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Initial impressions of Sacramento’s summer league squad

Three takeaways from Sacramento's win over Golden State on the first night of the California Classic.
By | 36 Comments | Jul 5, 2023

Photo courtesy of Sacramento Kings

Led by Coach Luke Loucks, the 2022-23 summer league Sacramento Kings kicked off the California Classic with a 100-94 win over the Golden State Warriors in Golden 1 Center.

Their roster featured two players who saw notable runs with Sacramento last season in Keegan Murray and Kessler Edwards. Keon Ellis, Neemias Queta, Jordan Ford, Chance Comanche, and Alex O’Connell all spent last season on Stockon’s roster. That’s a significant amount of returning faces mixed in with Colby Jones and Jalen Slawson who heard their names called in the 2023 NBA Draft less than two weeks prior.

With similar schemes and staples to their primary roster in place, the Kings looked fluid in game one. Here are three takeaways from their first victory of the California Classic.

Putting Keegan Murray in uncomfortable positions

In the limited days of training camp leading up to Monday, Coach Loucks explained to the media that Murray’s role in this group was to be a leader on and off the court. He’s the star of their California Classic roster and that will mean running the break himself, initiating the offense, being the one to bail his team out in a pinch, and setting the tone.

Throwing down a poster dunk less than 30 seconds into the game for his team’s first bucket is one way to do that.

“Incredible dunk. I’ll give him a C-minus on the staredown,” Coach Loucks said postgame. “Jay (Triano) brought up that Lester (Quiones) hit a three and started jawing at him a little bit — which I love, it gets me going — and Keegan looked him dead in the face and was like ‘alright, I’m coming at you,’ and came back down and hit a three on him and then said something to him and I don’t know what he said, I’m gonna ask him tomorrow, but he said something to him. I think that showed — more than the dunk, more than the 29 points — just someone coming at him and being like, ‘Nah, you’re not coming at me. I’m coming at you.’ And I think, for him individually and for us collectively, that’s what we need from him.”

Murray tallied 29 points on 8/17 from the field. Coach Loucks also mentioned that Murray, who had one rebound at halftime, was challenged at the break to contribute on the glass more but failed to get another board in the second half.

He was undeniably phenomenal in his 31 minutes, but it’s clear this coaching staff is continuously pushing him to be better and that Murray has embraced that responsibility and challenge. He even sounds more comfortable speaking with the press and is emphasizing being a vocal leader to his teammates.

“A lot of it was just talking to guys. Just talking to Colby, talking to all the young guys,” Murray said. “What I’m seeing on the court, what they’re not. What they’re seeing, what I’m not. Things like that. Just getting a feel, getting them comfortable in this situation because I was in their shoes last year so I know what it’s like to play in this situation. Just trying to be more vocal, give guys things to think about before the game, after the game, stuff like that. Just trying to use my voice more.”

The growth is apparent. Murray took just over one pull-up shot per game in his rookie season, but he got the chance to take a few on Monday. He was able to take the ball up the floor and initiate the offense or even get a post-up look here or there.

“I’m just trying to get in uncomfortable situations on the floor,” Murray said postgame. “That’s kind of my main goal. Just bringing the ball up the court against pressure, handling the ball more, things like that, guarding on the ball. Just trying to get better at that and in-game reps, I feel like, is the best reps. Just trying to figure out how I can get better from that standpoint.”

Murray did all of the above at a high level in a setting where it was appropriate for him to do so. Reservations about playing a playoff starter in summer league are somewhat understandable, but these two games in the California Classic are a good opportunity to see Keegan Murray with greater responsibility. His desire to seek uncomfortable situations in search of continued growth and development is extremely encouraging for his future in the league.

Colby Jones’ debut in Golden 1 Center

After inking a four-year, $8.76-million rookie deal the day prior, Jones played with a Kings logo across his chest for the first time in his career. Coming off the bench, he primarily spent his time playing point guard.

At Xavier, he split his time with and without the ball on the offensive end but was not exactly what most people would title a point guard who would kickstart the offense most times down the floor. In Monday’s game, Jones played most of his minutes at the point as an initiator.

With three turnovers compared to one assist, his playmaking was underwhelming, but it’s an interesting wrinkle that could hint at how they view him positionally. It also could just be what he needs to do on this summer league roster, but not for Sacramento as there was also a handful of possessions he played alongside starting point guard Jordan Ford.

