SACRAMENTO -- Wenyen Gabriel set a high pick and rolled back toward the basket through a schematically opened lane. Semaj Christon’s pass hit the Kings' combo forward in stride, and a couple steps later, he ascended for an easy two-handed jam.
Gabriel’s textbook set-up and powerful finish kicked off an excellent summer league Monday night when the relatively raw two-way prospect flashed refined skill. He attacked the basket and scored efficiently. He worked buckets and smart passes out of the low post. He hit shots from beyond the arc. He rebounded outside his zone.
Gabriel was, in sum, the all-around factor the Kings hope he can be for their main squad. Gabriel finished a California Classic-opening victory over the Warriors with 22 points, 12 rebounds, two steals and an assist, a showing good enough to get a Tuesday off.
He sat during the Kings" 89-88 loss to the Miami Heat, but he'll prominently featured throughout a compacted summer league schedule here in Sacramento and in Las Vegas later this week and next.
More games like Monday's will make Kings brass think long and hard about changing his contract status this fall, bringing a two-way player to Sacramento full time.
“I’m trying to solidify myself in this league, and I’m trying to get better every day,” Gabriel said. “I’m going to play my heart out and give everything I’ve got and continue to improve as a player. We’ll see where that takes me.”
It could land him an exclusive deal with the Kings. Open spots exist at the bottom of this roster, with 11 locks and a few in flux at this stage of the offseason. There are too many conditionals involved in roster scenarios favorable to him to break it all down now, but giving one to Gabriel would glean a dynamic rotational piece who could develop into a productive NBA player.
Removing his two-way status would take away the 45-day time limit with the big club, and open a back-and-forth spot for a rookie in greater need of seasoning. It could expedite his progress, especially playing in seemingly Gabriel-friendly systems imported by new coach Luke Walton. Being a year older and wiser entering his second professional season has prepared him for big leaps.
“I’ve grown more as a player, and in my mentality,” Gabriel said. “This year does feel a lot different. I’m coming in with a different mindset, knowing what to expect gives me a different approach this time around.”
Gabriel was learning on the job, so last year’s G League stats don’t suggest he dominated the lower league. The 6-foot-9, 213-pound undrafted Kentucky product rarely started for Stockton, and averaged 10.1 points and 6.6 rebounds over roughly 20 minutes per game. Despite being a two-way player, he never played a game for the Sacramento Kings.
Gabriel suffered a stress fracture in his ankle near the end of last season, and has been rehabilitating hard to prepare for this summer league.
Gabriel considers the last year a period of tremendous growth, and he’s now ready to show off in an important stretch of his career.
“I’m starting to get more comfortable out there,” Gabriel said. “Spending a year in the G League really helped me out with the transition from being a college player to being a pro. I got hurt [late in the year], and I spent a lot of time doing rehab. I have been putting a lot of work in, and I wanted to show well out here.”
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He started well Monday, but he must show consistency to warrant strong consideration for a full-time deal with the Kings. He has outlined how to do exactly that.
“I need to play to my strengths, use speed to my advantage and attack the glass,” Gabriel said. “Offensively, I need to shoot the ball well and use my touch, and focus on things I do well, as opposed to playing bully ball. That’s not my game. I need to use quickness and shooting ability and my ability to get out and run.”