Training camp battles: Breaking down Kings' depth at small forward
Who will eat minutes behind Harrison Barnes?
This is the third 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, and a deep look at the team's shooting guards can be found here.
Training camp is less than two weeks away and the Kings are prepped and ready for some big time battles.
We started with the safest position on the roster at point guard, moved to the crowded shooting guard spot and now we jump into one of the biggest question marks facing the Kings, the small forward position.
Here is how the small forward rotation stacks up as we careen towards media day and camp.
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Stats: 16.4 points, 2.4 assists, 5.6 rebounds, .7 steals, 46.9 FG%, 39.4 3-PT%
Barnes has manned the small forward spot for the last three and half seasons in Sacramento, but he’s entering the final year of the four-year, $85 million contract he signed back in 2019. Barnes will make $18.4 million this season, which puts him third on the money list behind De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.
There have been rumors of Barnes being on the move all summer, but he’s still on the roster just weeks before the start of camp. He’s the consummate professional and a player who means a lot to the culture of this team behind the scenes.
Barnes is a versatile scorer, solid rebounder and has the ability to play big minutes at both forward positions. As he’s grown in the league, he’s also developed as a knock down 3-point shooter, hitting on 39.4 percent of his long range attempts last season.
Prior to the arrival of Domantas Sabonis, Barnes was the Kings’ second leading scorer last season and he’s upped his free throw attempts per game in each of the last three seasons. He’s a strong third option and a player who is willing to fill whatever role is necessary.
Entering his eleventh NBA season, Barnes is a player who takes incredible care of his body and he’s proven to be extremely durable. Over the last three seasons the North Carolina product has averaged 35.3 minutes per game and he’s played in 207 out of a potential 226 games, with most of those missed games coming at the end of the 2020-21 campaign.
Throughout his time in Sacramento, Barnes has become a team spokesman when times are tough and a tremendous advocate for social change. His value to the Kings’ organization goes well beyond the court.
Maybe it was an anomaly or the beginning of a trend, but Barnes’ defensive metrics from last season were not good at all. It’s hard to imagine that he’s taken such a drastic step backward at 30 years old, but he has some things to prove coming into this season.
There are times when Barnes is the best player on the court, like early last season when he was a scoring juggernaut. There are also times when he just doesn’t shoot enough, which is a detriment to the squad. He’s too good of a 3-point shooter to only launch 4.7 attempts per game.
Barnes averaged career-highs in rebounds at 6.6 and assists with 3.5 per game during the 2020-21 season, but those numbers dropped to 5.4 and 2.4 last season. The 2021-22 campaign wasn’t great for anyone in Sacramento, especially with Luke Walton losing his job 17 games into the season.
Stats: 3.4 points, .9 assists, 1.8 rebounds, .6 steals, 32.4 FG%, 36.2 3-PT%
The Kings added Bazemore at the deadline during the 2019-20 season and he made an instant impact in Sacramento. The veteran since moved on to stops in Golden State and in LA with the Lakers and is now back for a second tour of duty with the Kings.
How much does the 33-year-old have left in the tank? That’s a good question. If he can rekindle the fire that made him so impactful off the Kings bench a few seasons ago, then he could be a nice late addition to the system. If not, there are younger options waiting to take his roster spot.
Long and athletic, Bazemore can play either the two or the three. He may not have the same mobility or bounce that he once had, but he’s a veteran who understands his role as a defender and energizer.
Over the last three seasons, Bazemore has shot a respectable 37 percent from long range. He has experience playing for Mike Brown from their time together in Golden State and he also has familiarity with a few players on the Kings’ roster, like Barnes, Fox, Richaun Holmes, Kevin Huerter and Alex Len.
Father time is undefeated. Bazemore’s production took a huge hit last season with the Lakers and there are concerns about how much gas he has left in the tank. The Kings have younger options, but without proven track records.