Beyond trying to gain an understanding of his potential role, his versatility was on display. In 23 minutes of play, he snagged five rebounds, two steals, and contributed 12 points on 5/11 shooting. Watching him play during college, his touch stood out above anything else and that held true Monday night.

Jones’s shooting from beyond the arc is worth monitoring throughout summer league, considering he shot 37.8 percent from three last year at Xavier, but 29.2 percent the year prior.

Last season’s Two-ways

Ellis and Queta, who both started for Coach Loucks on Monday night, were Sacramento’s two-way contracts last season and are looking to continue to build on what they showed with Stockton.

However, both struggled with foul trouble throughout the night. Luckily, considering Ellis logged six while Queta had seven, in summer league you are allowed ten personals before fouling out. While some of them may have been quick whistles, they need to be more disciplined on the defensive end of the floor, especially as players who are expected to make a majority of their impact on that end and be leaders in this setting.

Being physical without fouling remains a defensive staple and the returning guys have to be better in that aspect. 

“I told the team, our whole kind of motto off the court is connected. We want to stay connected this offseason and I think we’re doing a good job of it, both players and staff,” Coach Louks said. “For us to win at the highest level, we’re gonna have to be connected as an organization, do it together and then on the court, leading into next season, is just physicality. It’s a playoff level of physicality from day one of training camp and really from day one of summer league. We have to play with a level of physicality on both sides of the ball and I think we showed it at times against Golden State in the playoffs and I think we showed it at times tonight in summer league. I still don’t think we’re quite aware of what real physicality means. It doesn’t mean to hold and grab. It means at every moment the opponent can feel you. At every single moment, they can feel your presence and I think at times we tried. At times we just fouled and thought we were playing physical and we’ll continue to work on that and improve but it’s going to be a big emphasis not only for summer league but for us as an organization going forward.”

Queta, who is almost always the biggest player on the court, should often be dominant physically, but he’s been up and down there since being drafted out of Utah State.

He did end with a solid stat line of 11 points, 10 rebounds, two assists, and three blocks outside of his seven fouls. After a lackluster start,  Queta turned it around in the second half and displayed some of his defensive potential, playmaking, and touch around the basket.

Queta’s situation is particularly intriguing considering that he is not currently under contract for next season. After the Kings extended the qualifying offer, he has yet to re-sign with the team. He has one additional year of two-way eligibility with Sacramento if both sides elect to go that route, but Domantas Sabonis and Alex Len are the only traditional centers on the roster. Maybe Queta can be the third-string center on the primary roster. Or, maybe Trey Lyles at the five will be common.

The second and final day of the California Classic will take place today, July 5th, at Golden 1 Center.

3 PM PST: Golden State vs. Charlotte

5 PM PST: San Antonio vs. Los Angeles

7 PM PST: Sacramento vs. Miami

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36 Comments
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HandOfTheKings
July 5, 2023 8:04 am

well, that Kawhi comparison quote just made me tingle all over.

RikSmits
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July 5, 2023 8:59 am
Reply to  HandOfTheKings

Yeah, I’m not too fond of it.

It’s making a comparison that can be taken out of context easily and may very well be unrealistic as it is and cause disappointment. So easy to say basically the same thing without comparing him to Kahwi.

Not a big thing; just unnecessary, IMO.

Kosta
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July 5, 2023 9:06 am
Reply to  RikSmits

Well, they both have the same smile!

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Last edited 11 months ago by Kosta
Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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July 5, 2023 9:25 am
Reply to  Kosta

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Klam
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Nostradumbass 18
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July 5, 2023 10:34 am
Reply to  Kosta

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ArcoThunder
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July 5, 2023 8:33 pm
Reply to  RikSmits

There wasn’t a comparison made. I don’t get it. He literally says “it wasn’t that Keegan is kawhi”

the scout just said he hasnt seen anything like that since kawhi’s second season.

meaning exactly that. Keegan apparently is showing that he has a lot more to his game than he showed in year one. Which, is what kawhi showed in his build up to his second season.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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July 5, 2023 9:21 pm
Reply to  ArcoThunder

They should’ve compared the #54 pick Jalen fella from Furman to Kawhi:

The Klaw and The Slaw.

Mike120
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July 5, 2023 3:09 pm
Reply to  HandOfTheKings

I was getting Jayson Tatum vibes yesterday. If Murray can be 80% of that, I’d be thrilled.

Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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July 5, 2023 9:09 am

Hope Keegan plays tonight.

eddie41
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July 5, 2023 9:20 am

I think that’s what Keegan did in his 2nd year at Iowa.

