It’s tough for coaches sometimes to make space in the lineup for an unproven young player. Decisions aren’t easy sometimes to give minutes to a player that you don’t feel confident with. Although once you decide that you will give this player minutes I think giving them a long leash and allow them to play through mistakes. Again, this philosophy is easier said than done. Some coaches aren’t in positions to just give minutes to unproven players and have the patience or situations to allow them to make mistakes.
With all of the talk of Jeremy Lin, I feel as though there is no Jeremy Lin if there wasn’t the holes in the Knicks roster at his position as well as the willingness of Mike D’Antoni to allow him to play through mistakes. That is what makes Mike a successful coach is his patience with his players especially the point guards to make mistakes and stick with them through the good and the bad. What this does is it gives the player confidence in their ability as well as they aren’t constantly looking over their shoulder when they miss a shot or turn the ball over. With the case of Lin coach D’Antoni puts him in a position to be successful which ended up putting his team in a position to be successful. But from my point of view this isn’t a miracle of modern science that Lin has had success from out of nowhere. Listen, I don’t think there has ever been a basketball player that has come from the end of the bench to putting up almost 30 point a game over a five game stretch like he has. But, what you have to understand if you give almost any NBA player 35+ minutes a night, a leash as long as Santa Clause’s Christmas list, as well as the ultimate green light to shoot then you will see a drastic improvement of their stats.
The way the NBA is structured it is hard to give opportunities to unknown player’s with sub par basketball backgrounds. With draft picks, free agency, and veterans it is hard to find room in your lineup for players that don’t have huge basketball reputations. A lot of teams like to bring players a long slowly and at some point turn them lose into society. That development turns the corner when you give unlimited minutes and touches to a player that can play. Everyone in the NBA can play, if you give even a player that is 10-15 on a roster 40 minutes and 25 shots they will produce, maybe not at the level of Lin but they will put numbers up. An example of this was the Chicago Bull’s Mike James. Mike James was with the Celtics when I scouted for them. He was a great guy and a very solid backup for basically his whole career. In 2003-2004 he was a fulltime starter for the Celtics for the first time in his career. He was far from being a focal point of their offense averaging a career best 11.4 points a game. James went on to three other teams where he was nothing but a second unit player that wasn’t given much thought starting only 5 games in the next 5 years. Come 2005-2006 Mike plays for Toronto and is given 37 minutes a game and starts 79 games. He also is given the ultimate green light and averaged 20.6 points a game, which was the last time he was ever a factor again like that. Bruce Bowen was another drifter who played for several teams, but never could stick anywhere. Coincidently Bruce was one of the first players that I ever worked out in my career. Everyone figured for him to be dead career wise, only to get to Miami in 200-2001 at the age of 29 where in NBA age you don’t really make many leaps and bounds in ones career. Well, up to that point has only started a total of 14 games in his career. Bruce became not only the fulltime starter for the season for Miami he went on to be one of the league’s most dominant defenders. Again, opportunity can go such a far way.
When you up your player’s minutes and finally give them their shot, its important to continue to communicate with them at every turn. Make sure they feel as though there is a support staff built around them. There may be a period of shock where the player over performs, but at some point they will come down from that high and you and your staff will need to be there to explain their mistakes as well as how to move on from them. At some point you need to throw your players into the water and see if they can swim. Nothing in player development can be better than putting your players through real game situations and see how they can handle real opponents. Drills and practice is very important, but you really can’t evaluate until you give them time. A player’s confidence is all they have at a young age. It is important that you build them up twice as much as you break then down.
It’s crazy how you cant go one day without comparing something basketball related to Jeremy Lin. He has taken the world by storm and couldn’t be more happy for him. Again, the media can cast all of the conspiracy theories they want of where Jeremy Lin came from and why did so many teams pass on him. You have to take into perspective his situation and how much of a green light he really has. That is so important to play in a situation like that for a coach that understands that there will be mistakes made and its something that has been invaluable to Jeremy Lin in his development. He went from the red headed stepchild to the franchise overnight because his coach believes in him and gives him freedom. That is a very rare thing these days.