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Young Players, Minutes, Coaches and Bill Walker

 

Henry Abbott (of TrueHoop) and Howard Beck (of The New York Times) are the chief protagonists is a bit of debate over the development of young players. Abbott wrote at length on the issue Wednesday on TrueHoop, and I urge you to read the entire post, which uses the production of New Orleans rookies Marcus Thornton (the 43rd pick on the ’09 draft) and Darren Collison (the 21st pick) as a jumping off point to discuss young players in general.

The discussion is nuanced, with the various writers, coaches and commenters bringing up different young players to bolster their cases—all of which have some overlap. But if I could crudely simplify the discussion, I’d say it revolves around this question: Do all or most good players eventually earn minutes because their talent just cannot be held back, or are their some hidden gems who never develop in the NBA because their coaches, for whatever reason, never let them off the bench?

Here’s the key paragraph in Abbott’s post:

But player development experts I’ve talked to at length are unanimous that one of the best things one can possibly do to help a rookie’s career is to bless him with the confidence of a supportive coaching staff and minutes to get used to the NBA game — and very few players get that. Just a week ago an elite player development coach told me that every single player in the NBA can play, and it’s really just a matter of opportunities and coaching and the team.

Lottery picks generally get minutes, because they have pricey guaranteed contracts and their team has an incentive to get production from them. Late first-rounders, second-rounders and undrafted guys? They need to land in the right situation, with the right coach, the right system and the right nexus of circumstance. Would we know much about Thornton had Jeff Bower, New Orleans’ GM, not fired Byron Scott, who had been reluctant to play the rookies? Would we know about Anthony Morrow had Crazy Don Nelson not decided to give him a chance to shoot the damn ball?

Abbott suggests there may be more guys just like this—guys who could produce in the league if they were just given the opportunity. Others, such as Beck, are not totally convinced; if a player is good enough to produce in the NBA, they say, he’ll eventually do that for some team. The cream rises and all.

I’m not sure which position is closer to being “right.” I’m still thinking about it.

But Bill Walker will be an interesting test case, won’t he? Walker became a cause celebre among C’s fans who could not understand why Doc Rivers never played him. But when Rivers did play Walker, he generally looked lost and tentative. Was this because Walker wasn’t/isn’t good enough, or because of his inexperience? Aside from a few bursts of athleticism, there wasn’t much evidence to suggest Walker was ever going to be a productive NBA player.

Then the C’s traded him to the Knicks in the Nate Robinson deal, and Walker scored 20 or more points three times in his first two weeks with the Knicks. The mob shouted: Doc had blown it, Walker was thriving in New York, and even worse, Robinson looked like the selfish, clueless lout we feared he was.

We haven’t heard much about Walker since. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) in New York is down to 13.8, a mark slightly below league average. He’s still shooting well—52 percent from the floor and 41 percent from three—but he’s rebounding like Muggsy Bogues and even the genial Mike Breen (Knicks play-by-play guy) is suggesting that Bill might want to work on his defense in the off-season. And Breen is being nice.

Only time will tell what kind of player Walker becomes. But I know one thing: He could sit on the bench for 48 minutes, which is what Nate Robinson is doing now.

  • dont_drink_the_koolaid

    even more than bill, i think nate is an example of a guy that plays off confidence and can’t be expected to produce on a new team in such a short chain.

    if the celtics win every game or lose very game for the rest of the season, it doesn’t matter at all. as mike brown says, ‘its high level practice’ time. if anyone needs pratice time, its nate.

  • tm

    Overrated, the next Gerald Green

  • What More Can I Say?

    I think both perspectives are correct, depending on the player, Growing up watching the Golden State Warriors, Gilbert Arenas was a guy that didn’t get off the pine until January of his rookie year. But while the Warriors’ were getting blown out, it was CLEAR the guy could play.

    It’s all about maikng the MOST out of your opportunities so you can get MORE opportunities. PERIOD.

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    Walker has a lot of work to do to get regular minutes on a good team. Tony Allen is much better than Bill Walker.

  • Jason

    To me, the best example that PLENTY of players can play if only given an opportunity comes from the NFL. One-time Arena-leaguer, Kurt Warner, future NFL HOFer. It defies logic how such a talent could have been buried and unknown for long. “Talent evaluators” just aren’t as good at their jobs as they want the world to believe.

    You see this is baseball ALL the time, too, when a team will sign a sub-par veteran for a multi-million, multi-year contract, even though he’s proven he’s nothing more than scrap heap fodder. Teams will select this route over giving a talented kid a shot. Happens constantly.

    These guys aren’t the geniuses they are purported to be.

  • Banner 18?

    Darko Millicic anyone? He gets buried on the bench for 4 straight years and it became assumed that he was a bust. He definitely wasn’t the best pick, but look at him now. He is getting minutes in ‘Sota and is playing productively and efficiently. Seems like he fits the bill for this piece.