Great that he’s getting to the line.

How was Slawson’s and Colby’s defense? Did they D up?

jwalker1395
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July 5, 2023 9:29 am
Reply to  eddie41

Slawson had limited minutes and was mostly a non-factor on both ends. Colby’s defense was great – knew where to be, moves his feet well, doesn’t give up on plays, etc. Solid on-ball defender and smart team defender.

TheGrantNapear
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July 5, 2023 9:37 am
Reply to  jwalker1395

I liked what I saw from Colby.
Slawson will be spending the season in Stockton.

murraytant
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July 5, 2023 10:47 am
Reply to  eddie41

Keegan can increase scoring by getting to the line. Last year, he hardly got fouled. Yesterday hit 10/11 free throws. This will help tremendously and the best part of the outing.
Slawson showed good feet and lateral movement and deflected a few passes.
Jones was on and off- I think he takes too many risks. but he does focus on that end.

eddie41
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July 5, 2023 10:56 am
Reply to  murraytant

Okay, thanks for the info. Sounds like Slawson played similar to how he played in the combine. At the combine he played good D, I think he had a chase-down block. But on offense it seemed like the disorganized nature of the game created some confusion about what everyone’s role was and he did not do much on that end.

If he plays defense, that’s a decent start.

TheGrantNapear
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July 5, 2023 9:36 am

Game 1 synopsis:
Keegan is headed towards Middleton 2.0 status!

andy_sims
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July 5, 2023 9:53 am

Anything could happen, of course, but if playing significant Summer League minutes is going to launch KM fully into Take-Charge Keegan mode, then it’s worth the risk.

A man among boys, that’s what I saw.

Comanche looked to me like a guy who can get rebounds and help with rim protection. Small sample size for sure, but my first impression was a very positive one.

murraytant
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July 5, 2023 10:50 am
Reply to  Brenden

Yes Brenden- Chance helped Stockton a lot. Hustles, plays up on his man but undersized for the NBA
there are just so many good basketball players with high skills who will never make it to the league. I applaud them. They just love to play.

outrider
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July 5, 2023 10:39 am

Jones seems like he could be a Trey Lyles type player- a dude who just knows how to play and can be counted on to provide productve minutes, even if it’s not 30+ minutes a night.

Queta is an enigma to me. There are times where he looks like an NBA player, then other times not so much. In terms of talent, he seems > G League but < NBA. I think he could excel in one of the better Euro leagues, but I’m not sure about the NBA. I’d like to be wrong as he looks to be a good guy and has worked on his game, so I hope the talent is there to stick.

Slawson didn’t get a ton of run, so I don’t really have much to say on him at this point.

Ellis was ok, but committed alot of ticky tack fouls. I thought Ford was solid all around.

murraytant
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July 5, 2023 10:44 am

Keegan best player on court- excellent idea to get him uncomfortable. He tends not to do that on his own. But get some boards !

Ford is just a player- not an NBA player but a guy who always fits in.
Keon- was disappointing/ Q needs to fully utilize his height.

I have a personal bet on C. Jones vs. the duds rookie- Podz. My bet is that Jones outscores him this year. A tie in this game.
Slawson- a work in deep progress.
Kessler- a lot bigger this year and moves well, still plays D but did not hit a 3.
We will see tonight.

BuiltToSpill
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July 5, 2023 2:23 pm
Reply to  murraytant

I think the problem with Colby will be finding playing time on an already stacked roster. I hope your bet is on a per 36 stat line.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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July 5, 2023 11:01 am

I saw a player who was better than anyone else on the court in Keegan Murray. It reminded me of when I saw second year players Klay Thompson and Draymond Green at Summer League long ago.

Last VSL, Keegan looked like the best player on the Kings last VSL as did Paolo Banchero for his squad when there was the Sac v Orlando matchup (great game if you recall – Neemias hit a 3 pointer with 7 seconds, Keegan stole the ball and hit a 3 for 1st OT. There was a 2nd OT and then sudden death OT. Neemias was blocked/fouled/offensive goal tending by Banchero and they awarded Magic the win.

Does Keegan look like a future All-Star? Who knows. He does look like a solid Soph intent on being better, and that’s a win.

Everyone else? I dunno.

Last edited 11 months ago by UpgradedToQuestionable
Mike120
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July 5, 2023 3:07 pm

After yesterday, I think Jones will be better than Podz. Podz only had 2 points at halftime and 4 with a little over a minute to go when he tallied a bunch of garbage time points.

