Is Kevin Huerter’s starting spot in jeopardy?

Oct 17, 2023, 3:20 PM | Updated: 3:23 pm

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 17: Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after making a b...

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Several eyebrows were raised on Sunday night when the Sacramento Kings took the floor with a new look.

When public address announcer Scott Moak announced the starting five for Sacramento as they prepared to face the Golden State Warriors, there was a glaring absence as the Kings’ names were announced throughout Golden 1 Center:

Kevin Huerter.

Just days after head coach Mike Brown told the media that he was unlikely to tinker with the starting lineup, Huerter was moved to the bench while Chris Duarte was slotted in as the starting two-guard.

Duarte logged 12 minutes and looked solid on both ends of the floor against Golden State before suffering a left knee bone bruise during the second quarter and exiting the game, but the move to send Huerter to the bench–if even for one preseason game–has raised several questions.

Is this move worth reading into? Will Huerter start on opening night? Could Duarte or another player become the starting shooting guard?

Frankie Cartoscelli and Brenden Nunes shared their thoughts on Brown’s decision to switch things up.

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Let’s start with this: How do you think Chris Duarte looked with the starters? What does he bring to that group?

Nunes:  I thought he played well on both ends of the floor, but his defensive ball pressure sets him apart from some of Sacramento’s other options on the wing.

Against Golden State, he battled with Klay Thompson through screens, fought for position in the post, and got around ball screens physically. While his shot wasn’t going down that night, I think he looked like he belonged in the offense’s flow.

It feels like he’s done everything Coach Brown has requested up to this point. We’re only three games into the preseason, but De’Aaron Fox also seems to be encouraged by Duarte’s early impact.

“I think what he does for us is good,” Fox said after Sunday’s loss to Golden State. “He shoots the ball so well, he can really score the ball, and defensively, he’s really getting after it, he’s being physical, trying to keep the ball in front of him, he’s communicating. He’s doing everything that we need, and I think he’s been really good out there with us.”

Duarte’s early production has been promising for a team that desperately needs an impact point-of-attack defender who can also contribute offensively. But it’s still early, and I need to see it more before having nightly expectations.

Cartoscelli: Duarte has looked better in each passing preseason game following a rough debut in Sacramento’s first exhibition game.

The 6’6 wing provides the Kings with another player who can play and defend multiple positions, which Keegan Murray and Harrison Barnes also bring to the table at the forward spots. Of course, we know that Duarte has the ability to knock down triples from his tenure with Indiana (35% from three-point range), but it’s defense that Sacramento needs from their new contributor.

Brown highlighted Duarte’s defense following last week’s game against the Lakers, and it’s becoming apparent that’s when the wheels began to turn in reference to a potential lineup change.

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While the Kings turned in one of the more impressive offensive showings in the NBA’s expansive history, defense was an Achilles heel for Sacramento. Adding a player with Duarte’s body type is one thing, but if he can defend at a solid level–or, in this case, more so than Huerter–we could see more of him on the floor, whether that be in the starting lineup or in a reserve role.

We’ll have to wait a little longer to see Duarte in action again, as Brown shared on Tuesday that the 26-year-old will not suit up for the final two preseason games as he recovers from a bone bruise. Duarte will be re-evaluated after Sacramento’s last tune-up game on Thursday.

Do you think this is just a preseason exploration or a real long-term consideration?

Nunes: Last Tuesday, Coach Brown said he doesn’t think he’ll mess with the starting five, “but the second and the third five can change at any time.” There are plenty of reasons Brown could be experimenting right now.

He could be testing who he wants as the first guy off the bench and how he would play alongside four starters. It could be an experiment for potential closing lineups. It could be a message to not just Kevin Huerter but the entire team to step it up with the defensive physicality and willingness to sacrifice their bodies by taking charges.

Or maybe there is an honest debate surrounding the starting lineup, but I highly doubt that is currently taking place. Anything could happen down the line, but I don’t think the logic behind starting Duarte on Sunday involved re-thinking the starting five.

Cartoscelli: At first, I thought the move was just a way for Brown to try out new guys in lineups with returning players, but now I’m starting to believe that there is at least some consideration of making a lineup change down the line.

