This Saturday, two rookie sensations matchup for the first time in their young careers.
Keegan Murray and the Kings will be in Orlando to face number-one overall pick Paolo Banchero and the Magic.
Murray and Banchero faced off in a double-overtime Summer League contest in Vegas back in July.
Orlando’s rookie put up 23 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 steals in that game. On the other side, Murray began the game just 1 of 3 from the field for 7 points with 4 turnovers, but came out in the second half to score 13 points on 4 of 8 from the field and just a single turnover.
What was memorable about that game came in the final bit of regulation time. The Magic had an 85-77 lead with 45 seconds remaining following an RJ Hampton layup. Banchero came up with a block on the other end, but Neemias Queta grabbed the board and dropped it in. Ade Murkey came up with a quick steal and a transition score, cutting the lead to just 4 points.
The Kings then forced an 8-second violation, but Murkey missed a three-point look, forcing Sacramento to foul. Aleem Ford hit both free throws for the Magic, putting his team up 87-81 with just 7 seconds remaining.
As improbable as a Kings comeback sounded, the impossible happened. Jordi Fernandez drew up a clever inbounds play that gave Queta a wide open three at the top, which he nailed to the surprise of many including Banchero.
Still, the Magic were up 3 with just 5 seconds left.
However, when Banchero went to make the inbounds pass, Keon Ellis deflected it allowing Keegan Murray to pick it up, dribble beyond the three-point line on the wing, and sink a big time three. The stakes were far lower, but the rookie looked about as composed as Ray Allen was when he hit the game-tying three in Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals.
The game went to a second two-minute overtime period in which the Magic came out ahead 2-0, winning the matchup.
The excitement that is accumulating for this weekend’s game hardly comes from that Summer League game, though. Really, it’s originating from the fact Banchero and Murray are two rookies that are revered both for what they offer as inexperienced pups, but also for what they will develop into.
During the summer, Marc Spears told ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that many scouts have indicated that they felt Murray “was the No. 2 player in the draft.”
Kings fans probably didn’t need to hear that to come to that determination. His professionalism—the “Tim Duncan demeanor,” as De’Aaron Fox characterized it—and efficiency seems to create the illusion of a first-year vet, and it’s probably not even illusory.
On the other hand, the number-one pick has been great. Banchero is averaging 21.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He’s a highly skilled big that can rebound, facilitate, and score from both the inside and the mid-range. Like Murray, he plays like a winner. And he and his team are coming off a victory at home against the Warriors that happened due in large part to Banchero’s 18 second half points.
Saturday’s battle between these two rookies will be a fun one.
Beyond the matchup between these two phenomenal rookies, here are some keys to Sacramento’s visit to Orlando.
Protect the paint
This one is pertinent for the Kings regardless of who they’re playing.
Sacramento is currently in the top-10 in most paint points allowed at 52.9 per game. Orlando scores 50.0 paint points per game.
It’s been an issue this season for the Kings. Whether it was lack of help or defensive rotations, Sabonis foul trouble, or lackluster relief off the bench from Holmes and Len, teams have generally had their fill on the inside.
Orlando has a lot of length and size. Paolo Banchero, Wendell Carter Jr., Bol Bol, and Mo Bamba are all part of the Magic rotation. Plus they have additional size in Chuma Okeke and there’s also the lengthy Franz Wagner, who is adept at scoring on the inside.
And they’re forced to use size due to the injuries in their backcourt, including Cole Anthony and Markelle Fultz. Wagner started at the 2, Banchero at the 3 against the Warriors.
A valid note on the aforementioned second year player out of Germany would be that after shooting 35.4% from three last year, Wagner is off to a poor start, hitting 21.6% of his outside looks this year.
In fact, the whole team is struggling from beyond the arc, converting 32.3% of those shots. Like Wagner, Bamba is shooting 26.3% through 9 games (in a less prominant role) following a season where he shot 38.1% from deep. And Wendell Carter Jr. is shooting 30% in nine games.
Terence Ross is an exception, shooting 40.5% so far, and both Anthony and Okeke are showing improved three-point shooting this year. But Ross missed Thursday’s game, and Anthony should be out when the Kings visit.
The Magic are one of the poorer outside shooting teams overall in the league at the moment, so it is important not to let them get into the paint. One, that prevents their offense from scoring, but two, it prevents the generation of good outside looks.
On that second note, the Kings do allow one of the higher three-point percentages to opponents in the league at 40.6%, and part of that comes from the ability to collapse the defense by getting inside.
Protecting the paint is always huge, but it has particular importance against this Magic team.
Get, don’t give up free throw attempts
The Magic are not one of the better offenses in the league right now, scoring just 108.6 points per game. But one of the things Orlando does well is get to the line.
They are fairly average at converting looks from the charity stripe at 78.2%, but they are in the top-five in free throw attempts with 26.6 per game.
In the previous two contests on this road trip, opponents have averaged just 13.5 free throw attempts against the Kings, which is awesome. But remember, fouling has been an issue for this team, and on the year as a whole, Sacramento commits an average of 23.0 personal fouls while allowing 23.9 attempts per game.
So Mike Brown’s squad should look to keep that mini trend going against this offense that struggles to score points. In other words, focus on not giving them those free points.
At the same time, the Kings have to make sure they get to the line.
Without De’Aaron Fox against the Heat on Wednesday, the Kings only got to the line 14 times. In six games with their star point guard, Sacramento averaged 24.8 free throw attempts per game. And though hitting those opportunities was difficult for the team at first, they’re shooting over 80% from the stripe in their last five games.
Because Fox might not play Saturday, the Kings should look to make up for his absence. And they’ll have the benefit of the fact Orlando commits an average of 21.9 personal fouls per game. And if Sacramento’s starting point guard is back, all the better.
The bottom line is that, with the Magic offense being what it is, don’t allow them free opportunities for points at the free throw line.
No unforced turnovers
In the same vein as keeping Orlando’s free throw attempts in check, the Kings should look to prevent unforced turnovers.
Again, the Magic have been remarkably underwhelming at forcing turnovers. Their opponents commit just 12.8 turnovers per game which is exactly why, as of now, Orlando is dead last in points off turnovers .
It will be key for Sacramento to keep it that way because the Warriors did slip up and allow a team that averages 14.3 points of turnovers to score 23.
The Kings commit 15.6 turnovers a game, handing over 20.4 points to their opponents off of them.
Because they are playing a young team, they have to keep in check those unforced turnovers. With all the ball movement, turnovers happen, but it really feels like there’s been a lot of Mike Brown’s guys stepping on the sideline or baseline or committing travel violations (though, the “discontinued dribble” thing is affecting every team).
As is the case with this key and the overall game plan, it’s vital the Kings hand nothing free to Orlando.
Run it down their throats
The Kings should really use their pace to their advantage.
Orlando’s PACE factor is 100.06 compared to Sacramento’s 101.29. Pushing the ball up the floor could force Orlando to try and go small (if it’s even possible given their injuries) or at the very least disrupt the flow they’re used to playing.