances of inclusion in the rotation.
Is a 32-year old Dellavedova ready for another go in the NBA?
The tenacious veteran is seeking a return to the NBA after spending one year playing in his native Australia.
He’ll be competing with Quinn Cook for that third point guard spot. Dellavedova has a size advantage on Cook, which helps his cause because length—the ability to switch—is important for any team trying to take the next step defensively.
But for Dellavedova, the obstacle is acclimating to the NBA once again at the age of 32 with a history peppered with injuries.
If he were younger, competing for a less specific role, the sharp edge to Dellavedova’s play style would boost his chances. But as is known, that’s not the case.
Dellavedova will have to prove in camp that it’s more than his effort that can make him valuable. He’ll have to show his experience provides an ability to manage the offense if the need for it arrives. Plus, after shooting 37.7% from deep for Melbourne United, he’ll have to demonstrate he can bring some range back with him.
Is Quinn Cook relying on a three-point edge on his camp competition?
The dogged Quinn Cook has a better track record than Dellavedova from deep range. In 188 career NBA games, Cook has hit 40.8% of his looks from beyond the arc, and in 11 games for Stockton last year, he hit 44% of deep looks. Plus, as James Ham noted, three-point shooting was a key focus for Cook’s offseason, so he’s been refining it.
That aspect gives Cook an edge.
But he’s way smaller and not much of a difference maker defensively.
As Ham observed, if the Kings want the third point guard position to be useful at stretching the floor, Cook is a good option. However, the role may require a more comprehensive skillset.
Can Cook make the case he can do more than be a three-point threat?
Can KZ Okpala convincingly hit three-pointers?
KZ Okpala possesses such physical and defensive abilities that of the three less-experienced guys fighting for a roster spot—which includes Chima Moneke and Sam Merrill—he has the highest ceiling.
After coaching him during the Olympics, Mike Brown already referred to Okpala as having the potential to be a Defensive Player of the Year, but noted the obvious need for the forward to figure “some things out to get consistent minutes on the floor.” Being a viable wide-open threat from three would massively substantiate his argument for being on the floor.
Fans know how the fact that Trey Lyles keeps defenses honest makes a huge difference. It would be all the better in regards to the athletic phenomenon that is Okpala.
It’s a big ask, but if he can convincingly hit shots, he could be a major surprise this season.
Can the former UC Davis Aggie defy the odds?
Similar to Okpala, Moneke possesses great athleticism and energy, but any opportunity he’ll have to make an impact rides on an ability to also convincingly convert open looks.
Though, his chances are the steepest.
Moneke could certainly assume the role of the spark plug off the bench, but a lot would have to fall his way for that to happen.
It’s probably unlikely he can defy the odds, but Moneke will at least be given a chance.
It might be a lot to ask for, but if Chima Moneke could just increase his shooting efficiency, he’d be forcing himself into the rotation.
Is Sam Merrill’s shooting enough?
Of these three essentially duking it out for the 15th spot, Merrill probably has the most realistic chances. That’s because he specializes in one specific thing that is hard to pass up in this league: three-point shooting.
He can hit three’s in a variety of ways while also playing smart.
Under the assumption his shooting is what it’s expected to be, then it should be enough to carry him to that 15th spot (that is, should the Kings carry all 15; that spot would be inactive, after all). It sort of depends on if any of the other two can make the case the other way.
A future in the NBA has never been viewed as a lock for Queta, but it’s looking more likely after showing the strides he’s made over the last year. There is still plenty more work, but Queta can continue his developmental ascent in camp before embarking on a season in Stockton.
Will Keon Ellis continue to shine as one of the biggest steals out of the undrafted rookies?
Keon Ellis was excellent in Summer League, and so much so one could have easily been duped into thinking he was a late first or early second-round pick. With the outlook being to give him plenty of minutes this season in Stockton, all Ellis can likely achieve is to continue turning heads. If he stays the course, he could be a real option sooner than later for this roster.