Not airballing my layups anymore
Join Date: Jun 2007
Re: ESPN Insider - The Official Thread
The list of All-Star players who didn't look anything close to an All-Star early in their careers is very long. No one could have projected Dirk Nowitzki's legendary talent when he first plodded up and down the courts in Dallas. Remember how lost Kevin Durant was as a rookie, jacking up shots and forgetting how to rebound after dominating the boards in college? Even great players struggle through the grind of NBA defenses before they figure things out.
With that in mind, let's examine a couple of players who have started out slowly, but could ultimately become solid players or more by the time their season ends.
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Beal leads all rookies in free throw percentage and is shooting a decent percentage from 3 ( .333). But those are about the only good things coming from the No. 3 overall pick thus far.
Measuring him against other rookies, however, can be a tricky thing. Imagine two guys rowing separate boats, both equal in their abilities. One guy is in a fast-moving stream, rowing his boat in the same direction as the current. Meanwhile, the other is rowing in a stream moving in the opposite direction of the rower. Who's the faster rower?
In other words, part of the reason Beal is struggling is because the Wizards, for reasons beyond their control and under their control, have been moving downward since day one this season. And while players such as LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Derrick Rose are so good that they can elevate a franchise almost on their own, Beal is not at their level.
Nonetheless, Beal is ultimately responsible for his game results, which include him taking four shots a game from 16 to 23 feet and making only 23 percent of them (long 2s are the lowest-percentage shots in the game). Many of these shots are coming off screens, which are difficult shots to make without being balanced on the release; Beal is working hard to get open but is not staying balanced on most of these shots.
His transition game is good, maybe even very good, where he can navigate the court and find open creases. But he's not having that same success in the halfcourt, appearing overwhelmed most of the time as he searches for open looks. The game is just too fast for him right now. It looks as though he thinks there are seven defenders on the court, especially when he's the primary ball handler in ball screen situations. He is not attacking angles properly and is making it easy for defenders to defend him and his teammates.
If John Wall, who is out with a knee injury, were playing next to Beal in the backcourt, things would surely get easier for Beal. It's a great thing to look forward to. Just as the game slows down for Beal, Wall should return, and that combination suggests Beal will have a big second half of the season.
Austin Rivers, Hornets
It's going to sound cold, but the one word to describe Rivers' start is "brick." As in, he's really struggling to make shots. Bad shots, good shots, any shots.
Rivers plays with a ton of confidence, which is typically a good thing, except when it isn't. Such as when the player keeps taking shots expecting them to fall. Unlike Beal, Rivers appears more comfortable moving around with the ball on offense -- he's actually finding some excellent looks. He's just not converting them.
The "short middle" of the court, the area between 3 to 9 feet from the rim, is really the place for guards to make their living. Last season, Tony Parker made 45.7 percent of such shots (in a down year for him), Derrick Rose made 43.7 percent and Chris Paul knocked in 49.7 percent of them. To date, Rivers has made only 12.5 percent -- basically just a few all season -- and that has impacted the rest of his game.
He has to be careful not to overpenetrate (he already gets a quarter of his drives blocked), so converting those short-middle drives is key to having some success as anything but a distance shooter. It also will help him get to the free throw line more. Making short shots and free throws will then likely help him convert more 3-point shots, where he's making less than one per game now.
General confidence in his game is one thing, but believing in himself to make shots consistently has to be earned with results, more or less.
On a positive note, Rivers has been better on offense in the past two weeks than he was at the start of the season. It would not be surprising to see him put together a strong month, as his craftiness and toughness with the ball is impressive. And if he'd start thinking defensive thoughts more often (he has been one of the weaker defenders on the team), he'd probably make his coach happier and earn even more minutes.
This week's rookie observations
John Henson, Bucks -- Nov. 21: Forget about his 17-point, 18-rebound effort against the world champs as being some kind of lucky game. A lucky game is when a guy makes a bunch of shots that he normally misses. Sure, Henson made a few pick-and-pop jumpers, but he looked good making them and should only improve that aspect of his game year after year.
Instead, focus on this: He may very well be the weakest player, pound for pound, in the NBA. But do you think this will always be the case? Of course not. We know he's going to only get stronger. Imagine the same long guy, in a stronger body, with a better jumper. Yep, this Miami game, where Henson dominated the paint for much of the night, was likely a glimpse at what's ahead for Henson in the coming months and years. He's going to be a problem for a lot of opponents.
Terrence Jones, Rockets -- Nov. 19: Jones finally got some run the past few days and looks sharp. I like how he is hanging around the rim waiting for the pass off a dribble-drive for a dunk; a lot of young power forwards tend to drift away from the paint and, thus, from contact.
Jones made a terrific catch on a low pass as he slid along the baseline at the closing of a quarter, and then finished it. He also looked comfortable beating Jazz defenders in isolations with a nice jab series that ended up in free throws.
Harrison Barnes, Warriors -- Nov. 19: Barnes continued his strong play with a 20-point, 12-rebound game that included a dagger 3 in overtime to help the Warriors pull off a big road win in Dallas. He started the game with a rebound and push-and-pull from 3 that swished, and just played locked-in all game.
Watching him and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist makes me think that the argument over who should have gone No. 2 in the draft could be a long one. Each guy has the potential to be special, but Barnes is likely to always be the superior perimeter shooter.
John Jenkins, Hawks -- Nov. 19: Jenkins got a five-minute run in the Hawks' blowout win, missing both shots he took. But they were good shots. He is someone who is used to shooting his way into a groove, and that is unlikely to happen for him this season as a reserve player.
But as long as he takes smart shots and plays the game the right way, he will still get chances here and there. Being aggressive but patient, like he was on this night, is the answer.
Jeffery Taylor, Bobcats -- Nov. 19: Taylor showed off a few solid talents on Monday. I liked how he was able to drive middle from the wing to create shots for himself or a teammate. He also crashed the glass from the corner and made plays, something most wings either can't or won't do. And his strong body and big hands help him to curl tight off the pinch post and not get knocked off line -- though he did get loose with the ball once and turned it over.
Taylor's shot is a bit flat right now. It's why he's been shooting so poorly this season. But it's something he can work on now and not have to wait until the offseason.
Bernard James, Mavericks -- Nov. 19: After blocking five shots in his previous two games combined, I wanted to watch James in his next game to see if opponents were going to pay attention to where he was, considering he's not a household name in the league. Stephen Curry will now remember him, as James cleanly blocked his floater -- a shot that was developed to help avoid blocks by bigs loitering inside.
Jarrett Jack was his next victim, as James came from the help side to block Jack after the point guard used a ball screen to get to the rim. Jack never saw him coming, which is when a shot-blocker is most dangerous.
James added one more block -- an impressive rejection of David Lee in transition, where James was able to get to the shot despite Lee reversing it to the other side of the rim. James looks to be a legit shot-blocking specialist.
Moe Harkless, Magic -- Nov. 19: Harkless did what he needs to do in blowout losses -- play the right way, as if the game was on the line. He has been excellent at slashing to the rim and not floating to the perimeter to shoot, which is a weakness in most young players.
But in blowouts, rookies tend to try to do too much. In this case, Harkless looked to cut to the rim or drive when he had the ball, and he made all four of his paint shots. His only miss was a weak attempt at a stepback jumper from 20 feet. For the most part, he looked to make plays inside of 15 feet on both ends of the court, and for that he is likely to be rewarded with more playing time.