Earn your keep

Dave Joerger is holding off on playing young guys until they are ready
By | 0 Comments | Mar 3, 2017

Ah, rebuilding. Nothing drives fans more insane . This is the time where we collectively drool over that one highlight-reel block the young guy on our team soared for while ignoring the avalanche of missed defensive rotations, botched plays, and turnovers. At the same time, we agonize over every minute that mediocre veteran accrues, mourning over the lost opportunity for the youth to show their quality.

The Kings are no different here. There is already a building frustration among Kings fans that Dave Joerger isn't giving the young players on the roster the appropriate amount of playing time since DeMarcus Cousins was traded. We're seeing too much of the veterans!

Well, lets pump the brakes for a minute and consider a few things.

First: the coach's job is to win games. Yes, its better for the Kings to lose now for the sanctity of the draft pick. But that's not the coach's concern. On a rebuilding team, the coach's main concern is to get the most out of his roster. That means playing better players more and worse players less. This is actually a consistent theme across the league, whether a team is going with a youth movement or not. The Suns don't play Alex Len over Tyson Chandler. The Sixers didn't play Dario Saric more than Ersan Ilyasova. The Nuggets benched Emmanuel Mudiay for Jameer Nelson.

Second: the young players probably don't contribute more to winning  than veterans. We can splice and overanalyze the small number of minutes we have to watch the young guys, but the reality is that we can't watch the players in practice. The coach deserves at least a little deference when it comes to lineup decisions simply because he has a bigger pool of data to draw from. A lot of these micro-level decisions by a coach are incredibly subjective and unknowable; sometimes working exactly how it was expected, sometimes working better than in their wildest dreams, and other times still completely blowing up in the their face.

What the veterans lack in talent, they make up in pure professional know-how. They typically pick up the coach's plays better. They're usually better versed in the defensive scheme. They make better decisions on and off the ball. While its fun to see a young guy hit a three or cram a highlight dunk, how many defensive mistakes are they making? How many turnovers? How many plays have they tanked because they forget where to go or set a screen? Substance trumps style when it comes to winning NBA games.

Sometimes, the talent gap is overwhelming enough to where a coach can't keep a young guy off the floor. The Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, Devin Booker types. But lets be realistic: the Kings don't have that kind of talent on the roster.

Last: earning minutes is good for young players long-term. Throwing unready young players into the fire hurts their growth (see: McLemore, Ben). Forcing young players to play behind veterans who have been around the block promotes good habits in the formative years of their careers. The young guys are forced to compete for their minutes knowing that a solid, if unspectacular, veteran stands in their way. There is extra incentive to learn the concepts the developmental staff teaches, learn from their mistakes on the court and in practice, and work hard to improve their skills.

Let's not even pretend this approach hasn't paid dividends this season. Ben McLemore was originally out of the rotation, struggled when he got minutes, got benched, and is now in the midst of his best stretch in two years. Willie Cauley-Stein was awful at the beginning of the season but worked at it behind the scenes behind Kosta Koufos and Anthony Tolliver in the rotation. He's playing better than ever now. Malachi Richardson worked his way into the rotation after a stint in Reno. And Skal Labissiere just cracked the starting lineup in the last game, albeit still playing limited minutes.

Internal promotions are happening. They're just happening in the background at a slower pace than some would like. Be patient; the young guys will see the floor in due time, and the losing in the meantime will take care of itself. 

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