Find out how Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Honeycutt are progressing in Reno. Plus, learn when Coach Smart foresees a return to Sacramento for the Kings duo.
The NBA D-League was established in 2001 to provide a training ground for players to advance their game in a competitive setting. Each NBA team has an affiliate in the D-League for which to send players to hone their craft.
Since the 2008-09 season, the Sacramento Kings have been affiliated with the Reno Bighorns and currently have two players on the team’s roster – Hassan Whiteside and Tyler Honeycutt – Sacramento’s 2010 and 2011 second-round Draft picks, respectively.
After appearing in the 2010-11 season opener against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Whiteside, a 7-foot center out of Marshall University, spent extended time in Reno. While suited up for the Bighorns, No. 33 averaged 4.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game in 14 contests. His season was unfortunately cut short in March due to a partially-torn tendon in his left knee.
Whiteside has since bounced back strongly. After he was assigned to the Kings D-League affiliate on Jan. 1, he has increased his output from a season ago to 8.1 points, 6.7 rebounds and 3.4 blocks per game in seven outings, including three starts.
Along with Whiteside’s maturation, new Bighorns Coach Paul Mokeski might be one of the reasons Whiteside has shown greater production. Mokeski, too, stands at 7-feet, and brings 12-years experience as a center in the NBA – a position often cited as one of the toughest for a player to adjust to when transitioning from college.
After making his lone Kings appearance on Dec. 31, 2011 against the N.Y. Knicks, Honeycutt was also assigned to Reno on New Year’s Day. Following a slow start with the Bighorns, the 6-foot-8 forward is starting to establish his presence in the D-League.
Against the visiting Austin Toros on Jan. 15, the rookie out of UCLA notched a season-high 23 points and seven rebounds in 29 minutes. The strong performance versus the first-place Toros boosted No. 3’s season averages to 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in eight games played.
Due to the NBA’s compressed schedule, Kings Head Coach Keith Smart and his staff have not had much of a chance to survey Whiteside’s and Honeycutt’s recent play, but plentiful repetitions are important for the young duo’s development.
“Trying to draft them into all this travel we have is limiting practice time, which they need,” Smart said.
“I think (they need) to get as many games as they can and then maybe somewhere along the line we’ll get them back with the [Kings].”
The condensed schedule, however, could play in the pair’s favor.
“Days (where) we (have) built up a lot of games and we may want to sit a couple of guys down a little bit and give (Whiteside and Honeycutt) some reps in practice,” the Kings coach said. “I see doing that in the near future.”
As for now, Smart, who coached for four years in the Continental Basketball Association, is taking a hands-off approach with his Bighorn youngsters.
“I don’t want to be the NBA coach who is calling down there (saying), ‘How are my guys doing? Can you give them more minutes?’” Smart said.
“I don’t want (Mokeski) looking over or feeling that he has to play these guys. If they merit time to play, you play them. If they don’t, then you don’t play them.”
Kings forward Donté Greene knows what it’s like to spend time in Reno. In 2008-09, Greene became the first Kings player ever assigned to the D-League.
“It was a blessing in disguise for me,” Greene says. “I was happy. I went up there, won a lot of games, had a great time, worked on my game and just got better as a player. The D-League definitely was a positive experience for me.”
Having played with Whiteside and Honeycutt in practice and training camp, Greene recognizes his teammates’ time in The Biggest Little City in the World will benefit the players and Kings organization.
“Both are good guys, hard workers,” the Kings forward says. “I think they’ll come back more ready than ever to help us out and contribute.”