After two really impressive preseason victories, the Kings squeaked by the Suns on Wednesday night, overcoming some sloppiness to win by one point, 105-104.
While Phoenix was without a myriad of players, Richaun Holmes and Keegan Murray were both out with illness for Sacramento. Trey Lyles got the start at the 4 and KZ Okpala did not see the floor.
Out of the gate, the Kings looked out of sorts. By the end of the first quarter, they’d committed 6 turnovers, 9 personal fouls, shot just over 30%, and found themselves down 8 points to a shorthanded team. In the second quarter, they committed another 6 turnovers and 6 personal fouls.
However, in the final four minutes of the second quarter, Sacramento turned it on behind De’Aaron Fox, who, despite not having a great game (5 of 14 from the field and 4 turnovers), lead the charge to cut the deficit to 3. In those final minutes, the Kings went on a 15-4 run to close the half.
Kevin Huerter and Domantas Sabonis also played a key part in that brief second quarter run. In fact, those two hooked up for a beautiful moment in the two-man game in the final minutes of the half in one of the smoothest single moments from the preseason so far.
After a 30-point second quarter, Sac came out of halftime with a defensive shift, holding Phoenix to 19 points (30.4% shooting) in the third.
Ultimately, the game got a little close near the end as the Suns put up a good quarter. The game’s second unit started the fourth before the closing lineup eventually came to the floor. It wasn’t pretty, but the guys hung on, getting some nice contributions from Quinn Cook (4 of 6 for 10 points).
Again, after two solid games, there was some silver lining here in that the Kings got to face some adversity and came out on top in the end. More specifically, that same principle was demonstrated at the end of the first half when the starters got the game within 3.
The turnovers and the excessive fouling were major disappointments in this game. Brown has commented fairly extensively on these two matters so far as head coach.
In regards to turnovers, Brown admitted that such things happen when you’re “moving the ball the way we move the ball.” That was more or less the case on Wednesday night, but a lot of those passes were downright bad decisions, including passes from Huerter, Fox, and Terence Davis, among others. Honestly, Monk probably took the cake for the worst.
To some extent, maybe one can live with some of those mistakes at a reduced clip. But there’s less slack in other areas.
Mike Brown preaches the notion of defending without fouling, but the Kings must have kept him wincing on Wednesday, committing 15 in the first half. They cleaned it up a little, but still put Phoenix in the bonus with 5 in quarter number-three. And in the final stage, they bumped it back up to 9.
There will be a lot on film to pin point and iron out for Mike Brown and his team after this one.
Killing the suspense on that starting 4
With Keegan Murray out in this game, the 4 position was a thing to keep an eye on as it has been all preseason.
After starting the initial two games, KZ Okpala did not see the floor tonight. That does not necessarily mean he’s on the edge of getting cut. Quinn Cook and Kent Bazemore were waived this morning and Chima Moneke did not play against Portland, but played against Phoenix. And after playing in the Trailblazers game, Matthew Dellavedova and Okpala did not see time against the Suns.
It sort of seemed like no minutes meant being on the bubble, but that’s not necessarily the case. This appears to be a sign that Brown wants better looks at each guy.
But that does mean fans could probably give a kiss goodbye to the idea that Okpala can start. That seemed like the subtle sign after he wasn’t starting the second half on Sunday.
His inability to hit three’s and his proneness to get away from doing the little things (as was the case against Portland) seem to limit the upside his defensive talent would provide. Sure, he could guard the best player, but there’s more to NBA basketball.
Really, if anyone was going to get the starting 4 spot not named Keegan Murray, Trey Lyles had the best chance. Not only was he a starter closing out last season with Fox, Barnes, and Sabonis, he also found his groove for the first time this preseason when he was put in with the starters to begin the second half in Portland.
But for Lyles to really solidify a place among the starters, he’d have to take massive strides. Though he played with good energy and drew a charge, he didn’t have the best game by any means (2 of 7 from the field, including 1 of 4 from three).
Lyles has great value off the bench anyways, adding to the depth. He probably just needs to gain better chemistry in that second unit so that he can get back to maximizing his effect and doing the little things like rebounding and hitting open three’s.
Yes, it seems like a no brainer that the rookie will and probably should start. Not only has he been great from Summer League to this last Sunday, but the Kings had their worst performance when he wasn’t there.
Tongue in cheek as that last observation may be, he’s clearly one of the best players on this team and should start.
Harrison Barnes is in his perfect role
One of the unsung heroes of this game—and who could assume that role more often than not in the season ahead—was Harrison Barnes.
