Sacramento Kings

In Year 2 as a two-way player, Kings’ Wenyen Gabriel taking his best shot this summer

Kings forward Wenyen Gabriel is in his second year of a two-way contract with the team. He’s displayed his skills this summer as he works to show he can complement the team.
Kings forward Wenyen Gabriel is in his second year of a two-way contract with the team. He’s displayed his skills this summer as he works to show he can complement the team. pkitagaki@sacbee.com

The Kings saw enough in Wenyen Gabriel to sign him to a two-year, two-way contract after he went undrafted out of Kentucky in 2018. Now, in his second year of summer league competition, Gabriel is showing the organization a little more.

The 6-foot-9 forward posted 18 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots in an 83-80 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday at Cox Pavilion. He made 6 of 10 field-goal attempts and 4 of 8 from 3-point range, showcasing the smooth stroke he has worked hard to refine since his freshman year in college.

“I’m trying to keep it simple here in summer league and show that I can complement the team,” Gabriel said. “So I’m out there trying to show my defensive ability and my switching ability and also my ability to shoot the ball as well.”

Gabriel, 22, averaged 13.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 blocks in four Las Vegas Summer League games, but did not play in the Kings’ final contest of the event, a 98-96 overtime loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday. He averaged 19 points and 8.5 rebounds in two California Classic games before the Kings left for Las Vegas.

“Wenyen’s been great for us,” Kings summer league coach Jesse Mermuys said. “His energy is awesome. He’s got a great motor. He’s been improving as far as cutting down his mistakes in this short period of time, which is a great sign.”

His teammates have been impressed, too.

“He’s good,” Kings point guard Semaj Christon said. “I think he’s going to be really good. Just keep playing, don’t get so down on himself and he can be a real good player.”

Gabriel has improved his perimeter game dramatically after shooting just 31.7 percent from 3-point range as a freshman at Kentucky. He shot 39.6 percent as a sophomore and nearly doubled his number of 3-point attempts.

Gabriel declared for the NBA Draft following his sophomore season but went undrafted. The Kings signed him to a two-way contract, allowing him to split time between Sacramento and the Kings’ G League affiliate in Stockton. In 42 games for the Stockton Kings last season, Gabriel averaged 10.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.0 blocks, shooting 54.6 percent from the field and 35.8 percent from beyond the arc.

“When he just catches and shoots, he’s got a nice little stroke,” Mermuys said. “And you guys know, obviously, that’s valuable in this league. Everybody wants to shoot 3s. We want every person on the court to be a threat. Sometimes he overthinks it a little, might try to (dribble), and gets himself into a crowd and forces either a bad shot or a turnover, which is normal, especially for a player who’s trying to learn how to play on the perimeter like that. It’s not an easy transition, but I think he’s done less and less of that. He’s (catching and shooting) more.”

Gabriel shot 41.4 percent from 3-point range in six summer league games between Sacramento and Las Vegas while averaging 15.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.

Gabriel is long, fluid and athletic. He is listed at 205 pounds and could benefit from increased upper- and lower-body strength, but he has the potential to be a nice fit in the Kings’ uptempo system. He knows the Kings have precious few roster spots available, but the second year of his two-way contract gives him more time to impress in Sacramento and Stockton.

“I’m definitely aware of that,” Gabriel said. “I try not to concern myself too much with that. I just try to go out there and play to the best of my ability and, hopefully, my talent will take me there. … I know I can contribute. I know my opportunity will be there, so it’s my job to be prepared for it and continue to keep working.”

Jason Anderson is an award-winning sportswriter for The Sacramento Bee. He started his journalism career at The Bee more than 20 years ago and returned to cover the Sacramento Kings in September 2018.

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