Editors Note: This interview took place on Wednesday, June 29, 2011 before the NBA locked out their players.
This is the third and final edition of the Cowbell Kingdom summer interview series with Coach Paul Westphal. In today’s edition, we talk about last year’s second round pick, Hassan Whiteside, as well as new comers Tyler Honeycutt and Isaiah Thomas. Loaded with potential, a bum knee wiped out almost the entirety of Whiteside’s training camp last season. After playing four minutes in the season opener, the young seven footer out of Marshall never saw the floor again at the NBA level and later admitted to being more injured than originally thought.
Honeycutt and Thomas both fell hard on draft night, slipping into the second round where the Kings gladly scooped them up. With so many young players on the roster, Westphal answers how this group fits into the Kings’ rebuilding blue print.
James Ham: Hassan Whiteside is a similar player to Samuel Dalembert on the defensive end – a shot blocking defensive specialist. How is he progressing? How is his recovery from last season’s knee surgery?
Coach Westphal: Well, his recovery is coming along well, but it takes a long time. He’s just starting to shoot baskets and move around a little bit. He can run on a treadmill like a champ. He’s been working hard. He’s an intriguing player, but it’s hard to even say what his progress is because there is no measurement of him competing in basketball to define progress. He’s been around watching and trying to pick up as much as you can by watching. He’s been working on his body. So much of what’s going to happen with him is going to depend on how completely his knee heals and how much he can pick up what the NBA is all about.
Defensively, it’s funny, he can be compared to Dalembert in some ways because they are similar size and shot blockers. But Dalembert usually blocks his own man’s shot. Hassan is a weakside shot blocker. Their style is very different even though they have similar body types. It will be interesting to see how Hassan is able to bring his skills to the NBA.
Read more after the jump.
James Ham: There has been a lot made about whether Hassan was possibly more injured than he let on last season. And that maybe he wasn’t completely upfront with the Kings about the level of pain in his knee. Does he need to learn to be more honest and vocal to you and the medical staff when it comes to injuries?
Coach Westphal: Well, I don’t know if upfront is exactly what I would call it. As a player, any player, a lot of times you think it is only pain and I can push through it, and maybe this is just what it’s going to feel like so they try to play. I think Tyreke did that, I think Whiteside did that and I think Sam Dalembert did that. At the same time, that’s one of the things you admire about a professional athlete. You don’t want someone who’s going to sit out every time something hurts a little bit. Jason Thompson is a perfect example of a guy who just keeps playing. Unfortunately, sometimes when you do that, people have a field day talking about what a lousy player you are. It’s really something that every player has to figure out for himself, because nobody can feel your body, the only one who can feel it is you. And then walk that line between playing hurt, which everybody does, and playing injured which isn’t smart. Every situation is different and we can look back on it and say, “I should have done this, or I should have done that,” but the bottom line is, nobody really knows. You need to listen to the medical advice.
James Ham: You brought in Tyler Honeycutt with the 35th pick – obviously, you weren’t expecting him to be available there. I know in the past, you have talked about how Jason Thompson was forced into action earlier than you would have liked in his rookie and sophomore seasons. Is Honeycutt one of those guys that you are looking at long term, as opposed to immediate help? Is he a player that you might let watch a lot of basketball this year?
Coach Westphal: I would expect that’s how it will unfold. You don’t know what happens with injuries, sometimes things change. Right now, I think he’s in a great position to learn what this league is all about and refine his game. Every player wants to say, “I’m going to come in and play right away”, but for his long term good, it probably is better for him to learn by watching for a little while. I’m not saying that’s the only way it can unfold, but we could have the luxury of spending some time teaching him before we have to throw him out into the fire.
James Ham: Isaiah Thomas you got with the 60th pick. He has some skills that resemble maybe a JJ Barrea or one of the other quick, electric bench players in the league. Would you say he is a little further along in the maturation process than Honeycutt?
Coach Westphal: I don’t really want to compare him to Honeycutt, but I do think that Isaiah is somebody who is quite sure nothing will stop him. He’s overcome a lot of obstacles and skill-wise, he’s probably more ready to play an NBA game than most second round draft choices, that’s for sure. His biggest obstacle is going to be the same thing that’s been his biggest obstacle his whole career – he’s short. He’s overcome it every place else and he’s completely convinced he’ll overcome it here and I hope he’s right. A lot of short people can’t overcome that obstacle in the NBA, really talented short players. JJ Barea did it, other players have done it and it’s going to be hard to tell Isaiah that he’s not one of those who can’t overcome it. He’s got a good shot.
James Ham: Hassan only played something like four minutes in total last season. How do you see this working coming into the season with Isaiah Thomas, Tyler Honeycutt and of course Jimmer Fredette, as well as Whiteside? Can you walk into the season with what is really four rookies on the roster?
Coach Westphal: Well yeah, that’s part of our rebuilding. We need to get some young players with upside and develop them. At the same time, we want to add a little more veteran presence. Our roster is not complete yet and it’s hard to know what it will look like when the smoke clears. It’s very conceivable that all four of those guys will be on the roster, but outside of Jimmer, I don’t anticipate any of them playing major minutes. But if they progress to a point where they demand major minutes, we are so much better for that.
Hopefully this won’t be the last time we talk to Coach Westphal this summer, but with the lockout, there’s no telling. With Hassan Whiteside basically missing his entire first season, the Sacramento Kings could very well walk into the year with four rookies on the roster. If that isn’t difficult enough, three of those players are second round picks. How Jimmer Fredette fits in is easy to figure, but if you look at the other three young players, they are all very nice specialty pieces that if groomed properly could pay huge dividends down the road. Every NBA team could use a shot blocker, a defensive specialist wing and a change of pace, spark plug off the bench player, which is exactly what the Kings might have in Whiteside, Honeycutt and Thomas. There are no guarantees, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see all three of these guys make the roster and become rotational players down the road.