First Half Grades: The Bench

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13: Malik Monk #0, Trey Lyles #41, and Chimezie Metu #7 of the Sacramento Kings look on during the game against the Houston Rockets on January 13, 2023 at Golden 1 Center 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 Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Looking at the Kings’ first 57 games, grading the starters was like grading an honor’s economics class, which is to say that the group was so satisfactory that it lacked much intrigue. 

But turning to the rest of the roster, there is far more variety: it has its fair share of laudability and mediocrity.

Even still, the remainder of the roster constitutes adequate depth for this team—though many recognize it lacks a piece or two—and the second unit has had plenty of big moments for the third team in the Western Conference.

Sacramento averages 36.9 bench points per game, good for the ninth most in the league. Among other benches, their bench also flaunts the third best assist-percentage, the fourth best assist to turnover ratio, and a +/- in the positive.

However, it’s far from approaching the realm of perfection.

So in order to better assess the group, it’s important to go through each of the guys and grade them based on a blend of the player’s role, expectations, and performance.

Davion Mitchell: C

2022-23 stats: 5.6 PPG (.445/.318/.800) 1.3 RPG 2.1 APG in 56 Games (17.8 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 11.5 PPG (.418/.316/.659) 2.2 RPG 4.2 APG in 75 Games (27.7 minutes per)

In terms of the defensive end of the floor, a second-year Davion Mitchell has been everything one would expect him to be. He provides ball pressure unlike anyone else, he is unafraid of any body whether he attempts to guard him or stand in to take a charge (leading the team in that category), and he is capable of setting a tone for the rest of the team on that end.

Of those that have played at least 25 minutes together this season, Mitchell appears in five of the eight top defensively rated lineups for the Kings. The team’s defensive rating is 110.8 when he’s on the floor compared to 114.6 when he’s off of it.

His defense is elite and for it, he should have been featured in the Rising Stars Challenge at all-star weekend.

However, Davion Mitchell’s offense is something else entirely.

As is visible above, aside from being a bit more efficient in his second season, his offensive production has dipped. He is playing less minutes per game with a specific role of being the backup point guard, but glancing at the difference in his per 36 stats between his first and second year still shows dips in nearly every category.

Obviously, the difference in talent between this year’s team and last is stark; less is needed out of Mitchell offensively. Plus, in the second unit, when Sabonis isn’t on the floor, the offense will run through Malik Monk (or De’Aaron Fox) more than it is Mitchell. 

So the opportunity to make an impact offensively is a narrower window.

But this is his second season, and watching him hesitate on offense, lack consistency, and rarely force his way onto the floor does not constitute the most successful of second seasons.

There is some inclination to give him the benefit of the doubt by resting on the fact that he brings his defense every night and his offensive game could just be adjusting. Maybe that’s the reality, but when his team has needed him to step up, he does not always do so.

Look at the game in Indiana at the beginning of the month. Fox was out for that game as he and his wife prepared for the birth of their son, and so Mitchell started, which is a scenario the point guard has succeeded in.

In that game, he went 1 of 5 for 3 points with one rebound and assist each. He never let the Pacers know that he was any threat at all on that end, failing to put any pressure on the opposing defense. Four of his shot attempts were put up from the outside as he never truly utilized his penetrating abilities, which are terrific. In short, he failed to step up.

Looking at his season as a whole, that’s been the story, more or less, for Davion Mitchell on that end.

His defense is great, as expected, but his place among the offense has been a disappointment through his first 56 appearances of the season. One end of the floor is exceptional, the other nonexistent. He can be so much more for this team. Thus he gets a C: the representation of average.

Malik Monk: B

2022-23 stats: 13.4 PPG (.443/.328/.913) 2.6 RPG 3.9 APG in 54 Games (22.6 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 13.8 PPG (.473/.391/.795) 3.4 RPG 2.9 APG in 76 Games (28.1 minutes per)

Malik Monk was putting himself in the Sixth Man of the Year conversation through the first 27 games of the season, averaging 14.9 points with 2.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists. The guy was doing it on just 35.0% shooting from deep, a clip that was surely meant to rise.

