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Keegan Murray should start at power forward for Kings

They drafted him fourth overall for a reason.

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

When the Kings had De’Aaron Fox, Kevin Huerter, Harrison Barnes, Keegan Murray and Domantas Sabonis on the floor, it showcased everything I needed to see to establish them as the team’s five starters.

However, the Sacramento Kings are now two games into the preseason, and the regular season starting five is still yet to officially be set. It has been announced that the foursome of Fox, Huerter, Barnes, and Sabonis will be on the floor for tip-off in game one. But for some reason, the coaching staff has not made it clear who the starting power forward will be.

In those two preseason games, KZ Okpala was the starter in both contests. He played pretty well and showed off his exceptional defensive abilities. In the two games, Okpala is averaging 3 points, 1 assist, 2 rebounds and 0.5 steals in 11 minutes per game. Not the prettiest numbers, but that’s also not the type of player he is.

There are some fans and journalists in favor of Okpala being named the last starter. However, the vast majority are pushing for rookie Keegan Murray to get the nod from Mike Brown and co.

Ever since the Las Vegas Summer League, Murray has shined and arguably looked the most consistent and NBA ready of all his fellow rookies. Even more so than the No. 1 overall pick, Paolo Banchero, who has shown flashes of brilliance but a lot of rookie errors as well.

In the King’s two preseason games, Murray has averaged an impressive 16 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1 assist and 2 steals in 22 minutes per game. What’s most impressive about his game so far though is his efficiency shooting the ball and his decision making. Murray is currently shooting 73.5 percent from the field and 66.7 percent from three — not just because he is a lights out shooter, but he is confidently taking the right shots and putting himself in the perfect position for his teammates to find him.

For many rookies, it sometimes takes them some time to adjust their shot for the NBA. Davion Mitchell for example had to completely restructure the amount of arc his shot had when he got to the league to compensate for the height of his defenders. He shot 45 percent from deep his senior year at Baylor, but shot 32 percent from three as a rookie. Yes it’s only two games, but even the rest of the Kings have recognized Murray’s shooting prowess.

It is also very important to notice Murray has seen double the minutes Okpala has in those first two games. In game two, 10 players for Sacramento saw more minutes on the court than Okpala. In my opinion, Brown may have him in the starting lineup solely to establish some defense at the start of the game and see how he can play against other starters, but it is clear that he is not the guy they want on the floor for large stretches.

Murray may also be getting tested in a parallel manner. Having him play mainly with the other non-starters forces him to step up his game. If he is with Fox and rest of the squad, he can take a step back in knowing they will be able to make up for any shortcomings he may have.

However, some of Murray’s best minutes were when he was on the court with the rest of the starting unit instead of Okpala. In game two against the Portland Trail Blazers, Murray joined Fox, Huerter, Barnes and Sabonis on the court with 4:17 left in the first half. The score was 53-40 in favor of the Kings at that time and was 70-53 by the end of the half.

No, the lead didn’t grow by a substantial margin, but that’s the main focus. When the five of them shared the court, it was a sight to behold for Kings fans. Even with little play time together, the chemistry in this group was palpable. The ball movement was phenomenal, the were executing on their defensive rotations and were able to compliment eachother very nicely.

With just two preseason games left, it will be interesting to see when Brown announces his final decision. He may like to play coy and say the position is wide open, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out who the starting five should be.

With Murray likely not playing in game three due to illness, Okpala will likely be seeing a drastically large increase in minutes. Unless he uses this opportunity to show us something we didn’t know he had, the No. 4 pick will be starting at the four for Sacramento.