The Sacramento Kings are hard at work to bolster their roster with one goal in mind: snap the NBA’s longest postseason drought. GM Monte McNair has maneuvered through free agency and the draft to add young players alongside the established pieces in place. Here’s a preview of what the rotation could look like for the coming season.
The Sacramento Kings’ head-scratching roster transactions and more than a few draft blunders have been well-chronicled throughout the years, but is there a chance that this offseason breaks the cycle? After following the "develop for the future" blueprint that has yet to generate a sufficient return on investment, McNair and the front office switched tactics and fast-forwarded their timeline.
At last season’s trade deadline the Kings dealt away Tyrese Haliburton to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for a package that most notably netted Domantas Sabonis in return. With De’Aaron Fox paired alongside Sabonis, the Kings effectively have their one-two scoring punch on the roster. But to give the two the ample space needed to make opposing defenses pay, Sacramento could stand to benefit from adding competent shooters to stretch the floor. Having players that could hold on their own on the defensive end as well would be the icing on the cake.
Thus, the Kings signed Malik Monk to a two-year, $19 million contract to start off their offseason game plan. Sacramento then traded with the Atlanta Hawks for Kevin Huerter, a career 37.9 percent three-point shooter and a solid two-way player who is just 23 years old. Then heading into the draft, the Kings stuck to their guns and drafted with fit in mind, calling Keegan Murray’s name with the fourth overall pick.
There’s a very good chance that Sacramento hasn’t played all their cards just yet, but as the roster stands, here’s a preview of how new head coach Mike Brown might utilize the new faces to start the season.
Point guard: De’Aaron Fox (backup: Davion Mitchell / Malik Monk)
There’s no question who’s starting at the one come tip-off for the new season. After Sacramento dealt away Haliburton at the trade deadline it was evident that Fox benefited in the aftermath, which is promising for the season ahead. In the 12 games directly following the Haliburton trade, Fox averaged 27.9 points per game on 51.8 percent shooting from the field and 35.7 percent from three. He quickly built a rapport with Sabonis in the pick-and-roll, legitimizing their one-two scoring punch.
Right behind him on the depth chart will be Davion Mitchell, who has proven capable of handling the ball with Fox on the bench and most notably handling the assignment of guarding the opponent's best player in the backcourt. Fellow Kentucky teammate and new addition Malik Monk can also slide into the point guard role when necessary.
Shooting guard: Kevin Huerter (backup: Malik Monk / Davion Mitchell )
Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk both have starting experience on their hands but for the immediate needs of the team, I think Huerter gets the starting nod heading into training camp. Monk successfully refortified his career last season with the Los Angeles Lakers, averaging a career-high 13.8 points per game and shooting 39.1 percent from beyond the arc. Much of that production came off the bench where he carved out a nice (and efficient) scoring role in an average of 28.1 minutes per game (a career-high).
I like him as the go-to scoring option off the bench, and he potentially could even bump up into the sixth-man role while sometimes sliding into the starting lineup depending on the matchup.
Huerter is the better overall shooter and a more solid defensive option, two key strengths that should benefit the Fox-Sabonis pick-and-roll greatly. Huerter also has 216 starts to his resume compared to Monk’s 38 starts. Again, it’s very likely Mike Brown could play around with the two-spot but to start the season I think Huerter is the preferred option.
Small forward: Harrison Barnes (backup: Jeremy Lamb)
Barnes has split time between the three and four spots during his tenure in Sacramento, but for the sake of the new additions to the roster, I think he slides back into the small forward role. Similar to the Huerter-Monk situation I can envision Mike Brown tinkering with Barnes’ starting position depending on the matchup, a belief that is further backed up by the Golden State Warriors’ system that Brown is coming from. I’m willing to bet that Brown would like to pick up the pace with the speedy Fox and attack in transition, and that’s more of a threat when running with a small-ball lineup. Though Barnes may start at the three, don’t be surprised to see him slide to the power forward spot when best applicable.
Power forward: Keegan Murray (backup: Trey Lyles / Harrison Barnes / Chimezie Metu)
Keegan Murray has flashed his potential in a couple of NBA Summer League games already, with a pair of 20-point outings in the California Classic and another 20-point performance (including a game-tying three-pointer) in Saturday’s loss to the Orlando Magic. Murray went 4-for-8 from three in Saturday’s game and displayed his ability to stretch the floor for Sacramento. For that reason, it’s clear that Murray is best suited at the power-forward spot heading into his rookie season.
At 6’8", 225 lbs with a 6’11" wingspan Murray has the physical skills that are better suited against the league’s bigger players as opposed to guarding opponents on the perimeter. Murray will continue to get better as a defender and should benefit greatly from Mike Brown’s defensive methodology (which was highly touted among the Warriors organization). But as it stands right now he lacks the lateral quickness that is necessary when guarding opposing wings. He’s best suited at the four spot where his shooting stroke should open up the floor for Fox and Sabonis.
Center: Domantas Sabonis (backup: Alex Len / Trey Lyles / Chimezie Metu)
Sabonis (6’11") at the center position means that the Kings are more or less running with a smaller lineup, but to their benefit, it should allow them to play with a faster pace against their opponents. Adding Huerter and drafting Murray helps bolster this lineup with much necessary outside shooting, which should help counter the effects of playing against traditional bigs at the five spot.
Of course, Mike Brown could always tinker and move Sabonis to the four and opt for a traditional big, such as Alex Len when the matchup deems it necessary, such as the likes of Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid. With the exception of those opponents, I think Brown will look to run up and down the floor and leverage Fox and Sabonis’ chemistry in the pick-and-roll. Only now, defenses will need to be kept honest when choosing to pack the paint. It could be their undoing when you have Huerter or Murray moving for the wide-open three in the corner.