Training camp battles: Breaking down Kings' depth at power forward
Will rookie Keegan Murray start or is there another plan in place?
This is the fourth in a series of posts breaking down training camp battles leading up to the Kings' 2022-23 training camp coming up in late September.
The final days before the start of the 2022-23 Sacramento Kings training camp are here, which means the content machine is about to crank up. Before we kick off camp, preseason and the opener, we have a couple more positions to break down.
We started with the safest position on the roster in the point guard spot. We’ve covered the shooting guard and small forward spots. Now it’s time to look at the Kings’ power forwards and see how they shake out.
There is plenty of competition at this position, although there are only a few true fours on the roster. Here are some predictions less than a week before the start of training camp.
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NCAA Stats: 23.5 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 55.4 FG%, 39.8 3-PT%
The Kings defied draft experts, choosing Murray over the high-flying Jaden Ivey with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft. If Summer League is any indication, Sacramento may have struck gold with the Iowa star.
A versatile defender and three level scorer, Murray torched the summer schedule, winning the MVP award in Las Vegas while hitting 40 percent from long range. There is a very good possibility that the 6-foot-8 forward starts at power forward to open his rookie campaign. He has the maturity and skill set to fit in right alongside Domantas Sabonis and Harrison Barnes on the front line.
Murray has drawn comparisons on the court to the Bucks’ Khris Middleton, and off the court, his demeanor reminds folks of Tim Duncan. Steady, mature and confident, the 22-year-old looked like a natural, even if it was summer league.
At the college level, Murray showed the ability to knock down the outside shot at a high clip (39.8 percent), but he was also devastating in the post. He finished in the 99th percentile of all college players in points per possession at 1.213 according to synergy. He also ranked in the 97th percentile in points in transition at 1.504 and in the 98th percentile in overall halfcourt scoring at 1.145 points per possession.
These are elite offensive numbers and if they translate to the NBA game, he has massive potential as a No. 1 or No. 2 scoring option in the future. If there is one thing that stood out in summer league, it was that Murray wasn’t shy. If he brings the same aggressive approach to training camp and the preseason, Murray can cement himself as a starter heading into camp.
In addition to the offensive side of the ball, Murray is a good rebounder (8.7 per game) and a versatile defender. He’ll need to work to defend multiple positions at the next level, but he should be able to hold his own at the four early in his career.
This is a tough one. Coming into the league, Murray has very few holes to his game. He’s a versatile scorer, solid rebounder, good shot blocker and steal man. He was an older sophomore, so he fits right in age-wise with the rest of the team.
He’ll need to work to refine his body, but that’s an issue every player has coming into the league. There is some hope that with the year round training program that is the NBA, he will be able to play both forward positions down the line. For now, he has good size, length and athleticism for a power forward, although he’ll need to get stronger to fight with the bigger fours in the league.
Until he proves otherwise, there are some concerns about how all of his skill sets translate to the NBA level. There were similar concerns with Tyrese Haliburton and he turned out just fine. Fans shouldn’t expect 23.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game, but he should play a ton of minutes and has a shot to be in the Rookie of the Year conversation.
Murray needed a clean out on his right wrist over the summer, but he’s been cleared for full contact and has been on the court with his teammates for a few weeks.
Stats: 10.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists, .3 steals, 48.9 FG%, 36.5 3-PT%
Lyles joined the Kings mid-season last year and instantly made an impact. He can shoot from the perimeter, rebound and bully his way in the blocks. He can even act as a hub on the offensive end for stretches with his high basketball IQ and passing skills.
McNair chose to pick up Lyles’ option this season at just $2.6 million, making the 26-year-old a perfect budget friendly reserve. He may even get a shot to start early in the year if head coach Mike Brown takes a cautious approach to developing Murray.
Lyles doesn’t get pushed around. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, the former Kentucky big man sets big screens, has soft hands around the rim and can draw defenders away from the basket with his long range shooting.
In his brief 24-game tryout for the Kings last season, Lyles knocked down 36.5 percent from 3-point range. He has a smooth, repeatable stroke from the perimeter, which keeps defenses honest.
With his size and strength, he has the ability to defend some of the bigger power forwards in the league and there is potential for him to play some small ball center as well. He’s a strong positional rebounder, especially on the defensive end.
