When thinking about development and the maturation of prospects, it's so easy to consider players first, when it comes to the D-League. After all, with in-season ten-day contracts, they realistically have the quickest potential path to breaking into The Association.
But it can't be denied that as the D-League becomes more relevant, valued, and utilized by NBA teams, it's not just about the development of players anymore. Plenty of referees, front office staffers, coaches, and others are able to further hone their craft and prove their worth on the minor league stage before breaking onto the big league scene.
With that in mind, David Arseneault Jr. has quickly become someone to keep an eye on. Of course, the 29 year old head coach of the Reno Bighorns made a splash upon getting hired last season because he began doing things differently than anyone else. He looked to adapt the Grinnell System, which was a strategy first utilized by his father, on the D-League level. Originally formulated to ensure Grinnell collegiate athletes had more fun, "The System" features an up temp style where players run and gun and look to make it rain by shooting non-stop three-point field goals. In such an octane offense, players would be subbed in and out of the contest in four and five player committees. Because players were constantly moving, the team also featured a full court press on defense.
The offensive mindset undoubtedly made a splash, whereas the defensive strategy raised plenty of questions on the D-League level. They set records and stood tall as arguably the best scoring and shooting team in the minor league, but as a result, such a focus also led to vulnerability on the defensive end. The team amassed a 20-30 record, but Arseneault Jr.'s option was picked up for another season. The fact of the matter was that his system allowed players to shine. The likes of David Stockton, David Wear, Sim Bhullar all went on to receive NBA call-ups, and Brady Heslip was on pace to set a three-point field goal record before his own prowess helped him cash in on a deal overseas. The list goes on.
Fast-forward to 2016, and things have certainly changed (or better yet, progressed) in Reno. The Bighorns are sitting pretty atop of their division with a 16-9 record, tied for the second-best current mark in the D-League. Players move on and rosters change rather frequently from one year to the next in the minor league. Continuity is difficult to form. As a result, the team's success this season can be largely in part attributed to the maturation of Arseneault Jr. as a professional coach.
In his second campaign, Arseneault Jr.'s team still puts pressure on opposing defenses with a high octane offense of sorts. It's no coincidence that they successfully targeted and subsequently went on to utilize the talent of players like Erick Green, Vince Hunter, and Ricky Ledo, three of the top twelve scorers in the D-League, this season.
But the Bighorns' success is about more than merely pouring in the points this time around. There aren't as many committee substitutions. There's a seemingly more valued focus on an elevated defensive effort. Arseneault Jr. has proven to be a quick learner, taking into consideration what he knew to be successful on the collegiate level and merging it with what he's learned and come to know on the D-League level. He's matured, and the advancement he's been able to display is very impressive for a second-year coach. Just like he and his father were able to adapt in innovative fashion at Grinnell, he's been able to make strides in the D-League.
As super-charged as his team is on the court, Arseneault Jr. is a seemingly very calm coach on the sidelines. His demeanor is fantastic, as he isn't one to overreact or make irrational decisions when the game is on the line and/or things are going south. Instead, he keeps his cool, which is a rare skill among coaches in today's NBA. He seems to understand, that due to his team's ability to run and gun, there will be more scoring opportunities with the game on the line. He makes it so there's no need to panic, and such a mentality seems to resonate and ooze out amongst his players. What's more, he understands matchups real well and knows what substitutions to make and when. Arseneault Jr. has a sound understanding for his players' collective talents, and mixes things up when necessary. He isn't focused on featuring one player or another, just to garner more attention. He plays to win, and his overall strategy appears to be working with more success this season.
Of course, one man can't do it all. Arseneault Jr. has a very strong staff in Reno, headlined by former D-League head coach Gene Cross, who many people currently regard as the best assistant in the league. But the progress Arseneault Jr. has shown from last season to now is very impressive. He understands development, knows how to keep his cool, and most importantly, can react well to different situations and adapt as necessary. These are all strong attributes when targeting a potential NBA coach or player development staffer. If he keeps it up, Arseneault Jr. will remain on a rather expedited path.