WALTHAM - Where have you gone, Marcus Banks?
The second-year point guard was conspicuously absent from the Celtics' final exhibition game vs. the Pistons. DNP-Coach's Decision.
Jiri Welsch started at point guard in place of the injured Gary Payton. Delonte West received the backup minutes. In the previous two exhibition games, both against Cleveland, Banks played a total of two minutes.
Coach Doc Rivers had said he wanted to give West and Banks complete game experiences, allow them to play through mistakes, and not divide time between them.
But as the regular season approaches, it's uncertain what role Banks will play.
"He's made some strides," said Rivers. "He needs to make more strides, obviously, but he's working at it. I've been happy with Marcus, as far as where he's come from, from what I saw this summer.
"I think he's honestly trying to make himself better but, more importantly, make his teammates better when he's on the floor. That, to me, is where he has to improve. When he comes on the floor, the team still functions, not Marcus. He can play as big as the backup point guard role or as low as no role. That's going to be determined by him."
The events of the past year have changed the way Banks looks at his job. Although the young point guard remains sure of his abilities and certain of a successful stay in the league, he recognizes running a team takes more than running fast. Banks understands his speed means little if he cannot make sound decisions.
With Payton serving as a mentor, Banks hopes to learn the art of being an NBA point guard.
"Of course, I want to be the backup," said Banks. "There's no question about it. I feel I can do a pretty solid job when my number is called. Unfortunately, it's preseason, it's really early, and guys are playing well. Right now, I'm on the sidelines. I'm a team player. Whatever is going well, we're going with that."
For now, that appears to be Welsch as the backup point guard and West gaining serious consideration for whatever minutes remain.
Rivers expects a clearer role for Banks will evolve during the season.
Few lottery picks have experienced as large a dose of NBA reality in one year as Banks. Before his rookie season, some predicted Banks would be the Celtics' starting point guard. All the hype hurt Banks, raising even his expectations way beyond what was reasonable.
The job eventually went to free agent Mike James, who had slightly more experience. In a backup role, Banks averaged 5.9 points per game and 2.2 assists in 17.1 minutes. Whether Banks deserved more playing time reportedly became a point of contention between coaches and director of basketball operations Danny Ainge last season.
In limited exhibition action, Banks has averaged 6 points per game and less than one assist in 11.6 minutes.
Scoring a career-high 28 points in the regular-season finale vs. Atlanta provided a boost of confidence. His career-high seven steals against Golden State in early April and career-high seven assists at Portland in February were more significant, though he still struggled with the point guard thought process.
A year older at 23, and, he says, a year wiser, Banks has been tested by his current situation. But he came through a tough offseason still optimistic yet more realistic about what his role might be.
Trouble surfaced during summer league play when Rivers criticized Banks and said West displayed more poise at the point. Then, there was the trade/no-trade with the Lakers. Banks thought he was headed back west, closer to his hometown of Las Vegas, until Payton failed to show for a physical. As a result, Banks returned to Boston uncertain of his future, but determined to make a strong second impression.
"The way I've got to approach this job is come to work hard every day," said Banks. "It's really that simple. Off time, I've got to come in the gym and get shots up, just be a player and be a teammate. I've got to be out here on the [practice] floor and get things done and let your teammates know that you're working hard."
Back in Boston after being kept in limbo for a week, the organization worked to regain Banks's trust. Now, Banks must gain his teammates' trust on the court.
Payton has told Banks to concentrate on controlling the tempo, being patient, and getting the team into its sets. The rest will fall into place.
"He needs to run the ball club," said Rivers. "He can run himself. Marcus Banks has no problem getting his shot off and he has no problem pushing it up. His big problem is making his team better. Once he gets his team's trust that he can do that, then Marcus Banks is a pretty good player in our league."