Lyles impressed after coming over from Detroit at the deadline. He is a smart player who understands his role and plays to his strengths.
Lyles isn’t going to jump over anyone and he also isn’t likely to win any foot races. He’s a big body and a bit of a throwback.
While his defensive metrics are solid, he isn’t a player you want chasing stretch fours around the perimeter. He isn’t switchable on the perimeter, although he can switch up and defend centers.
Lyles isn’t a shotblocker or a steal guy. He isn’t going to lead the break or score 40 in a game. But he’s a very efficient player who is rarely out of position and isn’t going to cause issues behind the scenes.
In his seven seasons in the NBA, Lyles has played for five teams. He shouldn’t have an issue making the Kings’ roster, but barring injury, breaking into the rotation isn’t going to be simple.
Stats: 8.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists .9 steals, 45.2 FG%, 30.6 3-PT%
Metu has a couple of things going for him walking into training camp. First, he played under Brown with the Nigerian National team. Second, he’s one of the better pure athletes on the team. Lastly, like Lyles, he’s on a budget contract that pays him just $1.9 million this season.
The 25-year-old forward worked his way from a two-way contract onto the main roster two seasons ago in Sacramento and he carved out a spot in the rotation for himself last season. With heavy competition for minutes at the power spot, he may not find the same type of playing time this season.
Metu is a leaper. Listed at 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-plus wingspan, the former USC big is still a work in progress, but he has moments and his athleticism is off the charts.
In his second season in Sacramento, Metu improved greatly as a rebounder. He still needs to work on his consistency, but he is one of the few players on the Kings’ roster who can crash the glass and rebound outside of his zone.
As a scorer, Metu was either fun or frustrating. He needs to improve his shooting touch, but his ability to cut and finish over the top of defenders makes him an intriguing frontline partner with Sabonis. He is confident and looks for his shot, even if he’s having a rough shooting night.
Metu is fiery. He doesn’t mind mixing it up and he can really get out and run in the open court. Whether that translates to a rotational spot or not is still in question, but he did enough last season to stick in the league.
Metu doesn’t lack confidence, which can be both a good and a bad thing. He is an erratic perimeter shooter, hitting on just 30.6 percent over 3.1 attempts per game last season. He was given plenty of open looks, especially later in the season after Domantas Sabonis arrived, and he wasn’t consistent enough to make an impact.
On the defensive end, Metu is an adventure. He has the athleticism to stay with his man on the perimeter, but he still seems to go a million miles per hour. He gets lost in coverage on occasion and needs a lot of refinement to become a reasonable NBA defender.
With his leaping ability, length and speed, there is still a lot of untapped potential in Metu, but like Lyles, he is up against a numbers crunch at the four and his inability to play multiple positions could put his roster spot in question.
This is the most interesting position on the court for Sacramento. Murray is a high draft pick. Lyles is a strong vet with intriguing skills. Metu is the high flier. And then there are a bunch of other guys that can move over and eat minutes at the four.
Murray has an opportunity to win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award. He should start and play somewhere in the 24-26 minute range early in the season with the potential for that number to move to the 28-30 range as the season moves along.
After Murray, Brown has options. If Kevin Huerter steals time at the small forward position, that should free Harrison Barnes up to play 14-16 minutes at the four. Brown also needs to find time for Richaun Holmes in the rotation, which means that for at least a few minutes per game he will play alongside Sabonis in a big lineup.
That doesn’t leave a lot of time for whoever works his way into the rotation. If Brown goes situational, Lyles could get the call against opponents with big bodied fours and Metu will see the floor against athletic squads. But even this idea comes with the caveat that Brown could fall in love with a multi-positional player like Chima Moneke or KZ Okpala and completely throw the time split out the window.
Depth is good. Depth comes in handy in an 82 game schedule. Depth also makes life difficult for a new coach trying to keep all 15 players on the roster happy.
This isn’t little league. Not everyone gets to play. At least Brown has pieces to work with and a few weeks to figure out how different combinations work out. Either way, the battle for minutes is going to push everyone to be better.
Murray is guaranteed a rotation spot. Everything else is up for debate.