The Kings beat the Houston Rockets 77-68 Monday at the Thomas & Mack Center to win the NBA Summer League title, but the championship took a back seat to player development in the big picture.
It’s unlikely many not directly associated with the Kings will remember the title, but there are some important things to take away from the two weeks they spent in Las Vegas.
Five things we learned about the Kings in summer league:
1. Ben McLemore has worked on his game.
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The second-year guard is hardly a finished product, but he showed important signs of growth. McLemore won’t be trying out for the Harlem Globetrotters based on his ballhandling, but it was improved after the Kings’ first summer league game, in which he had eight turnovers.
McLemore also showed he can begin to do more than camp out at the three-point line. McLemore was active without the ball and showed he also could become a competent rebounder.
McLemore could have been a mess considering the Kings used this year’s first-round pick on another shooting guard, Nik Stauskas. Perhaps the addition motivated McLemore to continue improving. McLemore could have been more consistent, but the Kings like the growth he showed.
2. Speaking of Stauskas, he showed flashes of being a contributor but also reminded us he’s a rookie.
Stauskas showed he can shoot from three-point range, which everyone expected.
But Stauskas is still inexperienced. As his defensive matchup against Minnesota’s Shabazz Muhammad showed, there will be times he’s not as strong as his opponents at this stage of his career.
Stauskas has the savvy to use his passing to influence his game on offense and to execute a game plan, even if he’s not strong enough to deal with veterans yet.
Stauskas does not lack confidence, but there will be ups and downs.
3. Maybe the Kings will play faster.
There was a lot more movement to the Kings’ offense in summer league. Isolation plays did not dominate halfcourt sets, and the ball moved well for long stretches.
A lot of that had to do with not having a wing player like Rudy Gay or a post presence like DeMarcus Cousins, as the Kings will have in the regular season.
Motion will be key in keeping players like Ray McCallum and McLemore involved in the regular season. Derrick Williams and McCallum also will benefit if the ball and bodies move rather than having players stare at Cousins and Gay when they have the ball.
4. The Kings are still looking for a power forward.
The team inquired about Detroit’s Josh Smith again while in Las Vegas. The Kings aren’t content with their collection of power forwards and would like to move a contract or two to bring in a better complement to Cousins.
That would be an athletic shot blocker or a big man who can shoot from long range.
Williams played in three games partly to work on his game and confidence because he could be used at power forward as the Kings look to speed up their tempo. Gay could fill in, too, but expect the Kings to look to make a deal before the season and through the trade deadline next February.
5. There might be some finds on the summer league roster.
Forward Quincy Acy has a team option that must be picked up by Saturday to guarantee his contract for next season. Acy showed he can still be energetic defensively while adding an improved jump shot. For approximately $915,000, the Kings have to seriously consider bringing him back.
Guard Jared Cunningham and rookie forward Eric Moreland should be invited to training camp at the very least. Guard Ra’Shad James also played well. Cunningham could be the extra ballhandler the Kings need, and Moreland is a young, athletic defender.
Guard MarShon Brooks was also impressive, but he figures to have a chance of being invited to a training camp by a team that hasn’t used it’s last two first-round draft picks on shooting guards. The Kings liked what they saw from forward Brendan Lane, a former Rocklin High School standout, before he missed Monday’s game with a sprained left ankle.