Is Kevin Huerter in trouble? Struggles continue in Kings’ loss in home opener

Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Huerter (Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports)
Sacramento Kings guard Kevin Huerter (Mandatory Credit: Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports) /

When the Sacramento Kings reported to training camp, they were in good spirits. The team finally started winning, and hopes were high for another successful season. Fans couldn’t wait to see newly signed Sasha Vezenkov shoot the ball. No one would have thought that Kevin Huerter would be the main storyline to start the season.

After the Kings finished last season as one of the worst defensive squads in the league, especially among playoff teams, Mike Brown has been pushing for improvement. Other than Davion Mitchell and Kessler Edwards, no one on the Kings’ roster can call themselves a lock-down perimeter defender.

Unfortunately for Kevin Huerter, he has become the poster child for all the Kings’ defensive shortcomings, however. He is certainly not the only one at fault—last season he was one of the best Kings when it came to deflections and steals—but he often lacks physicality and intensity on the defensive end.

That is exactly what Coach Brown wants to see from his players, though, and it has led to a lot of new challenges for Huerter. In the preseason, he even lost his starting spot to Chris Duarte, who puts in the work defensively.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with for Huerter yet, he is also struggling to find the bottom of the net. He opened the season against the Jazz with 7 points, shooting 3-9 from the field and 1-5 from three, 2 rebounds, and 2 assists.

Despite his struggles in the preseason, it was a very non-Kevin-Huerter-like performance.  We got spoilt seeing him shoot 40.2 percent from three last season, and that is why his performance in the Kings’ home opener was so jarring. He missed all five of his shots, got cooked on defense several times, and only played 16 minutes.

Is Kevin Huerter in danger of losing his starting spot for good?

Mike Brown is not scared to make drastic lineup changes, and that does not only apply to moving Huerter to the bench. When asked about his starting shooting guard after the game, Brown voiced his belief that he will find his shooting touch and figure it out. Keegan Murray and De’Aaron Fox said the same thing.

So, the good news is that Brown has not given up on Huerter, who was such a big part of last season’s success, yet. The tough news, on the other hand, is that this might not be enough to keep him in the starting lineup.

“Kevin is not the only one that made mistakes tonight…When I evaluate the team, I’m not just looking at Kevin and considering taking him out of the starting lineup. There are other changes that can be made…Across the board I have to take a look at things to see how we can win a ballgame,” Mike Brown said after the game.

This could mean a lot of things—“there are other changes that can be made” is not particularly specific—but taking Huerter out of the starting lineup is not off the table.

While we shouldn’t expect him to be out of a job anytime soon, Huerter is definitely in some trouble if he can’t find his shot. If he can contribute as much offensively as he did last season, it is much easier to make up for his defensive shortcomings, and a lot of times that should be enough to keep him on the court.

What other changes could be made?

Other than that Stephen Curry is a magician, one of the biggest takeaways from this game is that the Kings need more out of Huerter and Davion Mitchell. Both finished the game with hero points and had rough games altogether. For Mitchell, this marked his second scoreless game this season.

Obviously, the loss is not just on them. Except for De’Aaron Fox, none of the Kings’ guards were especially good. Malik Monk could have played more. He only saw 17 minutes of playing time despite being the second-best guard last night. Most of the shooting guard minutes went to Huerter and Christ Duarte, however.

The latter did not have a good shooting game either after playing very well in the season opener, but Mike Brown seemed to trust him more than Huerter, Mitchell, and to an extent Monk to be a two-way presence. Duarte is still the prime candidate to edge out Huerter or any other guard other than Fox for a bigger role, and that is not unlikely to happen.

Besides that, Monk should be a bigger presence as the Kings’ sixth man in the future, and Mitchell’s role is not etched in stone either. He is still young, just entering his third season, and is the kind of defender the Kings need, but if they want to be true contenders right now, they might not have the time to wait for his offense to come along.

Brown already limited him to only 10:51 minutes of playing time last night, and that could happen again if he cannot find a way to impact the game offensively. We did not really see Colby Jones last night, but he impressed in preseason, and if the coaching staff doesn’t like what they see from the older guards, he could very well get a chance to step into the rotation.

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