Sacramento Kings Media Day Notes: Vezenkov, Defense & More

Oct 3, 2023, 10:29 AM | Updated: 10:30 am

SACRAMENTO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 02: Sasha Vezenkov #7 of the Sacramento Kings poses for a photo at...

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

This is not a drill: Sacramento Kings basketball is back.

All 30 NBA teams went through their Media Day festivities on Monday, meaning players and coaches spoke to the media for the first time in months as we inch closer to the start of the 2023-24 regular season.

Following Sacramento’s first NBA Playoff appearance in nearly two decades, the Kings retained most of last year’s roster that finished third in the Western Conference and claimed a Pacific Division title for the first time since 2002-03.

All 21 players on Sacramento’s training camp roster spoke to the media and shared their thoughts on the upcoming season, including rookie forward and reigning EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov.

Frankie Cartoscelli and Brenden Nunes sat down and shared their notes and takeaways from what they heard on Monday afternoon at the Golden 1 Center practice facility.

During last season’s Media Day, the vibes around the Sacramento Kings were cautiously optimistic as the team looked to end a 16-year postseason drought.

Taking the temperature from Monday’s festivities, what is your overall feel on this year’s group?

CartoscelliA lot can change in one year.

Last year, the vibe entering camp–as it was in each of the previous 15 training camps–was cautious optimism. In reality, Kings fans were simply hoping to watch Sacramento play competitive basketball, and after a tumultuous half-decade under former GM Vlade Divac and head coaches George Karl, Dave Joerger, and Luke Walton, it was fair to expect the worst entering another season.

Today, the Kings have the reigning Coach of the Year in Mike Brown, Executive of the Year in Monte McNair, two All-Star and All-NBA players in De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, a playoff appearance under their belts, and a talented roster with plenty of depth.

The vibes around Sacramento’s 2023-24 Media Day were much different this season, something that returning guard Jeremy Lamb said he didn’t get to experience during his brief stint here in 2022.

“I feel more of a winning spirit,” Lamb said on Monday. “The last time I was here, it didn’t feel like that.”

Nunes: It seems they have high expectations for themselves this season, but that’s not too different from last media day. The difference now is that the rest of the league expects them to be good, and they know it.

Every player and coach in the league will say they prioritize winning above all else, but I believe it with this Sacramento group. “We kind of have unfinished business,” Alex Len said.

There’s no drama like in Philadelphia or a last-minute chaotic adjustment as seen in Milwaukee or Phoenix. The Kings likely improved their depth with the additions of Vezenkov, McGee, and Duarte while bringing back the same core nucleus.

A few of their players described a family environment, which should allow for an easy transition for their few new additions.

During his Media Day press conference, De’Aaron Fox said that Sasha Vezenkov is “one of the best shooters on the planet” after watching him make 143 out of 150 three-point attempts.

Are you in on the Sasha hype?

Cartoscelli: Absolutely.

One of the main themes from Monday’s Media Day was Sasha Vezenkov’s incredible three-point shooting, something that De’Aaron Fox, Chris Duarte, and Mike Brown all spoke highly of during their interviews with reporters.

“He shoots the [explicative] out of the ball. It’s crazy,” Fox said of his new teammate. “We were doing (three-point) shooting drills where you have to take 150 shots, and I think missed like seven. Like, he’s up there with some of the best shooters in the world.”

Vezenkov’s marksmanship has been well documented during the 28-year-old’s illustrious EuroLeague career, where the 6’9 forward shot 39 percent from deep during his 12 seasons overseas.

Playing with noted playmakers like Fox and Domantas Sabonis makes me very optimistic that Vezenkov and his quick release will fare well at the highest level against NBA defenses.

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Nunes: I’m all aboard. The team continues to rave about his shooting, quick release, basketball intelligence, and overall offense feel. On that end of the floor, I think it will be a seamless fit for the reigning Euroleague MVP.

Vezenkov spacing the floor, running dribble-handoffs with Domantas Sabonis, finishing plays in transition, and cutting with a purpose is promising.

It just all comes down to the defense. Can he survive when teams target him on switches? “It’s a new challenge. Even if you study the game and you see videotape, you have to feel it. You have to face it,” Vezenkov said about his defense. “I will be improving every day. I work out, and I’m confident about myself. That’s why I’m here.”