In about 25 minutes, Barnes hit 4 of 9 looks for 12 points and 5 rebounds, of which 3 were on the offensive glass.
On Sunday after the game in Portland, Mike Brown said the organization is “all big on the offensive rebounding category,” saying how important it is to be “coming up with extra possessions in this league.” He then commended Barnes for having 3 offensive boards.
Might there be a reason for the added effort?
The way this team is built, Barnes is no longer the third option on this team. He may not even be the fourth. That likely means great things for him and his output.
If Barnes doesn’t have as heavy of a workload, and can function as the smart, efficient vet he is within the pass-centric offense, Barnes will run into good looks, whether on cuts or open three’s. He will also preserve his energy throughout the year, which is not only a concern because he’s assumed such a heavy load in recent seasons, but also because he’s now 30 years old.
As a result, Barnes will be able to impact the game in other ways, fill up the stat sheet, and fill in the necessary cracks from night to night.
It’s a far cry from his volume scorer days in Dallas, but keep an eye on Barnes in this new role and what he can do in securing extra possessions on the offensive glass.
Lineups: pinpointing Terence Davis and Alex Len
There were a few interesting notes about some of the lineups featured.
For one, there was a heavy dose of three-guard lineups where Terence Davis—in the absence of Murray—played the 3. Davis looked really aggressive and solid as he continues to make the case that he deserves rotational minutes.
In roughly 19 minutes, Davis scored 12 points on 4 of 9 from the field and 3 of 5 from deep range, grabbed a couple boards, and had one steal, assist, and block.
If he can go into a game and be a difference maker, then he’ll earn his time.
Big thing for him is defense, though. He was made accountable for some bad defensive mistakes in Sunday’s preseason game, but came out and performed better on that end against the Suns.
If he can stay relatively sharp on defense and aggressive on offense, Davis should be making the distribution of minutes difficult, whether it’s as the third guard in a three-guard lineup or a reserve 2.
Similar to the enhanced opportunity for Davis, Alex Len got to play with the second unit since Richaun Holmes missed another game with his stomach illness.
Len is reminding everyone how solid he is.
Of course, at 7’0″ he’s a presence at the rim, and he has always functioned pretty well in the pick-and-roll. Regarding a lot of those aspects, Holmes is the superior player. But Len might have the edge in the passing department.
He ended with just one assist, which came when he found a cutting Malik Monk, but he almost had two. In the third quarter, Len hit Monk on a get action cut with a beautiful pass, but Monk was fouled on the attempt. Still, it was impressive.
Obviously, he’s no Domantas Sabonis, but Len is proving that he can provide some form of a carbon copy version of a big man that can do a little passing. It’s not to the same level in any capacity as the two-time all-star, but capitalizing on the passing as a big man could get Len on the floor more often.
A forgettable night for Malik Monk
Malik Monk had a horrible game. This is no criticism of his talents and what he can do for this team, but man, that was rough.
Not only did he have the aforementioned turnover, he shot 2 of 9 from the field, including 0 of 5 from deep. He did manage to get 3 assists and a couple steals, but his poor night could easlily be illustrated by either his airball three-point attempt or his poster slam attempt that went awry.
Of course, there’s also his defense. He played with active hands, but his attention to detail still needs significant sharpening. In the second quarter, one could see Sabonis get frustrated and correct Monk after he was out of position on defense.
It was a forgettable one for Monk.
The status for Chimezie Metu
Metu hasn’t been doing himself a lot of favors this preseason. It was important that he come out and make a discernible impact, and he started off as great as he could, hitting back to back three’s in the second quarter.
If he’s going to make this team, he’s got to hit three’s. His first make last night was a wide open catch-and-shoot look when his defender crashed toward the paint. His second was another open look, this time as he trailed up to the perimeter and stepped into it. Hitting those open looks and proving to be a viable floor spacer is imperative.
But can he do it consistently?
The renewed sense of hope—if that’s what it is—came after one preseason game. Is that enough to make the argument he should stick around?
We’ll see, but remember, this is year 3 for Mezie in Sac. Yes, he’s got the connection to Brown, but how much more evaluation does he deserve?
Sac plays their fourth and final preseason game Friday night against the Lakers again. This time it’s at The Golden 1 Center.
It’ll be the last dress rehearsal until opening night on October 19 against the Portland Trailblazers at home.
Also, it’ll be interesting if we’ll see any developments on the reality of Russell Westbrook’s place on that team. After the first preseason game, there was no sign of overt dysfunction as the former MVP looked energized. But a moment on Wednesday night calls it all back into question.
That will be interesting.