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It’s time for Dave Joerger to join the modern NBA

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His seat is going to get awfully warm if he continues to use his outdated offensive schemes.

NBA: Sacramento Kings at Toronto Raptors Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past few nights, observers of the battle between the two best teams in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors and the Houston Rockets, have been treated to a pair of coaches who have wholly bought into the modern NBA game plan, regularly deploying rotations built solely of guards and wings. The Warriors top receivers in minutes are Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala: no traditional big man in sight. Meanwhile, the Rockets have played James Harden, Chris Paul, Trevor Ariza, and Eric Gordon the most minutes, with Clint Capela and P.J. Tucker tying for fifth. The flexibility of those lineups allows the ball to zip around the court, the play almost always climaxing with a three-pointer, dunk or free throw attempts. Gone is the era of dumping the ball into a big man. Efficiency is the name of the game.

And while most teams, even those with a much smaller trove of talent than those two behemoths, have displayed their understanding of contemporary basketball concepts, Dave Joerger seems reluctant to join the new belief system. He, along with a few other leaders in the league, are the last holdouts clinging to the old-school philosophies of a decade ago. They are the Sears and the Kodaks contending against the Amazons and the Apples of the world; a battle’s outcome that is already decided, but has yet to completely play out.

His offensive offensive strategy this past year was an ineffective, archaic mess that highlighted his roster’s weaknesses, while doing nothing to enhance his different players’ strengths. A sharp team from beyond the arc took most of their shots in the mid-range, a quick-footed group played slowly, and Joerger’s outmoded approach likely cost the Kings wins, as well as hampered the growth of the young core.

Although Sacramento began the year with 10 players on their rookie contracts, a likely sign of a team that should get out in the open court and run, they ranked dead last in the NBA in pace, ending the season with an abysmal 97.06 possessions per 48 minutes, a far cry from the league-leading Pelicans at 102.73. While many have proposed that the issue of our players walking the ball up the court was greatly influenced by the roster, rather than being strategy-based, the numbers prove otherwise. Dave Joerger’s teams always move like the lovechild of a sloth and a three-legged turtle:

S-L-O-W

Year Team Pace League Rank
Year Team Pace League Rank
2017-2018 Kings 97.06 30th
2016-2017 Kings 97.06 24th
2015-2016 Grizzlies 95.65 26th
2014-2015 Grizzlies 94.21 25th
2013-2014 Grizzlies 92.25 30th

Defenders of his history of plodding offenses could attempt to rationalize the issue by taking a peek at the personnel Dave Joerger has inherited. He was in charge of the grit and grind era, featuring two slower-footed big men in Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, and then took over for a Kings team with DeMarcus Cousins at the helm; but if that’s the case, why did the Kings pace barely show an uptick after the Boogie trade, jumping to just 98.12, and then fall back to a league-low 97.06 this season? He was gifted a squad full of eager athletes, and there was no reason that a depth chart made up of De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Skal Labissiere, and Willie Cauley-Stein should struggle to move the ball up the floor quickly.

The blame cannot be laid at the feet of the veterans either, specifically Zach Randolph, a common center of frustration for Kings fans. As bad as he was, and as slow as he was, Sacramento’s pace was not affected by his presence on the court. When ZBo played, the Kings played at a pace of 97.07, and when he rested, they played at a pace of 97.06: no difference. The most commonly used lineup that didn’t feature Randolph, a group that consisted of Fox, Bogdanovic, Jackson, Labissiere, and Cauley-Stein, played at a clip of just 96.62. Sacramento simply played slowly, no matter who was in or out of the game.

