Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

Sixers rookies being allowed to grow

MCW is allowed to learn on the job under Brown

November 28, 2013, 6:00 pm

Michael Carter-Williams (left) is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals per game, while Hollis Thompson is averaging 4.4 points and 2.4 rebounds. (AP)

The theme most prevalent with the Sixers this season: Youth.
 
With four rookies, seven players who haven’t played in 82 NBA games, and no one on the active roster older than 25, the Sixers are the youngest team in the NBA.
 
For coach Brett Brown, the team’s youth is both a blessing and a curse. One can see the growing pains in games against San Antonio, Golden State and New Orleans. But even in those lopsided outings, there was much to be learned for the Sixers’ youngsters.
 
For two rookies, Michael Carter-Williams and Hollis Thompson, there has been value in every game and every practice.
 
Carter-Williams has faced the league’s top point guards, he’s nearly notched a pair of triple-doubles, and he’s had two games in which he turned the ball over six times. Carter-Williams has also been on the bench for four games with a foot injury and learned what one must do to maintain effectiveness following a short layoff. Through it all, he's the early front-runner for the league's Rookie of the Year award.
 
And the biggest lesson he's learned through his first month is quite simple.
 
“Maintaining every single day,” Carter-Williams said.
 
Though Carter-Williams has no veteran point guard sitting alongside him to show him the ropes about how to live the NBA life, that hasn’t been a bad thing. Brown says Carter-Williams has a freedom that most players never get.
 
Carter-Williams can succeed or fail and not have to worry about the cost.
 
“There’s nothing like opportunity. Let’s start there,” Brown said. “He’s getting big minutes, and he has the freedom to play and to make mistakes. I think that counts for a lot.”
 
It’s been a tremendous opportunity for Carter-Williams. Through his first 11 games in the league, the rookie is averaging 17.8 points, 7.0 assists, 5.6 rebounds and 3.1 steals. In NBA history, only one other player has averaged at least 17 points, 7.0 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 3.0 steals per game through a season ...
 
Magic Johnson in 1980-81.
 
It’s amazing what a player can do with no worries. Imagine what Evan Turner could have done as a rookie if he were allowed the freedom Carter-Williams and the other Sixers’ young players are allowed. Would Turner be a different player now? It’s a difficult question to answer. Perhaps the better question: Would Turner have benefitted from playing on a bad team his first two seasons instead of on teams that went to the playoffs?
 
During the Sixers’ postseason run in Turner’s second year, the No. 2 overall pick said he felt he wasn’t getting the same experience as the Wizards’ No. 1 overall pick, John Wall. Even though Turner was in the playoffs and the Wizards were doormats, Wall was getting valuable minutes.
 
There’s nothing like unfettered playing time, Brown believes.
 
“I stand by it,” Brown said. “Put people in a nice, clean and simple role and say this is what we want and master it in your first year and that’s the best road map for success, especially with rookies.”
 
But even with the Sixers, those nice, clean and simple roles have been tough to grant certain players. Take, for instance, rookie Hollis Thompson. The 6-foot-9 rookie from Georgetown has been thrown into a plethora of situations as a result of injuries to and issues with his teammates. Thompson has played in the paint and on the wing. He’s played against power forwards, small forwards and big guards. He's also had games in which he didn’t get off the bench and others, like last Saturday, when he logged 31 minutes.
 
How is that for a varied learning experience?
 
“I’m learning where I’m supposed to be and what situations I should be in,” said Thompson, noting that his forte is his ability to play defense. “I’ll do whatever.”
 
Thompson will do whatever he’s asked, but Brown doesn’t want to ask too much. The coach says his players, especially Thompson and rookie Brandon Davies, need to be placed into defined roles.
 
But Brown hasn’t had that luxury with Thompson.
 
“His natural position is a big wing -- he’s a three man,” Brown said about Thompson. “Once we sort of defined his role and anchored his role as defense -- Bruce Bowen -- then hopefully your shot is going to come around and it will because you invest time. Then his role will become cleaner.
 
“Right now, I piecemeal him and I see his head about to explode wondering where he’s supposed to be because he cares and he’s energized.”
 
Eventually, Brown says, the demands increase. For players like Carter-Williams, it will be about production and trips to the playoffs. Brown almost can’t wait to see how his top rookie will develop down the road.
 
“But once he’s taken advantage of that situation, his talent and his skill level is far greater than I imagined,” Brown said. “The thing that I stand by is there is a toughness and a leadership that is emerging from him that I project out. I get excited about it because he has a great intellect as a point guard than I would have guessed.”