But in Monk’s previous 27 appearances, he’s averaged 12.0 points with 2.9 rebounds and 3.9 assists, and along with that, he’s shot just 29.8% from beyond the three-point line.

Yet in the last 8 games before suffering from a sprained ankle ahead of the break, Monk had the faucet running again at 15.9 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 3.8 assists with a 44.8% clip from three.

To call Malik Monk streaky in general may give off the connotation that he is unreliable, which he is not, but offensively, he is indeed streaky. 

One of the things that keeps value so high is that he’s consistently proved to be one of the better facilitators for this team, averaging about 4 assists all season. At 4.4 per game in the first 20 contests, he was quickly stepping up as a key guy to run the offense through when Sabonis left the floor. And even with the all-star center out there, the Monk-Sabonis two-man game stood out as being nearly as good as the big’s connection to Kevin Huerter and De’Aaron Fox.

He’s also been a far better defender than he was with the Lakers a season ago. After acquiring Huerter and Monk, GM Monte McNair referred to them as “defensively underrated.” The idea was believable for Huerter, but not as readily so for Monk. However, Monk has been one of the better defensive surprises for Mike Brown.

While not perfect, Monk appears in six of the top defensively rated lineups that have played at least 25 minutes together for the Kings; that is, so long as either Davion Mitchell or De’Aaron Fox is out there with him, but he’s far exceeding expectations for him on that end.

One of his best season highlights came in the last of a seven-game roadie in Houston where Monk intercepted an inbounds pass in a play where his head coach compared him to a cornerback expertly jumping a route. The takeaway not only exhibited great instincts, it gave Fox the opportunity to win it at the free throw line.

When he is able to provide his scoring and his passing while contributing defensively, he sends a jolt of energy through this team that often helps them get over the top in games.

But there have been moments where that energy lied dormant as it did for much of December and January.

He’s been so great for this team in so many ways, but the sustainability of his impact is vital and can be invaluable for a team making a break for the playoffs.

Trey Lyles: A-

2022-23 stats: 7.2 PPG (.468/.364/.823) 3.6 RPG 0.8 APG in 51 Games (15.9 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 10.5 PPG (.466/.321/.802) 5.1 RPG 1.2 APG in 75 Games (20.5 minutes per)

It’s bordering on absurdity that—after 24 games in Sac late last year, including 20 starts—Trey Lyles got stuck with two DNP’s in the first four games this season with one appearance being in mop up time.

After coming into camp in the best shape of his career, Lyles has been the most consistent two-way impact off the bench for Mike Brown. He’s the one guy off the bench that has fulfilled his overall role better than expected. Often times, he plays like one of the team’s best players and most steady presences.

Throughout his career, Lyles has been a terrific rebounder, and he’s consistently exerting effort on the boards for this team. Even as the Kings sometimes have their lapses regarding box outs and such, Lyles is seemingly always displaying the requisite level of effort.

But it seems this season that he’s put three-point shooting and defense at the forefront of his game, pr at least that’s what stands out.

Lyles has been the most reliable outside shooter off the bench, and behind Keegan Murray, Kevin Huerter, and Harrison Barnes, he’s one of the best on the team. In his first 8 games, he shot 42.4% from deep, and in the previous 27 before the break, he’s shot 40.0%. For about a month there, the three ball was not there, and exacerbating it was the fact he got sick after the Thanksgiving week road trip, which kept him out a few games and forced him to regain both his conditioning and his rotational spot (both of which he did). 

Defensively, Lyles is the definition of a team defender due to the fact he possesses a great basketball IQ. Of the ten lineups he’s featured in that have played 25 or more minutes together this season, seven of them have a defensive rating below 110.0, and of all Kings players that have appeared in at least 50 games, he boasts the second best defensive rating behind Davion Mitchell.

He’s simply been awesome, never hurting the team and always ready to impact the game.

It’s exactly the kind of year you want to have when on the expiring year of a contract. As Kayte Christensen said of him at one point in the last month, “talk about a star in his role.” Lyles has been just that.

