And no, not the region in Germany.
Back when we hired Paul Westphal, I was very skeptical. His record in the NBA only really had one success story, and his time at Pepperdine, coaching young guys, was not a success by any measure. He was touted as an offensive coach that wouldn't be able to solve our glaring issues on the defensive end. And yet, throughout the offseason, and especially in the Pre-Season, I've grown to realize that this guy is good. He knows the game and can coach in this league. I wanted the Kings to hire Ettore Messina, to be the teacher that our young guys desperately needed. But Westphal took the initiative and silenced me. He brought in Truck Robinson, to help our bigs with rebounding and toughness, Mario Elie for defense, Bryan Gates for overall development, and Jim Eyen, whose been around the league, as his right-hand man. Coachie was even retained (Choice made by Yoda it was, but important it still is).
And even though its only Pre-Season, you can see these Kings have improved, especially in the areas we were weakest at last year.
Last year our defense was ranked last in the league. This showed a marked improvement in the Pre-Season, with the Kings holding opponents to a FG% of .435 (Good for 9th best), a 3P% of .330 (Good for 11th best), and 18.0 Assists per game (5th best). But we're dead last in Opponent FT%. Thundersticks need to step up their game.
Rebounding was also a big weakness last year. In the Pre-Season, the Kings averaged 43.14 RPG (good for 8th) and a Rebounding differential of +2.42 (10th best).
So far, the only thing thats been hurting, is our offense (20th in PPG, 18th in FG%, 22nd in APG). This comes as somewhat as a surprise to me, until I realize that Westphal gets it. He knows these kids can play. Offense is a lot easier to get people to learn. He knows that last year especially, the coaching staff was in turmoil. Nobody knew what they were doing anywhere. Everyone suffered, especially the rookies. At times the team gave up. I don't think that will be the case this year. That quote in the flag I posted above "Si vis pacem, para bellum" is Latin for "If you want Peace, prepare for war". I think that's a very good motto for this year's Kings team. You can come in against us thinking you're going to get an easy win, but we won't lay down for you.
What Westphal is doing, is coming in and changing the mentality of the team, one step at a time. And he's starting with the hard part first, the defense. At the Warriors game, Westphal rarely showed frustration when the offense wasn't flowing. He didn't seem to worried about it, other than just subbing in new players before it began to get out of hand. But on defense, it didn't matter whether we were ahead by 10 or down 2, if you blew it on defense, Westphal let you hear it, especially if your names were Omri Casspi or Donte Greene. He's setting the tone for the year to come.
Westphal also realizes the deficiencies of our roster. I know that quite a few of us would prefer to see Omri Casspi or even Andres Nocioni starting ahead of Desmond Mason, but this would end up being a net negative. Mason is an offensive trainwreck. But his defense is really good. What better way to mask his lack of an offensive game than plugging him in the starting lineup with our best scorers? Another plus to this is that he gets to use his good defense against the other teams starters. So his defense is maximized and his offense minimized. And bringing in players like Casspi, Nocioni, (and apparently now Hawes) from off the bench, helps to increase our depth and minimize the loss of Cisco.
And if we take a look at how May is probably going to start ahead of Spencer, you can see he's addressing our lack of a backup center, and adding more depth to our bench. It just increases our versatility. The reason I had been pushing for someone like Fesenko (you must realize that when I shout Fesenko, I use him as a stereotype for a young big with promise that we could use as our backup center), is because of the risks from injury and foul trouble. Now with May in the lineup, who is strong enough to guard bigger players, and JT who is a legit 6-11, you have the option of bringing in Spencer off the bench, which in my opinion is a big upgrade to the bench at the cost of a minor downgrade to the starting lineup. And perhaps it is a tactic that Westphal is using to motivate Spencer into becoming better, and perhaps earning his starting spot back. We'll have to hope that he goes the JT route and not the Kenny Thomas route.
Plain and simple, Westphal just gets what this game is about. He COACHES. He TEACHES. I haven't liked a coach this much since Rick Adelman. More than anything, more than Tyreke Evans and Omri Casspi, I think he will be the one who brings this team around. It's one thing to have talent (see LA Clippers), its another thing when you have someone who doesn't know what to do with it (see Mike Dunleavy Sr.). Go Westphal. Go Kings.