Is Dave Joerger the Answer for the Sacramento Kings?
The NBA coaching carousel has been in full spin the last week.
From Frank Vogel's non-renewal to Scott Skiles' stunning resignation, the Association's coaching ranks continues to be in flux. Contributing to the chaos was the Memphis Grizzlies' decision to fire head coach Dave Joerger after three winning seasons. Shortly after hitting the job market, the 42-year-old head coach immediately threw caution aside and accepted a job with the Sacramento Kings and all of their dysfunction.
On paper, it looks like a match made in heaven. The Kings get a bright, young, and successful head coach while Joerger gets a much-deserved pay raise and more financial security. He joins a team whose window for playoff runs is just opening while Memphis appears to be near the end of their run.
Sacramento is desperate for success too. At the start of the 2016-17 season, they will be opening a splashy new arena, featuring a brand new logo, and welcoming a new coach all in hopes of trying to wash away the failures of the past.
Is Joerger the right one to usher in the new era? Can he restore the club to the prominence of the days when Chris Webber, Mike Bibby, and Peja Stojakovic roamed the court? Let's find out.
Sacramento Defensive Failings
Over the past few seasons, Sacramento's defense has been non-existent. The offense has improved, but the defense remains the fatal flaw.
|Sacramento Kings||Points||Points Allowed||Defensive Rating||Opp FG%||Record|
|2013-14||100.5 (17)||103.4 (24)||106.3 (23)||46.1 (20)||28-54|
|2014-15||101.3 (14)||105.0 (27)||106.5 (27)||45.6 (21)||29-53|
|2015-16||106.6 (3)||109.1 (30)||106.3 (23)||46.2 (23)||33-49|
We can blame George Karl's hyper pace for the points piling up; the Kings topped the league with over 102 possessions per 48 minutes. But the defensive deficiencies were there before Karl entered the picture in February of 2015.
Fast play aside, it is still inexcusable to allow opponents to take and make the most three-pointers in the league, as the Kings did last season. Giving up 10.2 threes per game put the whole team behind the eight-ball. Unable to close out on long-distance shots was just the start of the problem too.
On two-pointers, the Kings were 26th in the NBA, as opponents shot 50.8%. Teams averaged 24.1 assists per game, leaving the Kings in the bottom five again. There was not much the Kings did right on defense last season.
Can Joerger come in and fix the defense? If we look his track record in Memphis, things look promising.
While Joerger's NBA head coaching history stops and starts with Memphis, a .598 winning percentage in three seasons, the Minnesotan is an accomplished coach in the "minor" leagues.
Coaching a combined seven seasons for the IBA, CBA, and D-league, Joerger won a title in the IBA, three in the CBA, and one in the D-league, all while steadily losing players to the NBA.
Memphis took notice of all his success and hired him on as an assistant coach in 2007. A few years later, Joerger was promoted to lead assistant on Lionel Hollins' staff with a focus on the defense.
In his three seasons as the defensive assistant, the Grizzlies ranked ninth in Defensive Rating in 2011, seventh in 2012, and second in 2013.
For some perspective, the Grizzlies ranked 24th in efficiency before Joerger took control of the defense.
The defensive turnaround made the choice clear who to promote when Hollins lost his job after the 2012-13 season.
|Grizzlies||Points||Points Allowed||Defensive Rating||Opp FG%||Record|
|2013-14||96.1 (27)||94.6 (3)||102.1 (8)||45.0 (10)||50-32|
|2014-15||98.3 (20)||95.1 (2)||99.9 (4)||44.2 (10)||55-27|
|2015-16||99.1 (24)||101.3 (11)||105.4 (19)||45.6 (18)||42-40*|
During his tenure, Memphis went to the playoffs three times but unfortunately made it out of the first round only once. Relying on a pair of big men, Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol , the Grizzlies' offense stuck with the grit-and-grind style imported by the previous regime -- not entirely by Joerger's choice.
With no control over roster construction, Joerger made the best of what he had. Not known as an offensive mastermind, he did implement his take on the slow offense that helped boost the careers and reputation of the two most talented players on the roster, Gasol and Mike Conley.
