30Q | Articles

30Q: Can KZ Okpala’s defense earn him a consistent role?

Mike Brown has previously had some high praise for KZ Okpala, and it's easy to see why.

Following the hiring of head coach Mike Brown, the Sacramento Kings brought in two players that Coach Brown was previously familiar with from his time coaching the Nigerian National team: KZ Okpala and Chima Moneke. That pairing, along with Chimezie Metu, most recently spent time with Brown during the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which took place in July of 2021. Prior to those games, Brown spoke glowingly of Okpala's defensive potential.

"KZ (Okpala) is a remarkable talent. These are high expectations, but in the short time that I've had him, (I think) he could be a Defensive Player of the Year type candidate," Brown said. "His length, his size, his strength, his want to play defense is off the charts." Brown went on to say that their coaching staff, which included current Sacramento coaches Jordi Fernandez and Luke Loucks, planned to use him "similar to how we do Draymond Green a bit in Golden State where he'll guard everybody at different times."

It was clear from their first friendly, an epic victory over Team USA, that Mike Brown wasn't being hyperbolic. Okpala, who stands at roughly 6'8" with a 7'0" wingspan, started the game picking up Damian Lillard full court. Throughout the course of that game, he switched onto the likes of Bam Adebayo, Draymond Green, Zach LaVine, Jayson Tatum, and Kevin Durant while somehow never looking out of place.

Constant, agitating ball pressure was the name of the game when dealing with initiators.

With bigs and wings, Okpala had no problem playing a more physical brand of defense while continuing to utilize his overwhelming length to be a persistent pest. Mike Brown's trust in the Stanford product was crystal clear while speaking to the media, but his on-court actions spoke even louder. As Team USA was fighting to close the gap Nigeria had built in that game, Kevin Durant took matters into his own hands down the stretch multiple knocking down clutch shots to keep it close. Looking at a three-point lead with 13.2 seconds remaining, Nigeria was in desperate need of a stop and KZ Okpala was assigned to Kevin Durant.

While there was nothing flashy from Okpala on this play, his battle to deny Durant the basketball, comparable size, and Coach Brown's trust is worth highlighting.

Brown wasn't working with a supremely talented roster throughout that run, particularly on the defensive end, but that same label could be placed on Sacramento's roster heading into the 2022-23 NBA season.

Who is their best option to cover the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, LeBron James, Giannis Antetokounmpo, or Kevin Durant? Harrison Barnes has struggled in years past. Rookie Keegan Murray seems like an unlikely option. Maurice Harkless was traded to the Atlanta Hawks. Davion Mitchell is a bulldog, but he lacks the needed measurements. KZ Okpala could very well be the best option.

Obviously, the games that came against Team USA are the easiest to pick apart and understand how it could translate, but Okpala was a dominant defensive force against Argentina, Australia, Germany, and Italy as well. His aforementioned ball-pressure was a constant and peaked against Germany when he tallied five assists and plenty more deflections.

He is far from perfect on the defensive end, as evident by foul trouble that lead to limited playing time in Nigeria's final game of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but the tremendous potential that Mike Brown sees is apparent.

As for his offensive skillset, it's the definition of a work in progress, which is assumedly why Mike Brown followed his DPOY potential comment with the asterisk of, "once he figures some things out to get consistent minutes on the floor."

Brown proceeded to compliment Okpala's moments of impressive ball-handling and passing and expressed confidence in his ability to knock down triples.

"When his feet are set, we're telling him to let that thing fly no matter where he's at on the floor because his shot looks good and its gone in."  Up to this point, that's been the struggle for Okpala.

Throughout his three seasons with the Miami Heat, Okpala has converted just 27.3 percent (21/77) of his three-point attempts. That number will need to be much improved if he is to find a consistent spot in the rotation with the Kings next season alongside De'Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis.

At just 23 years old, there's a reason for optimism surrounding KZ Okpala's offensive game becoming competent enough to for Mike Brown to utilize what might be his second-best defender in Sacramento. His length, versatility, athleticism, and drive are a highly sought-after combination in the modern NBA, it's just about piecing it all together on a consistent basis.

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SactownsNotSoFinest
September 21, 2022 3:32 pm

KZ and Moneke are definitely the two players I’m the most intrigued by due to the obvious unknowns but also due to the fact that the Kings haven’t had a wing stopper in what seems like 20 years.

Jack
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September 21, 2022 3:44 pm

If KZ can play defense as shown in the above videos then he should be considered as a roster spot.We have scorers but not a lot of defenders. What would be if with improvement and hard work we had as stoppers Mitchell, Okpala and Keon Ellis on the court at the same time.Shut them down baby.

