It’s official. The Sacramento Kings finished the preseason undefeated again, beating up on the Lakers at home on Friday night, 133-86.
NBA stats were down for this game, but much of the story was told from just watching the game.
The Kings played with excellent energy and pace, displayed nice defense, and continued hitting shots from the outside.
Vibrancy was a key factor in the Kings’ spurts of offense, keeping the defense off balance by pushing it in transition or for early offense. Additionally, they committed to ball movement, stayed aggressive, and hit the high percentage looks that came about as a result.
It was the beautiful brand of “conceptual basketball” that should be featured frequently this season. As the last dress rehearsal, this game was a promising sign of whether they’ll be able to sustain such play from game 1 to game 82 since they looked impressive.
There was some early attempts in the paint from Domantas Sabonis, but the play from guards like De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, and Terence Davis (who all played together for a significant portion of the second quarter) really got Sacramento out in front of Los Angeles as they lead by 21 points at half time.
Sabonis was a part of that push for early and fast offense, taking the ball up the floor plenty of times in this game, and doing what he always does in the half court. And guys like Fox, Davis, and others showed some excellent off-ball movement.
And again, the three’s were falling.
They continued the movement and execution into the second half, leading by 33 at the end of the third quarter and ultimately winning by 47 points.
Just as big of a factor to Friday night’s success was the defense, which looked really good.
One would not have thought that would be a large story of the night when Mike Brown used a timeout just about 90 seconds into the game after a missed assignment (looked like from Malik Monk) that allowed an easy backside cut and layup.
After that early teaching moment, though, things were much better as the team seemed in sync on rotations, getting back on defense swiftly, and limited the fouling drastically. KZ Okpala had an assertive block in the first quarter that was called a shooting foul before being challenged and overturned. And Davion Mitchell showcased that physical, undying defensive effort to end that quarter.
With the pace, effort, shooting, and defense, the Kings won this one with relative ease.
Looming roster cuts
This game was a great moment for both of the Mike Brown proteges from the Nigerian National Team.
First of all, KZ Okpala showed that he could hit a couple of three’s. His defense is exceptional and, judging by his block, can provide massive jolts of energy while impacting a vital end of the floor. It was also obvious that his athleticism and length makes him an excellent off-ball component on the offensive end as a cutter and active member on the glass.
The question was his three-point shot. Well, Friday night showed he can hurt the opposition if left wide open. It seems so fickle to say that two made three’s alone seems to substantiate the idea that he could be the starting 4.
We knew that if Okpala started that Keegan Murray (who was out again tonight) would still see heavy minutes and probably have a great chance to close games, and Brown confirmed much of that on Friday, withholding any word of who the starter would be, but admitting Murray would see “heavy minutes.”
Don’t be surprised to see Okpala start. He was great at home against the Lakers, letting his defense do most of the talking, hitting a few three’s, and not doing much to hurt the team.
The other guy is Chima Moneke, and he showed why he should be on this team. Moneke won’t be pushing anyone’s hand to be a starter, but he played with the energy and effort most saw within him.
Moneke played with the energy of a valuable off-the-bench spark plug, getting involved defensively, on the boards, and in off-ball movement. He never gives up and wants to play the right way.
And his coach has noticed.
Don’t be surprised to see Chima Moneke make the cut.
This really leaves behind two guys: Chimezie Metu and Sam Merrill.
Before getting to Metu, let’s say that Merrill would not be a bad option for this team because he would be another excellent shooter that has a similar style of play–albeit, cut rate–as Kevin Huerter (secondary ball-handler that can run pick-and-roll and shoot). He also evidently wants to do the right thing, never trying to do too much in his limited time and he happened to draw a charging foul with about 3 minutes left in the game.
But Merrill is among some talented players that are guards and wing players; with Huerter, Monk, and Davis alone, there just isn’t a lot of room for him to stand out.
With Okpala and Moneke making the roster, though, Metu could be in a similar bind. And he’s arguably been the least effective player in the preseason. In fact, Metu’s scorer mentality (the Mezie Mamba within) as well as his shaky decision making actually seems to paint him as a guy with a play style antithetical to what Mike Brown wants.
He’s kind of a stick in the mud.
Sure, Metu was a staple on Brown’s Nigerian National Team, but he hit 7 of 11 three-pointers in 3 group stage games. Take away that shooting, and there’s not much to argue for in favor of retaining Metu. One can’t wait around for him to get hot.
The roster cuts are interesting, and with essentially 16 guys, only one really needs to be let go, but it could be two.
Outside shooting is a real strength
The Kings averaged about 11.4 three-point field goals made a game last season, good for 25th in the league. Their 34.4% from that range was good for 24th in the league.
It was clear to fans, players, and the front office that the outside shooting needed to be a huge area of focus this offseason given the addition of Sabonis.
On paper, everyone knew they’d be better, but it’s becoming clear that shooting is a definite strength of this team.
Against the Lakers on Friday they hit 20 three-pointers, and seemingly everyone got their feet wet with a splash. Fox continued hitting his looks, Davis looked good, Monk found his stroke for the first time, Mitchell was hitting them, Okpala finally hit a couple, Lyles had a nice stroke, as did Keon Ellis (who will likely see some time with Kings on his two-way contract), and even Matthew Dellavedova got in on it.
Watch out for the Kings beyond the arc this year. Regarding that, it appears they can live up to the hype.
Are the Lakers any good?
Okay, it’s preseason. Also, Anthony Davis did not play, and neither did Dennis Schroder. And their presumptive starters didn’t play huge minutes.
However, it’s clear that even when the Kings go deep into their bench, they’re way better than LA.
Reserving judgement on whether they are any good is probably the safe thing to do, but if there’s a team in California bound to be a disappointment, it has to be the Lakers. Right?
Well, that’s it for the preseason. The Kings will have four days before they open their season at home against the Portland Trailblazers on Wednesday, October 19.
Keep an eye out for final cuts (deadline is Monday at 3 PM PST) and what the roster will end up looking like.
Basketball’s really back.