Analyzing the Prospective Roster as it Stands Now After First Weekend of Free Agency

SACRAMENTO, CA - JUNE 27: Colby Jones #20, General Manager Monte McNair and Jalen Slawson #18 of the Sacramento Kings pose for a portrait on June 27, 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 License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2023 NBAE (Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

The Kings have not made any seismic-level splashes, per say, and most of the moves they’ve made were on everyone’s checklist, but Sacramento still looks like they’re putting themselves in a position to be one of the better teams in their conference again next season.

In short, Sac extended Harrison Barnes, traded for Chris Duarte, brought Trey Lyles back, signed EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov, re-signed Alex Len, and gave Domantas Sabonis his contract extension.

It’s still extremely early in the summer, but it’s easy to begin imagining how the roster that’s currently taking shape will look and function next season. In terms of a 15-man, the Kings essentially have that amount of bodies currently at 14 (excluding two-way’s), allowing for a decent peek at what next year’s team will look like, at least as it stands currently:

PG: De’Aaron Fox, Davion Mitchell, [Keon Ellis, two-way deal]

SG: Kevin Huerter, Malik Monk, Colby Jones

SF: Harrison Barnes, Chris Duarte, Kessler Edwards, [PJ Dozier, non-guaranteed contract]

PF: Keegan Murray, Trey Lyles, Sasha Vezenkov, [Jalen Slawson, two-way deal]

C: Domantas Sabonis, Alex Len

As noted, there are some questions to be asked about the prospective roster and how it stands now. Are some guys listed out of position above? Who’s the second center? Who’s the third point guard? Who gets minutes among the lot of wings they now have? Who are on two-way deals? And much more…

To start, as has been hypothesized, Lyles could very well be the second center. A few weeks back, Christos Tsaltas noted Vezenkov’s role was to backup Murray at the 4, so Lyles’ role could be to sit behind Sabonis on the depth chart with Alex Len there as insurance and in case of a bigger matchup. That was the working idea when it seemed clear that a Vezenkov signing and a Lyles re-signing were both going to happen, and keeping a familiar big like Len to buttress the positional grouping makes it all the more plausible.

Anyone can agree that Len’s ascendence to filling in the backup 5 role late last season was a terrific, feel-good story because the vet’s professionalism and hard work really came to fruition. It’s those characteristics that allow him to stay ready, that make him a perfect third center (if indeed Lyles is the full-time backup). Even as the third one, again, he’d be insurance against bigger 5’s should it be necessary.

Sacramento signed Keon Ellis and rookie Jalen Slawson to two-way deals this past weekend, but with the ability to take on three two-way contracts, intrigue was raised as there was still no word for Neemias Queta.

It wouldn’t break too many hearts if the Queta experiment came to an end, but it’s a tad odd that Slawson is receiving one of three available two-way contracts. The Furman product will be 24 for the vast majority of his rookie year, and it’s not typical to give two-way’s out to older rookies as it’s more of a developmental tool. 

Still, that’s probably a good thing. RIght? Slawson—even as a rookie from a mid-major program—would provide better depth than KZ Okpala did to start last season. Perhaps that’s getting too far out ahead—Summer League is only just beginning—but the depth is good. And it could get even better.

Even as the roster appears to be on the precipice of being full—though further moves are likely—reports indicate Sacramento’s interest in Torrey Craig. The 32 year-old veteran would provide some three-point shooting (he shot 39.5% from three last season) as well as some defensive versatility while ultimately bolstering the forward position. With Barnes back, with an intention to begin orienting Murray more to the 3 position, with Edwards, with Ellis on another two-way, and now with Duarte, it’s not entirely clear if that’s the position in need of an addition compared to say, the point guard or center positions. 

Still, Craig would provide useful depth. And there could be opportunities for other roster spots to clear up.

Of course, in terms of an additional open roster spot, Dozier’s contract has to be guaranteed by the team first, so that could potentially open up as well. However, the one argument from the periphery regarding the idea of Dozier sticking around is that he could fill that third point guard role, which was manned by Matthew Dellavedova last season. Dozier has shown some abilities as a primary ball handler; in fact, in some late-season games with guys resting and with Dellavedova’s finger injury, Dozier played point guard and looked adequate. He may not have the championship experience of Delly, but he’s longer, a better and more versatile defender, and younger. It’ll be interesting to see what happens with him going forward; after all, the action of the offseason just got underway.

But let’s step back again: For the 34th pick Colby Jones, the Duarte trade seemed like a redundancy at first sight. In terms of physical size, they’re very similar, and their games aren’t far off either. But the logic of having both of them on the team makes sense. In the simplest terms, there’s some compatibility in the fact Jones is a rookie with no NBA experience and Duarte is injury prone (he’s played just 101 games in his two seasons in the league). As both figure to be candidates to fill that Terence Davis role, it’s believable that Duarte could earn minutes off the bat in training camp and pre-season; he’s been here before.

While the Kings aren’t banking on Duarte missing a considerable amount of time, they must know that if Jones is behind him in terms of minutes, then the rookie will get his fair share of opportunities without dumping a full load on his shoulders, which could be beneficial.

Overall on the Duarte acquisition, it feels like another low-risk, high-reward type move; maybe not as quintessentially so as the Kessler Edwards trade in February, but still. The Kings sent over draft compensation in exchange for Duarte, who could benefit from a change of scenery. He’s still on a rookie deal and has the upside of being a lottery pick. Bringing him to the training staff of the year may not directly translate to an iron man season for Duarte, but it puts him in arguably the best position to get his health and durability on the right track, which is critical to the direction and future of his career.

And when was depth ever a bad word?

As a whole, this is the state of things as they are now. There’s plenty more time for other moves and Monte McNair, like all general managers, is always looking to get better as he said last summer. Similarly, Summer League is about to start with the California Classic kicking off today, so better insight into they younger guys awaits just ahead.

As a final takeaway, even with some of these questions, the main theme is the Kings have way better depth. They were pretty deep last season, but this year, there are multiple players that will really have to fight for minutes, which will have a chance to bring out the best of the team.

…Be sure to check out Keegan Murray, Colby Jones, Kessler Edwards, Jalen Slawson, and Keon Ellis in Summer League play tonight at 7 p.m. PST against the Warriors…

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[…] [ July 3, 2023 ] Analyzing the Prospective Roster as it Stands Now After First Weekend of Free A… […]

Dan Smith
2 months ago

Nice recap of the off season so far. Team looks good on chemistry/cohesion front, as they bring their top 8 guys back. Added some good, underrated depth…especially Vezenkov, Duarte & Jones could all surprise people. Deepest Kings team I’ve seen in a looooong time. 55-60 wins, top 5 this year…should be doable if they stay pretty healthy again like last year.