Figuring out the Reno Bighorns with Mike Bratz

Mitch Richmond, Mike Bratz and Chris Mullin chat following a Kings pre-draft workout. (Photo: Jonathan Santiago)

The Reno Bighorns are out of control.  Under new head coach David Arseneault Jr., a different brand of basketball is being taught  and played and the results are staggering.

Through five games, the Bighorns have shot an amazing 252 3-pointers.  They are averaging 139.4 points per game, while giving up 138.4 to their opponent.  It is frenetic and wild and for a player trying to earn a trip to the NBA, a place that you want to go play.

He may not be a household name right now, but Brady Heslip is recreating Jimmer Fredette’s 2010-11 senior season at BYU for the Bighorns.  The former Baylor Bear is averaging 34.8 points on 54.2 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from long range.  And he’s only playing 28.8 minutes per game.

The 6-foot-2 guard is taking an astonishing 15 3-pointers per game for a team that runs and guns like no other.  Well, almost no other.  This is the Grinnell College offense.  It is the Arsenealt family brand of hoops and they have taken it from Division III to the NBA D-League.

But is it all smoke and mirrors?  Is there a method to the madness or is this just another experiment from a franchise that is leading the way in outside-the-box thinking, whether it works or not?

Before Sacramento lost to the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night, Cowbell Kingdom caught up with Kings assistant general manager Mike Bratz for a little one-on-one to pick his brain on the Reno situation.

CK: The Reno Bighorns, you have this new program going on up there that is strange for most basketball fans to watch.  It’s a lot of running and gunning.  50-plus 3-pointers a game.  What is the design here?  How is that style going to help the Sacramento Kings?

MB: I wouldn’t say it’s strange.  It’s a different look from what normal fans that watch TV that they see all the time.  It’s a different style of play.  A different system.  What it can mean for the fans of Sacramento or our team is we are trying something new there and we’re examining everything and trying to find out if there is something new that we see that we like that Reno is doing that we might be able to implement with the Kings and help our team out.

CK: Most D-League players have a tough time making up with the big club.  We have seen end-of-the-bench-type players.  Are you trying to make a specific type of player in Reno?  Maybe see if you can develop a run-and-gun-type player that you can bring up?

MB: No, we’re hopefully going to find a good basketball player, a well-rounded player.  When we interviewed Dave Arseneault for the job, he emphasized that it’s not just shooters that can play for him, he said, “If someone can do something well, I can use him and he can play for me.”  So it’s not just run-and-gun, fire up 3-pointers.  It’s a basketball system that’s not the normal system that people are used to seeing, but it is a system.  It’s a fast-paced system that’s a fun type of system for the players.

In the D-League, you have 10 guys on the roster and all of them want an opportunity to play.  And in this system, it’s all out on both ends of the floor for the whole game.  He substitutes very freely.  Something different than you see in a normal NBA game.  The substitutions come quickly and players are in and out of the game, but they all get a chance to play.  They all get a chance to touch the ball.  They all get a chance to show their skills, which, if you’re in the D-League, that’s all you can ask.

CK: Do you think the system can be used as a recruiting tool to get some of the better available players, be it undrafted rookies or free agents?

MB: We haven’t really approached it in that manner, but I would think that players looking from the outside would take a look at it and say, “That might be fun to play in, I might be able to shine, I’ll be able to showcase my skills.”  That’s a possibility.  It’s one that is not our intent right now.

Our intent is to build a good organization up there.  A good system.  We think we have really good people in place up there.  Chris Gilbert has done a terrific job of putting a team together, along with Dave.  He has a terrific assistant coach in Ben McDonald, who’s been around, played in the NBA.  He’s an excellent big man coach and very well respected and we’re very fortunate to have him.

We have a good system in place there.  We drafted some good players.  A lot of them are really excelling right now.  We hope that it transfers into wins.  We want to win every game up there, but the main thing is, we want to see guys develop.  When we send someone to Reno from the Kings, we want them to play and they’ll get a chance to play.

CK: When you watch Brady Heslip just going off every game, in 29 minutes a night, he’s averaging close to 35 points,  what do you make of that?  He’s shooting 60 percent from behind the arc.  Is he an aberration or is it the system or does he have a shot at the NBA game?

MB: I think it’s because he’s a really good player and he can really shoot as well as anyone.  And he’s getting a chance to show his skill.  So, I do think he has a chance to play in the NBA and I think he will, it’s just a matter of getting the opportunity.  He shoots the ball better than just about any player in the NBA.  If he can balance his game out, he’ll be in the NBA for a long time.

CK: The D-League has never been used as a true minor league system like what you see in baseball.  Is there going to be a point where maybe it could that way?  Even for a kid like Nik Stauskas, could you send him up there for a game just to get him going and get his game on track and some confidence?

MB: The way the rules are, we can send Nik to Reno to do that, to get him some playing time if he’s not getting it here.  But at this time, he’s still playing every game.  He’s a very valuable member of our team and we count on him being with the Kings the whole time.  You never know.  If a young player gets injured, we could send him down on a rehab assignment, like baseball, as long as they’re in the first three years of their career.



About: James Ham

James Ham is the senior editor of Cowbell Kingdom, providing extensive Kings coverage through news analysis, in-depth interviews with players and staff and daily coverage of breaking news since 2010. Along with providing original content for the site, including the Cowbell Kingdom Podcast and his weekly Sunday Musings column, James also contributes to and is one of the producers behind the award-winning, independent documentary film "Small Market, Big Heart".