Four Takeaways: Chris Duarte starting, Kevin Huerter’s reaction to coming off the bench, and more

Oct 16, 2023, 3:20 PM | Updated: 4:18 pm

Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings reacts to a call against the Houston Rockets during the fi...

HOUSTON, TEXAS - FEBRUARY 06: Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings reacts to a call against the Houston Rockets during the first half at Toyota Center on February 06, 2023 in Houston, Texas. 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 Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

The Sacramento Kings are winless through three preseason showings after suffering a 121-115 overtime loss to the Golden State Warriors. Chris Duarte, starting in place of Kevin Huerter, was a hot topic of discussion after the game’s conclusion and with Huerter’s postgame comments standing out. Before we dive into that, it’s worth noting who did and did not suit up for each side.

Given it was preseason, a handful of players were unavailable for precautionary reasons. JaVale McGee was out with right wrist soreness, but Coach Mike Brown assured reporters in pregame that it’s nothing serious. If it were a playoff game, he probably would have suited up.

Golden State was without Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Draymond Green, Rodney McGruder, and Cory Joseph. Former All-Stars Klay Thompson and Andrew Wiggins participated, and Duarte was assigned to Thompson.

Duarte had promising moments on both ends of the floor, as did some of Sacramento’s younger guys. Plus, the Kings’ increase in physicality has come with some ironic growing pains. Here are my main takeaways from Sunday night’s action.

1. Chris Duarte with the starting five

The day before their home preseason opener, Coach Brown told reporters that Duarte would be starting against the Warriors. Duarte logged about 12 and a half minutes in the first half but suffered a left knee issue that sidelined him for the final two quarters.

“Good news, our medical group already did an MRI on [Duarte], which came back clean. He has a small bone bruise,” Brown said postgame.

While out there, Duarte impacted both ends of the court. His final tally read five points, two assists, and one rebound of 2/5 shooting, but the stats don’t tell the full story. Duarte has positively shined as an impactful on-ball defender, especially in the pick-and-roll, on a team that desperately hopes to improve on their 24th-ranked defense from last season.

“Defensively, you’re not stopping a guy like Klay Thompson, but I thought [Duarte’s] physicality was done the right way,” Brown said. “He made Klay try to work for his shots as best he could… he did a good job for being a young guy that hasn’t played a ton of minutes.”

His size, length, and effort have been promising for a player whose last game played before preseason was nearly seven months prior. But Sacramento’s identity last year revolved around their league-leading offense, so incoming players must also fit into what is being asked there. So far, Duarte has done that.

Brown highlighted his commitment to pace in the fullcourt and halfcourt, specifically highlighting a play where he beat everyone down the floor and was rewarded with a wide-open triple that he converted.

Duarte is making his case for being a staple in the rotation, and Brown seems to have liked what he’s seen up to this point.

2. Kevin Huerter reacts to coming off the bench

Duarte starting meant Kevin Huerter would be coming off the bench, which he did not do in any of his 75 regular season games played in royal purple last season. Huerter has started 83 percent of the 291 regular-season NBA games he’s participated in, so not being out initially came with some adjustments. Kevin Huerter, atypically for him, was extremely short when answering questions postgame.

When asked how it felt coming off the bench, his full response was, “Different feel, different energy for sure.”

Later, he was asked how Duarte looked with the starting unit and replied, “he played hard. He played hard.” Here is the full locker room interview with Sacramento’s guard.

YouTube video

Huerter’s postgame energy was… different. Maybe he feels threatened by what Duarte can provide defensively. Maybe his disappointed tone resulted from having just found out his New York Giants lost a controversial game of Sunday Night Football. Whatever it was, his reaction feels notable.

It’s important to remember that last week, Coach Brown said he won’t doesn’t think he’ll mess with the starting five, “but the second and the third five can change at any time.”

The Kings starting five of De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray, and Domantas Sabonis played 142 more minutes than any other five-man grouping across the association last season and produced effectively. Their offensive rating of 118.3 and a defensive rating of 116.1 left them with a 2.2 net rating, per NBA Stats. Huerter’s elite shooting ability and relentless, consistent pace opened the paint for their elite finishing All-Star duo.