Chimezie Metu: C+

2022-23 stats: 5.0 PPG (.607/.258/.811) 3.0 RPG 0.7 APG in 44 Games (10.8 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 8.9 PPG (.452/.306/.780) 5.6 RPG 1.0 APG in 60 Games (21.3 minutes per)

Chimezie Metu is an interesting case. For one, he has performed better than many imagined would be possible as the team’s backup 5, proving to be the best option of who’s on the roster. But at the same time, everyone can agree that he stands among an unimpressive field and that the team needs an upgrade in that role.

One way to think about Metu is that like a boat on the water; think of the water as the other components of the second unit, i.e Mitchell, Monk, Lyles, and sometimes Terence Davis. When the water rises, so does the boat. When the water recedes, so does the boat. 

To his credit, he plugs in fairly well alongside them: he runs the floor well, can play above the rim, and has shown defensive growth. 

However, don’t confuse that last point with him being a great defender. His defensive rating looks great (108.4), but think about how much he plays alongside defenders like Mitchell, Lyles, Monk, and Davis (all defenders with sub-114.0 defensive ratings) in his 10.8 minutes per game. Most indicative of all is the fact he fouls at an unreasonably high rate (1.3 per game, but at per 36, it’s 4.3, the second highest among rotational players).

He’s also mainly a target for dump-off’s and lob’s with his athleticism and cutting. Rarely can he create his own shot, and nor do you want to see him try. He lost his grasp on the backup 5 role for a period starting in December in a game up in Toronto where he tried to play outside himself and his role.

Among players that have appeared in 35 or more games, Metu has the second highest turnover-percentage behind Domantas Sabonis, someone who handles much of the offense and someone who leads the league in personal fouls (and probably offensive fouls specifically).

Plus, he has shown no sign of providing any range on the floor. In the final 16 games last season, Chimezie Metu shot 40.5% from beyond the arc on 2.6 attempts per contest, but he’s below 30% this season.

But give him bonus points for having one of the better free throw-percentages.

In all, Metu has exceeded expectations by hanging onto a rotational spot, but even with that, the desire to improve that role is undeniable.

Terence Davis: B+

2022-23 stats: 7.1 PPG (.440/.361/.900) 2.4 RPG 1.3 APG in 44 Games (13.8 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 10.4 PPG (.423/.329/.818) 3.1 RPG 1.3 APG in 30 Games (17.9 minutes per)

Heading into camp, the question for Terence Davis was whether or not he could stand out among a talented field of shooting guards. 

Given that Huerter and Monk have provided just about what was expected of them, Davis has done about as good of a job as is humanly possible.

When he’s gotten his opportunities, he’s more or less capitalized. Davis appeared in 20 of the first 21 games, playing 13.2 minutes per, scoring 7.0 points on 39.4% from three with 3.0 rebounds. He then only played 15 of the next 27 games at 12.2 minutes per with 5.7 points on 27.3% from deep with 1.6 rebounds a contest. Back in the rotation over the previous 9, he’s averaging 9.7 points on 42.5% from three with 2.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes per game.

He’s arguably the most aggressive player on the team on both ends. Davis is always pushing it on offense and applying great ball pressure. 

Honestly, he may be in the top-three on the team regarding ball pressure, right up there with Mitchell and Fox. Davis also leads the team in deflections per 36 minutes, highlighting his activity. Plus, he posts a defensive rating below 110.0.

Though he does tend to foul a lot at 4.7 per 36 minutes. 

Still, he’s been impressive on defense. With a 6’9″ wingspan (on his 6’4″ body) his defensive upside was there, but he’s really benefitting from the fact that Mike Brown holds him and his teammates so accountable.

Moreover, whenever he fills in for a spot-start—which he’s done in place of both Huerter and Keegan Murray this season—he does so adequately, and when Malik Monk went down with his ankle sprain, Davis’ presence probably prevented many fans from hyperventilating.  

He’s just always ready and has never said anything about play time here in a contract year. It’d be understandable if he or his camp expressed concern, but he’s rolling with the punches like a professional.

Richaun Holmes: D-

2022-23 stats: 3.3 PPG (.681/.750/.800) 2.2 RPG 0.2 APG in 33 Games (9.1 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 10.4 PPG (.660/.400/.778) 7.0 RPG 1.1 APG in 45 Games (23.9 minutes per)

Coming into the season, the center position felt like the most stacked grouping on the roster. Not only was there Domantas Sabonis at the top, but behind him was slated to be Richaun Holmes, widely regarded as a starter-level talent.

