Posted by: Kingsguru21 | April 19, 2010

End of the season review Part 2: The Coaching Staff

Coming in, these were my expectations of Paul Westphal.

Basically, little has changed. This year was all about “development” if you listen to PW talk the last few weeks. Which of course, was complete bullshit. It suddenly became about “development” so that people would forget that the Kings actually were nearly .500 in December (14-17 headed into 2010).

I would like to acknowledge several things. First, I’m not a coach. Two, I have low standards on how to evaluate Paul Westphal. Three, I just wanted to say three.

Is Paul Westphal competent at X&O’s?

Depending on whom you ask, and that depends on whom you ask literally, Paul Westphal is a guy who didn’t show offensive creativity with this Kings offense.

Gotta ask: Is that his fault or Tyreke Evans? Or, is that one of the side effects of putting out a 20 year old as your lead G? (Especially when that lead G is a shoot-first player and always will be.) I think that a big problem it looked like the Kings weren’t running offense because Tyreke Evans has not learned to run the offense to his maximum level of ability. Part of that is shot selection, part of that is recognition and when he should take the ball and give it up, and part it is simple youth or lack of NBA experience. Everybody has a rookie season. Let’s not be too harsh as such, okay?

Tyreke Evans is not Chris Paul. Anyone who says otherwise is just looking to downgrade Tyreke at the expense of whatever player they’re trying to hype. (Warriors fans have been doing this a lot lately as many of you know.)

Thus, if Paul Westphal is putting the ball in his hands, and askng Tyreke Evans to run the offense and do his best, it’s going to look bad at times. And, wah lah!, it did. No more or no less. It’s not like a 19 year old Magic Johnson (who was, is, and will remain, a far more gifted passer) who gets to play with a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in his prime. So, this is not quite the same deal we’re talking about here.

The fact is that Paul Westphal inherited a young roster full of question marks coming into the season. Would Jason Thompson continue to progress? Spencer Hawes? Would Donte Greene and Omri Casspi be able to launch their careers? Could PW figure out an offense that would allow Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin to co-exist? Would any of the players (like Jon Brockman, Sergio Rodriguez, Ime Udoka or Sean May) brought in on the cheap be able to contribute?

Let’s start with the Kevin Martin point first. Many have said that PW didn’t want to run sets for Martin. Here’s the reality: Do you run more sets for Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin? If you’re not going to run those sets for Martin, how useful is he? I still am a big Kevin Martin fan, I wish him well in Houston, but Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans were not a very good fit together. Their weaknesses and strengths simply didn’t mesh well. When you combine what the other players were doing as a group, it was making the Kings worse. Whether Paul Westphal is to blame for breaking up that tandem too early (I don’t think so), or whether Geoff Petrie made a decision (probably both with GP having the final say) doesn’t matter at this point. The decision was made.

In defense of PW, I’ll say this. Look at the Usage of Tyreke Evans, Kevin Martin, Beno Udrih and Aaron Brooks. Now I’m not comparing the USG for all 4 to each other. Because 3 of the 4 are all around 25% in USG. It’s probably the 3 you think. Only Beno is below 20% in USG. Look a bit closer. Brooks can hit 3’s and stay on the perimeter. Evans can’t. It’s not so much a matter of Martin & Evans not being able to play together as they didn’t complement each other well enough AND the other players suffered too. If that’s Paul Westphal’s fault, so be it. Far be it for me to suggest that PW is perfect after the year the Kings had. There are problems and issues with the team. And before you go on, “well Kevin was bothered by opponents defenses more in Sac”, know this: Kevin shot worse on 3’s in Houston than he did in Sacramento. (I don’t know how much of that had to do with the shoulder injury.) He plays with a shoot first PG in Aaron Brooks who uses as many possessions as Martin does. Here’s the difference: Where Martin gets to the line, Brooks doesn’t. Where Brooks hit 3’s at a 39% clip this season, Evans hit 3’s at a 27% clip. I’m a Kevin Martin fan. I’ll root (and have) for him in Houston. (I’m also hoping he dumps Dan Fegan. But that’s a totally different issue.) As disappointed as I was with the loss a week ago to Houston, Kevin surely played well enough to show why Houston wanted him. He also played on a team that finished 500 for the first time since Adelman’s last season in Sacramento.

Whether or not Rick Adelman is a better coach than Paul Westphal (and he is–but that’s really not PW’s fault) is not the point. The point is that the players that play in Houston and Sacramento have to fit with each other. Tyreke Evans and Beno Udrih fit really well, and that ongoing chemistry should benefit the Kings in the future. Especially as Evans will increase his USG and Beno’s will stay roughly at what it is or slightly dip.

