Is it time for Kings to give Donte DiVincenzo a longer look?

Will Kings turn to The Big Ragu down the stretch?

For the first time, we are welcoming in a guest writer to The Kings Beat in Brenden Nunes. You can find Brenden's work at The Kings Pulse Podcast and as a featured writer on The Kings Herald. Brenden has also filled in over the last two months on The Kings Beat Podcast and is an up and coming journalist with a strong voice in the Sacramento community. Follow Brenden on Twitter @BrendenNunesNBA.

Swapping Marvin Bagley for Donte DiVincenzo at this past trade deadline was a shocking move by Sacramento Kings General Manager Monte McNair. It is undeniably impressive value for Bagley, but the Villanova product’s contributions since joining have been polarizing. His role in the present and future is unclear at the moment.

DiVincenzo started all 66 games he played for the Milwaukee Bucks last season. Unfortunately, he suffered a significant ankle injury in game three of the opening round of the playoffs, an injury that cost him nearly six months of recovery time. Following his return on Christmas Day of the 2021-22 season, he simply didn’t look himself through 17 games with the reigning champions.

Nobody is expected to go over 200 days without participating in an NBA game and immediately come back as the same player. Most of this season for the fourth-year guard has understandably been centered around rehabbing, returning to form, and regaining his rhythm.

“I feel good physically, moving around, I feel good. It’s just, like I said, the rhythm part. Still trying to figure it out,” DiVincenzo said after his first game with Sacramento. “In Milwaukee, I was kind of fighting different rotation minutes and kind of fighting my rhythm over there.”

The Bucks have lofty goals and no time to allow a role player to work through the kinks that come with returning from injury. Therefore, DiVincenzo played 25+ minutes just once with the Bucks this season in favor of Pat Connaughton and Grayson Allen. Going into Wednesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets, DiVincenzo was averaging 25.2 minutes with Sacramento.

If that were to persist, it would allow DiVincenzo the run necessary to figure out his rhythm and consistency, and for McNair to evaluate his fit in Sacramento. But, his time with the Kings hasn’t come without its own variance. Wednesday night, which marked game 11 for DiVincenzo in royal purple, stood out in particular. He saw the floor for a mere 11 minutes and 32 seconds. Even in his time in Milwaukee, he never played less than 15 minutes in a game this season.

If the Kings view Donte DiVincenzo as a long-term piece through next season and beyond, they have to allow him the opportunity to work his way back from his ankle injury with consistent minutes.

“You look at matchups sometimes, and what you have to do defensively, and things like that, and sometimes matchups are just a little bit better,” Alvin Gentry said regarding DiVincenzo’s 11 minutes played. “I wouldn’t read anything into it, really.”

Sorry, Coach, it’s hard not to read into DiVincenzo playing roughly a dozen minutes on a night where Justin Holiday tallied 31 of his own. Maybe it has something to do with the shot attempts that trigger Buddy Hield flashbacks? And, there were definitely one or two of those tough-to-watch pull-ups against Denver.

DiVincenzo has undeniably had a few too many of these unpleasantly surprising moments on the offensive end. He’s converted 32.8 percent on 5.3 three-point attempts per game with the Kings. But, it’s not like the Kings are looking toward clearly better options when it comes to spacing the floor. Neither Davion Mitchell (15.4 percent) nor Justin Holiday (28.8 percent) have impressed from beyond the arc in the same timeframe.

DiVincenzo has converted 42.5 percent (17/40) of his catch-and-shoot attempts as opposed to just 11.8 percent (2/17) on pull-up triples. When DiVincenzo is set and spotting up, he’s knocking them down. Increased minutes alongside De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis should lead to more of the former and less of the latter.

Even if you want to make the argument that Holiday and/or Mitchell are the superior shooters, DiVincenzo has the added benefit of being the most versatile defender of the bunch. A large portion of excelling defensively, as DiVincenzo does, is being mentally prepared and continuously hustling.

“When I came in we had 20-something wins. My focus was my energy, trying to change the atmosphere,” DiVincenzo said at a recent practice. “The game’s never over. So, when I can come into the game and focus on that and spread that positivity and that energy, it’s contagious.”

That’s the type of mindset Sacramento has lacked for what feels like years now. Hearing a player say they want to change the subpar culture isn’t rare. But, “The Big Ragu” backs it up on the court with consistent effort, hustle, and desire on a nightly basis. 

He set his career-high of five steals in just his second game as a member of the Kings. He also managed four steals in New Orleans and recorded at least one in six of his nine other games. 

“Just him coming and being a guy who’s been on a championship team,” Fox said about DiVincenzo. “He’s brought that level of intensity, that level of communication… he’s added that to our team.”

Presenting the argument that DiVincenzo would be a more productive starter for Sacramento than Holiday in the final stretch of this season isn’t difficult. That’s without even factoring in their contractual differences this offseason – Holiday has one year remaining on his deal and Mitchell has yet to complete his rookie campaign, while DiVincenzo is headed into restricted free agency.

It’s a situation that would probably be frustrating for most players in his shoes. His injury came at the worst time possible. It significantly lowered his league-wide interest right before he’s due for his first big payday. Coming from Milwaukee to the “20-something” win Kings, it’d only be natural for a player to expect “fighting different rotation minutes and kind of fighting my rhythm” to be a thing of the past, but that has shockingly remained his reality to this point.

The only way for the Kings’ front office to properly gauge what DiVincenzo can become post-ankle injury is to see him play as many NBA minutes as possible with this core. Even the idea of Sacramento not starting Donte DiVincenzo, and/or intentionally limiting his minutes, with the goal of lessening his market this offseason is horrifying. Any player would be upset if they suspected some shenanigans like that were going on behind the scenes. 

Sacramento just cleared their roster of the two players who were unhappy being a part of their organization. They should be doing everything in their power to avoid creating another disgruntled situation while attempting to change the culture for the better.

The best version of Donte DiVincenzo, who started every game he was available for the NBA Champions last season, is an ideal 3&D complementary piece and potential long-term starter alongside Fox and Sabonis. If DiVincenzo shows enough in these final 14 games to make that argument, Sacramento should happily match any reasonable offer for the 25-year-old.

Maybe we’ll look back on his underwhelming minute total (11) against the Nuggets as the clear outlier come season’s end. Maybe Gentry will quickly prove that reading too much into this was a mistake. But, seeing what DiVincenzo is truly capable of and how he fits alongside the team’s new duo should be a priority down the stretch in a way that it clearly has not been. 

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