Vlade Divac and Vivek Ranadive hired Dave Joerger to coach the Sacramento Kings back in 2016 to what felt like universal praise. Considering where the Kings were in their coaching search, and how unappealing this position was after the George Karl fiasco, when the Grizzlies finally made Joerger available, that praise felt justified. Vlade’s growing list of candidates was getting less inspiring by the day, and Joerger sort of fell into their lap after considerable tension with Grizzlies front office and ownership became too ugly to reconcile.
Joeger has certainly lost some goodwill in Sacramento since 2016, and the criticisms lobbed in his direction these days do have merit. He relies on his veterans more than a rebuilding team probably should. His offensive system feels antiquated considering where the league is in 2018. He has never coached an NBA team that finished higher than 23rd in pace. There is enough evidence to argue that in Dave Joerger, the Kings have a coach whose offensive principles don’t produce enough 3-point shots, or transition opportunities, and if you look at the roster, those are the two areas where Vlade Divac’s players excel. He needs to figure this out, and fast.
Despite my frustration with how long Joerger’s leash appears to be for his veteran players vs. anyone under a rookie contract, I do think this narrative is a bit overstated, and Joerger is hardly alone when it comes to rebuilding teams relying on veterans more than they should. It happens.
Zach Randolph was the biggest source of frustration for anyone who watched the Kings play last season, but it wasn’t necessarily because of how much Joerger played him. I know it feels like Randolph was out there gunning for 30 minutes over the course of 82 games, but in reality, he finished the season 6th on the team in minutes played behind guys like Bogdan Bogdanovic, De’Aaron Fox, Buddy Hield, and Willie Cauley-Stein by over 500 minutes. The only player he really suffocated playing time from was Skal Labissiere, and while I would have preferred to see Labissiere play more than Randolph last season, it’s hard to argue that Skal earned that spot. Labissiere’s numbers were down nearly across the board from his rookie campaign, and he also missed several games with a host of minor injuries.
My issue with Joerger’s use of Randolph had less to do with his raw minutes and more to do with his reliance on him anytime he was on the court.
Randolph finished the 2017-18 season with a 26.7 usage rate, which would put him in the 95th percentile among NBA big men. If Randolph was producing with those touches, fine, but he wasn’t. In fact, he was woefully inefficient. His 106.7 points per 100 shot attempts would put him in the 17th percentile. To make matters worse, 53% of his shot attempts were what Cleaning The Glass classifies as ‘mid-range’ and you should know where I’m going with this, but Randolph’s mid-range shot frequency was good for 94th percentile among his peers.
So it’s not just about how much Joerger played his veterans, it’s how they were deployed. It’s hard to be less ‘modern NBA’ than what Randolph was doing for the Sacramento Kings last season. We’re talking about a 36-year old ground-bound forward on a 27-win rebuilding team that uses a near-league-high number of possessions with incredible inefficiency that loves mid-range jumpers. Yikes.
I don’t expect the Kings to deploy Zach Randolph like this again in 2018-19, but until they prove they won’t, it’s worth talking about how much they shouldn’t. Randolph is a year older, and to Joerger’s credit, he cut his minutes significantly after the All-Star break, so if things continue down that trajectory, we should see a lot less of Randolph this season.
Garrett Temple played the most minutes among those I would consider veterans last season, and to his credit, he earned that burn. The Kings traded Temple to the Memphis Grizzlies this summer and depending on who you listen to, one of the reasons for that trade was because Temple wasn’t going to get that same playing time this season and they wanted to find a team where he could carve out a consistent role. The Grizzlies were that team. That’s 1,615 veteran minutes leaving Dave Joerger’s rotation right there.
Heading into the season, Iman Shumpert and Kosta Koufos have the best argument for playing time out of Joerger’s veteran group. Koufos has been a solid King since Vlade Divac signed him in in 2015, and while he has limitations offensively, he might be the single best defender on the roster right now.
Koufos averaged just under 20 MPG last season, and despite how steady his play is, I just don’t see how he reaches that number again this year when the Kings are adding 3 major players to their frontcourt in Harry Giles, Nemanja Bjelica, and Marvin Bagley this season. Even if Koufos is getting minutes, I’m not too worried about this one. His skill set is different from any of the other bigs on the roster, and there will be a time and a place for him to contribute. So long as it doesn’t get in the way of the development of the kids, it’s fine.
Tim Maxwell detailed how much Shumpert may or may not have left in the tank on Monday, with his health being the most important factor here, but Shump has some qualities I can see Joerger falling in basketball love with. He’s an NBA champion, he’s got a ton of experience in high-pressure situations, he can theoretically play three different positions, and he has been a very good defender in the past. If I’m worried about any veteran playing more than they should, it’s Shumpert, but we can cross that bridge once he proves he can stay on the court at all.
With all that being said, I don’t think Joerger will have any choice but to rely on his young players. I’d be very surprised if any of the veterans listed above are starting and/or playing 20+ MPG for an extended period of time this season. It would be infinitely harder to excuse now than it was in 2017-18, and the talent drop-off is so severe that I just can’t imagine we’ll be having this discussion to this extent in 2018-19. I hope.