Defensively, he could be better, but that could be said for most of Sacramento’s roster. Coach Brown will not hesitate to make a change he thinks improves his team’s odds of winning, but I’d bet we are still a bit removed from him, strongly considering moving Heurter to the bench long-term.

3. Colby Jones and Keon Ellis sharing ball-handling duties

Once again, Colby Jones and Keon Ellis were featured in extended minutes as Sacramento’s backcourt duo. In those minutes, the pairing shared ball-handling responsibilities. After Fox and Davion Mitchell, the third-string point guard spot seems up for grabs. Jones and Ellis have continued making their cases, while two-way player Ford showed promise in his limited minutes, too.

“[Keon Ellis] and Colby [Jones] both split time initiating the offense for us for a stretch there,” Brown said postgame. “For two young guys, I thought they were pretty good. They played really, really hard and tried to play the right way.”

Ellis seemed to lead the team in deflections and caught fire offensively late in the game. Through 13 minutes played, the second-year undrafted player recorded 11 points and two rebounds on 4/7 shooting, including 3/5 from beyond the arc. During postgame, Ellis shared that the coaching staff expressed that if he can play the point guard spot, there could be an added opportunity for him coming into the 2023-24 season. The same is probably true for the rookie.

“I just feel like I’m more ready, and I know a little more things offensively and defensively,” Ellis said. “We’re running a new offense, so kind of getting the hang of that as well, but just keep stacking days. That’ll kind of lead its own path.”

Jones played nearly 15 minutes and ended the night with eight points, two assists, and one rebound while converting 4/7 from the field. He missed all three of his attempts from range but was a perfect 4/4 on twos, partially thanks to his fantastic touch around the basket.

4. Being physical without fouling

Coach Brown and the rest of Sacramento’s coaching staff must have said physicality hundreds of times since the start of training camp. And it goes back further than that. We heard that word repeated countless times during their postseason matchup with Golden State and from Summer League head coach Luke Loucks throughout the California Classic and Las Vegas. Being physical without fouling was one of their five defensive staples last season, and its emphasis has steadily heightened since.

With that, ironically, comes more fouls. After conceding 23 free-throw attempts per game last season, opponents have surpassed that average in two of their three preseason competitions. The Toronto Raptors had 32 attempts from the line, 22 for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Golden State’s 42 tries on Sunday. Jonathan Kuminga, who was 13/17 from the line, took and made more free throws than the entire Kings’ roster.

“There were too many times where we were on a guy’s hip while he was driving and we just reached. We just reached,” Brown said. “That’s the only part that I’d like to take away from tonight, defensively, is when we reached and/or led with our hands. We’ve got to go vertical, take a hit in the chest, or take a charge. And I know there were at least two times where we could have tried to go vertical or tried to take a charge, and there’s probably a couple more, and we just flat out moved out the way. And, again, we talk about physicality, physicality, physicality. That’s part of it and that was disappointing to see.”

Allowing 42 attempts was two more than their regular season high last year. It’s extremely difficult to win NBA games with a -25 free-throw differential.

YouTube video

Murray, Trey Lyles, and Kevin Huerter all had three fouls, while Sabonis, Fox, Duarte, Slawson, Monk, Jones, and Ellis each recorded two of their own. Brown has seen the group show their ability to body the opposition, sacrifice for the team’s betterment through charges, and remain disciplined with their hands in practice. Now, it just needs to start showing more consistently on gamedays.

Next Game

Sacramento and Golden State will meet again on Wednesday night at Chase Center as both teams inch closer to the conclusion of their preseason schedules.

After facing the Warriors on Wednesday, the Kings will return home on Thursday to play the final game of the preseason against the Utah Jazz.

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

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • 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 PST (Season Opener)
  • Friday, October 27th – Sacramento Kings vs. Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST (Home Opener)
  • Sunday, October 29th – Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers – 6 PM PST
  • Wednesday, November 1st – Sacramento Kings @ Golden State Warriors – 7 PM PST

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Four Takeaways: Chris Duarte starting, Kevin Huerter’s reaction to coming off the bench, and more