Roster battle brewing after Kings bring back center Neemias Queta
Breaking down roster battle between Neemias Queta and Nerlens Noel
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A battle is brewing.
When the Sacramento Kings inked Neemias Queta to a two-year contract on Tuesday, the depth at the center position grew to five players, including All-Pro starter, Domantas Sabonis.
According to a league source, the Sacramento Kings have agreed to sign Neemias Queta to a standard contract. No details yet, but the 7-footer out of Portugal is back. twitter.com/i/web/status/1…
— James Ham (@James_HamNBA)
Aug 9, 2023
Our friend Michael Scotto over at HoopsHype.com confirmed the contract as a two-year, $4.2 million partially guaranteed deal for Queta and Spotrac.com released more on the contract.
The Sacramento Kings signed Neemias Queta to a two-year, $4.2 million deal, league sources told @hoopshype. Queta has a partial guarantee for the 2023-24 season. His salary for the 2024-25 season is non-guaranteed.
— Michael Scotto (@MikeAScotto)
Aug 10, 2023
Queta will earn $250,000 for training camp and another $500,000 if he makes the opening night roster. His contract becomes fully guaranteed on Jan. 10 and year two of the deal is non-guaranteed.
This is a solid budget deal for the Kings who have already invested two seasons of two-way contracts on the 7-footer out of Portugal. Queta’s contract also looks very similar to the one-year, $3.1 million contract that Nerlens Noel signed that comes with $300,000 in camp guarantees and another $600,000 if the veteran makes the opening night roster.
The addition of Queta puts the Kings’ roster at 15 players, plus two-way players in Keon Ellis and Jalen Slawson. Technically speaking, the Kings have room to keep both Queta and Noel on the roster heading into the season, but with Sabonis, Alex Len and small-ball center Trey Lyles all with guaranteed deals, is there a need for two more big men?
Sabonis is the clear starter, Lyles is likely the first big off the bench and Len is the “break in case of emergency” center, like he was all of last season. The other two are in a battle.
Why Nerlens Noel makes sense
Career stats: 7.1 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.5 blocks, 54.6% FG
Noel is a wild card. The 29-year-old defensive specialist is playing for his seventh NBA team in his 10 seasons in the league, including a stop in Detroit last season, followed by a 10-day contract with the Brooklyn Nets.
Selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft, Noel’s talent hasn’t always been the issue. Noel has struggled to stay on the court, missing major time throughout his career. He played in just 17 games last season and 25 the year before.
Noel’s claim to fame has been on the defensive end. Not only is he a strong rim protector, but his career average of 2.1 steals per 36 minutes jumps off the page. He’s versatile and rangy, boasting a 7-foot-4 wingspan to go with his 6-foot-11 frame.
The Kings were bad defensively last season, finishing 25th in defensive rating and 29th in blocks per game. There is potential for Noel to help those numbers, especially if he can earn rotational minutes. He might be a solid fit next to both Lyles or Sasha Vezenkov with the second unit due to his ability to cover space and protect the basket.
While he has struggled to stay on the court, Noel is an experienced role player with a unique skill set. He is different from any of the other Kings’ big men, which can be viewed as both a positive and a negative.
A conventional rim runner, Noel isn’t going to give you a lot on the offensive end. His career-high in scoring average is 11.1 points per game and that came eight seasons ago. He might pair well off the bench with Malik Monk, who loves the lob, but that is really all there is to his game. He isn’t a big screener and his career assist-to-turnover is 1.1-to-1.3.
The Kings had a similar style player to this last season in Richaun Holmes and he struggled to get on the court for Mike Brown, playing a total of 348 minutes on the season. It is possible that Noel is a defensive upgrade over Holmes, but his limitations as a scorer make him a tough fit in the Kings high-powered offense.
Lastly, Noel’s inability to stay on the court is an issue. The best ability is availability and Noel just isn’t consistently healthy, playing in just 467 out of a possible 718 games over his career, not including his rookie season when he sat out with a knee injury. Some of those games missed are coaching decisions, but injury concerns are part of his NBA DNA.
