It's planting season, when seedlings are placed in the fertile soil of agrarian Las Vegas in hopes that they quickly grow into contributing basketball players.
Personally, I'm purposefully slow to come to final conclusions on rookies. In fact I have sort of a system -well, more like a hodepodge of factors to take into account in judging young guys as they begin their careers:
Sometimes you can tell a guy's got it right away. When Al Jefferson played in his first summer league game a few years back, I was blown away. I'd never seen him play and was worried about his unbelivably dreadful athleticism results from the combine. (Hey that's another thing!: Don't put too much faith into those speed and agility stats.)
Anyway, Big Al on day one had the magic footwork and touch. You just knew he was going to be something special.
On the other side of things, sometimes a guy looks so lost or lethargic, you know immediately he's LaRue Martin reincarnated and you can pretty much give up all hope for him. Jerome Moiso would be a good example.
THEN there's everybody else— the vast majority of players. Jeff Green had a bad first game. So what? Marco Belinelli scored 37 in his debut. Great. That may or may not translate to the league. Most guys take time to evaluate. SOME guys take years before you can pass judgement one way or the other.
When Chris Wallace turned three choices in a strong draft into Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown, and Joe Forte; no one knew how any would turn out (least of all apparently, Chris himself). Kedrick could electrically jump to the clouds. Joe looked a little young and shy. Forte seemed fairly sharp in summer league. ...You know what happened... The point is, it takes a lot of time before verdicts can be reached on young guys, and what you see at first is not necessarily what you will end up getting.
This is not like olden times when Cedric Maxwell played four years of college and could step right in his rookie season and look like a wizened vet— followed only one year later by a 5th year senior from the midwest arriving and being -ahem- even more impressive (I forget his name). But even back then, when virtually all rookies came in with four years of college, you normally expected a sizable adjustment period.
NOW most of the top talent are relatively young down to incubator status. So here are the factors I use that earn guys a longer time before deciding on whether I like them or not as players:
*IF they've got a TEMPORARY injury like a chronically pulled muscle, a slow healing twisted ankle, or Al's misdiagnosed bone chips, you can't judge them quickly. I CANNOT believe the number of Celtics fans who condemned Al Jefferson while he was obviously hurt in his second year. (Have YOU done your penance yet, you Al-misjudgers you?)
If a guy's injured like Luke Jackson and has permanently lost his athleticism (which is what made him good in the first place) well that's a different story. Feel free to judge away!
So FACTOR A: -TEMPORARY INJURIES- extra time.
*IF a guy is REALLY young, you can't judge him. This probably applies to the Celtics more than any other team, with their all time record for stockpiled high schoolers. Young guys regularly enter the league too early because the money's there or sometimes because college isn't right, and they're often not ready physically, fundamentally, and emotionally. Jermaine O'Neal took years before he put up impressive stats (or even got minutes). You have to judge young guys slowly.
FACTOR B: -YOUNG- extra time.
*This is even further stressed if a young guy is physically immature— by that I mean frail and not yet grown into his own body. The poster child for this is our own Gerald Green. I've said many times- Gerald's biggest drawback (more than the lack of a particular skill) is how easily he's knocked off balance on both ends. He looked more "grown up" against Portland the other night. ONLY AFTER he fills out will you be able to fully judge him.
Let's face it, NO ONE knows what Gerald's future is. As Steve Bulpett said in an FSN interview a few weeks back (paraphrasing): "In three years he could be a star. In three years he could be out of the league. No one knows."
Gabe Pruitt has not filled out yet physically. He needs time too.
FACTOR C: -PHYSICALLY YOUNG- extra time.
*The opposite of this is the guy who arrives out of shape. Sometimes it's a guard like UCONN's Marcus Williams, but 90% of the time it's a big guy. Kendrick Perkins and Big Baby are good examples. Out of shape players go either way- they change or eat themselves into career oblivion. Perk remade himself! It takes a long while. The player HAS to show signs of working in the right direction on this early on, lest he fade into a bloated downward spiral of tomhamiltonness.
FACTOR D: -OUT OF SHAPE WITH A TENDENCY TOWARD WEIGHT GAIN- extra time IF he begins to work on the problem immediately.
*The most obvious: points and centers tend to take longer to develop. They just do.
FACTOR E: -POSITIONS 1 OR 5- extra time.
To add some historical perspective: Under old time standards, this would have been Perkins' rookie year, Jefferson's senior year, Green's junior year, Rondo's senior year, and so on.
The Celtics have three rookies with serious chances of making the team: Pruitt, Davis, and Wallace. One has not filled out. One is not in top shape. One played out of position in college and was undrafted. It will probably take time to judge all of them.