[Editorial Note: Apologies for the delay in getting these answers out to wrap up the 30Q series. Greg was moving and also fell ill, causing a bunch of delays in content getting out. He’s feeling better, but the entire staff still despises him for the lapse. Please accept our apologies. -Greg]
Welcome back to the mailbag! Over the last few days, you’ve asked some fantastic questions around the playoff potential of this team, rotational decisions, Keegan Murray’s growth, Sasha Venzenkov’s minutes, and much more. Let’s dive right in, shall we?
Can this iteration of the Kings win a playoff series this year?
Tim: They certainly can win a playoff series, and I would grant them about a 50/50 chance of hitting that mark. Several teams in the West made or will make dramatic improvements to their roster, while the Kings seem content to tinker around the edges right now. However, that lack of dramatic action from Monte McNair may work out in the end, depending upon the internal improvement of players like Keegan Murray and De’Aaron Fox. If either of those guys take another leap, the Kings will almost certainly advance to the second round. I also wouldn’t count out Sacramento’s front office from making another dramatic trade, especially with a wing such as OG Anunoby being potentially available. Any significant improvement in talent, especially an upgrade from Harrison Barnes in the starting lineup, could send the Kings into true contender status.
Will: There’s no doubt in my mind that the roster as currently constructed could win a playoff series, if healthy. I think this version of the team in the previous season’s playoffs would have beaten the Timberwolves, the Clippers, the Warriors, the Lakers and the Grizzlies and would have fared better against teams like the Nuggets and Suns than their opponents did. The three weakest links in the chain are gone and replaced by players that fit Sacramento’s culture (still weird to say) and the type of team that they excelled at being last year. McGee provides a big shot blocking and rebound presence that the Kings sorely lacked, Duarte is a big guard that can play small forward in small ball line-ups in a way that Terrence Davis couldn’t, and Sasha Vezenkov is a better shooting big than the fanbase could have ever expected Chimezie Metu to become. Just having those three options for Mike Brown would have won their first round match-up last season, and I think puts the Kings in a good spot for this upcoming push for the playoffs.
With Fox now having a taste for what the playoffs can do for the team, his legacy and his status amongst his peers, with Keegan Murray poised for a bigger chunk of the scoring load and with Domantas Sabonis having an entire off-season of people knocking his performance last season down a peg or two, I think this squad (again, if healthy) comes into the playoffs with a chip on their shoulder and something to prove to whoever they match up against in the first round.
Which Kings player will have the most surprising year? Good or Bad.
Tim: Keegan Murray is going to average 18 points, 6 boards, and 2.5 assists while shooting 46%+ from the field and 40%+ from deep. Oh, and he’ll finish the season top-5 in three-pointers made in the league.
Will: Tim took the most optimistic and likely route here so I’ll say that I think that, if he’s ever going to have one in Sacramento, this is the year for Davion Mitchell to break out in his role for the Kings. He’s now had a year to adjust to having another ball-dominant guard playing along side him in Malik Monk, he’s had two years in the NBA to get his body in a position to where he can go hard on both sides of the court and he’s had a year to adjust to the what Coach Brown wants for him – the time is now for Davion. He’s got to find a way to shoot better than 31.7% from deep on three-ish attempts per game, find his spots to contribute on the offensive end without killing the flow and continue to flash that stellar defense, but for a guy who is known for his work ethic and dogged mentality, I think Davion has a really good shot at showing out this season.
What 5 players do you expect on the court as the closing lineup in close games?
Tim: De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk, Keegan Murray, Sasha Vezenkov, Domantas Sabonis
Will: Man, I hope this isn’t too little speculation here, and Mike Brown is a master tinkerer, but I really think the end of the game line-up is going to be Fox-Huerter-Murray-Barnes-Sabonis. I could see them swapping in Monk and Vezzy on nights where they’re down and need to score buckets in a hurry, but I just don’t see Tim’s lineup as one that has enough defense to be effective on the other side of the court.
Will Domantas Sabonis ever develop a reliable mid-range game?
Tim: It’s possible, but I don’t think his mid-range game is as critical as others may believe. Yes, the Warriors shut down Sacramento’s high-post action throughout the entirety of their playoff series, but Sabonis not having a mid-range wasn’t the sole cause of that issue. Kevon Looney is uniquely suited to stopping Sabonis’ interior game, and that, in addition to Sacramento’s shooters forgetting how to put the ball in the basket and De’Aaron Fox’s injury, sealed the Kings fate. Frankly, Mike Brown needs to spend this offseason and training camp creating counteractions to a focused defensive effort on Domantas Sabonis. That could be more pick-and-roll action with Malik Monk and a vertical threat, it could be a faster-paced secondary break approach with Fox and Monk, or it could be a totally new offensive set to break that high-post pressure that Sacramento felt. Hell, give the ball to Keegan Murray and let him go to work in the mid-post, a la Rudy Gay of the olden days. The Kings were a bit of a one-trick pony last season. They need more options outside of “Sabonis needs to hit his jumpers”.
