The Kings did not wait around long to reveal their opening night roster, making Sam Merrill the final cut on Saturday afternoon, two days before the final deadline.
It was pretty clear there were the 11 safe bets to be on the team: Fox, Sabonis, Barnes, Murray, Huerter, Monk, Holmes, Mitchell, Lyles, Davis, and Len.
With the final cut, it meant that Matthew Dellavedova, KZ Okpala, Chima Moneke, and Chimezie Metu all made the team.
With the waiving of Quinn Cook, it was evident that Dellavedova was going to be on the team as the third point guard. Delly seemed to have slight favorability, getting preferential minutes over Cook in preseason games as well as, as far as one can tell, practices.
His leadership, experience, and high-effort, low-glam play style should make him a useful piece on this team relative to his role.
Kent Bazemore was also waived along with Cook, which seemed to only solidify Okpala’s rising odds while also indicating good things for a guy like Moneke.
The veteran and former King appeared to still have value as a player, but his presence might very well have been to be that legitimate competition that required the best out of the unproven guys. The threat Bazemore posed to take a spot and his viability as a fallback very well could have served as extra fire beneath other players on the roster.
Obviously, at the end of the day, Brown really trusts the products from the Nigerian National Team.
Fans were quick to get familiar with Okpala–who may have the most faith from his coach–as he got the start in the initial two preseason games as well as the finale. His ability to guard the opponent’s best player is well understood by now, and though he got away from it a few times in his second game, he’s ultimately stuck to doing the little things: running the floor, cutting, and attacking the glass.
His roster spot has felt pretty secure for about the last week.
The finishing touches on his preseason really helped his stock because Okpala finally showed he’s capable of knocking down open looks from three. With all the movement and passing, those opportunities are going to come and he’s got to hit a good chunk of them. It appears he can do so fairly adequately, but he still has to demonstrate consistency in that department.
Nevertheless, he will probably start on opening night. Keegan Murray’s status is uncertain due to the fact he entered health and safety protocol on Friday, but even if he were available, it seems likely at this point Okpala would get the nod from Brown.
Not only did Okpala start three of four preseason games, Murray’s impressive and efficient scoring in exhibition action never got him into the lineup anyway. Why would it change now? Murray will still see “heavy minutes,” likely having the opportunity to close games as well, so starting is not necessarily imperative.
The argument can be made that Okpala’s role makes a little more sense to be the starter. If he’s guarding the best opposing offensive player, his ability to keep that player off balance and pressured from the start can be a huge factor to getting out ahead and establishing a groove. Same for starting the second half. Okpala probably won’t surpass 20 minutes a night, but he will be important for stunting the point of attack and/or the volume scorer of the opposing team.
And to go back to Murray, yes, he’s playing like one of the best players on the team, so it seems inevitable that he gets the starting job one way or another. But as a rookie, there is an expectation that he’s still got to show it. Plus, if Okpala actually works out as a starter, then the team is even deeper, the team is a bigger problem for opponents, and the team is ultimately better.
Pivoting to Moneke, it just seems like this was, from the beginning, the type of guy anyone would be rooting for to see make the team. Of course, the undrafted underdog story and the UC Davis roots add a lot to that sentiment, but there’s also his play style.
Chima Moneke is an explosive athlete that plays with such a high degree of effort that it’s clear how bad he wants to help the team. That was as clear as day in that last preseason game, especially when his head coach hinted at his roster security.
As an off-ball threat with an ability to cut (remember, he said he feels like “the best cutter in the world”), rise and crash down with spirited alley-oops and dunks, and put his all into contributing on the boards. Not to mention his athleticism makes him an excellent piece on the defensive end, utilizing nice quickness and active hands.
His three-point shot is not really on the radar, but his indisputable ability to be a spark plug–a mini Richaun Holmes–could prove invaluable. As Moneke himself suspected, he could become “a fan favorite” quickly, and now he has the chance.
As for the third member of Brown’s Nigerian National Team, perhaps things did not exactly feel as if they were in danger, but they should have been. All things are considered, Chimezie Metu was probably the most underwhelming player of the 20 men on the training camp roster.
Aside from the preseason game in Phoenix where he hit 2 of 3 three-pointers, Metu has kind of looked out of place in Mike Brown’s offense. Of course, he was playing primarily with the later units, excluding the mentioned contest against the Suns.
He’s clearly a useful option as a screener because he can get up for some potential alley-oops, peel off for an open and in-rhythm jumper, or get off a little floater. He’s also shown that he moves fairly well from coast to coast and can be an impact player on the glass.
However, he’s often missing his wide open looks or, worse, forcing up shots after holding the ball for several seconds (you can’t tell by the brevity of this clip, but before Ellis got the ball, Metu was holding it for a good while). Overall he shot 2 of 9 from three range this preseason.
Despite the fact the Kings did not hesitate to guarantee his $1.9 million contract for this year, it really felt like Metu was putting himself on the edge of getting cut, but it’s evident that the trust Mike Brown has in Okpala and Moneke extends to Metu as well.
And that trust must be immense. Okpala hasn’t really had as much of an opportunity in the NBA, and Moneke’s had none, but both possess overt physical skills that can make an impact in this league; there’s room to fill out their ceilings.
Metu, on the other hand, is entering his third year with the Kings, his fifth year in the NBA. He’s provided a fairly large sample size and has had a pretty juicy opportunity–one not many guys get–to show he belongs in this league. The time to evaluate him has been vast, and he has not solidified himself as an NBA player through and through.
So Brown must see something in him. Of course, one can’t discount the fact that Metu was impressive from beyond the arc last summer in the Olympics for Brown, hitting 7 of 11 (63.6%).
However, Metu clearly can’t rely on his range. Despite getting a boost in floor time in the final 9 games of last year and converting 36% of his three’s, Metu is a career 30.8% shooter from beyond the perimeter.
He’ll have to impact the game and earn time the same way Okpala and Moneke have: doing the little things, playing hard, and knowing one’s role.
Overall, though, the Kings have a deep roster; easily the deepest in recent memory. Getting to watch how KZ Okpala, Chima Moneke, and Chimezie Metu can contribute to that advantage will be an interesting thing to watch as the season unfolds.