Training camp is just about here and Kings fans can get their groove back to a new high knowing their team is entering the season ahead as one of the stronger units in the league.
Intrigue and hope was palpable a season ago, and as for the myriad of questions that accompany a new season, they were met with a lot of positive answers as a very talented team made a name for themselves in a manner that lifted the franchise from the league’s feel-good surprise to a respected foe.
What about this season? What lies ahead?
Such big questions are difficult to answer, if not downright impossible at this point, so delving into the individual players and camp competitors one by one can help illuminate many of the unknowns.
Below are questions regarding the season ahead—or the path ahead—for each man that will be at training camp, and the answers to those questions will, in large part, dictate and bring clarity to what lies ahead for the 2023-24 Sacramento Kings.
Is De’Aaron Fox going to make the jump to become an MVP candidate?
Without a doubt, Fox can achieve this.
He’s the most clutch scorer in the league, arguably the hardest to stay in front of due to his supreme speed, and managed to have a magnificent playoff debut that put him in the same company as Oscar Robertson.
More importantly, he hit the ground running last season and, after the birth of his son, he closed it out extremely well before his impressive efforts against Golden State.
But adding to all of this is the money factor.
De’Aaron Fox is close to being supermax eligible. Eligibility requires seven years of service and Fox stands at six as of now. Another piece of criteria is making one of the three All-NBA teams in the two preceding season or twice in three preceding seasons. As for that last one, eligibility can also come from winning an MVP award once during the three preceding seasons.
As ESPN’s Bobby Marks wrote a few weeks back, if Fox meets the criteria in one way or another, he’ll be eligible for a massive five-year supermax extension, either this next offseason or the one following depending on how Fox checks the necessary boxes.
The likelihood that he can be an All-NBA guy once more in at least two of the next three seasons is probably worth a bet (that is NOT advice, you gamblers). While it’s less of a sure bet on the MVP front, it’s not a crazy idea.
Will Domantas Sabonis comfortably hit jumpers when challenged to do so?
Look, Domantas Sabonis was almost certainly the MVP of the 2022-23 Kings regular season as the center that held everything together from start to finish.
But people forget that—and by people, that means outside spectators—and they choose focus solely on how he did not look like himself in the playoff series against the Warriors. There, defenders would sag off, almost daring Sabonis to shoot. Without much willingness to take that challenge, Sabonis would attack, winning some battles and losing some, but overall the impact was significantly diminished.
How much would things have opened up for him if he’d shown a willingness and capability of hitting those jumpers?
Last offseason, there was a lot of hype around Sabonis’ work with Chris “Lethal Shooter” Matthews, and as a result, the big man shot 37.3% from three on 31 of 81 total attempts (that’s 1.1 hoisted per game). In the mid-range, he also showed an ability to hit shots outside the key, either from the elbow area or around the free throw line, albeit not on a high volume.
The point is, Sabonis can hit those looks, but will he be able to improve enough to reach into his back pocket and play that card when challenged to do so?
His regular season performance is unlikely to depend on that in any substantial form, though some teams may try a similar approach to what the Warriors used. This comes into play more in the postseason, when adjustments and stepping up through adversity become paramount.
Will Harrison Barnes see more rest this season?
Over the previous five seasons, Harrison Barnes has played 12,365 minutes, which is fourth most among NBA players behind Mikal Bridges, DeMar DeRozan, and Jayson Tatum. That’s a lot of tread from one guy and thus a lot of production, and it’s also a testament to the kind of professional the veteran forward is.
However commendable that is, one has to ask: Should he rest more this season?
Barnes was the only player on the team to appear in all 82 games, but off of that, he stood out as perhaps the most glaring letdown in the playoffs. There he averaged 10.7 points per game on 41.7% shooting from the field and 24.0% from three-point range.
Couldn’t he benefit from more time off during the season? Better yet, couldn’t the team benefit from that?
Entering his age-31 season, this feels like a no-brainer, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the player—the competitor—feels differently.
Will Mike Brown override his ambitions for the betterment of Barnes and the team?
Time will tell, but one thing that helps that cause is the fact the Kings are deeper this season, and with guys like Duarte and Vezenkov available, minutes can go elsewhere without losing what the shrewd Barnes provides.
Is Huerter’s conditioning going to be sufficient enough to prevent a late-season fizzle?
Kevin Huerter was a terrific addition for the Kings last season, but he seemed to fizzle out after a certain point.
In February, it was noted that his shooting percentages were dipping month by month in an offense where his utilization and movement were unquestionably at their highest compared to anything Huerter experienced in Atlanta.
The concern seemed to point quite clearly to conditioning.
He bounced back and put in a great month of March, but once the playoffs started, he almost disappeared, which harkened back to the concerns from February.
The sharpshooter knows that better than anyone.
“The way my role is on this team is to continue to get better in my role and I think that’s kind of going to be a big focus for me this summer — is being in really good shape I think going into next year,” Huerter admitted at his end of the season presser. “I think my movement within our offense is (such that) you got to be in really good shape and this series (against the Warriors) showed it. I think both teams played up and down and at the pace we play at, and I’m not going to speak for Mike (Brown), but I would assume we’re probably going to play similar next year, getting up and down the court for 82 games, and it’s just being in really good shape, working on my body continuously, trying to build every year.”
