Five Takeaways: The Monk, McGee connection and Vezenkov’s debut in Vancouver

Oct 9, 2023, 2:05 PM

JaVale McGee #00 of the Sacramento Kings poses for a photo at Sacramento Kings Practice Facility on...

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 02: JaVale McGee #00 of the Sacramento Kings poses for a photo at Sacramento Kings Practice Facility on October 02, 2023 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. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings played their preseason debut in Vancouver against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

Even though they fell 112-99, 20 of their 21 rostered players participated. That’s how the NBA preseason goes. It provides an opportunity to test new lineups, evaluate some new talent, and see what internal growth may exist.

Luckily, it’s the only time of year when wins and losses are not particularly important. So, despite the loss, there were notable moments from Sasha Vezenkov, Keegan Murray, veteran center JaVale McGee, and more.

Davion Mitchell barely missed the cut for these takeaways, but being the only player to knock down multiple three-pointers is an encouraging sight. Mitchell emphasized improving as a shooter during his offseason work, including working with Stephen Curry’s shooting coach, Brandon Payne.

The Baylor alum converted two or more triples in 15 of his 80 games in 2022-23. If he can continue to prove his progression in that aspect, he could earn more minutes alongside De’Aaron Fox.

With that quick shoutout covered, let’s get into the first takeaways of the Sacramento Kings 2023-24 preseason.

1. Malik Monk, JaVale McGee pick-and-roll

The organization seems excited about adding JaVale McGee after struggling to find a consistent backup for Domantas Sabonis. Specifically, his veteran leadership, potential as a rim protector, and pick-and-roll play.

Malik Monk could be the biggest beneficiary. He’s a high-caliber initiator capable of rewarding lob threats for ideal positioning. Pairing him with an athletic seven-footer to finish looks at the rim seems promising.

Not long after checking into the game, we saw two successful pick-and-rolls between that duo. The first ended with an alley-oop, while the second was a lefty and-one finish after a patient pocket pass from Monk.

It’s worth noting McGee was not without blunders in his nearly 13 minutes. He fouled a three-point shooter and followed that up with a turnover when attempting to inbound as the second quarter was winding down. He and Monk are prone to erratic moments, but many highlights are expected to coexist. It will be interesting to see how their chemistry develops with time.

2. Coach Brown’s rotations

Again, it’s just preseason. Coach Mike Brown told reporters in Vancouver postgame that their groupings “could change at any time.” While alterations should be expected, who was assigned to the second, third, and fourth teams was notable.

There were no surprises with the starters, who logged 14 to 16 minutes but did not see the floor in the second half. The Kings’ four primary groupings were as follows:

  • First Unit: Fox/Huerter/Barnes/Murray/Sabonis
  • Second Unit: Mitchell/Monk/Duarte/Lyles/McGee
  • Third Unit: Ellis/Jones/Edwards/Vezenkov/Len
  • Fourth Unit: Ford/Nowell/Lamb/Burton/Slawson

Most notably, Chris Duarte was favored over Kessler Edwards, and Sasha Vezenkov didn’t participate until quarter three. Chance Comanche was the only member of their roster who did not participate in front of the sold-out crowd at Rogers Arena.

“The first unit was okay to start the game, the third unit with Keon [Ellis] and Colby [Jones] and Alex [Len], they were really really good,” Coach Brown said postgame. “We started the second unit (in the second half). They weren’t good at all. It was the unit after them that were really good. And then the guys that came in to finish the game weren’t bad, especially for being new.”

Mitchell saw some minutes alongside Fox, which has been rare in the past. There are questions about whether Vezenkov and Lyles can share the floor with another big, and they played shortly alongside Alex Len. Fox and Sabonis were often staggered last season, but that was nowhere to be seen in Vancouver. This is a testing period for the coaching staff.

3. Third-string point guard duties

The Sacramento Kings only have three ‘traditional’ point guards on their roster: Fox, Mitchell, and two-way player Jordan Ford. After training camp on Saturday afternoon, Coach Brown said Ford has “shown the ability to be a third guard in this league,” but he didn’t stop there. He continued that Keon Ellis and Colby Jones would get some opportunity to play that role “sooner rather than later.”

That opportunity came for Keon Ellis on Sunday night. Jones played alongside him in the backcourt before Ford ran the fourth unit. Ellis struggled with entry passes during his stints, but he’s still adjusting to that role. When it comes down to it, Fox and Mitchell are expected to cover the majority of point guard minutes throughout the season, but establishing a reliable depth chart is crucial.

4. Sasha Vezenkov’s first (preseason) game with the Sacramento Kings

As noted earlier, Vezenkov did not substitute into the game until the third quarter. He finished the game with a team-high 12 points, two rebounds, and one assist on 4/7 shooting, including 2/4 from three in just over 11 minutes. People were not expecting the EuroLeague MVP to come to the NBA and dominate as he djusts to rule changes, stylistic differences, and new schemes.

“I’m working every day. There’s no other way,” Vezenkov said to reporters postgame. “You have to face it. You have to challenge it. You have to fail, raise, and go through it. I don’t expect, from the first day, to be 100 percent. I need to work every day, stay locked in with my mentality, and try to help the team.”

Vezenkov’s elite shooting has been a hot topic of conversation throughout training camp. He entered their facilities and quickly broke records in their three-point shooting drills. Game one was the first public display of his shot and impressive cutting in an NBA system. It’s about if he can survive on the defensive end of the floor. While that’s tested, he could start the year as roughly the tenth guy in the rotation but work his way up if deserved.

5. Keegan Murray’s continued development

Keegan Murray’s potential sophomore improvement is a substantial X-factor for the Sacramento Kings heading into 2023-24. In his first preseason game as a second-year player, the forward tallied 11 points on 5/10 shooting. He converted just one of five attempted threes, but his aggression attacking the basket to finish was encouraging.

The Iowa alum brought the ball up the floor several times and attacked closeouts with a purpose. He went 4/5 from two with a pair of dunks, a smooth floater, and a lefty finish off the glass. That’s a welcome sight, considering just 24 percent of his shot attempts came from within four feet last season, with 63 percent going down, per Cleaning the Glass. With his athleticism at 6’8″, Murray has the potential to improve in those aspects significantly.

“You can see Keegan is stronger. His confidence level is higher,” Brown said. “He brought the ball a couple of times and tried to make a couple of plays. I like what I’m seeing out of Keegan.”

His 10 field-goal attempts were a team-high. The Sacramento Kings could greatly benefit from Murray remaining confident and comfortable in attempting to expand his game.

Next Game

Sacramento will continue its preseason schedule on Wednesday night when they travel south for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

Be sure to tune in right here on Sactown Sports 1140 for all of your Kings vs. Lakers coverage, beginning at 5:30 PM PST on Game Night before a 7:00 PM PST tip-off from Southern California.

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • Wednesday, October 11th – Sacramento Kings @ Los Angeles Lakers – 7 PM PST (in Anaheim, CA)
  • Sunday, October 15th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Wednesday, October 18th – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST
  • Thursday, October 19th – Sacramento Kings vs. Utah Jazz – 7 PM PST

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Regular Season Schedule

  • Tuesday, October 24th – NBA regular season begins
  • Wednesday, October 25th – Sacramento Kings @ Utah Jazz – 6 PM (Season Opener)
  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM (Home Opener)

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