SACRAMENTO KINGS

Vezenkov shines, but Kings open preseason with loss to Raptors

Oct 8, 2023, 7:45 PM

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)

Following an absence that nearly spanned six months, the Sacramento Kings returned to the hardwood on Sunday for their preseason opener against the Toronto Raptors in Vancouver, Canada.

Head coach Mike Brown stayed true to his word by only playing key rotation players 16 or fewer minutes, Sasha Vezenkov made his Kings debut, and Sacramento’s infamous defense picked up where it left off during a 112-99 loss at Rogers Arena.

While it’s never ideal to lose a game, the preseason is an important process for teams looking to find their rotation fits, let new players have a chance to mesh with returning players, and much more.

With one game in the books, let’s take a look at some takeaways from Sunday’s Kings vs. Raptors preseason opener.

A new approach from Keegan Murray

During the offseason, the hype surrounding Keegan Murray only intensified following the forward’s strong finish to Sacramento’s NBA Playoff series against the Golden State Warriors.

Once Murray put on a 40-point performance in the California Classic, the real question regarding the former fourth-overall pick’s potential began to take shape: Can Keegan Murray take a step forward in becoming a top-scoring option for the Kings?

While it was only one half of an exhibition game, Murray displayed his offensive skill set during Sunday’s game at Rogers Arena.

During his 16 minutes of action against Toronto, Murray scored 11 points on five-of-10 shooting while attacking in a variety of ways.

Murray brought the ball down and set up the offense several times on Sunday, scored off the dribble, got free and scored by getting open away from the basketball, and from beyond the arc in what was an encouraging sign from the 23-year-old.

Last week, Mike Brown told the media that he wants Murray to be more aggressive on the offensive end in 2023-24. De’Aaron Fox shared that Murray “got yelled at” during practice for passing up an open shot to find a teammate instead.

As this young Sacramento core hopes to evolve into a perennial playoff contender–or even an NBA Finals contender–they will need Murray to be more aggressive and take the next step into development.

Yes, it was one half of a preseason game, but it’s important to see Murray take strides so that he’s in a place to put forth a similar form of aggression once the regular season tips off later this month.

What did Mike Brown’s rotation look like?

Brown shared with the media that his starters would play “15-20 minutes” in the preseason opener, and that’s precisely what happened in Vancouver.

No starters played past the second quarter of Sunday’s game.

  • De’Aaron Fox: 16 minutes
  • Kevin Huerter: 14 minutes
  • Keegan Murray: 16 minutes
  • Harrison Barnes: 14 minutes
  • Domantas Sabonis: 16 minutes

Behind the starting unit, the first five players off the bench were four familiar rotation pieces from last season and two new faces–but not the one that many expected to see check in early with the second unit.

Here’s the bench unit that came in behind Brown’s starting five of Fox-Huerter-Murray-Barnes-Sabonis:

  • Davion Mitchell
  • Malik Monk
  • Chris Duarte
  • Trey Lyles
  • JaVale McGee

EuroLeague MVP Sasha Vezenkov did not check in until the 6:16 mark of the third quarter and was the 14th player to check in during the game, but it’s too soon to say whether or not the 28-year-old is on the outside looking in when it comes to the regular season rotation.

Last preseason, Brown changed up his rotations and lineups for each of the first three tune-up games before locking in his first and second units during the final two exhibitions.

The end of Sunday’s game featured Vezenkov playing alongside Jordan Ford, Keon Ellis, Jalen Slawson, and Colby Jones for most of the fourth quarter before roster hopeful Jaylen Nowell entered the game with Jeremy Lamb and Deonte Burton.

Sasha Vezenkov’s strong debut

Vezenkov wasn’t one of the first reserves called on during Sacramento’s preseason debut, but he made the most of every second he spent on the floor.

The highly-anticipated debut of Vezenkov did not disappoint as the forward finished the night with a team-high 12 points on four-of-seven shooting from the field and two-of-four from three-point land over just 11 minutes.

It didn’t take long for Vezenkov to drain his first triple as the Bulgarian drilled his first attempt from deep just seconds after checking into an NBA game for the first time.

Vezenkov’s marksmanship is his greatest attribute, but the reigning Euro and Greek League MVP did a great job of moving without the basketball and cutting to get open for his teammates.

It will be interesting to see how Brown utilizes Vezenkov during the Kings’ next preseason game on Wednesday in Los Angeles, especially following the impressive debut that took place in Vancouver.

With Trey Lyles returning on a new two-year contract and Chris Durate taking over the two-three hybrid position that Terence Davis left behind, Vezenkov will have to continue to play well if he is to take minutes away from Lyles, Duarte, or even backup center JaVale McGee.

Vezenkov’s debut went as well as expected, and that bodes well for his chances in cracking the main rotation by opening night.

JaVale McGee: As Advertised

When Sacramento inked veteran center JaVale McGee to a one-year deal last month, it was clear that the move was made to address the Kings’ lack of interior defense.

McGee’s shot-blocking ability and above-the-rim play style were on display during Sunday’s action, and it didn’t take long for the seven-footer to get into the good graces of Kings fans.

One of McGee’s strongest abilities is to use his impressive 7’6 wingspan and athleticism to cause damage around the rim. During the first quarter, McGee connected with Malik Monk on back-to-back possessions for scores.

The first sequence between McGee and Monk took place on a pick-and-roll that ended with Monk finding the seven-footer for an alley-oop jam. Seconds later, Monk came off another pick-and-roll and spun a bounce pass to his newest teammate for a lay-in at the rim.

Sacramento ranked nearly dead last in blocks per game last season and did not have a clear lob threat outside of when the Kings would find Monk, Davis, or Fox in transition for alley-oops.

If McGee, who finished with seven points (3/3 FG) and two blocks over 13 minutes, can contribute in a similar fashion on a consistent basis, Sacramento will benefit during minutes that see Sabonis off the floor.

Notes

  • Domantas Sabonis picked up where he left off last season: 7 points | 6 rebounds | 6 assists | 2 steals | 16 minutes
  • Harrison Barnes was productive in his preseason debut: 11 points (5/8 FG) | 14 minutes
  • Sacramento’s defense still looks… not great. Toronto shot 52 percent from the field and scored 52 of their points in the paint. The Raptors also outrebounded the Kings on the glass (59-45).
  • The three-ball was not kind to Sacramento on Sunday: 10-of-45 (22%)

Next Game

Sacramento will continue its preseason schedule on Wednesday night when they travel south for a matchup against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California.

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

Sacramento Kings 2023-24 Preseason Schedule

  • 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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