Last edited 11 months ago by Mike120
Mike120
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July 5, 2023 7:13 pm

At the game. Fox, wife and baby 10 rows in front of us. Vezenkov in the house. Sitting on the baseline between Monte and Wilcox.

UpgradedToQuestionable
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July 5, 2023 7:18 pm

Keegan picking up from he left off last game

eddie41
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July 5, 2023 8:08 pm

had a nice bucket in the paint, using his right arm to keep the defender away.

other halftime notes: Colby Jones had three impressive defensive stops – and hit a couple 3’s. Neemie made a nice hook shot.

Daydreamer
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July 5, 2023 8:44 pm
Reply to  eddie41

Speaking of Neemie, do the Kings have a big-man coach to work intensively with him on the weaknesses (out of position?) that others have noted in his game?

RAP87
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July 6, 2023 6:36 am
Reply to  eddie41

Was there any issues during the game between Queta and Colby? Just asking cause I was listening to Colby’s post game interview and Jason Anderson was asking Colby about what it’s like playing with someone like Neemias and Colby didn’t answer the question. I think he was saying around the line of “I can’t comment on that but thank you for the question”.

SelecaoKOJ
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July 5, 2023 7:40 pm

I really don’t get to hyperactive over Summer league. It’s great to watch a game. But making predictions on a players future success is far fetched.

Keegan and Kawhi comparisons? All Star? I think the assumptions are quite impetuous.

Their games are nothing alike. Like nothing. Their build, their ball handling, their athleticism. I don’t see any similarities.’That’s not to say Keegan won’t be a great player. But Kawhi? Cmon.
Maybe the only thing in common. Their quiet persona of handling their business on the court.’

More than half of these players are essential no names looking to secure any positive form of recognition and ultimately an NBA roster spot.

It’s only real come late October.

ArcoThunder
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July 5, 2023 8:25 pm
Reply to  SelecaoKOJ

No one compared anyone to kawhi. The scout simply said he had not seen anything like that (19 straight points in a scrimmage at practice) since Kawhi’s summer camp before his sophomore season. that’s all.

Hobby916
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July 6, 2023 6:27 am
Reply to  SelecaoKOJ

He was comparing the “jump” or “improvement” to the level that Kawhi had from 1st to 2nd season. Was not being compared to the caliber of player that Kawhi was/is.

ArcoThunder
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July 5, 2023 8:45 pm

Lieutenant Spock looking for that promotion to Commander Spock.

I talked to Star Fleet, they’re apparently “impressed so far but need to see him perform well on other important missions before making anything official”.

Ellis5
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July 5, 2023 9:12 pm
Reply to  ArcoThunder

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Hippity_Hop_Barbershop
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July 6, 2023 9:48 am

Keegan dropped 41 on those clowns last night.

andy_sims
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July 6, 2023 10:01 am

Like I said after the first game: A man among boys.

Keon looked sharp last night, had his hands everywhere on defense, and hit his shots. I’m not sure that a lot of people know just how good of a shooter he is, but I’m confident that he’s an NBA player.

Alex O’Connell! Kid shoots his ass off, and apparently has a 41-inch vertical. If he can defend at all, man, he could really contribute.

I’ve not seen him yet, but didn’t Sacramento give a contract to some seven-footer who shot like 44% from three in college? Jake or Jack something, I think. Looking forward to seeing what he can do.

Queta continues to give flashes of being an extremely talented player, but it seems like he sort of disappears at times, which is not easy when you’re a literal giant. I hope he can find the switch that makes him more consistent.

NorCalKingsFan
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July 6, 2023 1:05 pm

Keegan! Murray!

Queta might not always get the rebound, but he’s always boxing out or battling for position. I really hope he brings it in camp this year and beats out Len for the 3rd C role (behind Lyles).

Ellis can run the point if needed, he was consistently putting guys in the right place to run well timed plays and he got his own shots off.

Kessler is the most athletic player on the roster now that Metu is gone and his defense is solid. He’s also usually in the right place on both offense and defense, he just needs to contribute offensively to get time on the court.

Jones has an NBA body and plays with confidence. I like him, he reminds me of young Marcus Smart.

Slawson is all over the court, he looks lost most of the time. He was consistently working hard and trying to make a play but I really question that he’s an NBA level player. Hopes he shows more at VSL.

O’Connell made the most of his opportunities, good for him.

Jovic is a baller. He’s aggressive and skilled for a player his size.

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