Why the Kings Signed Nerlens Noel: Queta’s Summer League in Review

PORTLAND, OR - JANUARY 2: Nerlens Noel #9 of the Detroit Pistons looks on during the game against the Portland Trail Blazers on January 2, 2023 at the Moda Center Arena in Portland, Oregon. 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 Cameron Browne/NBAE via Getty Images)

As has been noted a few times before, things have not gone Neemias Queta’s way this summer.

With a spot open for another center on the roster, it was striking that the 2021 second round pick did not receive one of the three available two-way contracts a few weeks ago. Further calling his future with the organization into question was the fact he suffered a stress reaction and sprain in his right foot during the second game in Las Vegas, causing him to miss the remainder of Summer League.

And on top of that, news broke Tuesday that the Kings inked veteran Nerlens Noel to a one-year, minimum deal. Noel was a name often floated around as an outside target to fill in the backup 5 last season and now he’s finally been acquired, presumably filling the roster spot Queta was hoping to own.

The absence of a two-way contract for Queta seemed to bill his Summer League as a final audition to show the organization what he’s got, but prior to getting hurt, it appears his performance wasn’t enough to convince the front office that he’s improved enough to be their guy.

So let’s run through it and review the big man’s Summer League to see what played into their decision…

Last year at this time, we pointed out that while Queta showed some flashy finishes, he consistently refused to finish with his left hand. This year, however, on top of continuing to have some excellent finishes, he’s done a satisfactory job using that left hand, which deserves credit. He also showed some touch as well as patience down low where he often got buckets to go, and that’s in addition to his size at 7’0″, 245lbs.

Speaking of size, he was rebounding extremely well, most notably on the offensive end, where he had multiple tip-in’s and put back dunks, including some boisterous ones. But given the competition of Summer League, that’s frankly how it should’ve been.

The most highlight-worthy plays for Queta are of course the blocks he gets. When he was sending one back, it was frequently a violent swat, producing a high level of energy around the team. Likewise, he also exhibited nice hustle on a pair of chase downs to try to get a hand on a shot.

It’s obvious that Queta’s naturally equipped with verticality, and he used it well on the defensive end several times. He was able to do so in ways that would satisfy Mike Brown and his staff—such as going straight up—which likely earned the big man praise.

But he didn’t always do that.

The largest hole in Queta’s game is his inability to consistently defend without fouling and that continued to manifest itself. Hell, he had 5 fouls before halftime in the first California Classic game. In his three and a half games played, he was still getting handsy and displaying insufficient discipline. 

The susceptibility to fouling also extended to the other end, where he’d ambitiously go over the opponent’s back on the boards, botch a screen that resulted in a turnover, or do something like that. It didn’t happen a ton, but it happened enough to know that it still projects poorly at the NBA level. 

All the fouling has and continues to spoil the idea of being an energizer in a backup center role because it results in a disjointed flow from all the stoppages in play. That limits pace and prevents the team from playing the way they want to. And that’s truly a shame because he’s such a relentless, high-effort player that’s able to create a spark.

A lot of this can be explained by his lack of body fluidity and coordination, something that holds him back in plenty of areas and something that is—at the age of 24—likely uncorrectable. 

Overall, he’s still a very awkward player. Defenders can pull the chair on him in the post, he’s prone to butterfingers, and even on productive plays, he looks incongruous.

Of course, his animated physical gestures are liable to produce endearing laughs as well. He’s been at the center of some genuinely funny moments, whether it’s him moving like a giraffe on skates only to miraculously end up with a dunk or throwing up a kick like a football punter. He’s definitely multifaceted in his showmanship.

Another thing one can credit Queta with are some of his passes. Most of them are thrown to the corner as was the case against the lax weak side defense of Atlanta. 

But even when he had the right idea to throw into the far corner, he sometimes failed to execute properly.

With a mirrored system in Summer League that had the center operate a lot from the top, Queta also showed some processing issues where he failed to make prompt decisions. Sometimes he’d miss the first read, while at others, he’d fail to pass it at all.

His indecision and lack of sharp awareness also comes into play on defense. He collects attention with his blocks, but he’s far from a perfect inside presence as he will sometimes have noticeably delayed reaction times.

And perhaps most of all, as laid out here, one of the most frustrating things about Queta is his inability to play consistently. Through his three and a half game played this summer, it felt like he’d give you about one really good quarter of play with maybe some spill over into another period. The rest would be mediocre or mistake-ridden.

That notion of inconsistency extends to his role on the floor. When he focused on defending, rebounding, and finishing he looked okay, but there were also times where he played outside himself, including the time he took and missed a late three in a one-score ball game against the Hawks.

In essence, Neemias Queta demonstrated that he’s still such a raw product, and at the ripe age of 24, no less.

So, yes, the Nerlens Noel signing appears to confirm the notion that the Queta experiment is indeed over. It doesn’t seem like the Kings are going to cling onto the hope that he can become the player they thought he could possibly evolve into when they selected him two years ago. Going for the older Noel admits that, if only tacitly. 

If Sacramento really believed in Queta, everyone would know, but they’ve clearly bypassed hanging their hat on the 24 year-old to plug a 29 year-old vet into the center rotation. The Kings can rest assured knowing Noel can adequately contribute as a connecting piece on defense, on the glass, and as a finisher.

Noel, as is, will bring to the table all the things the Kings can’t afford to wait on Queta to master: awareness, fluid athleticism, decisiveness, instincts, and an ability to execute consistently. 

In short, the depth at the 5 is much better because of it. They have an All-NBA starter with solid veterans in Alex Len and Noel jostling for backup minutes with Trey Lyles mixed in as a frequent small 5 option.

What lies ahead for Neemias Queta is more of a mystery for now. Sacramento won’t give him an extensive shot in the NBA, and as a top team in the West, that makes sense. Nevertheless, there’s still a chance that another team in a different scenario could offer Queta an opportunity.

(…Note to readers: Look forward to more Summer League reviews for other notable players.)

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2 months ago

Not a fan of this maneuver, I know Queta still looks a bit on the awkward side but is a big that typically take longer to develop. I know he hasn’t earned a place on the main squad, but why not offer him a two-way? I think helping Stockton to the best record last year and being runner up for MVP, he definitely deserves one more year. And what happens when/if Len or Noel leave and get older, it’s good to have a younger guy waiting in the wings. Who knows if Noel isn’t washed up either, he didn’t look that great in limited time last year. I just think it’s puzzling to give a spot to someone like Slawson over Queta with a two-way when he doesn’t look very good at all.