Four Takeaways: Three starters shine and the impact of Chris Duarte in Anaheim

Oct 12, 2023, 11:19 AM | Updated: 11:36 am

Chris Duarte #3 of the Indiana Pacers reacts during the third quarter of the game against the Miami...

MIAMI, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 08: Chris Duarte #3 of the Indiana Pacers reacts during the third quarter of the game against the Miami Heat at Miami-Dade Arena on February 08, 2023 in Miami, Florida. 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 Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

(Photo by Megan Briggs/Getty Images)

Two preseason games are in the books and the Sacramento Kings have two losses.

Luckily, this is the lone time of year where wins and losses are not the end all be all. Newcomer Sasha Vezenkov started in place of Keegan Murray, who didn’t play against the Los Angeles Lakers due to right thumb soreness, three of the starters showed their usual forms, and Chris Duarte made a two-way impact off the bench.

The final tally was 109-101 in favor of the Lakers, but again, results are not significant in preseason. Last season, the Kings went undefeated in preseason competition only to lose their first four regular season games. As that time nears closer, we could see head coach Mike Brown start to tighten his rotation.

At the Honda Center, home of the Anaheim Ducks, twelve of Sacramento’s 20 available players logged at least 10 minutes of play, with lineups slightly staggered. A trio of Kings showed their impact in 20-25 minutes of game time. Here’s what I took away.

1. A trustworthy trio

Sacramento’s three leaders in minutes per game throughout the 2022-23 regular season contributed their expected productions on Wednesday night. Offensively, they performed up to par.

  • De’Aaron Fox (24 minutes): 18 points, 5 assists, 3 rebounds on 6/12 shooting
  • Domantas Sabonis (24 minutes): 10 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists on 3/7 shooting
  • Harrison Barnes (21 minutes): 15 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist on 5/11 shooting

Their efficiency was not ideal, shooting a combined 11/30 from the field, but their familiar capabilities were apparent. Sabonis posted a double-double and successfully set up his teammates throughout the night. Veteran forward Barnes was letting it fly from deep, where he converted 3/6, and attacking with a purpose within the flow of the offense. Fox was electric, getting into the paint as he pleased, and had positive moments on the other end. Sound familiar?

“Foxy, he’s going to be okay,” Coach Brown told reporters postgame. “I thought he was pretty good defensively, and then offensively, he’s shown the ability to get to the spots he wants to get to. With my recollection on it, without really watching the film, I thought he was pretty good on both ends of the floor.”

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That trio is a known commodity offensively, which they showed should remain the case. It’s going to be about making progress as a group defensively.

2. Starting Sasha Vezenkov

Due to Murray’s slight thumb injury, Coach Brown was left to decide who would fill his starting role. Last season, he often elected to pull someone up from the ‘third unit’ to keep continuity with their bench rotation. Choosing to start Sasha Vezenkov fits that philosophy but also gave the reigning EuroLeague MVP the chance to play alongside the most cohesive group. Specifically, it was a chance to witness how he looks alongside Sabonis.

It excelled offensively early on. With Sacramento’s starters, Veznkov impacted as a cutter, shooter, and passer. His basketball IQ and understanding of spacing were on full display.

When asked about Vezenkov and Duarte after the game, Brown thought, “offensively, they both played pretty well,” but only mentioned the latter when discussing defensive impacts. There’s probably a reason for that. Throughout training camp and leading up to it, Vezenkov finding a way to be serviceable as a defender has been a theme. He’s still working his way up to that point and will need time to adjust to the NBA’s speed, length, and skill.

3. The two-way impact of Chris Duarte

After a lackluster preseason debut where he shot 2/9 in 14 minutes, Duarte bounced back against the Lakers. The third-year wing tallied 10 points, 2 rebounds, and one steal on a perfect 4/4 from the field, including 2/2 from beyond the arc in 16 minutes. If he wore a size or two smaller shoes, he’d have been 3/3 on catch-and-shoot triples. Converting those looks will be essential for Duarte’s offensive fit with the Kings.

In his rookie season with the Indiana Pacers, Chris Duarte was 40.4 percent on catch-and-shoot threes before falling to 33.7 percent in 2022-23. The Kings hope that number will be closer to the former than the latter. Similarly to Vezenkov, he had moments of looking hesitant offensively, almost as if he was taking a moment to remember his assignment. Added comfortability, which comes with time, should minimize his hesitations.

Duarte is known to overdribble, which was also on display in Anaheim, evidenced by his three turnovers. Yet, if he can consistently make a defensive impact with his ball pressure, the Kings will likely find a regular role for the Oregon alum.

“I thought Chris [Duarte], you could feel him defensively,” Coach Brown said. “He was pretty good, he was pretty active defensively. He got a couple of deflections. I don’t think he allowed the ball to be blown by him at all.”

Perimeter containment has not been a strength in Sacramento for years, outside of Davion Mitchell’s elite ability. Any added help there is welcome, and Chris Duarte projects as a positive.

4. Defense, defense, defense

After ending last season 24th in defensive rating, the Kings’ coaching staff hopes that improved physicality will aid in their goal to improve. That includes added ball pressure, seen by Fox, Duarte, and Colby Jones pickup up 94 feet in preseason game two.

Before diving into the film, which they will do today, Brown felt his team’s help side rotations were improved but their perimeter containment needs to follow suit.

“Defensively, we have to figure out a way to make our opponent feel us,” Brown said. “I thought that defensively, they just played too comfortable most of the game. [D’Angelo Russell] came off of pick and rolls and shot the ball like he was playing HORSE at times. So, we have to do a better job of trying to get into the ball and being physical without fouling or sending them to the free-throw line because we didn’t do a good job of it tonight.”

The Lakers recorded 42 points in the paint, while Sacramento added 38. Kevin Huerter struggled to contain either Russell or Gabe Vincent. Vezenkov playing the three for a significant portion of his minutes led to unideal matchups. It’s hard to win a game when shooting 10 percent worse lower from the field. The three most significant positives seemed to be Chris Duarte, Davion Mitchell, and Colby Jones.

Defensive progress is crucial if the Sacramento Kings hope to take the next step in 2023-24. Thankfully, their elite offensive production typically allows a larger margin of error. They recorded 101 points or less in just five of their 82 last season, the offense will be fine. But, progressing defensively will allow the group to survive their rare nights of rough shooting and find added consistency.

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Four Takeaways: Three starters shine and the impact of Chris Duarte in Anaheim