Not only did the Kings play with an old-school pace, but like a 30 year old still guzzling Surge and snacking on Dunkaroos, their entire offensive strategy was stuck in the 90s. A modern franchise recognizes that the most efficient scoring comes from three key areas: the three-point line, the rim, and the charity stripe. Conversely, Sacramento decided to try and score the majority of their points from the low post, from the high post, and from the mid-range:

Inefficient Choices

Play Type Per Game League Rank
Play Type Per Game League Rank
3-point Attempts 24 27th
Free Throw Attempts 16.7 30th
Shots at the Rim 24 27th

One of the most exasperating aspects of the Kings offense stems from their lack of three-point shooting. While Sacramento ranked 27th in attempts per game, they had the 3rd best percentage in the NBA, knocking down 37.5% of their shots from beyond the arc. It was inexcusable to severely limit the shots from three-point range on a team featuring nine players who could regularly knock it down from deep.

While not as dramatic, the same argument can be made for the shortage of shots at the rim and the free throw line. The Kings attempted 24 field goals in the restricted area per game, once again 27th in the league, yet they ranked 19th in field goal percentage. And while their free throw shooting was abysmal, getting fouled presents more than just a scoring opportunity. An inexperienced team struggling with containing opposing guards can always use the advantage of utilizing a set defense, rather than scrambling off of a missed jumper in transition.

On the year, NBA teams averaged 29 three-pointers, 29.18 shots at the rim, and 21.7 free throws, a total of 79.88 attempts; the Kings managed just 64.7. For a franchise that scored the fewest points per game, shooting another 15 efficient shots each night could have been a crucial difference maker in multiple close games.

The lack of intelligent basketball also caused the team to run antiquated sets, ending mostly in disappointment. Sacramento moved the ball through the elbow more than anyone else, hitting that spot 20.4 times per game, blowing second place Memphis out of the water (17.3), and almost doubling the league median, 13.3. The majority of those possessions were directed through the incapable hands of Willie Cauley-Stein, 7.1 per contest. Even with his improved passing instincts, Willie’s strengths are by no means amplified in that position on the court. And although the Kings ran the ball through the high post with the most frequency, their effectiveness while running that play was well below par. Sacramento had the third lowest field goal percentage of any team in that situation, making just 49.3% of their shots, even though they took the second most attempts: 6.5. The theory of using the high post as a crow’s nest to observe the floor and make the best pass also failed. The Kings recorded the lowest assist percentage of anyone, a paltry 11.6%. The plan didn’t work.

If the Kings weren’t throwing the ball to a big man at the free throw line, they were likely jacking up shots from the mid-range. They took the greatest number of attempts from outside of the restricted area to inside the three-point arc, averaging 38.3 per game, beating out Minnesota (38) and San Antonio (36.6). Meanwhile, the Houston Rockets, the most efficient offensive team in NBA history, totaled the fewest in the league at just 15 per contest. In keeping with the theme of their high post dependency, while the Kings led the league in attempts, they certainly weren’t in the upper echelon in execution. Sacramento was 19th in field goal percentage in the mid-range, making only 39.5% of their shots.

Adding to the formula of failure was the depressing venture of watching De’Aaron Fox or Bogdan Bogdanovic dribble down the court and dump the ball into Zach Randolph or Willie Cauley-Stein in the low post and watching them work for 15 seconds. The Kings had the 6th highest percentage of their plays feature the post, 8.5% of the time, but once again they were ineffective in a significant portion of their offense. Sacramento scored a meager 0.82 points per possession when they lobbed the ball to a big man at the rim, ranking 25th out of 30 NBA squads.

The cherry on top of the obsolete-flavored ice cream sundae that was Dave Joerger’s offensive game plan was his wacky, inconsistent standards for players. Our coach’s first year holding the clipboard was rife with frustrations regarding his inexplicable rotations and was once again a recurring theme during the latest campaign as well. His dichotomous treatment of Zach Randolph and Skal boiled down to nothing more than pure favoritism.

For a reason as yet to be determined, Zach Randolph was immediately deemed the focal point of the offense, while also being excused from all defensive responsibilities. Earlier this month, I pointed out the fact that he was likely the least effective defender among all rotational NBA players. Despite that hindrance, as well as the inefficiency of his scoring, ZBo averaged the 5th most minutes per game on the team, logging 25.6 per contest, and also shot the most frequently, attempting 12.9 field goals each game. When he struggled, which was often, he continued to receive minutes. Of his 59 games played, Randolph was on the court over 19 minutes 54 times. The message was clear: if Zach Randolph was in uniform, he was going to play, no matter what.