Daydreamer
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September 21, 2022 5:26 pm
Reply to  Jack

These are terrific on-ball defenders, but as catterj and others have pointed out, defense is primarily a matter of a system and teamwork.

Jack
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September 21, 2022 6:19 pm
Reply to  Daydreamer

I agree. System and teamwork. That’s why Monty drafted Brown and he chose his assistants. They are all defensive minded.

tom4life2001
September 21, 2022 4:07 pm

Why did the Heat let go of him? Does he not produce enough on the offensive end?

BestHyperboleEver
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September 21, 2022 5:07 pm
Reply to  tom4life2001

Yep. He doesn’t have any offensive game to speak of. And he isn’t good enough defensively, nor are the Kings good enough around him, to be a Tony Allen/Andre Roberson type. It’s really tough to be a true one-way player in the NBA. The teams are just too good to play a man down on either end unless that one way player is truly elite, like MVP/DPOY elite, at the other end. And even then, you have to have the right system and personnel to support them.

Last edited 2 months ago by BestHyperboleEver
Jack
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September 21, 2022 6:23 pm

When asked Brown about his defense he said with work he could really be good. I guess Brown doesn’t know much.

BestHyperboleEver
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September 22, 2022 8:32 am
Reply to  Jack

I’m not sure where that last sentence came from. He can be and is really good at defense. He isn’t elite enough to make up for a complete lack of offensive contribution. As Brown said in so many words, if he figures somethings out on offense then he may be worthy of consistent minutes. Brown and I are basically saying the same thing. Of course, being in agreement with me could be considered evidence the he doesn’t know much. So you cold be right there.

Jack
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September 22, 2022 9:21 am

Brown said that with a little work he could be considered as a defensive player of the year. You tell me who to believe.

Maximus
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September 22, 2022 9:28 am
Reply to  Jack

He could be defensive player of the year candidate and unplayable. Matisse Thybulle has proven it. He was horrible in the Heat series. He might be 8th in regular rotation this year.

Hobby916
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September 22, 2022 9:31 am
Reply to  Maximus

There has to be some offensive contribution to be viable now in the NBA. Thybulle is a great example.

Daydreamer
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September 21, 2022 7:04 pm

Dennis Rodman too had a minimal offensive game. But rebounding and interior defense? A wizard!

BestHyperboleEver
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September 22, 2022 8:46 am
Reply to  Daydreamer

I’m not sure we should be comparing a guy that was waved in the middle of last season and wasn’t picked up by anyone to a historically unique elite defender and rebounder. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s MUCH easier to play a one-way defensive player when you have guys like Thomas, Dumars, Jordan and Pippen on the roster.

On a sidenote, Rodman’s all-defense no offense game became a bit of a schtick around the time he left Detroit. One could easily argue that he was a more impactful overall player earlier in his career when he was scoring more but rebounding a bit less. As a guy who watched A TON of the ’90s Bulls, Rodman’s clearly intentional avoidance of scoring was annoying. I can’t tell you how many times he had a bunny and didn’t even look at the basket.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 21, 2022 8:14 pm

This. If he washed out of a very good diamond mining franchise like the Heat, then I’m not sure what the Kings can hope for.

That being said, there is… HOPE.

PretendGhost
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September 22, 2022 12:58 am
Reply to  Adamsite

I mean, did he really wash out? He left the Heat because he saw an opportunity to play for his old coach and compete for what could be a real role for an NBA team. The Heat are a very deep team — minutes will be space at best for him barring injury or illness.

Seems to me like he chose to bet on himself. For all our sakes I hope he’s right

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 22, 2022 7:17 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

He was traded by the Heat to OKC along with amended pick protections for a 2026 second round pick back in February. He was cut by the Thunder 2 days later. He didn’t leave the Heat because he wanted to and he hasn’t played in a game since December of last year.

catterj
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September 22, 2022 8:58 am
Reply to  Adamsite

This is what I would call my realistic (others would call pessimistic) take on his chance to play rotation minutes. He was a second round pick and spent 2.5 seasons with Miami. IMO the franchises most proven to develop players are 1) Spurs 2) Raptors and then 3) Heat. If he couldn’t make it with the Heat, will he with Sac?

The hope is with Brown, Fernández, and Loucks and the Team Nigeria connection. If that experience can help him develop, he may get there.

Adamsite
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Nostradumbass 14
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Nostradumbass 14
September 22, 2022 11:38 am
Reply to  catterj

That’s about my expectations as well, but I’m not betting on either KZ or Moneke being a “diamond in the rough” for the Kings.

