Kings fans were treated on Tuesday to a fascinating retrospective on the short-lived David Arseneault Jr era of the Reno Bighorns, courtesy of Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard. It’s a lengthy but interesting read that I’d recommend checking out in full. But in an article full of scintillating anecdotes, three big questions emerge.
First, on how the Kings even came to hire Arseneault in the first place:
Why was Dean Oliver in charge of hiring the D League coach?
And yet, when Dave Jr. responded, Dean Oliver, newly hired by the Kings in basketball ops, didn’t mention Dave’s dad. Rather, Oliver said that he was conducting a coaching search. That he’d heard about the System- and found its potential intriguing.
If we trace the timing back on these moves, Dean Oliver was hired by the Kings on September 29th, 2014. David Arseneault Jr was hired on October 8th. So Pete D’Alessandro hired Oliver, a renowned analytics expert who hadn’t worked in a team front office for the previous three years, and immediately tasked him with hiring a coach for the Kings’ D League affiliate. And Oliver’s process?
The Kings had flown him out, without asking for a résumé. Only later would he learn how they had found him: how Oliver, an analytics guru, had taken the advice of a fan named Jack Patton, a devotee of the System. How Oliver had grabbed Arseneault’s contact info off the Web. How Sacramento brass had interviewed roughly 10 other candidates but focused on him because, as Oliver says, “We really wanted to experiment.”
Truly an incredible decision making process to justify hiring a DIII assistant coach to be the head coach of your basketball lab. But back to why Oliver was the one doing this? I suppose it’s because right before Oliver was hired, Shareef Abdur-Rahim (who had been an assistant GM and oversaw the Bighorns) had quietly exited the organization after a draft day disagreement with Pete D’Alessandro, Chris Mullin, and Mitch Richmond.
Is the Grinnell system what got Hassan Whiteside back to the NBA?
When discussing playing against the Bighorns (this was well after Whiteside had washed out of the Kings system entirely):
“I loved it man,” Whiteside says now. “Once you got past the pressure, it was pretty much a two-on-one drill.” Whiteside thundered home lobs, sucked down rebounds and, since the Bighorns passed up midrange looks, swatted every attempted layup or dunk in sight. “They just kept driving at me,” he says. “I couldn’t understand it.”
By halftime Whiteside had a double double. By the end he had put up a Wilt Chamberlain–esque line in a 152–144 win: 30 points (on 15-of-18 shooting), 22 rebounds, eight blocks. Five days later he was called up by the Grizzlies and, a week after that, the Heat, who later signed him to a four-year, $98 million contract.
You really have to wonder if Whiteside would have ever gotten another crack at an NBA roster if it wasn’t for that game. It made people take notice. What a strange time.
Why did the Kings get rid of Arseneault?
By June, D’Alessandro had left, his role having been diminished. Arseneault assumed it was only a matter of time until he got the call. But, maybe because the team was preoccupied with all the other turmoil, or—since these are the Kings—maybe for no good reason at all, Sacramento picked up Arseneault’s one-year option. He had been granted a reprieve.
Granted that reprieve, Arseneault adjusted. He brought in experienced assistants, abandoned parts of “The System” that weren’t working, and led the Bighorns to a far more successful season as a team that focused on threes and shots at the rim, the very essence of modern basketball (Ballard goes into much more detail on Arseneault’s second season, as I mentioned before you should be sure to read the whole article, I’m only touching on small parts of it). But despite this, he was replaced.
Kings director of player personnel Peja Stojaković called to break the news: Arseneault was out, too. No good reason was forthcoming. “It seemed backwards. I thought I should have gotten fired after the first year and extended after the second year,” says a bemused Arseneault.
Maybe it was just that the new regime wanted their own coach in the G League, maybe they wanted a system more similar to what the Kings were planning on running (the Kings were about to enter the first year of Dave Joerger’s tenure, built to try a grit and grind style around DeMarcus Cousins). Vivek wanted his basketball lab, and a valuable lesson emerged from it, but the lab was closed down with Vlade Divac and his staff took over. And it’s damned if you do, damned if you don’t. If Vivek insisted on keeping the experiment going, we’d have likely complained about his continued meddling.
Whatever the reason, Arseneault was gone.
Sadly, it’s taken until this season for the Kings to catch up to the lessons learned from their own G League team years earlier. The Kings are finally shooting threes at a respectable rate for the modern NBA. There’s nothing wrong with using the G League to experiment, the league as a whole does it to this day. But it’s only valuable if you take the lessons learned from the experiment and apply them.
For future retrospectives about the Kings current era, hopefully we’ll be left with fewer unanswered questions and instead see a picture of a team that has learned from its past. Stranger things have happened. Just ask David Arseneault Jr.