• Omer Kahn over at Sactown Royalty was tweeting on Saturday about Entitlement Minutes and I appreciated the terminology because it really gets at the heart of what a coach is tasked with when guiding young players.

    You can check his Twitter feed right here for his thoughts and I usually agree with most of them, so I thought a (somewhat) deeper examination of what was going on here was in order.

    Coaches have struggled with this for years and at varying levels. Sometimes it happens on lottery squads but veteranism can also cost teams playoff series or even chances at a championship.

    Some coaches get so fixed on their own dogmas that they do things like play guys named Kendrick Perkins in actual playoff games despite opponents repeatedly going at the weakness – all in the name of ‘making (Serge Ibaka) earn it.’

    The Kings find themselves square in the middle of that question as their veteran roster isn’t half bad.

    George Hill is a top-20 point guard without having to really think through the rankings, and Garrett Temple will finally get the Internet respect he deserves a year later after defensive awards voters crapped themselves.

    Zach Randolph can still control tempo on offense and Kosta Koufos is a high-end backup big in this league.

    If we want to dig a little further Bogdan Bogdanovic is not really a rookie and could easily push to be the team’s best shooting guard.

    Behind the vets you have the kids and as we’re seeing they’re damn good, too. De’Aaron Fox already looks to be in the mix as the top rookie of this year’s class and he’s making a difference right away. Skal Labissiere went from being very shaky in the preseason to putting together some tight minutes over the last week.

    Willie Cauley-Stein has a number of flaws one can pick at but he got back on the glass before the Kings punted in Denver and that’s an encouraging sign.

    Buddy Hield still needs to learn how to pass and play defense but he has shown he’s going to be a great scorer. Justin Jackson does the 3-and-just-be thing pretty well.

    Frank Mason had a rough night in Denver but has otherwise looked great.

    Everything has worked pretty smoothly but when Bogdanovic returns from his ankle injury it’s going to get complicated fast.

    And that’s where the question of Entitlement Minutes vs. Making Them Earn It starts to get real interesting.

    In Denver, Hield and Mason were outright bad in the first half.  Mason whiffed badly on two defensive assignments and Hield got yelled at by Dave Joerger for not passing loud enough so the entire arena could hear it.

    Hield would continue to push the issue in a bad matchup against Gary Harris and Will Barton and neither player got anything going.

    So those were Entitlement Minutes. They had nothing to do with the return on investment in short-term but were more about what you’re getting in the long-term.

    As Kahn states, the problem with giving Entitlement Minutes is that you have removed the pressure to do things correctly or even enabled the furthering of bad habits. In other words a player can do stupid stuff and stay on the court.

    If you force players to ‘earn it’ they will focus on how exactly to do that, improve and fit into a team’s mantra of having to earn your keep.

    All of that makes binary sense until one gets to the issue of ‘having to learn from one’s own mistakes,’ a powerful and time-tested method of learning. And that’s where the Entitlement Minutes kick in.

    Entitlement Minutes are a coach’s way of putting their thumb on the scale and this is where real development occurs.

    Give a player too many Entitlement Minutes and bad habits get created. Give them too few Entitlement Minutes and they don’t have a chance to improve or learn from their mistakes.

    Last year was an example of that when players like Labissiere sat the bench or had offensive sets not optimized for their development — while Tyreke Evans and other players no longer with the Kings jacked up bad shots and didn’t fit into a team’s mantra of having to earn your keep.

    In that case, a blanket policy of ‘you gotta earn it’ was applied to young players while old players were given license to be bad examples. Sometime it’s easiest to have the different standards and just make the young guys push through the barriers.

    That said, a blanket policy and a lack of Entitlement Minutes probably slowed the development of a player like Labissiere to some degree. Does he get more value watching Evans jack another shot or by missing a rotation and searing the result into his circuitry?

    It’s the tao of coaching and the results are hard to judge in a micro-view.

    Joerger and the Kings are going to be judged in the macro-view when these guys either develop or they don’t.

    Luckily, Joerger has started the season strongly in this department.

    The Kings pushed the Rockets on opening night and with Randolph (dental) out in that game the Thin Towers of Labissiere and Cauley-Stein both played 32-33 minutes, Jackson got 19 and Hield played 33. Fox saw 24 minutes and easily could have played less if Joerger wanted to restrict him, but he was playing well and Joerger let it flow.

    Heading to Dallas, a place the Kings haven’t won in since the glory days, Joerger shifted into win-now mode when he correctly sensed that Sacto had the better team and that a road win would reap tremendous intangible benefits.

    He rolled with Randolph for 30 minutes and effectively relied on him down the stretch, giving Labissiere 13 minutes in which the second-year player made major contributions.

    Hield struggled a bit and was restricted to just 27 minutes, and Hill was tasked with leading the bunch at 32 minutes and 21 points. Fox was given 26 minutes because he was one of the better players on the floor.

    This was a perfect minute deployment scenario, unless you want to quibble with Koufos’ guaranteed 20 minutes but let’s give both coach and player a break for a guy who isn’t hurting too much.

    Labissiere earned the minutes he was given and though he might have continued earning the minutes, he left the game with a sense of accomplishment and he got to watch first-hand how Randolph controlled a game late.

    That’s leaving some money on the table but at least you got to take your spouse to a nice dinner and spring for some Gunther’s Ice Cream on the way home.

    In Denver the Kings faced very real challenges offensively, as the lineup with Paul Millsap at center and various matchup advantages Denver had put the team in a bind early that they never recovered from.

    By the second half nobody other than Fox could do anything and everybody will be partially correct in blaming a SEGABABA notorious for killing squads in the Mile High City.

    Were the Entitlement Minutes that Hield and Mason got the right answer?

    Maybe it was a schedule loss and Joerger wanted to let those guys play through some mistakes.

    Neither played a ton in the second half and that was the adjustment, but you can see the wheels turning for a coach with a tendency to play veterans and a roster that’s as log-jammed as it gets.

    It’s this specific piece of the development process that will determine if the season is a success or not for the Kings.

    Were Entitlement Minutes appropriately doled out, did the young players get max benefit out of those minutes and were veterans given more rope than they should have received?

    In the case of players like Fox or Labissiere that start to show they deserve minutes over their veteran counterparts, were they given increases appropriately?

    The good news for Kings fans is that Joerger has walked the line very well to start the year.

    But it’s early and Bogdanovic returns anytime now. Let’s see what happens next.

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