Does Brown’s Trust Get in the Way of Player Evaluation? Evaluating the Kings Latest Roster Decision

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 21: PJ Dozier #35 of the Sacramento Kings warms up during halftime in a game against the Philadelphia 76ers on January 21, 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)

After the exhilarating double-overtime victory over the Clippers on Friday, the Kings made a roster decision that may have flown under the radar. That same night, Sacramento waived KZ Okpala and decided to sign PJ Dozier for the remainder of the season as the former is set to have season-ending surgery.

One may recall that the Kings brought in Dozier (read more about him here) at the beginning of January on a pair of 10-day contracts. A third deal with the lengthy wing would require the team to secure him through the end of the season, so the Kings made a 10-day contract official for Stockton Kings forward Deonte Burton exactly ten days before the trade deadline. And it was Burton’s place on the 15-man that was given to Kessler Edwards after he was acquired from the Nets.

Okpala had been listed since late January as dealing with bilateral knee soreness, meaning pain in both knees, and he is set to have season-ending surgery to address it, according to sources.

“Sources said the Kings worked in consultation with multiple medical professionals to evaluate Okpala’s injury,” Jason Anderson of The Sacramento Bee writes. “The organization appreciated Okpala’s contributions but felt this was the appropriate next step given the situation, sources said.”

It may not seem like a big deal—after all, Okpala was not a nightly rotational guy and Dozier did not get time in the spotlight in his first stint—but this roster move raises some interesting questions. 

Are the Kings better off with Dozier?

Nobody should take away from the fact Okpala made the roster; he holds unquestionable promise with his lengthy physical profile and defensive abilities. However, there are a lot of reasons to think the Kings are simply better off with Dozier over Okpala.

For one, everything Okpala offers is likewise offered by Dozier. Both make their money on the defensive end. Okpala may have two inches height-wise and three wingspan-wise over Dozier, but they’re both equipped with the characteristics of the type of player that’s becoming a commodity in the NBA.

Beyond that, Dozier creates some separation from Okpala.

The best thing a defensive specialist can do to stay on the floor outside of defense is hitting his three’s. In short, Okpala (28.6% from three in his career) did not and has never shown he can hit the three-ball convincingly at this level, whereas Dozier (32.0%) has. 

While Dozier’s percentages are not an indication of a sharpshooter, the fact Dozier has a good track record of hitting open looks plays in his favor in terms of being a believable 3-and-D guy.

Probably the biggest indicator is the fact that Dozier held a rotational role on a talented Denver Nuggets team for multiple seasons before suffering a torn ACL. KZ Okpala has never held down a rotational role.

That lends so much to experience which therefore substantiates a player’s awareness and ability to fit in on the floor. Dozier has a track record of making an impact in the needed areas without creating other problems. Okpala differs in that regard having shown issues with spacing and shot hesitancy.

And one can’t forget playoff experience. Okpala has 6 minutes of playoff experience to Dozier’s 125 minutes.

Based on each player’s actual track record, the Kings—currently the third place team in the West and almost certainly destined for the postseason—Dozier is likely more useful because he’s been productive in this kind of situation before. 

Does Mike Brown’s trust get in the way of player evaluation?

So it’d be difficult to argue that Okpala serves a playoff team better than Dozier does, but that then raises another question: If Dozier is better than Okpala, why was the “better player” a free agent for a month before replacing the other?

Obviously, a smart aleck will point to the bilateral knee issue, but the foundational reason—which stretches back to training camp—is the trust Mike Brown had in his guy.

Chimezie Metu, Chima Moneke, and Okpala were all members of the Nigerian National Team that Mike Brown coached for the Olympic games two summers ago. All three players made the roster out of camp, and in hindsight, it was unlikely that it would go any other way.

To start and to get it out of the way, Metu has made undeniable strides; his place on the team is legitimate. It’s hard to say he’s been a great backup center, but he’s surprised many and has proven to be the most steady option out of a disappointing lot of big’s. Coming into the year and taking into account his career thus far, it was easy to wonder whether Metu had convincing footing in the league, but he proved to be equipped with more than just the trust of his head coach, showing some variation of growth.

However, the other two seemed mostly, if not entirely buoyed by that trust.

Moneke, the most definitive example of a project, was waived to create a roster spot that would allow the team to evaluate other players, i.e. Dozier and Burton. Trust could not buy a guy with zero NBA experience enough time to show he’s worth a roster spot on a playoff team.

On the other hand, Okpala’s defensive ceiling could rest on at least some league experience. But by the all-star break, he’d demonstrated that he was more or less what people thought he was: a guy with defensive potential that lacked the tools necessary to stay on the floor or in a rotation.

And now, without trust pulling the strings, it’s clear the Kings are better off with Edwards and Dozier rather than Okpala and Moneke.

Is that kind of individual trust—the kind coach Brown has exhibited in his Olympics team guys—something that gets interferes with player evaluation? 

The question was valid in October when the final roster was announced, but with both Moneke and Okpala gone—for entirely different reasons—it gains an added emphasis.

Of course, it’s not a big deal. The Kings cut Kent Bazemore to keep Moneke and it’s not like Bazemore landed another NBA job—thus, he never “got away”—and of course PJ Dozier never got swept up by any team, neither before his 10-day deals, nor after. So no harm, no foul.

Nevertheless, though, it’s something to consider going forward.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Kings Talk
Kings Talk

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

Kings Talk: Episode 67

On this episode of Kings Talk presented by Cap City Crown, Tony and John discuss who has the best shot at winning the third backup center role, Mike Brown’s first real interview of the offseason, […]

The post Kings Talk: Episode 67 appeared first on Cap City Crown.

Kings Talk: Episode 67
Kings Talk: Episode 66
Kings Talk: Episode 65
Kings Talk: Episode 64
Kings Talk: Episode 63
Kings Talk: Episode 62
Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Dan Smith
6 months ago

Sucks to see KZ go, and I feel bad for him the injury wipes out the rest of his season, and also got him released. All the best to him and his career, maybe once he starts putting the rest of his game together, he can come back for a reunion tour. I’m happy with bring Dozier back, as he was ballin out for Iowa in the G-league. I think as he puts the work in coming back from his ACL injury, he’ll keep improving week by week. He came back from the tear unusually quick too, but he’s too hoping he gets some minutes here and there. C’mon Kings, let’s rack up some blow outs to get these guys some time, lol.