The hunger of Kings fans everywhere was extinguished Monday night as their squad hit the floor for their first preseason game in a win over the Lakers in Los Angeles, 105-75.
In this initial contest, there were some signs of the imprint Mike Brown’s system and style of coaching is making on this team and what it will mean for the season ahead. Sacramento moved the ball, each player remained active off the ball, there was a focus on running and pushing it, they avoided turnovers, and there was a mix of pick-and-roll combinations.
Offensively, the Kings really struggled in the first half, shooting 32.7% from the floor and a putrid 11.8% from beyond the arc. The second half saw a complete shift as the Kings scored 64 of their 105 points on 48.1% from the field.
The Lakers looked pretty sloppy the whole way through once their primary rotational guys were done for the night. LA as a whole shot just 31.2% and turned the ball over 20 times; Sac had 14 steals primarily because of the turnovers.
Being preseason basketball, all 20 guys on the Kings training camp roster saw the floor with basically four essential variations of lineups.
The first half was played between 10 guys, with KZ Okpala starting at the 4 alongside the definite starters of De’Aaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis, and Harrison Barnes as well as the favorite at the 2, Kevin Huerter.
The second unit featured Keegan Murray at the 3 with what can be called—even this early—the usual suspects off the bench of Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, Trey Lyles, and Richaun Holmes. This unit also started the second half before the other 10 guys began to enter the floor midway through the 3rd quarter.
Several guys looked real good in this game, including all three centers on official contracts, but the biggest individual standout was rookie Keegan Murray, who posted a game-high 16 points on 7 of 11 from the field and 2 of 4 from deep, 6 rebounds, and 2 steals in over 20 minutes of play.
Mike Brown’s Early Imprint
It was really beautiful to watch all the movement in the Kings offense regardless of the personnel on the floor. From the first possession to the last, it was a pass-heavy, activity-focused approach that will be two of the staple characteristics of this team.
Similarly, the former Warriors assistant had his team emphasize running and pushing the ball in transition.
The pick-and-roll game and/or two-man game was another heavily featured and nicely executed aspect. Like the movement, everyone seemed to be involved. There were a range of handlers as expected, from Fox to Kevin Huerter to Davion Mitchell to Keegan Murray to Malik Monk to Keon Ellis, and many more.
Perhaps another big indication of Brown’s influence was the fact that—despite the pass-heavy offense and the general susceptibility to turnovers in the preseason—the Kings turned the ball over just 7 times. Last year, they averaged 13.5 turnovers a game.
Lineups: An Impressive Second Unit
The starting lineup of Fox-Huerter-Barnes-Okpala-Sabonis was both along the lines of what was expected and a bit of a surprise. Reason for that slight surprise was Okpala’s place in it.
But only a slight surprise. At a scrimmage during the previous week, Okapala was featured with the other four, so it was not a complete surprise. Also, knowing what Okpala offers defensively and Brown’s fondness for him, his place among the 10 players that saw action in the first half is not out of left field necessarily. But it’s interesting to say the least that he is getting the early nod.
Many figured Murray would be starting at the 4, but the rookie evidently has to work for it. He said on media day that “everything has to be earned,” including time in the rotation and the starting 4 position. He still has a good chance to start on opening night (more on that in a moment), but he was also key to the second unit as the 3 for that group that also included Mitchell, Monk, Lyles, and Holmes.
Overall, the second unit was the standout set of players. They started the second half, leading the charge into the 3rd quarter where Sacramento beat up on their opponent 35-13.
Dellavedova-Davis-Merrill-Metu-Len could be considered the third unit and they, too, looked solid and steady. Dellavedova didn’t completely look like one of the older guys and Len played well. Davis looked really active and fluid, but shot a horrific 1 of 6 from the field.
The final unit was Cook-Ellis-Bazemore-Moneke-Queta. With the lowest of expectations of the four, they also played well. Behind Ellis and Bazemore, the unit played very well defensively.
How these lineups shift or if they change at all will be interesting.
Murray Starting at the 4: A Matter of Time?
So Murray played the best in this game by far. In Summer League, he was the best player on the floor for the most part, and at the end of his first preseason game, a similar argument could be made.
Obviously, with guys like LeBron James, Anthony Davis, De’Aaron Fox, and Domantas Sabonis, he wasn’t, but he played like it on Monday night.
Murray showcased his off-ball ability, notably making a catch and shoot three off a pick look like a piece of cake. But Murray was really impressive on-ball in the two-man game as well. With Holmes, Murray got the energetic big man heating up in intensity by finding him for an electric alley-oop off a pick-and-roll handoff. And with Len, he utilized a pick to find a nice spot for an easy jumper.
Additionally, he made a nice pass to a backside cutting Trey Lyles, who missed the reverse layup before Richaun Holmes got the rebound and the score. And he also took advantage of the sloppy Lakers for a steal and easy transition dunk all alone.
It could be a matter of time until Murray locks up the starting role many presumed he’d eventually have. However, given his versatility as a 3 in the second unit and his multi-pronged scoring punch that does not rely on off-ball action alone, he could also feasibly stay in the second unit.
In that latter case, though, he’d have a good chance of closing. At the end of the first half—it’s not the end of a game, but it’s close given it’s preseason—Murray closed it out with the starters in place of Okpala.
Domanatas Sabonis is an excellent facilitator from the high or low post who is one of the best big’s for pick-and-roll action. His two backups may not possess the same skillset, but both Holmes and Len were utilized similarly.
The latter centers both saw success in the two-man game, and there were moments where either would be standing on the elbow, ready to deliver a pass as the other four guys moved around.
Similar to how Brown and any coach wants point guards to be the steady and accountable floor generals, the head coach seems to expect a consistent role for his big’s.
Additional Note on the Opposition
A quick note on the Lakers. The idea of Westbrook being on this team seemed to lend credence to the idea that LA could repeat their mediocrity from last season. It should be noted that the man in question played well, hitting 2 of 3 from the field with 3 assists in 14 minutes. One might even say Westbrook played with a renewed sense of energy.
Anthony Davis apparently thinks of his team as “underdogs” this year, but if Westbrook can be productive, that’s seriously downplaying what they can do. It could rest on the veteran point guard this year, and to his credit, he made a nice first step.
The Kings play the second of their four preseason games on Sunday, October 9 at home against the Portland Trail Blazers in a preview of opening night.