I would rather a coach recognize that 2 players fit well even if 1 player who is better known, and a better talent/player than another, gets the burn instead. I don’t think the Kings ever felt that trading Kevin Martin was something they needed to do to improve. It’s just something that had to be done to improve as much as possible in the future. (To the chagrin of Martin fans everywhere.)

And that’s the crux of the issue with PW and the coaching staff. It’s to best utilize t he players you have in their most effective manner. That wasn’t the case with Martin and Evans no matter how many of us hoped that would be the case. (And that’s the problem how as I see it: The hangover of that expectation still looms no matter how unrealistic it was as the days unfolded towards the trade deadline.)

To me the last 5 paragraphs are a major aspect of coaching. Jay Triano actually admitted the other day that he spent more time on X&O’s than dealing with the various personalities and issue’s that came up with the individual players. That he needed to trust his coaching staff more and handle the personalities and the overall duties of a NBA head coach better. I’m not saying this is something that makes Paul Westphal look good. I’m just saying that you had a first time head coach making mistakes, and these are mistakes 1st time head coaches make. Paul Westphal is not that. He knows, and did, you have to rely on your assistants. I’m really not sure that he trust Jim Eyen or Mario Elie more, but I know both Eyen and Elie have a ton of input into crafting PW’s gameplan for a particular game plan. That’s one area where I think PW doesn’t get enough credit. He may not be the world’s smartest tactician (although I don’t think he lacks in that particular area). Jim Eyen and Mario Elie seem to be incredible strong there though. Ultimately, what matters is that the staff works together, that the staff recognizes how to utilize players appropriately and to their strengths, and how to figure out a scheme on 2 ends that makes the team the best it can possibly be.

Maybe Phil Jackson or Gregg Popovich could have gotten 27 or 28 wins out of this team. They might have been able to figure out ways to make Kevin Martin and Tyreke Evans co-exist. Here’s the question: Do you think either coach would be willing to take the Kings roster with what it was at the beginning of the season and coach that team? No? Me either. Therefore, the question of what other coaches would have offered was moot as long as the Maloof’s were not willing to pay more than what they were offering. (Remember, Eric Musselman is still being paid his salary, and that will stop being paid AFTER next season.)

Does Paul Westphal have a good relationship with his players?

I would argue he does. It’s incredibly important to have a strong relationship with your best player–and/or players–that would be Tyreke Evans for certain isn’t it?. I think PW has a successful working relationship with Evans, Udrih, Thompson, Casspi, and Greene to a very certain extent.

I would say that for all the hand wringing about what PW did in sitting down Hawes, people are forgetting some important things about that incident. 1) Sean May went and talked to PW after the quote in the paper knowing that PW would (and did) take it as a question of how he went about doling out playing time. May went to PW and explained why he said what he did. 2) What Tyreke Evans said was true: How easy is it gain rhythm when players are in & out of the lineup? 3) Spencer Hawes didn’t (because he didn’t want to,didn’t think he had to, or didn’t get what he did wrong (any of the 3 apply) go to PW after his quotes and explain himself. To me the issue is moot at this juncture. Spence never showed himself to be anything other than what he is. I don’t think JT is any wonderful prize in comparison to Spence, but it’s hardly like Spence is perfect or hasn’t had problems with head coaches.

Remember the issue with Reggie Theus in 2008 where he didn’t want to do sprints? Hawes, at times, has acted like he’s above reproach. There were other issue’s last year with Theus and Natt that really didn’t get coverage. Surely everyone remembers Spence not showing up to Summer League last year.There is no possible way that Hawes didn’t have issue with the coaching staff last season. (I don’t care what anyone says.) Here is the problem I have with people who thought PW is too harsh on Spence: How can you be accountable if you aren’t held accountable? Don’t the 2 go hand in hand?

As far as any other player out there, you’re talking about any number of things. Is there one way to handle Omri Casspi? What about Donte Greene? Donte had similar issue’s to Spence, but Donte didn’t go public with any of them. The Show handled himself appropriately all season long. Or at least in terms of the media he did.

I thought that PW was pretty consistent in what he asked of players. It’s just that, like Truck Robinson said, players don’t always agree and don’t always respond. Is that whose fault? The players? The coaches?

If the biggest argument against PW doesn’t know how to handle players is Spencer Hawes, all I gotta say is that you’re probably too much of a Hawes apologist to be seen differently.

I thought, given the nature of talented young men who are competitive, things could have been worse all told given the year the Kings had. It wasn’t. I give credit for that to PW, the players, and the assistant coaches on the staff.

How much effect does Pete Carril have on this team?

Other than player development, I don’t think there is much. Carril is brilliant at getting players to understand how to utilize their strengths well. It’s something he’s always been ridiculously amazing at. For all the talk of the Princeton backcut offense the Kings “supposedly” run (nevermind that every team in the NBA does that), the free flowing offense that the team has is probably more about Jim Eyen, Mario Elie and Paul Westphal. How much effect Bryan Gates, Truck Robinson and Shareef Abdur-Rahim has on this makes me dubious.

