What to Watch For in Sacramento’s Third Preseason Game

The Kings have looked really solid in two preseason victories so far. More than that, they seem to be building chemistry at an impressive rate along the way. They’ll look to continue doing the same tonight in Phoenix.

However positive the feel around the team may be, there are still a few things to clear up and iron out at this still-early stage.

Here are some things to watch for in the preseason game against the Phoenix Suns.

KZ Okpala and Trey Lyles

It’ll be interesting to see who starts at the 4, and until it’s announced, it could go one of three ways.

Well, one of two actually.

While it seems like a matter of time until Keegan Murray is finally inserted there, he is down with an illness for this game. He’s been the best player in preseason, scoring a team-high 16 points in each matchup, hitting 7 of 10 three-point attempts total, grabbing 9 total boards, and posting 2 steals in each game. But the poised, confident rookie is questionable to see the floor tonight.

KZ Okpala has gotten the previous two starting nods. Okpala guarded LeBron and took on the challenge of guarding Damian Lillard a few times; he’s an intriguing weapon on the defensive side. With the high, competitive effort Mike Brown has his team playing with, having Okpala assume the role of guarding the opposition’s best player could do wonders for keeping the collective foot on the gas.

But his three-point shooting has yet to reveal any legitimate upside, and he was making some silly mistakes against Portland. That last note is an issue because the long forward becomes a net negative if he fails to do the little things. He cleaned it up a little later in the second half, but Okpala has not exactly convinced anybody he’s a starter.

While it seems that it’s Murray’s job one way or another, it’s important to note that Trey Lyles got the nod to start the second half on Sunday. Lyles had not played well against the Lakers and early against the Blazers, but he settled in with the starters.

Lyles closed out last year as the starting 4 and was great. The idea of having him assume a bench role seems to mean he’s just adding the luxury of depth, but it’s not always that simple.

Not only did Lyles become a difference maker while starting 20 games for the Kings last year, but he’s been significantly better throughout his career as a starter. His numbers off the bench are much lower.

As noted ahead of camp, Lyles’ shooting lines in 126 games as a starter (.459/.386/.767) are far better than his lines in 323 games off the bench (.433/.318/.727). Historically, Lyles plays his best basketball as a starter.

But it could just be a case of working on the chemistry in the second unit, so it could be Okpala.

Now, Murray might be proving to be the one of the best players on this team and, as such, seems entitled to that starting spot at one point soon. But the reality regarding Lyles’ splits remains a factor.

Possible defensive improvement

Two primary things that appeared to bother coach Brown after the win over Portland was the poor effort to “defend without fouling” and not losing your man on backside cuts.

Okpala had an early defensive foul, Chimezie Metu accumulated three early fouls on that end, and other guys had done the same. 

And relating to the other aspect, Brown was quick to utilize a timeout to correct some glaring issues after a defensive mistake from Terence Davis in the first quarter. In fact, he called three early timeouts at the start of the second half.

After the game, Davis expressed that he was pulled early because he surrendered three early and easy baskets, and noted that Mike Brown expects a significant level of accountability.

Brown is a defensive tactician; he sees the floor well on that end and can pinpoint the specific issues. It’s on the guys to respond and execute.

It’ll be important for the team to iron out these mistakes on the defensive end, and if they can demonstrate that in this game, that’s an excellent sign.

Adjustments are vital throughout an 82-game season, and it’s all the more true regarding defense since this is a team that already looks to be special offensively. Teams can’t just trade buckets and expect to win.

Where the turnovers come from

The Kings turned the ball over just 7 times against the Lakers last week. In the more recent contest against the Trailblazers, they committed 20.

A 7 turnover night is clearly ideal, but it’s not exactly realistic on a night to night basis. 

But 20 is obviously too much, “five or six too many” in the eyes of Mike Brown

Still, almost in the same breath, Brown noted the reality of his team’s offense. Turnovers happen “when you’re moving the ball the way we move the ball,” the head coach observed before pointing out that 34 of the 45 field goals made Sunday were assisted.

And really, only half of the 20 came from poor ball security (i.e. bad passes, lost balls). Not all of it was from ball movement; 8 offensive fouls were committed as well as an offensive goal tending by Metu and a travel/palming violation on Davion Mitchell.

A bad pass turnover at least signals good intentions, the others arise from individual mistakes and mental errors.

How the team can improve upon those mistakes will matter. If the Kings are going to be prone to turnovers as it is, preventing the silly ones will be key.

The second unit

Let’s assume Murray starts come the regular season. The prospective second unit is still pretty damn good.

Davion Mitchell is going into year two. Malik Monk was an excellent pickup as a great offensive player, off-ball or on. Terence Davis provides excellent offense, proving to also be useful both on and off the ball (though, because he’s a 2, there’s space for a guy like Kent Bazemore or Okpala). Trey Lyles is an ideal reserve with experience, size, great rebounding ability, and range. And Richaun Holmes would be starting for a lot of teams.

This unit has the potential to be awesome. If Murray is, in fact, coming off the bench, then it’s all the more special, but without him, it can still be great.

The first unit made huge strides in terms of execution in the second preseason game. Their chemistry and feel has hit the ground running, especially since Fox, Sabonis, and Barnes all played together last year.

By contrast, the second unit is still building their chemistry. Thus it will be interesting to keep an eye on them in this preseason game and going forward. 

Quinn Cook, Sam Merrill, and Chima Moneke

It looked as if it was an implicit sign of potentially being cut when these three didn’t play on Monday night against the Blazers. But Mike Brown said Tuesday that those three will see action.

This doesn’t take away from the fact that they probably are still on the bubble, but this will be their chance to do something.

That appears particularly true with Cook, but think about Merrill and Moneke as having a chance to impress at a time when Chimezie Metu isn’t doing himself a lot of favors.

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