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.