Pros and cons of the Sacramento Kings backup center options

Sep 14, 2023, 12:05 PM

Alex Len #25 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the Phoenix Su...

PHOENIX, ARIZONA - OCTOBER 27: Alex Len #25 of the Sacramento Kings reacts after hitting a three-point shot against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Footprint Center on October 27, 2021 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Kings defeated the Suns 110-107. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

(Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

After waiving Nerlens Noel and Neemias Queta, the Sacramento Kings center rotation appears to be set in stone. Behind All-NBA big man Domantas Sabonis sits Trey Lyles, Alex Len, and JaVale McGee.

Lyles and Len are returning options from last season, with McGee being the lone new addition at the five. Considering the fact that head coach Mike Brown was vocal about searching for a reliable option at the backup center last season, the lack of significant roster change in that role is surprising.

In 2022-23, the Kings had a net rating of +3.9 with Sabonis on the floor compared to a -1.3 net rating while he sat, per NBA Stats. While that’s not ideal, it’s typical for teams to struggle when an All-Stars rests.

Sabonis averaged 34.6 minutes per game last season, which leaves just about six minutes for a backup to fill in each half. Lyles, Len, and McGee all offer different skill sets that could vary in effectiveness based on the matchup.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of Sacramento’s options behind Sabonis.

Trey Lyles

After being used sparingly early in the season, the Kings heavily leaned into Lyles at the backup five role as play continued. 40 percent of his 1247 regular season minutes came at the five, per basketball-reference.comStanding at 6’9″, Lyles does not have the size of a typical center but it’s the coaching staff electing to lean into his offensive strengths.

Lyles can shoot the ball effectively from deep and his decisiveness in letting it fly was a major development. He converted 36.3 percent of his 3.2 three-point attempts per game last season and can attack closeouts when need be.

Sporting the highest offensive rating of all-time (118.6), embracing that identity was understandable and effective. That being said, it’s no secret that Sacramento hopes to improve on their 24th-ranked defensive rating (116.0).

While Lyles is a willing, physical, and persistent defender, he simply does not have the height, length, or strength to be a significant rim deterrent. His pick-and-roll defense was passable, but being the backline of a defense is not his forte.

He’s an above-average rebounder for his size (8.7 rebounds per 36 minutes), but compared to a ‘typical’ center he can be slightly underwhelming on the glass.

Lyles is expected to get plenty of run at the forward spot as well, but it wouldn’t be surprising if he went into this offseason knowing that he may be asked to play behind Sabonis again and be able to plan his work accordingly.

Pros: Spacing, pace, and offensive versatility

Cons: Rim protection, size, and rebounding

Alex Len

Len was a confusing case last season. Amid Coach Brown’s public ‘searching’ comments, Len never seemed to get a significant opportunity. Through the first 74 games, Len logged five or more minutes on two occasions. He was healthy and available for all but five of those 74.

In the final eight games of the regular season, Len emerged as a regular in the rotation. He averaged 13.0 minutes, 3.8 points, and 5.4 rebounds while converting 61.1 percent of his attempts during that time. In his mere 161 minutes logged throughout the regular season, the Kings posted an impressive +6.6 net rating.

At 7’2″, Len stands five inches taller than Lyles and moves well for his size. He was easily the best option for rim protection last season and his screens are crushing. That size and mobility allowed him to bring down 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes last season, which was important in combating Golden State’s Kevon Looney in the postseason.

In five of the first seven games of the series against the Warriors, Len was the backup center of choice before Sacramento elected to look towards Lyles for games six and seven. Heading into his 11th NBA season and third consecutive with the Kings, Len knows how to accept and embrace a variety of roles.

Aside from Sabonis, Len is likely the only big currently on the roster who can deal with the likes of Nikola Jokic, Joel Embiid, Jonas Valancuinas, or Steven Adams in the post. While most of the NBA does not employ many post-ups, having a big body to battle down low is essential on those nights. Len is a decent option for those matchups.

Pros: Post defense, rim protection, and rebounding

Cons: Spacing and offensive/defensive versatility

JaVale McGee

Waiving Noel and Queta just days after signing McGee to a guaranteed deal is telling. Coach Brown and assistant Luke Loucks won two championships with McGee in Golden State from 2016-18. Pamela McGee, JaVale’s mom, was drafted by the Sacramento Monarchs with the 2nd overall in the 1997 WNBA Draft.

According to The Athletic’s Sam Amick, McGee chose to join Sacramento over Golden State. The interest was clearly mutual and McGee brings a different look than the aforementioned options.

At 35, he’s not as spry as he once was but his combination of size (7’0″) and mobility in the open court remains intriguing. With Sacramento’s high-paced offense, having a rim running big who can play above the rim makes sense.

Sixth-man Malik Monk excels at throwing lobs and McGee is more experienced in that role than Chimezie Metu was. A Monk/McGee pick-and-roll could fare well if their chemistry can continue to develop throughout training camp and into the regular season.

McGee is an up-and-down player. He averaged 3.1 blocks per 36 minutes but also 4.7 fouls. The Kings were clear in not valuing blocks as a statistic while instead emphasizing simply deterring shots at the rim. Of the current options, McGee’s length and mobility give him the best chance of recovering and rotating to the rim.

His skillset sounds tantalizing in theory, but there’s a reason he’s played on four teams in the last two seasons. The Dallas Mavericks needed consistency at the center position and were unable to find it with McGee, who only played 10+ minutes for them on 14 occasions.

Players need to find their idealized teams when it comes to styles of play and vice versa. The high-paced offense that Sacramento employs may bode well for three-time NBA champion JaVale McGee and there is an apparent mutual belief in his fit.

Pros: Rim running, rim protection, and experience

Cons: Fouling, turnovers, and inconsistent

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Pros and cons of the Sacramento Kings backup center options