And perhaps Holmes still is a starter-worthy talent—he showed it against the Lakers in mid-January in a spot start—but he sure as hell isn’t proving to be worth much as a backup.

There are no failures on this roster, but Holmes’ first 57 games come pretty close given the expectations.

Overall, he’s been a non-factor, and when he does play, he demonstrates poor defense, becomes susceptible to fouls (5.4 per 36 minutes), and is rarely a reliable source of the kind of energy he’s showed previously in his career. And for a role that requires 10 to 14 minutes a night, energy is everything.

He’s not washed and he’s shown he can be an adequate starter. Really, the thing to focus on is how lousy Holmes has been in the role he is being asked to fill. In short, it’d be difficult for the Kings to say they’ve gotten much out of their fifth-highest paid player.

Matthew Dellavedova: B+

2022-23 stats: 1.4 PPG (.375/.400/.600) 0.3 RPG 1.4 APG in 24 Games (6.1 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: n/a — played in Australia (Melbourne)

To start, Matthew Dellavedova is arguably more of a coach than a third point guard. He has the utmost respect of his coaching staff and his teammates.

Nevertheless, he’s shown to be an adequate third point guard on the nights where either Fox or Mitchell were out or were forced to leave early. He is not physically gifted or a bucket-getter, but he’s experienced and savvy. 

In a nutshell, the statistics that stand out are his 4.13 assist to turnover ratio, his 40.0% clip from three, and the fact he’s drawn the most charges relative to his minutes played (leading the team with 0.5 charges drawn per 36 minutes).

One is still left to seriously wonder what would happen if an injury forced Dellavedova into a more consistent rotational role. Would he sustain his efficient play? Probably, but it’d be hard to argue that there would not be drop-offs in several areas if his role had to be amplified for a longer period of time.

At the end of the day, though, Dellavedova has shaken off the doubt about him taking a roster spot as he has demonstrated his unique value.

KZ Okpala: C

2022-23 stats: 1.3 PPG (.421/.333/.875) 1.0 RPG 0.4 APG in 35 Games (7.1 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 3.7 PPG (.435/.346/.727) 2.0 RPG 0.7 APG in 21 Games (11.6 minutes per)

Props to KZ Okpala for making the team and having some impactful moments for the Kings, but overall his season went about as expected. That is to say that he’s shown his worth on defense for the most part, but he’s still a ways away from earning a rotational spot.

Mike Brown was bullish on his former Nigerian National Team player, giving him the spot at the starting 4 in the first three games of the season. While his defensive ceiling was hard to deny, not many had high hopes for him to stay there.

There was a period in December where it really seemed as if he could earn a rotational spot, but his offensive issues got in the way. His three-ball was not convincing to either his opponents or, it seemed, himself. In addition to that, his awareness regarding spacing and where he should be needed refining.

And while he’s a defensive talent, he also has a propensity to foul at 5.7 committed per 36 minutes.

Still, there’s reason to maintain hope that he can be a consistent contributor some day, but through this first chunk of the season, he’s done nothing but show exactly who most thought he was.

Alex Len: D+

2022-23 stats: 1.0 PPG (.500/.000/.750) 1.2 RPG 0.4 APG in 13 Games (3.5 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 6.0 PPG (.534/.286/.651) 4.1 RPG 1.2 APG in 39 Games (15.9 minutes per)

As the third center, the expectations for Alex Len were not very high. If anything, his number seemed pertinent to call if a big body was needed against a center such as Nikola Jokic.

To Len’s credit, he performed pretty well in his lone start, which came against Jokic and the Nuggets when Sabonis was out for that lone game after sustaining his thumb fracture. Adding to it, Len’s conditioning was probably not the best because he was just recovering from an illness.

But overall, in pretty much every other instance, Len has illustrated that a big of his size and skillset is not all that useful in the modern NBA.

Mike Brown has said before that he feels bad for Len because he’s the one guy that has not really gotten a chance as the backup center, but that may be another way to say that everybody pretty much knows how that would go. 

