Keegan Murray to Make First Career Start as Kings Look for First Win vs. Memphis

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 22: Keegan Murray #13 of the Sacramento Kings shoots against the LA Clippers during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game at Golden 1 Center on October 22, 2022 in Sacramento, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The challenge of getting the first win of the season won’t come easy on Thursday night because Ja Morant and the 3-1 Grizzlies come to town.

It will be the first of a four-game west coast swing for Memphis, but Taylor Jenkins’ squad is coming off an impressive win against the Brooklyn Nets where Morant and Desmond Bane both scored 38 points.

Regardless of the level of difficulty, this should be a high-scoring affair that features a blockbuster matchup between Morant and De’Aaron Fox.

Here are five things to watch for on Thursday.

Keegan Murray’s first career start

As suspected, it was only a matter of time. And with the way he’s playing through two games—the effect he has on the team, the way they instantly play better when he’s out there—there is no question as to why the rookie is getting the starting nod.

“Just to let you know because I know everybody’s excited about this,” coach Mike Brown said as he began speaking to the media after practice Wednesday. “Keegan’s gonna start tomorrow.”

It’s hard to deny that of all the guys on this team, short of De’Aaron Fox, the most positive effect to the on-floor production comes when Murray is in the game.

When asked what the biggest factor was, Brown simply stated he’s “just ready for him to start.”

Expect Murray to continue to keep a level head, but keep an eye out for whether his production increases or not.

Also, take the opportunity to gauge how well of a start the team gets off to, how much spacing is on the floor from the beginning.

Murray was always bound to get “heavy minutes,” as his coach has noted, so starting may not seem like a big deal to some. But Thursday night, if the Kings get off to a good start, could change those minds.

Kings have got to rebound

In the Grizzlies’ win against the Nets on Monday night, Brooklyn went on a run early in the second quarter, playing their best stretch of basketball of the night. Kyrie Irving was being Kyrie Irving, but more than anything, he and his team were getting rebounds and running on Memphis.

The primary reason the Nets were securing rebounds and getting out to run was because Steven Adams was resting. Without his presence on the boards, Brooklyn was playing a beautiful style of basketball as evidenced by this transition ball movement off a stop. 

It’s no wonder that the transition scoring slowed when Adams came back out and grabbed two of his four total offensive rebounds while also getting fouled by Nick Claxton while the two were fighting for a board.

So there’s a two-pronged importance to the emphasis on rebounding. 

For one, by securing defensive stops, the Kings can get out and run to either score in transition or set up early offense. Mike Brown wants his team to do that anyway.

And number two, they need to contain Adams when he’s out there. Sacramento lost a close game to Portland on opening night by allowing 11 offensive boards.

A third would be getting on the glass to set up offensive rebounding opportunities for yourself. Memphis thus far has allowed 20.8 second chance points per game. The Grizzlies are allowing an average of 13.8 offensive rebounds a game.

Aside from Adams, who else is an imposing presence on the glass in Memphis?

Sacramento has got to out-rebound them and take advantage of the residual effects. They have the talent to do it.

Second unit scoring

One of the things that was also noticeable about when the Nets were going on runs was it happened when Morant was on the bench, when mostly bench contributors were out there.

Through their four games this season, the Grizzlies’ opponent’s bench is scoring 43.0 points per game while the Grizzlies themselves are putting up just 35.5 bench points.

Attribute it to lacking production from their bench or to the fact it’s Morant’s time to rest, but the Kings’ second unit needs to capitalize on these opportunities to cut or, as they hope, add to a lead.

The Kings are averaging 43.3 bench points per game, but with Murray starting, much of that scoring needs to be replaced. 

Davion Mitchell, Malik Monk, and Richaun Holmes all played pretty poorly in the first two games of the season. They looked better against the Warriors on Sunday. This game could be a breakout game for any combination of the three.

And if they can keep the pressure on Memphis with many starters resting, it could be a major difference maker.

Defense inside

It would be impractical to try and shut down Ja Morant, but there are ways in which the defense can help slow Memphis.

So far, Sacramento’s defense has yet to come together for the most part.

One thing they should put a focus on is defending inside. Something the Kings did not do against Portland or the Clippers.

Yes, Memphis has actually been one of the better three-point shooting teams in the league in this young season. Last year, 29.9% of the Grizzlies’ points came from three-pointers. In four games this year, it’s 38.6. Plus, Memphis is hitting their deep balls at a 38.4% clip. Desmond Bane hit 8 of his 11 looks from behind the arc against Brooklyn.

But this is the Memphis Grizzlies. This is Ja Morant’s team. While Morant and his team both look better from that range this year, they still do a considerable amount of damage on the inside. That goes for both the half court and the full court, the last of which Mike Brown has made a point to highlight, hitting his team with transition defense drills during Wednesday’s practice.

So far this year, Memphis may be averaging just 49.5 paint points per game on the inside, but they lead the league last year with 57.6.

That doesn’t mean let them beat you from the outside, but closing off the inside will limit the quality of their outside looks and the vibrancy of their ball movement. Paint touches and forcing a defense to try to make adjustments in order to defend the paint both create good looks.

Again, this does not mean let them beat you from the outside. At times, Morant draws a double which in turn leads to a wide open three-pointer for a teammate, paint touch or no paint touch.

Defense as a whole is important, especially down the stretch where a stop can mean the world in a game where both offenses are putting up points, but protecting the paint could prove vital.

Can Harrison Barnes find a rhythm?

Harrison Barnes has fallen bellow what many expected from him through Sacramento’s three games.

While 5.7 rebounds in a little under 30 minutes per contest is not bad, 7 points per game from a guy who averages 14.1 in his career is not going to cut it.

It was figured that Barnes’ scoring load this season would be less due to the added presence of guys like Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, and Keegan Murray, but it was never expected to be this poor.

And it doesn’t help that he’s not providing much on the defensive end.

On Tuesday, coach Brown was asked about the veteran forward’s slow start. 

“A guy like HB, I’m starting him, I’m bringing him out quick, I’m putting him back in, and most times I’m putting him back in, but sometimes I’m not putting him back in,” the head coach said. “And that’s probably a little different than what he’s had in the past. As a veteran guy that’s been able to score in this league, he’s had an opportunity to play a long stretch of minutes initially, and that long stretch usually allows a guy like that to get in rhythm.” 

Brown also noted the fact that it’s a new, reads-based offense they’re using here. 

While a new offense could have something to do with it, a vet like Barnes should be among the guys to have the least trouble doing that. Maybe not; maybe he’s so used to something the change is tough.

Whatever the case, the observation about rhythm might be the most poignant. Brown made the same point the following day, saying “it will take some time.”

Of course, it’s early enough for the roster to still be crowing and Barnes can no doubt figure things out whether it’s simply finding that groove, getting used to Brown’s offense, or a mix of the two.

With an opponent like Memphis, Thursday night would be a good time for Barnes to show everybody he’s still got it.

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