Path to making the roster
Noel needs to come into camp in great shape and ready to compete. He can’t afford an injury setback at all or Queta will steal this spot. He also needs to show that his niche game can work with the Kings’ current style of player. Being different from everyone else is both a blessing and a curse. It’s on him to show how he can fit in.
Why Neemias Queta makes sense
G League stats: 16.7 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.2 assists, .7 steals, 1.9 blocks, 66.7% FG
When evaluating a young developmental player, you want to see that they can stand out at the G League level. That is exactly what Queta did last season in Stockton when he finished second in MVP voting and earned both All-G League and All-Defensive honors.
Queta’s future was up in the air until last week. He looked very good toward the end of his Summer League run before a foot injury forced him out. He’s getting a shot to make the parent club this year, but he needs to come in ready to compete and prove he belongs.
With Queta as their offensive hub, Stockton posted a league-best 25-7 record. They were outstanding on the offensive end and allowed the third fewest points in the league.
One of the most efficient offensive players in the G League, Queta shot an incredible 66.7 percent from the field. He has a soft touch around the rim and is a huge target in the pick-and-roll game. Queta has a gravitational pull when he’s on the court and he’s played in the Kings’ system for the last two seasons.
During his final season at Utah State, Queta averaged an incredible 3.3 blocks per game. With improved strength and conditioning, this skill has started to translate at the G League and even NBA level. He not only blocks shots, but he clogs the lane and deters plenty of shots.
Queta might be the closest style of player the Kings have to Sabonis. He sets incredible screens, has shown the ability to run the offense with his passing ability, can rebound at a high clip and eats as much space on the floor as almost any player in the league. Whether he can translate all of this to the NBA level is the next question he has to answer.
Queta puts up numbers and he helped the Stockton Kings win games over the last two seasons, but he’s posted just 149 minutes over 20 total games with the parent club. His lack of NBA experience is an issue, especially when compared to the other four centers on the Kings’ roster and with Sacramento having lofty team goals.
Listed at 7-foot-1, 245 pounds, Queta is still growing into his tremendous frame. He’s worked to tighten his core to compete against the next level of athletes, but there is still another level he can hit with regards to strength and fitness. This really comes into play on the defensive end and when he’s hitting the glass.
Whether it was at the G League, NBA or even Summer League level, Queta likes to slowly work himself into most games. That may work in the G League when he’s a starter, but in the NBA, he will rarely get that luxury while backing up a star player like Sabonis. Queta needs to step on the court ready to impact the game because he might not get more than a three minute run to show he belongs. What he can’t do is pick up a couple of quick fouls while easing himself into the action.
Lastly, Queta needs to play with a chip on his shoulders. He is a very pleasant young man, but there are concerns that he plays too nice. He has all the physical tools, but his lack of aggression at times has limited his ceiling. He’s a good rebounder, but should be great with his size. He shoots nearly 70 percent from the field, but only takes 10 shots per game. He has more to offer, but it’s up to him to prove he belongs at the highest level.
Path to making the roster
Queta has the size and skill set to help the 2023-24 Kings team, especially if injuries hit the center position. He needs to step onto the court on Day 1 of training camp hungry and ready to compete. If he plays with a chip on his shoulder, there is an opportunity to not only beat Noel out for a roster spot, but even climb up the depth chart ahead of Len. If this is Queta’s mindset, he has a shot. If he comes in timid and takes too long to get comfortable on the court, he could find himself on the outside looking in.
Financially, there is very little difference between Noel’s and Queta’s contracts, except that the Kings have a second year, non-guaranteed option for Queta. Noel has the experience advantage. Queta is five years younger and has been a part of the Kings’ system.
If Len wasn’t on the roster, then Queta would be facing an uphill battle due to his lack of experience. But with Len on board, the Kings have potentially bought themselves one more development season for Queta and they can still ship him back and forth between the G League and parent club.
Noel still has a shot, especially if he comes in healthy and ready to compete. His defensive versatility is something the Kings need and he brings something different to the table. There were rumors that Sacramento was interested in the veteran last season when he became available and his addition during the summer wasn’t a big surprise.
Early money is on Queta making the squad, but that can change quickly. His youth, potential fit, and understanding of the system all factor in. It also helps that the Kings have invested two years in him and he has produced big time results at the G League level.