The Kid's Got Upside: The 2023 Kansas City Knights Preview

  • By John Comey, Day 1, 2023

Just a few months ago, the Kansas City Knights were talked about as a sleeping giant.

Reigning MVP.

Superstar guard who made The Leap.

Favorite to land The Mercenary.

And now?

Reigning MVP.

Superstar guard pushed to Baltimore.

The Mercenary hired by the defending champs.

That sleeping giant that was Kansas City is now more like a maternity ward. And it may cost them the league’s most coveted player, just one year away from his free agency.

Whereas Dontay Sowder is considered the league’s best player, Kelvin Hawes is The Man. Just entering his prime, the supernova is said to be concerned about what he sees when he looks around the locker room.

Gone from last year’s 58-win squad are Aaron Honeycutt, Curtis Price, Tarvis McWilliams, Xavier Yates, and Dyron Mays. In their place are names like Jaylen Barker. Shandon James. Ruben Wingate. Dejuan Brooks. Matt Mueller. Tyrone Jones. Marko Dujmovic.

It is a venerable list of Who’s That and Who Cares.

It just might be good enough to keep the Knights relevant.

Dear Reader…say hello to your 2023 Kansas City Knights.

Kelvin Hawes, F/C: Of course, we start with Hawes. Hawes is the first story, given his impending free agency. The reigning Most Valuable Player may get more looks than ever in 2023, and is the odds-on favorite to lead the league in scoring. He is the most dominant two-way post presence in the league. While the JBL has many stars in the post, none shine brighter than Hawes. And none will this year.

Of course, the big question is, is Hawes the kind of leader that can lead a team that needs him to lead? Hawes, generally introverted, relied on Curtis Price on Aaron Honeycutt to lead the team last year. Now, though there are a couple of players brought in specifically to be a voice, this is a different task for Hawes. As he rounded into form, he had veteran presence all around to help shape him into the player he is.

Now, he is expected to be that voice.

THAT may be the biggest story of the Knights’ season, and what may shape the next 3-4 years in Kansas City.
Shandon James, SF: The traveling forward is a solid scoring sidekick to Hawes, someone who can score in volume without needing much of it. The UConn product, entering his 11th season, is considered the right fit for Hawes in more ways than one. He is an emotional player, someone willing to stand up for his teammates. One has to wonder how he feels, knowing the organization sees him as a bridge and not a castle. But he will give his all each night (what his all is, exactly, is unknown…rumors are that age is catching up with him more quickly than expected).

Ruben Wingate, SG: Wingate arrived in Kansas City through a bit of serendipity. He was not their first choice. But he may be their best. Following Aaron Honeycutt will not be easy. And the team is not building at the position currently (rumors are they were very high on Ari Ajayi, and tried to trade up for him at #18; he went 19th). Wingate, coming off his worst season, is a solid rebound candidate. He had difficulty finding open spots in Charlotte; he will have no such issue in Kansas City. He is supremely athletic and gives the Knights a solid third option, as well as what may be an underrated, if not unexpected, backcourt.

Jaylen Barker, PG: Barker is a wild card, having signed for the mid-level exception, a surprising move made early in free agency by the Knights. It could turn out to be a miscalculation on their part; Barker’s egotistical manner typically does not flow with the locker room the Knights have built up. The move could also be one of the biggest steals of free agency. Barker is the kind of player the Knights need, a supreme playmaker who has not gotten a chance to prove himself. He has the kind of swagger the rest of the team, aside from Hawes’ quiet lean, lacks. He averaged 7.5 points and 3.9 assists in 19.5 minutes last year. He will be counted on for heavy minutes this season, and seems more than up for the challenge. He could be a major breakout.

Rahmond Thompson, PF: On the other side, Thompson is at a crossroads in his career. He started out a ball of fire last year. Many felt he made The Leap, and was ready to be part of a Big Three with Hawes and Honeycutt. Instead, Thompson slid during an atrocious second half of the season. Now, T-Rex, so called because of his short wingspan for his 6’11 frame, is in the last year of his rookie deal. He has Alexei Davydov breathing down his neck. Reports are that, had Davydov not gotten injured at the start of camp, he would have ascended to the top of the depth chart at the 4. Thompson has improved his scoring, and his defensive awareness. But his athleticism has not proven to be what scouts thought when he entered the league. And he has not grown, intellectually, on the court. This is, by far, the most important season of Thompson’s professional life.

