This Kings roster is unlike any other Dave Joerger has had during his NBA coaching career.
It’s a young team. A very young team. Although Joerger has mostly coached veteran rosters, he has the tools to mold a youthful squad, drawing from his experience as a minor-league basketball coach.
Coaches around the league and Kings veterans praised Joerger’s work last season, when he switched his style with the goal of establishing how the Kings would play in the future.
Thursday’s NBA draft provided a window into that future with the additions of point guards De’Aaron Fox and Frank Mason III and forwards Justin Jackson and Harry Giles. If EuroLeague star shooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic joins the team as many expect, he would be a fifth rookie.
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Shooting guards Buddy Hield and Malachi Richardson and big men Skal Labissiere and Georgios Papagiannis enter their second seasons with much to learn.
“It’s a different situation,” Joerger said Saturday at the rookies’ introductory news conference. “We have four, perhaps five, first-year guys; we’ll see how things come out. We’ve got some second-year guys but some of those guys are still young in age, also. So how do we want to build it so it can be something special three or four years from now?”
That requires patience and understanding from the decision-makers above Joerger, whose three predecessors never lasted two full seasons and dealt with unrealistic expectations.
“It’s night and day, obviously,” said Kings general manager Vlade Divac, who pointed to last season as evidence Joerger could manage a young team. “He’s putting together a great team of development coaches, last year and this year, too. Whatever he needs, we’ll be behind him.”
Joerger needs time perhaps more than anything.
“There’s going to be a lot of teaching, but you’ve got to pick and choose your spots, because you’re out there in the lights and people are watching you and there’s pressure, so you pick and choose when those teachable moments can occur,” Joerger said. “You’re not laid back because you’re still out there competing, and when you lose it still hurts and when you win, you celebrate. You go out not just to compete, but win and that’s the way you get better, and I think that’s why our guys got better the last 30 games; we tried to win.”
Joerger has already been sketching his game plan for next season, Divac said. During Fox’s pre-draft visit, Joerger broke down film with him, the point guard said.
“He likes to get up and down, get to the basket, shoot a lot of 3s, and defensively he wants to be able to lock down other teams,” Fox said. “That’s something I feel like I really bring to the table, and that’s why I feel like I really fit here.”
Mason looks forward to Joerger pushing him.
“I love a coach that’s going to help us get after it, challenge us everyday mentally and physically,” Mason said. “I’m just excited about the future.”
Of course, everyone is excited now. The real test starts during the season.
“There aren’t many teams who have had nine players in the first or second years of their contract,” Joerger said. “It hasn’t been done, but you have to give them time and keep our expectations that guys go out and compete hard every night and they get better everyday in practice, and if you come to practice you wouldn’t know if we’re 40-10 or 10-40.”