A great example would be early on in the season in a game out in Charlotte on Halloween. It appeared to be a game where Len, did in fact, get a chance. If he’s forced to defend outside or someone smaller, he has no chance. He lacks recovery speed. And he showed offensive limitations, too.

One could easily argue that these were Len’s expectations, but the fact that the backup center has been such a gaping hole for long stretches and that he was never entrusted with that role is difficult to ignore.

Neemias Queta: C

2022-23 stats: 3.0 PPG (.750/.—/.000) 2.3 RPG 0.3 APG in 4 Games (6.3 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 3.0 PPG (.447/.—/.647) 2.1 RPG 0.4 APG in 15 Games (8.0 minutes per)

Neemias Queta has certainly made positive strides as a professional basketball player, which is not an easy thing to do. He looked improved in Summer League and has had a nice season for Stockton, earning a spot in the G League Next Up game at all-star weekend.

At the same time, thinking realistically about his place in the NBA, he remains a project. He still needs better body fluidity given his awkward gait and has shown a butterfinger trait.

Queta is also a hack on the defensive end. In his season debut in Philadelphia, he committed 3 quick fouls. In his limited NBA time this year, he’s essentially averaging a foul for every three minutes he’s on the floor. Just for dramatic elaboration, he’s averaging 10.3 personal fouls per 36 minutes.

He’s worth keeping an eye on, but he still feels like a ways off from cracking the NBA rotation, and his traditional rim-protection is not all that impressive to Mike Brown (see here, here, and here). He had a chance, albeit a minuscule one, to fill the backup center role and couldn’t.

Keon Ellis: B-

2022-23 stats: 2.1 PPG (.600/.625/.667) 0.8 RPG 0.3 APG in 9 Games (4.0 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: n/a — rookie

Ellis was so close to having a higher grade. From the moment he joined the Summer League team to his season in Stockton to some of his mop up time performances for the NBA team, the undrafted rookie was doing nothing but impressing.

However, his last two times on the floor have shown he still has a lot of work to do. Less than Queta, sure, but it was a bit of a reality check after he appeared to be making an ascent that felt ahead of schedule.

The primary concern is not far off from Queta’s: the issue of defending without fouling. In the final game before the all-star break, Ellis was thrown out there for one defensive possession since Huerter had 4 fouls, and in that opportunity, he committed a foul, one of the last things you want to do.

But still, in the big picture, Ellis has shown a lot at both the NBA and G League level. He needs work, but he’s shown he is still likely to be a piece of this organization’s puzzle soon enough as a 3-and-D player.

Kessler Edwards: Incomplete

2022-23 stats (with both BRK and SAC): 1.0 PPG (.240/.154/.500) 1.0 RPG 0.3 APG in 15 Games (5.9 minutes per)

(2021-22 stats: 5.9 PPG (.412/.353/.842) 3.6 RPG 0.6 APG in 48 Games (20.6 minutes per)

After acquiring him from the Nets as the lone deadline move for the Kings, Kessler Edwards has played one game for Sacramento.

It was the final game before the break, and Edwards showed that he can potentially make an impact. It’ll be interesting to see if he can do that in some capacity in the final 25 games.

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Kings Talk – A Cap City Crown Podcast on the Sacramento Kings

Kings Talk: Episode 68

On this episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, with training camp a week away, Tony and John discuss questions for each player that will be attending camp in Sacramento.

The post Kings Talk: Episode 68 appeared first on Cap City Crown.

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[…] specific role and individual expectations, not on overall value or rating. Taking into account both the grades for the pre-all star break period as well as a grade for the “second half” (i.e. the post-all star/playoff segment), an […]

Dan Smith
7 months ago

But great content like always, keep it coming Tony. I hope the guys are ready to gear up for this post season sprint! Let’s go Sacto!

Dan Smith
7 months ago

Spot on with almost all of these except I might give Monk a B+. The main thing with him is consistency, he’s gotta get that outside shot to start falling. He’s almost as ineffective shooting from the perimeter as his first couple years with the Hornets. What happened to the Monk last year in LA?