More of a gambler than a lockdown defender, Bazemore can be disruptive and costly at the same time. The same goes for the offensive end, where he can be a major plus in some games and then struggle with efficiency in others.
Stats: 3.7 points, .7 assists, 2.0 rebounds, .2 steals, 42.5 FG%, 34.6 3-PT%
Okpala has an NBA body and he’s spent the last three seasons with one of the better developmental teams in the league in the Miami Heat. He has the length and athleticism to make an impact on the defensive end, but his lack of playing time makes him a complete unknown at this point in his career.
The terms of Okpala’s deal aren’t completely known at this time, but it’s likely a league minimum contract with at least a small amount of guaranteed cash.
Listed at 6-foot-8, 215 pounds, Okpala sports a 7-foot-2 wingspan and posted a 37-inch vertical at the combine. During his time with Mike Brown on the Nigerian National team, Okpala defended almost every position, including the guard spot.
During his two seasons at Stanford, Okpala grew into an impactful offensive player, posting 16.8 points on 46.3 percent from the field and 36.8 percent from 3-point range. Unfortunately, he hasn’t really been given the opportunity to get comfortable at the NBA level and it’s nearly impossible to gauge how he fits into the grand scheme of things, especially on the offensive end.
The NBA is about taking advantage of whatever opportunity you find yourself in and unfortunately, Okpala has either not been given a chance or not fully embraced the challenge when a door has opened.
He has to show that he belongs very quickly or his path in the league will have to come through the G League or playing overseas. He’s only 23 years old, so there is still time, but he’s facing a battle to make the Kings’ roster this season, despite having the size, length and athleticism that NBA teams are desperately searching for.
International Stats: 14.8 points, 1.5 assists, 8.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 53.0 FG%, 29.1 3-PT%
Moneke is a player who has worked hard to earn a chance at the NBA level. The former UC Davis star has played overseas since going undrafted in 2018, and like so many others on this year’s roster, his opportunity came from a preexisting relationship with Mike Brown.
The 26-year-old already received a $250,000 guarantee to come to camp, with another $250k set to kick in if he makes the opening night roster. That’s a lot of upfront money for a player who hasn’t been on the NBA radar.
Moneke plays hard and brings major energy to the court. Despite his listed 6-foot-6 height, he can play either forward position, making a perfect fit for a switching defensive scheme.
Whether it was in college, playing for the Nigerian National team or in one of his many stops overseas, Moneke has proven to be a very strong rebounder and defender. He’s strong enough to hold his own against bigger players and athletic enough to keep up with guys on the wing.
On the offensive end, Moneke is more hustle than refined. He is fearless going to the basket, has a few post moves and can shoot from the perimeter. If he can earn court time, there is a chance Moneke becomes a huge fan favorite for his fearlessness and energy.
There are times where Moneke is out of control. He makes a few mistakes on both ends of the court, even if he makes up for a lot with effort.
His 3-point shooting numbers are all over the board. A lot of his attempts in Europe have come off the bounce, which won’t likely be the case in Sacramento. He’ll need to show he can space the floor if he wants to maximize his potential.
While Moneke has starred overseas, he has zero experience at a level even remotely close to the NBA. How does he fit? Can he work his way into the rotation? Will his game translate? There are plenty of questions about his candidacy for a roster spot, but he should be a lot of fun to watch.
As long as he is on the roster, Barnes is going to play a ton of minutes both at the three and the four, like he has the last few years. Huerter is likely to slide over from the shooting guard spot and take time at the three as well.
Count Barnes in for a minimum of 16-20 at the three and another 14-16 at the four. Huerter will need 15-18 at the three to go with his time at the two. What does that leave for the rest of these players?
At least one of the group of Okpala, Bazemore and Moneke likely won’t make the squad, just due to the roster crunch. Moneke received a large chunk of guaranteed money, Bazemore is the veteran and Okpala has the prototypical NBA body.
Regardless of who earns a roster spot, it will be a fight for minutes once Barnes and Huerter are done.