While last night’s Wizards/Sixers game was an exercise in frustration for a basketball purist, it was also a chance for two of the NBA’s youngest teams to get some crunch-time reps in what could be a budding Eastern Conference rivalry.
But even with things looking more like a college game than a pro product, not every project got a chance to show his skills. Philly rookie forward Craig Brackins was among those who clocked DNP-CD’s, the same day in which Sixers president Rod Thorn said Brackins will “more than likely” be assigned to the team’s D-League affiliate (Springfield Armor) in the near future.
Brackins won’t be a pioneer. Cole Aldrich (Thunder), Patrick Patterson (Rockets) and Solomon Alabi (Raptors) are among the 2010 rookies who have already been assigned to a D-League stint while their big-league teams figure out when and where to work them into the rotation.
Heading into a Thanksgiving where more Americans than ever will be simply thankful to have a job, hopefully these young NBA players realize that going to the D-League isn’t the worst thing in the world. Ideally, they will use that time to work on their game in actual games, as opposed to sitting on the bench with their NBA teammates.
That said, here are five rooks who shouldn’t trip if they find themselves on more charter buses than charter jets this year:
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HASSAN WHITESIDE, Kings — He burst onto the scene as a freshman at Marshall, leading the country in blocks and notching a few triple-doubles along the way. Some draft analysts (myself included) had Whiteside as a Lottery or at least a first-round pick, but he fell to the second round and landed on a team that unfortunately has a glut of centers, including a more highly-touted project in DeMarcus Cousins. In his only official pro appearance, Whiteside has played less than two minutes and picked up two fouls. He is just 21 years old and still learning the game, though, and his size (7-1), athletic ability and shot-blocking instincts will keep him on Sacramento’s radar even if he needs some seasoning with their affiliate Reno Bighorns.
LARRY SANDERS, Bucks — Again, not a knock on his talent, more a reflection of Milwaukee’s depth in the frontcourt and the fact that Sanders is still a work in progress; the 15th pick of the first round only began playing organized basketball in high school. Sanders has appeared in eight games, averaging a little less than six minutes a night. As Drew Gooden continues to play well and Jon Brockman learns the Bucks’ system, Sanders’ time may decrease even more.
AVERY BRADLEY, Celtics — Going into the draft, it was no secret that the C’s wanted (and needed) a backup point guard. They got one in the Texas freshman Bradley, however an ankle injury suffered in pre-draft workouts slowed his progress going into training camp. Meanwhile, Rajon Rondo has been so incredible and so valuable, there aren’t too many minutes to pass around at the one in Boston. When Rondo does take a break, Nate Robinson fills in adequately. Bradley’s lone NBA appearance was during Monday’s blowout of the Hawks, a game Rondo missed and in which Nate started, and even then Bradley was only given cleanup-duty minutes.
LUKE BABBITT, Blazers — Even as the Blazers continue last year’s trend of piling names onto the injured list and overcrowding the training room, Babbitt hasn’t been able to crack Nate McMillan’s rotation. In six appearances he’s averaged four minutes a night, and he played 30 seconds in last Saturday’s loss to Utah. The 6-8 forward is a skilled scorer and passer who doesn’t necessarily need a lot of polish at the D-League level, but he needs to figure out a position; Babbitt is slight for a power forward and slow for a small forward.
LANCE STEPHENSON, Pacers — After his strong Summer League performance earned him a rare multi-year contract as a second-round pick, Lance squashed his own momentum when he got arrested before training camp. Since then he’s been buried on the bench by Pacers coach Jim O’Brien, though beat writers following the team have said it has less to do with any off-court issues and more to do with Lance’s defense and not learning Indiana’s offense fast enough. He has yet to get into a game, and especially considering he is still learning the point guard position, a stint with the Fort Wayne Mad Ants seems inevitable. Which, again, isn’t a bad thing.