Training camp battles: Breaking down Kings' depth at shooting guard
Who starts alongside De'Aaron Fox in Kings' backcourt?
This is the second 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 breakdown of the point guard position can be found here.
General manager Monte McNair reshaped the roster in a serious way, but he reloaded at one position in particular via trade and through free agency. The competition throughout camp should be strong at almost every position, but one position holds the most intrigue as a pair of newcomers battle for minutes.
We started with the safest position on the roster in the point guard spot. De’Aaron Fox is the starter and Davion Mitchell will eat major minutes. But who will start alongside Fox at the two is a point of contention.
Here is how the shooting guard position stacks up, less than a month before the start of training camp.
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Stats: 12.1 points, 3.4 assists, 2.7 rebounds, .7 steals, 45.4 FG%, 38.9 3-PT%
Malik Monk was Sacramento’s big free agent signing and Kevin Huerter was the team’s huge trade acquisition. These two are set to go head-to-head in camp and the battle should be epic.
Huerter cost the Kings a future first round pick and a pair of veterans in Moe Harkless and Justin Holiday, but he’s entering year one of a four-year, $65 million contract. If it all works, the Kings just landed a young, starting level shooting guard with a reasonable contract and major upside. This was a swing, but one that could pay huge dividends.
He has great size for the shooting guard spot and his ability to shift to the three for stretches is an added bonus. He’s not a true 3-and-D player, but Huerter is a career 37.9 percent shooter from deep with defensive upside.
Huerter is also a solid secondary creator at the two with a very good 3.2-to-1.3 career assist-to-turnover ratio. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes and he’s shown an ability to score with efficiency at all three levels.
This isn’t a perfect player, but a player who fits perfectly in the Kings’ system. Of all of Sacramento’s players, this is the one who could take a substantial statistical leap just by doing more of what he is already really good at.
Huerter was a good soldier in Atlanta, but the Kings need more out of the 24-year-old shooting guard. He’s plateaued at the 12-point per game mark over the last three seasons, which is 3-4 points less than what you would expect from a player with his type of range. He can reach the 15-17 point range by taking a couple of extra three’s per game.
What could limit Huerter’s ability to reach new heights as a scorer is the fact that he averaged just .7 free throw attempts per game last season. When Buddy Hield averages twice as many free throws as you, there is an issue.
On the defensive end, Huerter was asked to do plenty with the Hawks. He won’t always be forced to pick up the toughest offensive cover with the Kings, which will help his advanced metrics. His switchability on the defensive end is intriguing, but he’ll need to continue to get stronger if he wants to take on more minutes at the three.
Sacramento needs Huerter to find a new level of productivity. The expectation is that he can reach new heights by just adding a few extra 3-point attempts, but he has to be willing to take that step. It’s not selfish to shoot if that is what the offense is calling for.
Stats: 13.8 points, 3.4 assists, 2.9 rebounds, .8 steals, 47.3 FG%, 39.1 3-PT%
After spinning his tires for four years in Charlotte, Monk had a breakout year with the Lakers last season. The Kings landed the 24-year-old on a two-year, $19.4 million contract.
This is a major opportunity for Monk to start fresh with his former college backcourt mate in Fox. The tandem was electric at Kentucky and there is a chance for him to rekindle some of that magic in Sacramento.
Like Huerter, Monk is a knockdown 3-point shooter. He’s an electric athlete with good handles and solid playmaking ability. He posted a 2.9-to-1.3 assist-to-turnover ratio last season in LA and there is potential for him to be a quality secondary playmaking option, especially playing alongside Fox, Davion Mitchell and Huerter.
The jury is still out on whether Monk is a starting guard, but his true potential might lie as a microwave scorer off the bench. He would have more opportunity to create for himself and there are more shots with the second unit as well.
After averaging 13.8 points per game last season, there is a chance that he could match and even better that number this year as a super sixth man with the Kings.
Shot selection has been an issue in the past for Monk, although his ability to hit the 3-ball disguises it. He seems to have improved in this area and he’s increased his shooting percentage by leaps and bounds over the last five years.
Monk put up better defensive metrics than expected with the Lakers last season, although he needs to prove that it was more than just a statistical anomaly. He isn’t known for his physicality and he doesn’t have great size for an NBA two. He needs to aspire to be a league average defender.
Stats: 10.4 points, 3.1 assists, 1.3 rebounds, .8 steals, 42.3 FG%, 32.9 3-PT%
Strong, athletic and active, Davis is entering the final year of his contract in Sacramento and has a lot to prove. He started out slow last season and found himself out of the rotation for a spell. He bounced back and was playing solid basketball before breaking his wrist against the Celtics on Jan. 25.
Versatile enough to play the two and the three, Davis is a wild card this season for the Kings. Can he carve out a niche as a small ball three and give Brown another scoring option? Or is he the odd man out behind Huerter and Monk?