When asked about the move to start Duarte over Huerter, Brown told the media on Tuesday that the move wasn’t just preseason shenanigans.

“There is reasoning behind everything that we do,” Brown said. “Even against the Lakers when we started Sasha [Vezenkov]. There is reasoning behind it. It’s real, and we feel like we have more depth this year than we did last year, so we want to give different combinations looks at different times. There is a realness behind it. There’s realness behind everything that we’ve done so far.”

To your point, Brenden, I do think that while Brown says there is a realness to the tweaks that have been made to the lineup, I’d imagine it takes some time before a change is made to the starting five–but it’s hard for me to look past the possibility of a change during the opening weeks of the season if Sacramento hits a rough patch, especially if the Kings are getting torched on defense.

Kevin Huerter’s postgame availability on Sunday was… interesting. What were your thoughts on what he said?

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Nunes:  It honestly caught me off-guard.

Given the comments from Brown earlier in the week, I was expecting Huerter to be more nonchalant about the seemingly temporary change. But his frustration was apparent in his short responses, and I get it.

Huerter has started 83 percent of his 291 regular season games in the NBA, including all 75 games as a member of the Kings, but roles can change and develop as players and rosters do the same. Hearing that he’s not been told if this is a long-term move was intriguing.

“[Coach Brown] just told me he was going to give Chris [Duarte] a chance to practice with the starters this week, start in this game, and kind of reevaluate from there,” he said. “So we’ll see what the plan is moving forward.”

My opinion is that internal competition is healthy for teams, particularly when players use it as motivation. I hope that Huerter’s apparent frustration turns into that sooner rather than later, but it definitely was a weird wrinkle.

Cartoscelli: Kevin didn’t seem to happy following Sunday’s game, and I can’t blame him for being frustrated.

It would be hard to have your boss bring in a new co-worker, then tell you to step aside for a day while they do your job for you, but that comes with the territory of being a professional athlete.

Like you pointed out, Huerter has been a starter for nearly all of his NBA career, and that doesn’t take into account his high school and college days (started all 65 games at Maryland). Starting games is in Huerter’s DNA, and while he seemed off, he wasn’t disrespectful to Brown or Duarte on Sunday night.

I completely agree with the internal competition take. Huerter is an incredible weapon to have on the offensive end, but his shortcomings on defense were glaring during the NBA Playoffs.

Competition can be healthy, and one can only hope that Huerter takes the challenge head on and looks to become a better defender this season.

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If you were the one making the decision, who would you start on the opening night of the regular season?

Nunes: Kevin Huerter.

People seem to forget how much Huerter makes the game easier for All-Stars De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis on the offensive end.

Huerter ended the season with the Kings’ highest offensive rating (121.0) and shot 40.2 percent from three on 6.8 attempts per game. Huerter and Murray were two of just 14 players who shot six or more three-pointers per game while converting at least 40 percent. He’s an elite, elite shooter who garners respect from defenses even amidst a shooting slump.

He’s great at running the floor in transition and exceptional at sprinting through their offensive actions in the halfcourt. The ball does not stick with Huerter, he utilizes his threat as a shooter to counter with back cuts and knows the offense well.

Yes, he has his defensive shortcomings, but, personally, I would keep rolling with what worked last year for now. In time, if a better option presents itself, then great, but I think it’s too early to make that change.

Cartoscelli: The starting shooting guard spot should be Kevin Huerter’s job to lose.

Huerter’s career year in 2022-23 and his impact on the floor as a scorer should hold precedence to open up the season. To me, he’s earned that right and the chance to prove he can improve his output in the defensive end.

For a team that had the best offensive rating in NBA history last year, Huerter was a huge part of what makes this Kings team go.

Huerter is Domantas Sabonis’ favorite dribble-hand-off target, and ‘Red Velvet”s ability to move without the basketball in order to get open on the perimeter makes him a great fit in Sacramento’s fast-paced offense that is ran by De’Aaron Fox.

Brown and the rest of Sacramento’s coaching staff has made it clear that physicality on the defensive end is a main goal for this season, and Huerter will have to show that he can take a step forward in that regard. If he can’t show progress during the opening stretch of the regular season and the Kings are struggling, then it might be time to reevaluate where things stand.

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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