It’s not easy trying to make the adjustment from college basketball star to a quality NBA player. That goes for players marked for an All-Star caliber career as well as the average, everyday first-round pick.
As former No. 1 overall draft pick Doug Collins explains it, the difference is almost unfathomable to the player making the jump.
“The biggest thing a rookie learns is the speed and the power of the game and how highly conditioned you have to be to play at the highest level,” the Sixers’ coach said. “I always talk to guys during interviews for the draft and I tell them that whatever shape they were playing in during college, double it and you’ll be about ready for the NBA.”
For first-round pick Arnett Moultrie, the transition from college star at Mississippi State to a player for the 76ers in the NBA has been full of detours and growing pains. A sprained ankle suffered in a pre-draft workout for Sacramento kept Moultrie out of the Orlando summer league and slowed his off-season workouts headed into training camp.
Already behind when the season began, Moultrie had difficulty getting onto the floor in games because he was still attempting to play himself into shape after the ankle injury. When Collins couldn’t find the playing time for Moutlrie during the first few months of the season, the Sixers decided to send the rookie to the team’s D-League affiliate in Sioux Falls.
In nine games with Sioux Falls, Moultrie got to work off some of the rust. He played 26 minutes per night where he scored 9.7 points with 6.1 rebounds per game. In two of his last three games, Moultrie had double-doubles. He even notched 18 points in 32 minutes on just 12 shots on Dec. 28.
More importantly, Moultrie says he was able to get into some semblance of game shape. It’s one thing to work out during practice and to stay fit, but being in game shape is a different animal. Even playing in the D-League, Moultrie admits to being winded, but he was able to work on that.
So with forward Thad Young likely out for at least three weeks with a Grade I hamstring strain (see story), Moultrie is finally going to get a chance to sink or swim, according to Collins.
Ready or not, here he comes.
“I’m pretty much ready to go,” Moultrie said. “Whatever the team needs me to do I can go out there and do it.”
And talk about being thrown into the fire … Moultrie, along with Spencer Hawes, Lavoy Allen and Kwame Brown, will attempt to plug the chasm left in the absence of Young and All-Star center Andrew Bynum against the tough Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night. According to Collins, not only are the Pacers loaded in the frontcourt, but they also just might be playing as well as any team in the Eastern Conference.
It wouldn’t be a surprise, says Collins, if the Pacers make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
So what better team to use as a measuring stick for Moultrie?
“Arnett has worked hard and I think going to the D-League helped him,” Collins said. “Our veterans have worked with him and I get the sense that he’s starting to understand what this is all about.”
Moultrie has had plenty of chances to watch and learn from his apprenticeship in the league. Of the Sixers’ first 47 games, Moultrie has seen action in just 15 of them. He’s scored 18 points and grabbed 21 rebounds with highs of four points and four rebounds. When Young went down with his injury during the second quarter of Monday night’s game, Moultrie got a career-high 12 minutes.
He should surpass those totals on Wednesday night against Indiana. At the very least, Collins is expecting to see something from the rookie.
“Energy,” Collins said when asked what he needs most from Moultrie. “He should be able to get out on the pick-and-rolls and get into their rotations with his mobility. He’s going to have to rebound his position. I think the big thing for him is going to be the physicality of playing low-post defense. We’ll see how he handles that.”
Moultrie sounds confident. After averaging a double-double last season at Mississippi State, Moultrie says rebounding is his forte and he expects to be able to grab a few when he gets a chance to play.
“I’m a rebounder so I’m going to be out there trying to rebound the basketball,” he said.
It’s a good thing, too, because Young has been the Sixers’ most consistent scorer and rebounder this season. In fact, Collins says Young has been the team’s most important player this year, if not the MVP.
So with Young, a product of Mitchell High in Memphis, Tenn., out, in steps the rookie from Raleigh Egypt High in Memphis ready for his chance.
Game time, rookie.