Sacramento came into their game against the Memphis Grizzlies hoping to secure their first win of the 2022-23 NBA season. They were unsuccessful in doing so for a lot of the same reasons that they came up short in their previous showings.
As far as injuries and availability go, the Kings did not have either Keon Ellis or Neemias Queta active and the Grizzlies were without Danny Green (left knee), Jaren Jackson Jr (right foot), John Konchar (left shoulder), and Ziaire Williams (right knee).
Starting a season winless through four games when this is supposed to be the year that Sacramento sniffs the postseason is worrisome, but it still feels too early to be freaking out. The Kings have played very high-quality Western Conference opponents up to this point.
The consistent weaknesses are becoming more apparent, but so are some of the strengths of this roster and coaching staff.
Here are my takeaways from Sacramento’s loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday night.
The bench needs to be better
At halftime, the Kings’ bench had five points. It was Keegan Murray’s first game in the starting lineup, but the lack of production from the bench is a growing concern.
Chimezie Metu was surprisingly the first player off the bench, Chima Moneke got some opportunity, KZ Okpala didn’t see the floor outside of the final 30 seconds of garbage time. Alex Len played when Domantas Sabonis got in some foul trouble and Richaun Holmes had already picked up a few of his own.
“We’re searching. I tried Mezi tonight, I tried Chima tonight. We went with different things… it’s how easy their bench scored against us… if we can’t score, which is gonna happen at times in this league, we have to commit to playing defense. And, we did not do a good job defensively with our second unit against theirs especially.”
Malik Monk and Richaun Holmes have been liabilities on the defensive end of the floor more often than not and their offensive production has rarely made up for those shortcomings. Terence Davis has been productive on offense but falls asleep and rotates late on defense. Chimezie Metu takes ill-advised shots and while he blocks shots at times, is usually ineffective on that end of the floor. Davion Mitchell is a stellar defender, but his 6’0″ height limits his impact on that end of the floor and his offensive production hasn’t been there.
Sacramento’s bench ended the night with 27 points on 9/22 shooting compared. The backup unit for Memphis contributed 45 points on 18/29 shooting.
“As a team, we have to be able to continue to try to touch the paint… just trying to start our offense that way,” Fox said postgame. “Obviously, Domas and I are players that can get a bucket in isolation and most people’s benches don’t have that. So, as a team, we just have to try to continue to get each other good shots whether that’s pick-and-roll, high splits, low splits… Just try to get the ball moving and try to create an advantage somewhere. And once that advantage happens you can attack closeouts, you can shoot… We have to begin with getting that advantage.”
Giving up middle too often
“We gave up middle drive after middle drive after middle drive and it’s one of our big staples defensively,” Coach Brown said. “We can’t let the ball get to the middle but it seemed like it got there every other play and when it got to the middle of the floor, they scored.”
66 of the Grizzlies’ 125 points came in the paint. Sacramento’s perimeter containment and help side rotations after penetration were subpar. Not sticking to one of Coach Brown’s defense staples of keeping defenses out of the middle of the floor has a ripple effect of the rest of the defense.
“Our defense is based on the help coming from the baseline side,” Coach Brown said. “We can’t keep giving them middle every other play, because if we do it’s gonna be real tough for us.”
That just comes down to execution. The gameplan is known going into the night, but Sacramento failed to execute for portions of the game. It wasn’t an all-night occurrence, but all it takes for a game to get out of hand is a few minutes of poor execution.
“We just have to keep fighting as a group to figure this thing out and you can’t let your guard down at any time. I thought we started getting stops which allowed us to get out in transition, and we got some easy baskets in transition during that time but then you kind of relax and bang bang bang. Three. Three. Foul. Next thing you know, it goes from a two, three point game where we may have the momentum and be able to possibly take the lead to now they’re up nine or ten,” Coach Brown said. “We kind of dropped our shoulders a little bit, dropped our head a little bit and those instances we got to keep fighting, especially when it comes to coming up with loose balls or 50/50 balls. We have to come up with those hustle plays, we have to keep scrambling to protect one another, we have to get back in transition. With good teams, you’re usually hanging and then they have a spurt. Hanging, hanging, hanging, and then they have another spurt and that’s what creates the separation. So, we have to, somehow someway, figure out how to eliminate those spurts and keep the pressure on defensively so we can possibly get out and run right back at them.”
Desmond Bane led the way for Memphis
Desmond Bane was phenomenal at Golden 1 Center on Thursday night. He ended the night with 31 points, four assists, and six rebounds on 11/18 from the field and 6/8 from beyond the arc.
“He can do everything on the court,” Fox said. “Obviously, that’s a hard guy to stop and you try to contain him as much as possible, but I think he hit six threes tonight and that’s not the way to do it.”
Bane was doing whatever he wanted on offense and a big factor in his team being able to get to the middle of the floor and break down Sacramento’s defense from there.
“You gotta give credit to Desmond Bane. I thought he kind of just lined us up and shot over the top of us and made three,” Coach Brown said. “A guy like that, you have to make him drive. You can’t give him space… We obviously didn’t do a good job on him.”
The return of Harrison Barnes
After having seven made field goals in the first three games combined, Harrison Barnes went 6/12 on the night against Memphis. He was aggressive on offense, especially at the beginning of the game, and ended with 20 points, three rebounds, and three assists.
“I wasn’t too worried about Harrison,” Coach Brown said. “He just gotta find his groove within what we’re trying to do and I gotta try to be a little bit more consistent in terms of making sure his minutes are what they should be so that he has a better feel… it was obviously great to see Harrison have that ball go in the hole.”
Barnes has been a consistent, efficient offensive player for practically his entire career so he was bound to come back around.
“It’s a long season and there’s gonna be highs and lows. Tonight, the ball was finding me maybe some other games it wasn’t. But, our objective as a team remains the same,” Barnes said postgame. “We’re gonna have enough guys to go out there and score… but our mental focus defensively, especially rebounding, has to be better and that’s where we’re at right now.”
The issue is that Barnes had to play 37 minutes and Keegan Murray saw 39 minutes of playing time. All of the bench wings/forwards were ineffective tonight and Sacramento desperately needs someone to step up there moving forward.