Sacramento Kings

Vance Walberg brings offensive innovation to Kings as assistant

Newly hired Kings assistant coach Vance Walberg runs a drill at the team’s practice facility Tuesday. He created the dribble-drive motion offense as a high school coach.
Newly hired Kings assistant coach Vance Walberg runs a drill at the team’s practice facility Tuesday. He created the dribble-drive motion offense as a high school coach.

Vance Walberg wasn’t looking to be an innovator.

Now he conducts basketball clinics globally to teach an offense he implemented because like many high school coaches, his best players were guards.

That offense, the dribble-drive motion offense, was picked up by John Calipari at the University of Memphis and now Kentucky. NBA teams have caught on, too, including George Karl, who had Walberg on his staff in Denver and added him to his Kings’ staff Monday.

The Kings been looking for creativity on offense, and Walberg will be asked to bring something new to spark the style of play ownership sought when Michael Malone was fired Dec. 14.

“It’s funny because I never really created it for anybody else,” Walberg said of the offense. “It just kind of came by itself. Players really create your offense, and at the time I was at Clovis West High School (in Fresno). I had a ton of guards and you don’t have a lot of big guys in high school, and I had one big guy.”

So Walberg moved that big guy to the weakside, away from the ball, to clear space for his star guard, Chris Hernandez, who played at Stanford, to attack off the dribble.

That broke conventional thinking in the late 1990s.

“At that time it was run the post down the middle, run to the strong side, and our big guy was probably my fourth or fifth best player,” Walberg said. “And I’ve got two guards, actually three guards who could take it to the rack. So common sense, move him over, and it just kind of developed from there.”

Hernandez could get to the rim for a layup or dump it off to a big man for an easy score. And if the ball kept moving, there was plenty of space for other players to attack off the dribble.

Walberg’s system led to success at Fresno City College, including a 34-0 state championship season in 2005. He was head coach at Pepperdine and an assistant at Massachusetts before becoming an NBA assistant with Denver and Philadelphia.

Walberg said “it’s funny” to watch others run the system, as he teaches it and sees the variations.

“The main things will never change,” Walberg said. “The attack mentality, the gaps and the spacing, those three main principles will never change.”

Karl said he used to believe in calling plays but slowly ceded more control to the players in the uptempo game. Walberg’s offense puts a lot of trust in the players to attack at the right time and make the right pass.

“Five or six years ago Vance and I got together to talk about the dribble-drive offense, kind of the philosophies of it, and I gradually every year decided to go more and more to it,” Karl said.

The Nuggets won a franchise-record 57 games in 2012-13, Karl’s last season in Denver. He was fired after the season, and Walberg landed with the 76ers, but he hoped he’d work with Karl again.

Walberg is the second person with Denver ties to Karl who has joined the Kings the last week. The team traded for guard Andre Miller on Thursday.

Miller said the offense is ideal for today’s NBA.

“Just the draw-and-kick, keeping the game simple,” Miller said. “Making easy passes and opening up the paint, which caters to what the league is going to, which is an uptempo style.”

Walberg designed the offense to cover for the lack of an inside presence. The Kings have perhaps the NBA’s most skilled big man in DeMarcus Cousins, which excites Walberg.

“It will actually work a heck of a lot better, if you want to know the truth,” Walberg said.

“It’s a great way that you can hide (the center) and still make him look real good,” Walberg continued. “When you’ve got a big guy down there that demands the presence that (Cousins) has, now imagine I’ve got to decide, do I stay on DeMarcus on a drive or do I help off? If I help off, DeMarcus gets the dunk. If I stay, it’s an easier drive.”

As the ball moves and defenses focus on Cousins, Walberg said it leads to even more options to attack the basket and create open shots.

Considering the pounding Cousins takes, he’s open to anything that will free him for easier scoring chances. Miller believes Cousins can flourish in the system.

Cousins also played for Calipari, so some of the concepts should be familiar.

“He can go inside, outside, so he’ll get to pick and choose when he’s going to get up and down the court,” Miller said. “He can trail for jump shots or he can get down in the post and pull in the defense and kick it out to shooters.”

Not bad for a system meant to make Walberg’s guards at Clovis West look good.

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