Will:I’d bet my last dollar that by the end of his career, Domas is going to have a decent mid-range game and that’s solely based on my recollection / the history of comparable big guys as they age and vibes. He’s too smart of a player to just completely abandon the one part of his game that could open up a whole new world of opportunity for him and his team. Now, will it be during the Kings championship window? I’d bet a lot less, but someday, somehow that man is going to find himself a 15-foot jumper.
If you had to bet on one player adding a new wrinkle to their game, what player would it be, and what wrinkle?
Tim: It would be a new wrinkle for him in the NBA, although not necessarily a new wrinkle for him overall, but I truly believe that Keegan Murray is going to evolve into one of the central points of Sacramento’s offensive attack next season. With De’Aaron Fox cutting through defenses, Domantas Sabonis picking apart schemes with his passing, and the bevy of shooters on the roster, the one thing the Kings are missing is a calm, mid-post bucket-getter who can punish teams on the fringes between all of those other actions. That was a big part of Keegan Murray’s game in college. As his confidence grows, and everyone watched that confidence and swagger blossom in the playoffs after Kevin Huerter and Harrison Barnes forgot how to shoot, Keegan should be able to take advantage of the seams of opposing defenses concentrating on Sacramento’s stars.
Will: Tim is having all the Keegan fun today, so I’m going to bet that Fox comes into the season shooting red hot from behind the arc. I really think being that close to knocking out the defending champs hurt a lot of these players and they’ve gone into the off-season with that Steph Curry 50-piece haunting them all season, Fox most of all. Now, I’m not trying to say that he’s going to be shooting 43% from deep on seven attempts or anything, but I think the braintrust in Sacramento knows what the respect of even 36% from deep would have in terms of opening the floor for Fox. He’s an elite finisher, he’s fast enough to get open whenever he wants, his form looked better last season than any other point in his career, he just needs that one. little. tweak. to get them to fall. We’ve heard from Mike Brown that he doesn’t think that De’Aaron Fox has reached the peak of his offensive potential and I really think that if the Kings are serious about going towards a championship window, they know that a Fox with a threatening long range jumper could absolutely crack that window open for them.
Sasha comes with much hype from the EuroLeague, but is always discussed as just a bench player. Do you think he can crack the starting lineup on skill alone? Or would a trade need to happen?
Tim: Harrison Barnes is a beloved member of the team, he’s a leader in the locker room, and Mike Brown especially loves the guy. I have a hard time seeing Vezenkov replacing Barnes as a starter unless Barnes either falls apart this season, or Sasha is much, much better than everyone expects. If the skill gap is close, and I believe it will be, the Kings will likely elect to keep Barnes as the starter, although that doesn’t mean he’ll be closing games.
Will: I think any discussion of Vezenkov as a bench player isn’t an indictment on his skill or his ability to be a starter in this league as much as it is a product of the Kings currently being deep at the position he plays. Keegan Murray, Harrison Barnes and Trey Lyles were all very good NBA players last season and Vezenkov is just an unknown factor to an extent. I don’t see it as far fetched that the Kings wind up starting Sasha by years end, electing to bring Harrison Barnes off the bench as a calming presence for a sometimes hectic, but talented bench squad. The Kings will lose his defense and ability to draw fouls on the offensive end, but Vezenkov’s shooting and size might be worth the swap on its own merits, without a trade being necessary at all.
Not many players with significant playing time last year are gone, but we’ve added at least one player who may command a decent amount of playing time. So where do those minutes come from? Barnes?
Tim: More than anything, I think we’ll see different shifts in lineups, rather than anyone from last season’s rotation losing significant minutes. Trey Lyles will likely command more time at backup center with Holmes and Metu gone, while the Kings will also find a few extra minutes at the wing with Terence Davis’ exit. Sasha Vezenkov can steal a few minutes from Davis’ 13.1 minutes per game average, while also finding time at power forward with Lyles shifting from the 4 to the 5-spot. Reduce Harrison Barnes’ time on the court by 2-3 minutes, and you’ve found plenty of time for everyone.
Will: Yeah, I don’t see a numbers crunch being a problem with this team. Sure they’re loaded with talented guys who probably deserve minutes, but I think that Brown and the rest of the coaching staff are good enough at adjusting to different schemes being thrown at them that it’ll work out fine. We also have to remember that the Kings were freakishly healthy last season, even with Sabonis playing with his wonky thumb. Guys are going to get banged up. The Duarte’s and Len’s and Edward’s of the team will find their minutes this season because the Monks, Huerter’s, Sabonis’ and Fox’s are bound to need time off to heal.