Still, anytime you can have a sage with the wisdom of “Coachie” around, you’re always better off than you were without him.

Did the offense and defense improve at all?

If you measure by points per 100 possession (or offensive/defensive efficiency), the Kings absolutely improved enough to make me think that actual coaching (even though it didn’t always seem like it) was being done. For instance: The Kings were 30th in defensive efficiency a year ago. The Kings were 20th in defensive efficiency this season. Offensively, the Kings were 26th in offensive efficiency last season. This season the Kings were 22nd. (Click on the links, if you haven’t already, and you’ll get the d&o efficiency marks.) The interesting thing is that the Kings played at an almost identical pace (94.2 a year ago and 94 this season) good for 7th fastest in the NBA. That’s one area where I give PW credit: He didn’t slow down things to jack up wins. He kept at his players to improve in a fast pace that is ultimately suited for the talent on this team.

Last season the Kings won 17 games. This season the Kings won 25 games, and even though a lot of losses happened in the 2nd half of the schedule, it was also a tougher portion of the schedule. The Kevin Martin re-integration happened on the road, too, and that didn’t help things. The Kings won 18 games at home (and 7 on the road–Utah, Milwaukee, Chicago, New York, Detroit, Houston & the LA Clippers) compared to just 11 at home a year ago. The Kings lost by an average of 8.8 points a game. This season the Kings lost by an 4.4 points a game. That’s progress. It’s not perfect, but things rarely are.

Did the assistants do their job?

I would argue they absolutely did. I’m really not sure what Shareef Abdur-Rahim actually did beyond work with players and soak up thoughts of the coaching staff. Still, I’m sure the thoughts of Rahim were actually valued by the players and coaches alike. (I’m pretty sure that Rahim wasn’t paid due to the fact that he was being paid through insurance. Because Abdur-Rahim was medically retired, and got his salary from this season, at about 6.6 million, there was no reason for the franchise to pay him.)

As far as Bryan Gates, I’m not really sure what his exact role is to this day. Does he partake in player development? Does he craft game plans? Is he critical to one part of the staff? I have no idea.

If you clicked to the Truck Robinson interview I linked earlier, than you might recognize that part of Robinson’s value to the staff was simple NBA experience and know-how. I’m sure technique on how to box-out was talked about (but not too much–this is the NBA), how to use leverage on the low post (that’s really important), and just giving players a different voice to talk to was an important role. Yet, Robinson maintained his role as a coach and authoritative figure just as well. Or, at least it seemed that way to me.

As far as Mario Elie, I would guess that if you ask most people who are aware of such things, odds are the next head coach off this staff will be Mario Elie when a team has an opening and (I suspect) the willingness to offer a significant amount of time for Elie to do his thing. It may take a few years before this happens, but this is the least of my concerns. I think the biggest area where Elie was contributed was his defensive acumen and his knowledge in the area. He is also liked by the players and you would see him coach but remain friendly with the players. Elie walked that line well this past season. He acted, as you would expect, like a professional. Needless to say I’d give Elie a positive review for the season.

Jim Eyen was noted for his defensive schemes (the zones particularly), certainly helped PW craft opinions (PW once mentioned that he would watch the Kings playing on 2 ends, but that Eyen would watch the opposing teams instead) on what was going throughout the game, and no doubt helped wherever else he could. As I said, I’m not a coach, but to the point where I can judge what effect Eyen had, I would say it was a positive effect.

Overall, I think the staff did a lot of teaching and player development (as any coaching staff does–let’s be honest on this). It was a positive aspect of this season that an established system of order and discipline were building blocks of the future for this team. Usually for any coaching staff taking over, they have to assess and sometimes change over players to ultimately make the team better. Because this coaching staff came at the right time where no real wholesale changes had to be made on their watch (that had been done on Kenny Natt’s dime), it allowed them to set the tone from day 1 on how things were going to go. To that end, the coaching staff did their job. Other than Tyreke Evans, and the positive strides made in the arena/business area’s, I would say that the assistants working so well with PW was one of the most successful aspects of the Kings season.

Do you consider the job of Paul Westphal to be satisfactory?

Sure, all things considered I do consider a satisfactory job overall given the challenges and the talent PW had to work with. This was a young, incomplete, and roster that was entirely new. Developing chemistry, figuring out which players in the rotation could earn minutes, and simply competing on a nightly basis were the single most important aspects of the season. The Kings accomplished that. I won’t be happy if this happens again (I’m looking at a 35-40 win season a year ago as real progress), but this roster won’t have 3 rookies getting minutes (and 2 who got consistent minutes all season long) in the rotation again. There won’t be any questions of figuring out how to mesh Tyreke Evans and Kevin Martin. Between this draft, (which I’m hoping will allow the Kings to get a player up front who can help them) and Free Agency (there are players out there that can help this team) or Trades, this team has a chance for serious progress.