  • nowayout

    One thing is certain to me: contenders do not usually play rookies (unless a lottery pick). Look at Rondo, he got minutes in his rookie season because Doc’s first priority was to develop players as, obviously, Cs had nothing to do with the title.
    Teams usually believe that you need to have veterans to win. I’ve seen Pierce preaching that numerous times

  • rav

    It’s probably true that all players will get better given some playing time. But you can’t expect a contending team to give rookies playing team, because the team will be better off with the better, more experienced players (if the rookie is ACTUALLY better, he will of course get playing time).

  • http://www.livefromapt.blogspot.com w2

    George Hill and DeJuan Blair.

  • Perry

    I was really impressed with Collison in that loss to the Hornets before the All-Star break. Obviously he would never had the chance to shine this early if Paul didn’t suffer an injury. Unlike other young prospects (Kedrick Brown, Gerald Green to name a few) Collison was thrown into the fire and made the most of his opportunity. Regrettably the aforementioned ex-Celtics couldn’t, but they did get their shot.

    I have to disagree with Abbott. Full disclosure — I usually disagree with anything that is printed in the NY Slimes. I graduated a High School rich in basketball tradition. Among the great players I had the privilege of meeting was Vern Flemming. At that time Digger Phelps was a regular at my school scouting kids. So from the confidence standpoint I would argue that those with discernable talent are made promises, are recruited hard, are stars in their community. Hard not to be confident. Fast forward to present day, and the whole process has manifested itself into one giant narcissistic orgy. With so many media outlets vying for stories and so much money being thrown at these kids is it any wonder their not mature enough to handle an opportunity when it presents itself?

    Sure every NBA player is gifted, but does their skill set match the coaching staff’s system? Are the Timbervowles happy with a nucleus of young talented players or was it better for the franchise when they were riding past the first round of the playoffs? How many years, in this kind of an economy, can a franchise coddle young players?

    FYI to the elites in the media. If you made it to the NBA, you have made it life. You have reached the pinnacle of your craft. No one can ever take that accomplishment away from you. A little financial planning and personal responsibility could spawn a nice portfolio — even if you’re booted out the league in three years. Or if you’re lucky enough like Abbot says, you meet a coach who beleives in you. Sometimes that doesn’t happen until years 4 or 5. That’s when a scorer in college realizes he’ll have to rebound and play defense as a pro in order to stay in the league.

    Personal responsibility.

    Understanding your limitations.

    Not every NBA player can be Shaq, but they could aspire to be like Perk who understood his path to longevity.

    If the talent or mental aspect of player doesn’t comport with the coaching staff, the cream should rise somewhere else. But I’m watching Giddens the other night and I just don’t think he has it. Walker can’t defend, but he can score the ball. The jury is out on both kids. We understand why they we’re not going to blossom in Boston.

    There are winners and losers in life.

    The same holds true in professional sports.

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @Perry: Elites in the media? You know how much journalists get paid, right? Aside from the stars–the columnists and top, top editors—there aren’t any elites in the media.

  • Perry

    Zach — it’s all about the Matt Lauer, Tom Freidman, Frank Rich, Mike Lupcia, Katie Coruic types shaping public opinion. Anything coming from mainstream media drips with bias, but that’s neither here or there.

    You’re talking to an ex-radio guy who started in market #260 as $8/hour sports stringer. I’ve been there man. I have the utmost respect for guy whose blog appears in the NY Times. Kudos. I know you’re not dinning at the Four Seasons every night either.

    Sure. I’m not equating elitism to economics. I am stating that journalists, who are well educated people, project their viewpoint or in some cases ideology to a story. You see I have trained eye. It comes from working in newsrooms with people who think you’re stupid because you believe in something greater than yourself.

    I personally feel the story was a bit slanted because it took a swipe at the decision makers. Those who are paid to evaluate, coach and pay talent. It’s not about victim hood, and who’s been passed over. There’s a greater context to explore and many more ancillary components to consider why some guys make it and some don’t.

    My point is life ain’t fair. If a 12th man, who has more talent than some glorified caddie (as Jack Haley was for Rodman) can’t find his way on to the court, at least he is the 12th man earning a cool million in NBA.

    I will get off my soap box now. LOL

  • http://www.celticshub.com Zach Lowe

    @ Perry. You say this: I personally feel the story was a bit slanted because it took a swipe at the decision makers.

    I’m just unclear about which story you’re talking about, that’s all. Stay on the soap box as long as you want!

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  • Charrua

    There has been some good research on that by the apbrmetrics people, mainly by looking at players that got bigger minutes because somebody got hurt, and the conclusion was that most guys played a bit better with more minutes, especially the guys with less than 10 mpg or so. Probably going in cold for a very short stretch (2 or 3 mins at a time) usually with different teammates, doesn’t do much for productivity.
    Hubie Brown thinks that way too; remember that platoon rotations on his Memphis teams.

  • Hal Jordan

    Another factor to consider is, when coaches favor consistency, veterans are usually more able to provide this. Whether stellar or just “good”, consistent play allows coaches to plan schemes knowing that execution is not as much of a variable. In looser, run and gun schemes such as the Knicks sets, a young athlete with little control a la Billy Walker can play erratically with less negative effect.

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