Alexei Davydov, PF: Davydov will spend the first week resting a pulled hamstring. Once he does, he will step into more minutes, as the team tries to figure out what they have in him. He is not the best athlete, but appears to be in the right place at the right time. Between Davydov and Thompson, the Knights do have a solid defensive option to pair with Hawes and Juan Maurice. He is a better outside shooter than Thompson, though he will not be counted on for consistent offense. Overall, Davydov is a candidate to make a big step forward in 2023.

Juan Maurice, C/F: Maurice is an interesting player. He was incredibly efficient on the offense end last year, yet is considered a terrible offensive player. He is, very much, a fantastic defender. He has incredible agility for a man his size; easily, he is the team’s most athletic big. He is a good rebounder and as good defensively as Hawes. It may come out that, by year’s end, Maurice is the closing 4 alongside him. He could also flame out due to thirst for playing time; Hawes isn’t going anywhere, and he grew frustrated with his lack of playing time last year. What happens when the team gets Davydov more time?
Peja Djordjevic, SG/PG: Djordjevic was brought in for one reason: Bench scoring. The guy never met a defensive stance he liked, and feels the game is best played by running up and down and getting creative on the offensive end. He will present some highlights. The team is hoping that the presence of Hawes, James and Wingate will give the not-so-athletic Croatian reason to give a damn defensively. He only played in ten games with Philadelphia last year. As the first guard off the bench, he will get the chance to prove his worth. The Knights hope that he shows more valuable than the flier they took on him.

Matt Mueller, PG: The USC product arrives in Kansas City with a bit of trepidation. The team made no secrets about its desire to draft Darius Whiteside, who went to New York just as they completed a trade for the 12th overall selection. Rumor has it that the selection of Mueller was made a bit hastily as a result. Still, it isn’t like Mueller was a terrible selection. The 6’5, 195 pound guard has more than enough size for his position, and is already considered a solid playmaker and defender. He needs to improve his handle, but that will come. He is not a scorer, but will be able to set up his teammates. The difference between Mueller and Whiteside, according to sources within the organization, was Whiteside’s leadership qualities. Mueller can definitely be a leader; he will just do it in a different way than Whiteside would have.

SF Dejuan Brooks: The team made a move to trade a future first to grab Brooks at #14. It was a curious selection, one made further so by the depth chart. Currently, second round pick Tyrone Jones is higher than Brooks. Brooks does appear to have solid scoring and rebounding ability. But his defense is terrible, and will take time to grow. The battle between Brooks and Jones will be an interesting one, especially as the season goes on and James sees less time in favor of those two. Brooks has good ability, of course. How it translates to Kansas City is unknown.

SF Tyrone Jones: That brings us to the Arkansas product, a 6’10 potential steal with the 35th selection. He is considered further along in his development than Brooks, and is lightyears ahead on defense. He may be the starting 3 before too long, especially if he shows well out of the gate. He is a better defender than James, and while he isn’t quite the offensive player, that will come with time.

Joshua Gilmore, SG: Gilmore, selected 59th overall, will not have much of a role this year. The 6’6 stringbean (171 pounds) could provide some scoring punch from outside. But that’s about it. He is available as a fifth guard.

Grant Council, SF: Council made the team over Savonte Rowe; according to team sources, it was Council’s leadership, and driven attitude, that led to his making the team. The 6’7 project is still way behind Jones and Brooks, as now has to battle with Tyler Smith for attention. He will start the year as an inactive once again, while the team monitors his growth…both as a player, and a presence in the locker room.

Marko Dujmovic, C: The A&M big man was a major surprise at the 15th pick. The Croatian turned heads in his workout, and was apparently as high as Whiteside and Ajayi on the Knights’ draft board. Dujmovic has a 7’10 wingspan, and can dunk without jumping. He has surprising touch for someone his size, and could hit the three with reasonable regularity. He is at least two years away from being a solid contributor. Make no mistake, though; he will be. He may see time this year.

Tyler Smith, SF. He was taken 54th, after the Scorpions added to the Knights’ draft night misery by selecting promising guard Deandre Buie one pick ahead of him (then trading him to division rival Houtson). Smith has good rebounding and defensive chops, but will not see time this year, unless there are heavy injuries and/or casualities.

Overall Outlook: The Knights have enough firepower around Hawes to make the playoffs, believe it or not. The plan by the front office (according to who you ask) was to reload and stay competitive. They either did that, or lucked into it. Or they didn’t. Our thoughts are that they will be a back-end playoff contender.

Realistically, this season isn’t about the playoffs. It is about the kids growing up and showing something, and the veterans brought in showing them leadership, and passing it off to them. And signing Hawes to an extension. If those things happen, this season will be a major success.

Expect a mixed back, though.

Floor: 38 wins, miss the playoffs
Ceiling: 48 wins, #5 seed