David Arseneault Jr: The Steward of the System


Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Psychologists say that a leading reason why people throw down a buck on a lottery ticket is simply for the pure and unadulterated joy of endlessly daydreaming about how one would spend their winnings.

David Arseneault Jr. has already won a lottery of sorts.

After playing four years at Grinnell College for his father, he went on to play one season of professional basketball in Germany. He then returned to serve as associate head coach for the program Arseneault Sr. has built up, known as The System.

After spending two years with the associate title, but acting as head coach, Arseneault received an email from Dean Oliver, Director of Player Personnel and Analytics for  the Sacramento Kings.

"“I was sitting in my office one day and I get an email from Dean Oliver asking me to contact him. Naturally I assumed that he wanted some information about The System, metrics we try to hit, styles we run, etc. After talking with him a little bit he asked if I had interest in the head coaching job with Reno and honestly I was shocked.”"

The System is best defined as controlled anarchy. The idea is to speed up the opponents so that they are playing at a pace they are not accustomed to, thus leading to a high volume of turnovers and easy baskets for the offense on the other end. All out pressing and platoon substitutions were employed and it led to an exciting brand of basketball to say the least.

Some were stunned when Reno announced the hiring as it was unprecedented for an assistant (associate) coach from NCAA Division III to earn a head coaching position in the NBA D-League. However, as Arseneault explains, he did have some experience to glean from before being hired in the D-League.

"“I was basically the acting head coach at Grinnell the last two seasons before coming to Reno. My dad was always present however everyone acknowledged that I was the head coach. I did all the recruiting, ran practices, implemented new plays; I was doing it all.”"

While being a head coach was nothing new to David, he would soon come to find that none of his previous experience had prepared him for being a head coach in the D-League. “This league is absolutely crazy,” Arseneault told me with a short laugh. Crazy indeed, and things would only become more wild as his version of The System was unleashed in a national spotlight.

Even before the season began there was widespread speculation regarding what Sacramento was thinking bringing in this unknown guy with a crazy offense to run their D-League affiliate in Reno. Arseneault responded by saying, “I was already used to being criticized from my time with Grinnell; people are always skeptical of things that are different and I’m okay with that.”

So, how did The System fare in the early going?

"“Early in the season it was extreme. Pressing, mass substitutions and all the while I’m trying to learn about the guys we had and start playing to their strengths. I was basically trying to keep my head above water in those first couple weeks. I had no clue what would translate and what wouldn’t.”"

To his credit, Arseneault did not simply throw out this anarchist scheme and sit idly by as it faltered. He adapted, he made changes, and he began to slowly change substitution patterns to be more applicable with the pro game. Instead of subbing five guys in and out every couple of minutes, he began to leave the hot hand in. Slowly but surely the offense began to click.

When asked how the players reacted when they were first introduced to The System, the first time head coach said, “Quincy [Miller] was the key. He bought in early and he didn’t have to, but when he did everyone seemed to just follow suit. He never complained about playing time or being subbed out early in the season and I give him all the credit for that — he set the tone for everyone else on the team.”

This chart shows the adaptation of The System as the season went on.

During scrimmages at practice, Reno used a 12-second shot clock to help foster a culture of fearlessness on the offensive end. The Suns had ‘seven seconds or less,’ but that didn’t play out on every possession — in Reno it does and Arseneault believes in the mindset it gives his players.

“When a guy is told to just go out and get shots up, he’s not thinking about whether it goes in or not, he’s just making sure he gets it up and I firmly believe that helps a guy’s shooting numbers and increases their confidence on that end of the floor.”

Throughout my chat with David, he routinely gave credit to his players for sacrificing their minutes for the long-term plan, which is very strange for a league where “long-term” is not a pleasant word for players to hear. The D-League is a stepping stone to other opportunities and that’s just the way it is. Most guys don’t plan to be with their teams for an entire season, let alone “long-term,” so the mere fact that Arseneault got the veterans to buy-in early shows his leadership capabilities.

The season was full of ups and downs with the high points playing out on the offensive end and the low points showing themselves on the defensive end. The Reno head man pulled no punches when discussing the team’s defensive performance. “We were terrible on that end, there’s no other way to put it. Believe me I would watch film and think to myself ‘can this work at this level?’ Nobody is more critical about what I’m doing than me.”

With a look to the future, David clued me in on some changes we can expect to see when the 2015-16 season rolls around.

"“Defensively we have to figure out an identity. I think some pressing might work but there are still some things to flesh out so that we can have more consistency on the defensive end. To be honest some things will happen by accident. When we watch film we might see something that wasn’t planned and we can build off that and improve what we’re doing.”"

All things considered it was a good start to a young man’s career in professional basketball. Reno finished the season 20-30 and missed the playoffs, but there were some definite highlights.

After having only one call-up over the last two seasons, Reno had five different players earn NBA Call-Ups in Quincy Miller, Jordan Hamilton, David Stockton, David Wear and Sim Bhullar. Three of those players (Miller, Hamilton and Stockton) inked multi-year deals with NBA clubs.

The team also managed to set 18 NBA D-League records during the season — 18! There were 15 offensive records set, including points per game (133.1), 3-point attempts per game (46.9), and offensive rating (113.8) and there were three records set for defensive futility including opponents points per game (133.2), opponent field goal percentage (52.3) and defensive rating (114.7).

Along with the records, they were also one of the few teams in the league that saw a huge rise in their attendance from last year. During the 2013-14 season average attendance for Reno home games was 2,064.5, and this season that number rose to 2,322.2 — that’s a 12.5 percent growth year over year, which is pretty amazing. Kings brass will love to hear that as they look to possibly implement pieces of The System in Sacramento’s future.

The D-League is not a long-term league but Arseneault expressed great positivity moving forward, “Honestly, I never expected any of this so I’m trying to enjoy the opportunity and take it one day, one week, one month at a time.”

The players may come and go as they move on to bigger and better opportunities, but fans can expect to see a high-powered offensive machine as long as the steward of The System is at the helm.