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Wenyen Gabriel shines in day one of California Classic

The returning two-way player has an outside chance to make the opening night roster.

The Sacramento Kings edged out the Golden State Warriors on Monday in the opening night showcase of the California Classic. Second round draft pick Kyle Guy put the team up with a late three and they held on for an 81-77 victory. But it wasn’t a rookie that boasted the most impressive numbers.

Wenyen Gabriel, a second year forward coming off a two-way contract for the Kings last season, put up game highs in both points (22) and rebounds (12).

Gabriel is an athletic tweener who went undrafted out of Kentucky in 2018. He came off the bench for the Wildcats in his sophomore year, but flashed nice defensive tools and good range on his jumpshot.

He never got on the floor with Sacramento last season, and spent most of his time in Stockton with the team’s G-League affiliate. Across his 40 games with the Stockton Kings, he posted 10.1 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 1.1 blocks in 27.1 minutes per game. He also shot 37% from deep, but struggled with fouls and turnovers.

We saw a lot of improvements from him in his first Summer League game, but we also saw some of his lingering issues. He turned the ball over three times and collected six fouls. But his presence around the glass and his willingness to launch it from deep suggest that Wenyen has been working hard on his craft since Stockton’s season ended in March.

With the flurry of free agent signings over the last few days, roster spots are filling up quickly in Sacramento, but it appears there could be room for Gabriel if he continues to show out.

There are eleven players locked in for next season, leaving up to four spots available. While Yogi Ferrell is on a partial guarantee, the odds are he sticks around and takes that twelfth spot. And while Caleb Swanigan has a guaranteed contract, the Kings may not hesitate to move on from him for a player with more upside.

There is a battle going on between Frank Mason III, Kyle Guy, Justin James, and Wenyen Gabriel — among lesser known names — for those last three spots. And with just enough cap room to sign another veteran at the minimum, that number could drop to two at any time.

Guy and James, selected just two weeks ago in the 2019 NBA draft, are the favorites right now — but Gabriel’s tools might make for a better fit. The rookies would be the 6th and 7th guards on the squad, while Wenyen could provide the forward depth needed to round out the Kings roster.

His size, athleticism, and defensive switch-ability make him a unique feature on Sacramento’s Summer League roster. If he can keep his production up, he could grab himself a roster spot with the Kings again this season.

“I’m trying to solidify myself into this league,” Gabriel told the media after the game. “I’m trying to continue to get better everyday. I go out there and try to play my heart out and give it everything I’ve got — just try to continue to improve as a player and see where it takes me.”

Watch the youngsters continue to make their case for the opening night roster Tuesday night on NBATV. Tipoff against the Miami Heat is 8 pm PST at the Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento.

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