Just the fact that there is a competent coaching staff with a consistent message, the fact that PW works well with Geoff Petrie (that’s a bigger issue than some give credence to), and has the confidence of the key players on this team moving forward suggests that, on a reasonably curved scale, PW had a successful year.

******

Let’s see here. A solid coaching staff that helped develop, teach, and maintain your game plans. Check. An improved record and margin of victory from a year ago. Check. A coaching staff that didn’t act in a dysfunctional manner. Check. Building blocks and the foundation for future success laid. Check.

I wanted progress this season. I got progress this season. And, I must say, this past season was far more enjoyable than the past 3 years combined. That should say something in-of-itself. Whether that means anything to you I simply don’t know. Having said that, given all the things that needed to change in the culture, the need to develop young talent, and improving the product on the court all at the same time, there was no way everything could be accomplished within realistic fashion. There was simply too much to change without some things going wrong at the same time.

Whether or not you’re a fan of Paul Westphal, I think it’s realistic that you judge him based on 2 years of coaching. This is year 1. There were strides that needed to be made before this team got to 35-40 wins. Those strides were had. Now the next step needs to be taken. Will it happen? I don’t know. Nobody does. But given the odds of how things usually work in the NBA, and what works successfully, I would say there is a reasonable probability the Kings will perform at a higher level next season.

If you wanted more than that, you’re unreasonable.

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Responses

  1. I remember PW talking before the season and saying that two areas really needed improvement:

    1. Defense
    2. Rebounding

    He said you can’t be bad at both and expect to win. I think early on and throughout the season he showed a commitment to both. I think it has shaped his lineups and rotations. And I think that inconsistencies from the players in both areas has helped make PW’s lineups and rotations inconsistent. Effort seems to be the key. JT was up and down, but his effort has really never been questioned. The result has been that when he is healthy, he gets minutes.

    I agree with you Pookey, when you say that you would argue that PW has a good relationship with his players. Most importantly, he has a good relationship with Tyreke, who has become the leader of this team. If Tyreke respects him, the other players will follow…even the players who get tired of running the floor hard only to watch Reke take it to the cup himself. I’m looking at you, Omri.

    I can’t say too much about PW’s X’s and O’s. His inbound plays seem to be effective. I think that someone has to get Tyreke and Landry on the same page on the pick and roll. If Tyreke can begin to hit Landry while he is moving to the basket, look out. With has much attention as Reke gets when he points his head downhill, I could imagine some much moe effective pick and pops as well. I know, I know, Tyreke is young. But if I can see this, Westphal can.

    So at the end of the year, we are a bad defensive team, with flashed of decency, and a poor rebounding team, that competes for boards at time. I have seen progress, but more importantly I have seen PW commit to these two areas. We were dismal in both, now we are just bad.

    I thought the one thing that Theus did really well, was that he was able to get his guys to play really hard. Westphal has been able to do the same. Hawes hasn’t quite learn to appreciate the taste of PW’s Kool Aid, but maybe Hawes just doesn’t like Kool Aid.

    • “I thought the one thing that Theus did really well, was that he was able to get his guys to play really hard. Westphal has been able to do the same.” I actually think Theus has the acumen to be a NBA head coach. What I thought he didn’t do well was take suggestions from the organization and was too much of a tough guy when it came to players. Too much inconsistency from his end lent itself to players like Miller questioning Theus far too often. (Miller is, naturally, his own issue.)

      “Hawes hasn’t quite learn to appreciate the taste of PW’s Kool Aid, but maybe Hawes just doesn’t like Kool Aid.”

      Hawes is what he is. Hopefully he can learn how to do the things PW wants.

      Right now, I’m not really considered about Hawes one way or the other. He had this year to show what his goods were. That the faith the organization had was merited. He’s still teasing with his talent, but not much more.

      I wholeheartedly agree, Quick, with the Kings going from a putrid to bad rebounding/defensive team.

  2. I don’t think it was any accident that PW decided to hit Spence upside the head. He could have benched any number of players. I have always thought the PW selected Spence because it was the safe choice to make.

    I’m guessing that Spence’s arrogance has been felt and noticed by his team mates and that he is not one of the most popular players on the squad. For whatever reason, Spencer hasn’t made the adaptation to no longer being the best player on the team that almost all players have to come to terms with in the NBA.

    I agree with your analysis on Westphal and staff both in that they did a solid job this season and that we won’t be able to adequately judge them until after the second season.

    • Plus Spence makes it easy to do the things that the staff did to him BJ. Way too easy. Hopefully part of his wounds will stop be inflicted.


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