Being in better shape will allow him to continue thriving in an uptempo style in a more sustainable fashion. It will also help him be more consistent as an on-ball defender, an area he has room to improve.
He said it himself, in order to continue to grow as a player, Kevin Huerter needs to be in the best shape of his life.
How much will the Kings play Murray at the 3 as opposed to the 4?
In June, when Sasha Vezenkov’s signing was on the horizon, Christos Tsaltas of the Greek outlet Sportal reported that the Kings had a role in mind for the EuroLeague MVP.
To nobody’s surprise, the role was said to be serving as the backup 4 behind Murray. Tsaltas also added that with Veznekov there, the Kings were seeking “to utilize Murray at the 3 spot next season in order to get all the good elements of his game.”
At his two California Classic performances in July, Murray showcased what he has been working on in terms of getting his own shots and handling the ball more. It may have been Summer League talent that he was facing, but what he demonstrated there seems to paint good things for what he might be able to do this season.
There may be a brief duration where adjustment is needed, but as with anything that pertains to Murray’s NBA journey so far, the Iowa product has adjusted extremely well. That was the case during his November slump that stemmed from both off-court matters and, presumably, the more rigorous travel schedule. And he quickly became a weapon again in the playoff series after struggling at the beginning of it.
It appears there’s a decent chance fans and spectators will see Murray play that position. How much is hard to tell at this point.
Can Malik Monk be a top-three Sixth Man of the Year candidate, if not take the award home?
It’s all about consistency for Malik Monk, the lack of which kept him at fifth in 6MOTY voting with 3 second place votes and 12 third place votes.
He’s evidently capable of being the Sixth Man of the Year if he can be a steadier force from start to finish this season, and all of that is made more possible by the fact he’s entering a contract year. And that doesn’t just help his cause for the award, but also helps his team as he often looks like one of the better players on the team when performing at that level.
After a great start, Monk’s shooting took a downturn in December, a month where he hit 28.4% of this three-pointers. And in January, with his efficiency still down, he averaged just 9.9 points in 10 contests.
Around that time after the new calendar year, Mike Brown had noted that he was “banged up,” which was apparent as he missed a game against the Lakers on January 7 and was listed on the injury report a few other times.
As a smaller guy—both in height and frame—the consistency may be tied to physical sustainability.
His role and freedom appeared to be enhanced under Mike Brown, so he could very well have needed a year to prepare to adjust in terms of sustainability.
It’s about consistency at the end of the day, but that feat is definitely in the realm of possibility.
Will Davion Mitchell’s shooting improve at all?
It’s going to have to.
“If I was a better shooter, I would have been on the floor more, you know what I’m sayin? Game 6 and Game 7,” Davion Mitchell told Deuce Mason and Morgan Ragan in August.
Regardless of whether or not it was right to play Terence Davis more than Davion Mitchell late in the Warriors season, the point stands: Davion has to be able to hit three’s far more consistently.
The team is even deeper now with Chris Duarte and Sasha Vezenkov, who are both better shooters than Mitchell.
Since his final season at Baylor where he shot 44.7% from deep, the three-ball has not come around for Mitchell. Through two NBA seasons, he’s shooting 31.7% from that range.
Not only would an improved three-point shot give him a better argument to be on the floor more, it would absolutely expand his game. An ability to shoot will open up for more penetrations, which is something Mitchell can look really good at doing, and that will in turn help him distribute a little better, which he showed pleasant glimpses of later last season.
And of course, the big thing is that this allows for his defense to make a bigger impact. More floor time means more disruption from Mitchell.
It’s glaring: the key to unlocking his full potential relies on hitting those three’s.
Is Trey Lyles the Swiss army knife?
First of all, everyone knows how great of a backup power forward he is, but think about the center position. With all things considered is Lyles the best option at the backup 5?
He has to be, right? With the shooting prowess mixed with adequate size—which is anchored by a strong frame—he has shown how dynamic he makes the unit when he plays as the center. The most prominent examples are the overtime win in Minnesota back in January as well as what Lyles and a smaller lineup was able to do against Golden State in the playoffs.
Focusing on that last example, of the three lineups that played the most minutes in that series, the small lineup of De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Terence Davis, Keegan Murray, and Trey Lyles had the best offensive and net ratings.
A small lineup with Lyles at the 5 can be deadly when the situation calls for it.
And that’s the thing about Lyles, he’s there for whatever the situation calls for. He can be a star in his role as a backup 4, a small 5, and whatever else lies between. More depth at forward will allow him to play more at the 5, and a more functional true center rotation won’t be forcing a sole dependency on Lyles playing at center.
In other words, Lyles will be able to fit in regardless of the game plan, the matchups, or the scenarios. It doesn’t matter if Sabonis fouls out, if the Kings have to play big, or if they want to play small, Lyles will likely play a key role.
Harrison Barnes adds a dynamic mix of on and off-court leadership, Chris Duarte has a versatile skillset, and who knows what’s in store for Keegan Murray’s second season, but it feels like Trey Lyles is a Swiss army knife of sorts for the Kings—even more so than a season ago.
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Stay tuned for the rest when part 2 is published here on the site shortly.