He does not need to be a defensive stopper. He needs to avoid being a liability. He succeeded in that aspect overseas, but the NBA’s creation talent is a different beast. The size and physicality are there. Keeping him off the floor could be hard if he can move his feet well enough.

After finishing with the 25th-ranked defense in the NBA last season, Sacramento is looking to make a leap forward on the defensive end in 2023-24.

Who/what can be an X-factor on the defensive end for the Kings this season?

Cartoscelli: While I don’t expect him to post All-Defensive First Team numbers, JaVale McGee is a very intriguing addition for this Kings roster.

Sacramento finished 29th in blocks last season as rookie forward Keegan Murray led the team with 42 blocks (0.5 per game). The Kings struggled to protect the rim during their NBA Playoff series against the Golden State Warriors and were dominated by Kevon Looney’s physical play style in the paint.

By adding McGee, the veteran shot-blocker can provide a boost to Sacramento’s interior defense while playing behind Sabonis in the rotation.

Even entering his age-36 season, McGee is the best rim protector that the Kings have on their roster. Over the past two seasons, the three-time NBA champion blocked 107 shots–twice more than Chimezie Metu, who swatted 53 field goal attempts during the 2021-23 seasons.

McGee is entering camp in great shape and is in line to begin the season as Sabonis’ backup, so expect to see the seven-footer in action often once the season begins, especially in matchups that see opponents attacking the rim.

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Nunes: There is a clear emphasis on improving the physicality.

Assistant coach Luke Loucks made shared that in Summer League, and head coach Mike Brown echoed that at media day. “The biggest thing, if there’s one I’d like to get out there, is our physicality has to start happening yesterday,” Brown said.

Improved physicality allowed the Kings relative success on the defensive end in their postseason series against the Golden State Warriors. If nothing else, it was substantially improved from their regular season struggles. So, I guess the answer is team-wide improved physicality.

Regarding a specific player, I’m intrigued by Duarte. When asked what he can bring on the defensive end of the floor, he said, “A lot. Like I said, defense travels… every day you won’t shoot the ball well, but you can bring it on the defensive side. Defense travels.”

With that mindset and the tools to succeed, he could provide some much-needed perimeter containment.

Four players will battle it out for Sacramento’s final roster spot: Jaylen Nowell, Jeremy Lamb, Chance Comanche, and Deonte Burton.

Which player are you most interested to watch during camp and preseason?

Cartoscelli: It was surprising to see Jaylen Nowell go the entire offseason without a team scooping the 24-year-old up, but the Kings might have found their final addition to the 2023-24 regular season roster after bringing the guard in on a training camp deal last week.

Nowell, a 6’4 guard that averaged 10.8 points and 2.0 assists per game with the Minnesota Timberwolves last season, could fill Terence Davis’ role on this roster that is already set at the two-guard spot with Kevin Huerter and Malik Monk.

Chris Duarte could be in a similar position, with the guard-forward combo expected to split time at the two-and-three positions, but Nowell is a true guard that has played 78 percent of his NBA minutes at the shooting guard and point guard spots.

Jeremy Lamb is an intriguing option if McNair and Brown want to add even more shooting depth to the roster, but Nowell is younger and has more upside as a player that could help this team in several ways–potentially beyond this season if he finds a niche with this group.

Only one player will be added to the roster, but it’s looking like a two-horse race between Nowell and Lamb for the final spot.

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Nunes: I think the final regular season spot will come down to Nowell and Lamb, so that’s where my main interest lies.

Lamb has spent time under this front office, but the coaching staff is new to him. Seeing how the 31-year-old veteran fits into this system compared to a Nowell (24) will be intriguing.

Neither have been seen as positive defenders but have their spark plug moments putting the ball in the basket. “I want to bring some more pace to the team and I’ve been working on defense,” Nowell said.

“Just trying to lock in and be a better defender than I’ve been. That’s kind of been the narrative around me is that I’m not really a great defender so I took this whole offseason to really work on that. I just want to show that I can play both ends of the floor really well.”

Lamb was away from professional basketball last season, while Nowell struggled to carve out a consistent role with the turbulent Minnesota Timberwolves.

Seeing who fits better into their current system and defensive hopes will be an intriguing storyline throughout training camp.

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • Sunday, October 8th – Sacramento Kings @ Toronto Raptors – 5 PM PST (Preseason Opener)
  • 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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