clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

30Q: How Creative Will Paul Westphal Be?

30Q asks the important questions about the Kings all through September.

Under Eric Musselman, Brad Miller famously stated 50-some games into the season that he had no idea what his role on offense was. During the early part of Reggie Theus's second season as Kings coach, Joe Maloof famously said that the team needed to implement some sort of coherent system, define an identity. Under Kenny Natt ... well, I don't need to finish this sentence. Natt's goal was to simplify the system, and you could argue he succeeded, as the Kings basically just played (bad) basketball with no sense of cohesion or sensibility.

Paul Westphal has coached a team to the NBA Finals. An ultratalented team, yes, but an NBA team nonetheless. Unlike Musselman, he's not running around touting unachievable but soundbite-worthy goals. (42%, anyone?) Unlike Theus, he's not disrespecting his best scorer to kiss up to his hotheaded X-factor, nor is he trying to implement the Triangle offense with a bunch of 22-year-olds. Unlike Natt, Westphal is ready to be a head coach, with experience and an attitude that seems tenable for at least a few years. Westphal is dampening expectations while touting the specific talents of his best players, looking for areas where the team can easily improve with hard, smart work, and promising to play to the team's strengths. That, itself could make the team a few wins better.

But the idea that this team could run a cohesive, practical offense -- one in which players know their roles, and succeed in them -- is a bit of a pipe dream after the last three seasons, isn't it?

The only thing we're sure about is that the offense will likely be up-tempo. Westphal's Phoenix teams consistently finished near the top of NBA pace rankings; his Seattle teams weren't quite as up-tempo, but still faster than the average team. Westphal has repeatedly stated he's not interested in boosting Sacramento's defensive appearance by slowing down the game to mute scoring totals -- which is good, because I think everyone in the league sees team defense with a bit more nuance than "points allowed" these days. (I'm sure I'm wrong about that.) Westphal has also talked about the need for easy buckets, which says to me transition offense will be emphasized.

A primary concern to me is how the exemplary foul-drawing skills of Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin will be used. At Memphis, Evans showed an ability to get to the rim on anyone; in Vegas, he bolstered that belief by living at the free throw stripe. Martin has been doing it at the pro level for years, though interestingly he draws more fouls in the midrange area than anyone but LeBron James (by my estimation).

How do you best take advantage of having the best foul-drawing two-guard in the league and one of the top foul-drawing point guards in the league? You send them to the rim.

I wonder how much Westphal will use Dribble Drive/Memphis Attack type sets. This is already used quite a bit at the pro level, albeit without the moniker and with less regimented/more creative post-drive rotation patterns. Most commentators might just call this "isolation" or "one-on-one" basketball, but I'd prefer not to do that because we Sacramento Kings fans are unique blossoms who demand more of our offenses than ruddy simplicity and repetition. We demand the back door, the bounce pass, the Ivy League roots! Not some shtick from Fresno City College.

Anyways, the gist of the Dribble Drive Motion Offense (developed by former Fresno CC/Pepperdine coach Vance Walberg and used heavily by new Kentucky coach John Calipari when he was at Memphis) is that the man with the ball dribble-drives to the hoop until a) he's stopped, in which case he passes out to the perimeter, b) he finds an open passing lane to the post or perimeter, or c) he gets to the rim. In the DDMO, all your threes should be open spot-ups. It's a "four-out" offense, just like the Princeton, which means you'd better have a big man who can drive and shoot. It works best if your wings can beat their man off the dribble consistently, though screens and cuts are useful here too. Again, most teams run plays in this mold at the NBA level. No pro team/coach is particularly devoted to it; if any should be, you'd think it'd be the team running Evans and Martin in the backcourt.

I also wonder how useful the pick-and-roll will be with the Kings. Jason Thompson can shoot the 15-18 foot jumper with regularity. Spencer Hawes has legit three-point range. The "pop" option is readily available with those two. The issue with running the P&R with Evans is that smart defenses will just go under the screen every single time ... until he shows he has NBA range (which I don't believe he currently does). Martin isn't enough of a passer to run a P&R consistently ... but leaving him as a corner shooter on the high P&R between, say, Evans and Hawes certainly doesn't use Martin to the best of his abilities. I mean, he's not Peja or Suns-era Quentin Richardson. He's Kevin Martin, one of the most devastating solo scorers in the game. But I imagine Westphal, who has been around the game for decades, can find ways to make the P&R work to the Kings' benefit.

These are just two playsets of many, I'm sure, Westphal and Co. will test out. And obviously, Musselman and Theus knew all these playsets, too. Musselman basically hedged between an Adelman-style offense and his own version of the high-post. Theus pulled Miller out to the three-point line his first season, and tried the Triangle his second. Westphal isn't the first post-Adelman coach with ideas. But now that the roster is settling down, and given Westphal looooong experience as a head coach, I feel more comfortable leaving it to him.