One of the most significant but still subtle changes Joerger implemented in the Grizzlies' offense was utilizing Gasol's excellent hands and passing ability by running the offense through him while the center received the ball on the elbow.
This led to a significant shift in Gasol's numbers.
|Marc Gasol||Pts||Avg. Shot Dist.||FGA||AST||USG %|
With the ball running through the Spaniard's hands more the offense saw meaningful improvement. Ranking 20th in Offensive Rating in 2011-12, the Grizz finished a solid 13th in 2014-15 with virtually the same roster.
The other factor in the offensive improvement was the growth of Conley.
Joerger gave the point guard the freedom to dictate the pace of the grit-and-grind system. Joerger put his point guard in prime scoring positions by utilizing the pick-and-roll using with either Gasol or Randolph. Not coincidently, Conley had the best years of his career as he started to fulfill the potential since his fourth overall draft position in 2007.
Joerger is coming off perhaps his best coaching job, guiding Memphis to a 42-40 record and a spot in the Western Conference playoffs as a 7 seed despite being ravaged by injuries, including season-enders to both Gasol and Conley. The roster was laid to waste by the end of the season as the mounting injuries led the Grizzlies to roster an NBA-record 28 players this season.
He should also receive special recognition for keeping his sanity while having to coach one of the largest group of hotheads ever collected on one roster. If it wasn't enough to have Randolph, Tony Allen, and Matt Barnes, the Grizzlies added Chris Andersen and Lance Stephenson at the trade deadline. Dealing with those "characters" hopefully has prepared him to deal with maybe the biggest test of his career; he goes by the name Boogie.
Kings' Player Challenges
While many coaches would shy away from the challenge of reigning in the uber-talented but petulant malcontent, DeMarcus Cousins, Joerger is apparently unafraid.
From his repeated clashes with the coaching staff to his poor temper on the court -- 90 technicals, 42 foul outs, and 10 ejections in 415 career games -- Cousins seems always to be ready to blow up. If Joerger can keep the 25-year-old focused, Cousins has the potential of taking the next step and joining the discussion as the top player in the league.
As long as he sticks to this...
...and not this.
If the Kings are going to win, they need Boogie happy. And to be happy, he needs some help.
One of the biggest pieces, offensively that is, that the Kings will have to make a decision on this offseason is Rajon Rondo. Signed to a one-year deal to rebuild his image, Rondo enters the offseason as the reigning assist leader. He tied a career-high with 11.7 assists per game. That was a full 1.3 more than second-place finisher Russell Westbrook.
If the Kings decide to let the 30-year-old Rondo walk, their only in-house options to play the point is Darren Collison, a much better shooter (59.1% True Shooting Percentage) than the former Celtic. However, he does not even begin to sniff the playmaking ability of Rondo.
Free agency is a little light on floor generals this year. Besides Rondo, the top three alternatives are Deron Williams, Jeremy Lin, and Joerger's former point man, Conley. While it would be a nice story to see Conley following his former coach, all indications point to him Conley remaining in Memphis.
The draft is not the answer either, as there does not appear to be an impact player at the position this year, especially by pick number eight. Factoring in his rapport with Cousins, the best move general manager Vlade Divac could make, is to pay that man his money and keep Rondo around for the foreseeable future.
The Right Hire?
After three coaches in three years during Vivek Ranadive's ownership tenure, the Kings need this coaching hire to work. For one reason or another, the front office unceremoniously ushered out Mike Malone, Ty Corbin, and George Karl. So why will Joerger work in Sac-town?
Taking a talented Grizzlies squad from mediocre to a real threat in the West, Joerger proved his place in the coaching ranks. He has dealt with difficult personalities. He has even dealt with overbearing owners.
While we all joke about the public dysfunction in Sacramento, Memphis was just as bad. They just kept theirs behind closed doors.
Through all of it, he has taken solid players and made them great. He has won against all odds and should give Kings' fans reason to believe their time has come.