No time for panic, most rookies require patience

No time for panic, most rookies require patience
July 18, 2013, 5:30 pm
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Porter continuing to develop in Summer League play

With four summer league games under their belt, what can be gleaned from rookies Otto Porter and Glen Rice thus far?

Not a whole lot. It’s merely a steppingstone.

When I compare my writing and reporting now to what I looked like more than a decade ago, I’m far better at my job –- or so I’d like to think. In fact, when I read stories I wrote from the Lenoir (N.C.) News-Topic in the pre-Internet era compared to now, it looks like chicken scratch. I marvel at how much I've learned and know exactly what I would've done differently to make my reporting better and how my people skills have been refined to help me develop trusted sources for information. Everyone who is dedicated to a career in any field can say the same things. You'll see gradual improvement that the naked eye usually does not. 

It's no different for a 20-something-year-old NBA player. I’m not sure how good Porter and Rice will turn out -- Porter actually played only two full games because of right hamstring tightness and is unlikely to suit up Friday vs. the New Orleans Pelicans (CSN, 6:30 p.m. ET) -- but whether they become just role players or stars one day, they’ll get better as long as they put in the work.

Too much emphasis is put on boxscores and highlights even during the regular season, but the same holds true for these exhibitions in which 21 NBA teams and one D-League Select team are competing.

Yes, wins are nice. No one wants to lose even a pickup game of basketball. The Wizard only have one victory in summer league. But this is a team that hasn't qualified for the playoffs since 2008 and only won 29 games last season. Most players -- nevermind rookies -- will be LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who dominated since their first NBA bounce. 

Shooting 30% from the field like Porter (9 of 30) and 33% like Rice isn't ideal (11 of 33). But every team here is different in what they hope to accomplish with their rookies, free agents and young players already with contracts who need seasoning.

Some key questions have been answered, at least against this level of opposition: Porter and Rice can get off their shots. They can create separation with the dribble. They can read the floor well enough that it’s reasonable to project that by the time the regular season starts they’ll belong. 

Rice has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to collect offensive rebounds and loose balls. Porter, who believes he has figured out what he needs to do in this short span, has length that allows him to disrupt passing lanes and can account for a lot of “hockey” assists.

Too much will be made of the summer league and how these rookies look simply because they’re not playing alongside starters such as John Wall, Bradley Beal, Martell Webster and Nene.

Instead, Porter and Rice have to adjust to free agents such as Sundiata Gaines, Marquez Hayes, Devin Booker, Maurice Sutton and Ryan Thompson who have taken a crash course in the Wizards’ offensive and defensive concepts.

When Beal was a rookie and played in the summer league here a year ago, he averaged 17.6 points and 4.6 rebounds. When the regular season started and the competition got better, however, the No. 3 overall pick in 2012 struggled so mightily that he actually cried after a game in the locker room.

Look at Beal now and how he ended the season. He’s the starting shooting guard of the future for Washington and averaged 13.9 points. Beal wasn't able to play this summer because of a stress injury to his lower right leg and still hasn't been cleared by the Wizards to play again. 

When Wall was a rookie in 2010, he was the top scorer (23.5 points) and assister (7.8). Going into his fourth year, he’s finally showing signs of blossoming into an elite point guard. If his summer league performance was an accurate gauge, he’d already be a three-time All-Star.

Need more evidence that summer league performances can be misleading?

  • Nikoloz Tskitishvili was the top scorer in 2004 when he played for the Denver Nuggets in the summer (25.7). The 7-foot Georgian played four seasons in the NBA for four teams and never averaged less than three points and two rebounds.
  • Lonnie Jones, a 7-footer playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers summer team, led all rebounders (12.7) that same year and couldn't stick after bouncing around two seasons with various teams.
  • Former Wizards guard Randy Foye averaged 24.8 points for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 2006 summer league. James Singleton, another former Wizard, pulled down a 13.2 rebounds playing for the L.A. Clippers. Foye has played four four teams and Singleton is out of the league.
  • Marcus Banks posted an astounding 42 points per game in 2007 while playing with the Phoenix Suns. Banks bounced around five NBA teams, hasn't played since 2011 in the NBA and only averaged double figures scoring once.
  • The same goes for Joey Dorsey who pulled down a high of 14.8 rebounds with the Houston Rockets summer team in 2009. He hasn't been in the league the last two years.

If by the All-Star break Porter is the same player that he was in summer league, then there's reason for concern. And even then might be too soon. For every LeBron and Carmelo, there's a lottery pick like Chauncey Billups who blossomed slowly into a five-time All-Star -- he didn't become one until his ninth season -- NBA champion and Finals MVP.

For Porter's sake, it shouldn't take that long. But plenty had to eat crow, and rewrite their chicken scratch, after prematurely labeling Billups a bust.  And my plate is still full.