BestHyperboleEver
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September 22, 2022 8:51 am
Reply to  Adamsite

There’s always hope. Unfortunately, we tend to prematurely transfer that hope into expectations.

Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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September 22, 2022 9:05 am

Truest comment about Kings fans ever written.

ManilaBayCleanerCrew
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September 26, 2022 8:21 am

Premature Expectulations.

Marty
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September 22, 2022 11:10 am

Let’s hope for yet another player to transform once they touch down in Sacramento.

He doesn’t have any offensive game to speak of.

murraytant
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September 21, 2022 5:58 pm
Reply to  tom4life2001

It was offense that caused him to be traded/released.
On tape his defense looks good.
The prediction from many was that the 3 the Kings need to let go are Delly, Merril and KZ. It does not look like that.
Frankly I would try to trade Alex Len and keep Q in the wings. or even let Cook go as well. Do the Kings really need a third PG?
I suppose Moneke might be released or they could get a trade where the out going is greater than the incoming.

PretendGhost
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September 22, 2022 12:50 am
Reply to  murraytant

Do the Kings really need a third PG?

Ask this again when either Fox or Mitchell miss more than 3 consecutive games due to injury/illness. Or after a nasty stretch of multiple SEGABABA’s in one week

BestHyperboleEver
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September 22, 2022 8:48 am
Reply to  PretendGhost

They could use a 3rd PG. But, honestly, Monk and Heurter could likely fill in as the primary ballhandler as well as most 3rd string PGs. Heck, so could Sabonis.

fossilizedflatus
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September 21, 2022 4:08 pm

As a Sacramento Kings follower – hearing Coach Brown speak of defense and culture and then have him follow it up with KZ Okpala and Chima Moneke and even Keon Ellis (and Neemias Queta and Davion Mitchell) as young defensive minded, highly motivated, grandly coachable players on the roster is a strong step in a desired and needed direction.

The challenge is seeing if these changes in defense and culture will translate to wins. But I like it so far. Exactly 4 weeks until Opening Night (Wednesday 19 October 2022).

Ellis5
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September 21, 2022 7:44 pm

I got a chance to talk to Coach Brown yesterday. He continued to reiterate the culture narrative. He was very down to earth and seems authentic. A genuinely nice guy. I hope he can get this going because he is easy to like.

PretendGhost
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September 22, 2022 1:02 am

He looks like he plays very under control, and that’s a great sign. If he can convert 2-4 shots a game on decent efficiency, defend at 80% of the level shown in those videos, and not make mistakes, he’ll earn minutes off the bench

Imagine him and Holmes defending the PnR together. Two incredibly switchable front court players

Last edited 2 months ago by PretendGhost
RikSmits
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September 22, 2022 7:55 am

Mike Brown has previously had some high praise for KZ Okpala, and it’s easy to see why.

Oh, praise from coaches, always a reliable source., as we Kings fan know.

“He’s the most unique player we’ve had here at Duke during my 38 years,” says Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He has everything. In some respects, Kyrie [Irving] was like that. But Kyrie got hurt after eight games.

“Marvin, at 6-11, is an incredible athlete. I’ve coached the NBA guys for 11 years for USA Basketball, and he runs like the top two or three guys that I’ve coached. He is not a good runner; he’s an amazing runner. And then he’s an amazing repeated jumper. In other words, he doesn’t really take time to even land, he just pops right back up. He wants to learn, he has no demons, he’s a great kid, he’s smart, and has an incredible motor. He never has a bad day. He’s a treasure, really. He’s going to be one of the great players in the NBA during his time.”

TerzoM
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September 22, 2022 8:16 am
Reply to  RikSmits

comment image

Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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September 22, 2022 9:07 am
Reply to  TerzoM

comment image

andy_sims
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September 22, 2022 4:01 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

That must be why no one ever wanted to hire Krzyzewski as an NBA caoch: The guy is a moron.

andy_sims
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September 22, 2022 9:54 am

My apologies, I got distracted by the juxtaposition.

Screenshot 2022-09-22 095357.jpg
Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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September 22, 2022 11:30 am
Reply to  andy_sims

So…did you click?

andy_sims
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September 22, 2022 1:14 pm

I did not. My interest in having a sharp-toothed, buzzing electrical device near the fruit basket is rather low.

aplumley
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September 22, 2022 12:37 pm

If he can only hit a corner three… Then he should absolutely get significant run. If it’s playing 4 on 5 on the offensive end… Then no

HongKongKingsFan
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September 22, 2022 6:14 pm
Reply to  aplumley

I heard the exact same thing for Mo Harkless.

The unknown now is we don’t know if KZ can hit those corner 3.

Also, we don’t know who’s defense is better. KZ or Mo

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