On the flip side, Skal Labissiere struggled to find a place in the rotation, and while the bulk of the burden for his poor production still falls on his shoulders, Dave Joerger certainly didn’t help things. Every single person who consistently watched games this season can identify a plethora of examples in which Skal had a strong showing in the first quarter or first half, but was relegated to wearing warm-ups for the rest of the game. His inability to establish a rhythm may partially be due to the fact that he wasn’t granted consistent playing time:

Fluctuating Minutes

Minutes Range Games
Minutes Range Games
0 - 15 20
16 - 25 16
26+ 23

Of those 23 games which saw Skal play more than 25 minutes, 15 came in the post All-Star world, and 11 occurred when Randolph had the night off. In the first 57 games of the season, Labissiere received more minutes than Randolph only 8 times when both were active, meaning ZBo was given the minutes advantage in 41 games.

While neither Skal nor Randolph would start on a competitive team, their disparate impact on the young nucleus was something to behold:

Skal’s Impact

Player Mins Shared On Cout NRtg Off Court NRtg Differential
Player Mins Shared On Cout NRtg Off Court NRtg Differential
Hield 13 -0.1 -5.7 5.6
Fox 15.2 -8.2 12 3.8
Jackson 10.4 -6.6 -8.9 2.3
Bogdanovic 11.8 -7.4 -9.5 2.1
Cauley-Stein 10.4 -7.6 -8.4 0.8
Mason 8.6 -2.1 -1.8 -0.3

Randolph’s Impact

Player Mins Shared On Court NRtg Off Court NRtg Differential
Player Mins Shared On Court NRtg Off Court NRtg Differential
Labissiere 8.8 -13.4 -2.6 -10.8
Jackson 13.9 -15.1 -4.7 -10.4
Bogdanovic 16.3 -15.1 -4.9 -10.2
Cauley-Stein 16 -13.1 -5 -8.1
Hield 9.2 -9.7 -2 -7.7
Fox 17.3 -13.3 -8.6 -4.7
Mason 6.5 -4.7 -1.3 -3.4

Dave Joerger giving every opportunity to Zach Randolph while limiting the growth of Skal Labissiere wasn’t just irresponsible from an on-court impact. Taking into consideration the fact that one was a 21 year old sophomore on a rebuilding team, while the other was an aging power forward who didn’t earn his minutes, exhibits the level of unjustifiable bias that influenced Joerger’s rotations. The archaic methods are bad enough, but combining that with an obvious preference for a worse player only intensifies his fundamental flaws.

After joining the Kings two summers ago, Dave Joerger has had one season of turmoil, the year of the Cousins trade, and one season of rebuilding, this past year. The 2018-2019 season will present a much higher level of scrutiny for our head coach. While the jump from the seventh pick all the way to number two was a huge benefit to the franchise, and almost certainly increased the level of talent available to our head coach next season, it also amped up the pressure to win as well. Assuming the Front Office doesn’t bungle the pick, and if Vlade Divac is able to use the max cap space available this summer to lure a young stud to the team, the timeline for the rebuild will accelerate greatly, transforming from a distant hope to an immediate requirement.

While young coaches, like young teams, can grow with time and experience, the past two seasons of runway for Dave Joerger’s obvious flaws is quickly coming to an end. It’s time for him to take off or crash and burn. His tenure hasn’t been awful, and he’s shown an impressive ability to build a strong locker room culture, as well as to develop individual player’s skill sets, whether that be Buddy Hield’s defense or Willie Cauley-Stein’s evolving post game; however, his inability to adapt his game plan to today’s modern principles will cost him his job if he cannot change. He must put his existing and incoming high-value young pieces into a position to perform at their peak level next season, and that means a completely different offensive approach for this team. If he can make those changes, he deserves to continue to be at the helm of this franchise moving forward. If not, our ownership group and front office will need to be prepared to make a change next summer.