Things to Look For in Sunday’s Preseason Game vs. Portland

After an encouraging performance in Los Angeles on Monday, the Kings are gearing up for their second of four preseason games against the Trail Blazers at home on Sunday night.

It’ll be a little preview for the regular season opener on October 19 against the same opponent, in the same place.

The preseason is a time to iron out some things, shake off the rust, and get the sloppy mistakes out, but this Sacramento team is already working a little head of schedule.

“I told our guys today, I gotta take my hat off to them,” Mike Brown said after Thursday’s practice. “They’re doing a heck of a job trying to stay locked in, trying to do the right thing, playing hard. I thought at this point, watching us get up and down, I thought it’d be a lot more sloppy than what it is. I’m still amazed at us only having 7 turnovers in our last game, and we played all 20 guys, so I got to give our group credit.”

So this next contest will provide yet another closer look at this group and what they may be able to do in the year ahead. Here are a few things to look for.

Who plays?

After playing all 20 guys on Monday, Mike Brown was asked Wednesday about whether the plan will be the same.

“It’s going to be different,” Brown declared. “We won’t play all 20 this Sunday. At most, we’ll play 15 — anywhere between 13 and 15 guys. Our starters will probably play into the second half.”

With that, there could be a good glimpse at what the final roster will look like. Only 15 guys can be carried in the regular season, and out of those, 13 actually suit up.

It’s safe to assume fans will see the 10 guys from the top two units. That would be the same 10 that played in the first half against the Lakers.

But who’s going to be left out?

One could also probably feel pretty safe assuming Terence Davis and Alex Len will see some time, so that’s 12. And the 13th is probably a third point guard so that in addition to the initial 10, there’ll be another floor general, wing player, and true big.

The other two spots, which don’t seem promised much playing time is probably where the mystery sets in. 

Perhaps one can simply go ahead and count out the two two-way contracts in Neemias Queta and Keon Ellis since they’re primed for Stockton.

If only one of the two battling it out for the third point guard were to play, it might be more likely that it’d be Matthew Dellavedova since he was seen closing out a scrimmage on Wednesday and got on the floor before Quinn Cook on Sunday. Cook still might see the floor and be one of those final spots though.

Kent Bazemore was stuck in the fourth unit in the first preseason game, but as a veteran who could potentially add needed depth on the wing, particularly defensively, he could be included.

Chimezie Metu also was seen closing out that aforementioned scrimmage, and positionally he kind of works in as the third power forward, so he may very well see the floor.

On the other hand, things probably don’t look too good for Sam Merrill and Chima Moneke regarding floor time come Sunday, but we’ll see. Merrill’s three-point shooting keeps his hopes alive for a roster spot, but his defense as well as his lack of length and athleticism don’t help his chances.

The feel among the starters

The offense took a little bit to get going for the Kings in their first matchup in LA, and it didn’t really get going until the first unit was done for the day.

Nevertheless, the instant the starters began their work on offense, it was clear that shots would begin falling eventually due to the pass-centric and movement-heavy offense that opens up so much.

The feel among the starting 5, as with nearly all the guys, is really good, it’ll just be about strengthening it.

Keegan Murray described Mike Brown’s offense as being “based off a lot of reads,” noting the use of the two-man game, driving and kicking, and the need to get open and cut. 

In the same vein, Trey Lyles said that’s what makes it “pretty easy” because they “just kind of go through and read one another and see what the other one’s doing and go from there.”

In such a read-heavy offense, good looks will open up, and execution will slowly come along in the preseason, but this game will give a good idea of how much they learned, adjusted, and continued to build that chemistry since their last game.

The 4 Position

Mike Brown has been pretty explicit about not naming a starter at the 4. 

It looks like Okpala will get the start again against the Blazers, and while he offers a lot in that he can guard the opponent’s best player, run the floor, and attack the glass (all with an intent to get better), the versatile and well-rounded game of rookie Keegan Murray makes it interesting.

With only a little to go on from Summer League to the game against the Lakers, Murray looks like he’ll thrive wherever he is asked to play at this level. It doesn’t matter if he’s at the 3 or the 4, with the starters or off the bench, his poise provides that ability.

Really, if Murray is in the second unit, he really complements and creates a backup unit that is not too far behind the starters. The rook was the leading scorer not just of his unit, but of the game on Sunday, so having him as a reserve is a good situation to be in.

But for that luxury to be cashed in on, Okpala’s got to show he’s worth starting. Again, in terms of defense, running the floor, and attacking the glass, the former Stanford Cardinal is in a top-tier class; the forward noted that coach Brown refers to that approach to the game as trying “hitting singles,” and Okpala is great at not trying to do too much. But his three-point shooting has got to come around and show it’s there.

Given the free-flowing, movement-focused offense, Okpala will get his catch-and-shoot looks from deep, and he’s got to hit them. He missed his two against the Lakers, but should get more opportunities to show what he’s got.

The second unit’s “head of the snake”

The second unit of Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, Keegan Murray, Trey Lyles, and Richaun Holmes was the most productive of them all against the Lakers on Monday. The main reason for this was that they just pummeled the Lakers coming out of the gate of the second half, going on a 20-2 run from just past the 10-minute mark to about the 4-minute mark of the third quarter.

Obviously, Keegan Murray had a lot to do with that, as did the scoring presence and spacing of guys like Malik Monk and Trey Lyles, but Mike Brown will point in another direction.

“It started with Davion defensively,” the coach noted. “Davion’s the head of the snake with the second unit… and Davion got up into the ball, there was ball pressure — he got an easy deflection just from the ball pressure, we got out and we ran. But when you look at that second group, there’s a lot of scoring, a lot of shooting in that second group and Keegan let it go in that second group… They shared the ball, they moved the ball, and it was a lot of fun to watch, but, like I said, it all started with Davion’s defensive intensity. Everybody followed behind him.”

As James Ham and others noted, Mitchell did not get off to the best start in that game, but in the second half, he made better decisions, and more importantly, he lead the charge defensively, as his coach expressed.

The second unit should continue to impress, and if a second-year Davion Mitchell can find consistency and flow from the first moment he steps on the floor, they’ll be even more tight and effective.

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