Davis brings an energy to the court that the Kings desperately need. He teeters on the edge of being completely out of control at times, but he has a ranging skill set and still has potential to develop into a solid two-way player.
He was one of the best shooters in training camp last season and sports a 36.6 percent from long range for his career. He can handle the ball, get out on the break and he is fearless going to the rim. Davis is still only 25 years old and is entering his fourth NBA season. He’s raw, but there is a lot to like about his style of play and potential moving forward.
When the ball is dropping, TD is an electric player. When it isn’t, Davis’ shot selection leaves something to be desired and he can quickly work his way off the court. This erratic play has led to an up-and-down season and a half in Sacramento and injuries haven't helped either.
While he showed a lot of promise on the defensive end during his time with the Raptors, he hasn’t moved the needle on that end with the Kings. He’s versatile and can play against bigger players, but consistency is an issue.
Career Stats: 3.2 points, 1.0 assists, .7 rebounds, .2 steals, 41.7 FG%, 40 3-PT%
Merrill was the final piece to the Kings’ offseason puzzle. There are conflicting reports on what Merrill’s contract looks like, but it sounds like a two-year league minimum deal with $150,000 guaranteed.
The 26-year-old has a narrow path to making the roster, but nothing is impossible. He has an elite NBA skill and decent size for a shooting guard. He’s likely organizational depth who could spend the season with the Stockton Kings.
McNair scoured the league looking for shooters and Merrill is a good one. The 6-foot-4 guard knocked down 42 percent from deep over his four seasons at Utah State and 44.7 percent as a rookie for the Bucks during their championship season in 2020-21.
During his college days, Merrill was a solid rebounder and distributor for his position, although he hasn’t been asked to do that at the NBA level. This is a high basketball IQ player who understands his role as a floor spacer. Whether that’s enough to keep him in the league or not is the question.
The NBA is a tough world. Not everyone makes it, regardless of how well they shoot the ball. Maybe Merrill is just waiting for that perfect situation where he’ll get an opportunity to play minutes and prove his worth, but it’s an uphill battle, even in Sacramento.
One dimensional players are becoming rarer and rarer in the league. This doesn’t mean that Merrill doesn’t belong, only that he has to show, in limited opportunities, that he can do more than just hit the triple.
College Stats: 12.1 points, 6.1 assists, 1.8 rebounds, 1.9 steals, 43.9 FG%, 36.6 3-PT%
The Kings traded away both of their 2022 second round picks and then jumped on the chance to sign Ellis to a two-way contract as an undrafted rookie on draft night. If his performance at Summer League was any indication, McNair and his team found a keeper.
Long, rangy and defensive-minded, Ellis is a prototypical 3-and-D wing. He needs to add some muscle and gain some higher end experience, but he looks like a ball player, even if he spends a ton of time in Stockton this season.
Ellis is fierce and he isn’t afraid to let it fly. While he didn’t put up huge offensive numbers at Alabama, he showed an ability to play to his strengths. After knocking down 36.6 percent from long range during his final year at the NCAA level, Ellis hit 54.2 percent from deep on six attempts per game in Las Vegas Summer League.
If Ellis can continue to play top level perimeter defense and knock down 3-point shots at a high clip, he’ll find his way into the NBA very quickly. It could be a waiting game in Sacramento because of the depth at the position, but his game is tailor-made for the NBA.
The Kings tried Ellis at point guard for stretches in Summer League and he struggled. He might be able to handle secondary ball handling duties in short bursts, but his true calling is as a catch-and-shoot perimeter player with some potential in transition.
Usually, being offensively limited is an issue, but not for a defender like Ellis. He needs to get stronger and play heavy minutes against better competition in the G League, but Ellis looks like a find.
The battle during training camp for the starting position should be interesting. Huerter opens as the favorite due to his 6-foot-7 frame and his ability to play off the ball, but Monk should have an opportunity to compete.
This isn’t just about who starts and who sits. The fight for minutes is likely to spill over to the small forward position, where both Huerter and Davis can step in and play.
An early prediction is for Huerter to start and play roughly 30 minutes between the two and three. Monk will also play big minutes at shooting guard, somewhere in the 24-27 minute per game range. If you add in the projected 33-35 minutes for Fox and another 25-28 for Davion Mitchell, the guard minutes are tight.
Even if we go off of conservative projections, Brown is going to need to steal 17-20 minutes a game at the small forward spot to keep the foursome of Fox, Mitchell, Huerter and Monk near their minute allotment.
Barring injuries, this doesn’t leave a lot of time for players like Davis, Merrill or Ellis. Davis is owed $4 million this season and will likely get a first look. Ellis will bide his time in Stockton waiting for an opening and Merrill could be in a similar situation if he sticks around the franchise.