8.13.2014

Doc Gives Waltah the Call over Big Al

11/21/04

Far be it from me to question Doc Rivers's coaching at this point of the young season, but was anyone else watching the Wizards-Celtics game last Wednesday - I know you're out there, it's OK to admit it - and wondering why Al Jefferson was not sent into the game when Raef LaFrentz fouled out?

   There was 3:02 to play. The Celtics trailed by 1. They were getting annihilated on the glass, particularly the offensive boards, and Jefferson ranks among the top defensive rebounders in the league in boards-per-48 minutes. Rivers sent in Walter McCarty and, well, I was glad I wasn't wearing shoes. "They had a small lineup," Rivers said, referring to the Wiz.

We all love Waltah, but I want to see more Al. Things happen when he's on the floor and he can rebound. And this team needs rebounders. In short, I'll give Rivers a mulligan on this one - and I don't care whom Jefferson had to guard - and hope that he lets the kid get out there and learn when games are on the line and rebounds are to be grabbed.

"You'll get your wish, probably sooner rather than later," the coach said before the Spurs game on Friday. Jefferson then went out and played 23 minutes in the Celtics loss to Tim Duncan & Co.

We don't know what we have yet in Jefferson, although the signs are encouraging. The NBA's website has a statistical category called "efficiency rating" in which a number of stats are added, subtracted, and then projected over 48 minutes. Last Friday, Kevin Garnett was No. 1. Dirk Nowitzki was No. 2. Tim Duncan was No. 3. Al Jefferson was No. 8, ahead of guys like LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Ben Wallace, and Andrei Kirilenko. (Then again, LaFrentz was No. 11 and Raptors rookie Matt Bonner was 49th.   Tom Gugliotta, who played power forward in Phoenix in 2002-03, sees Jefferson these days and thinks of another high school-to-NBA kid with whom he is quite familiar: Amare Stoudemire.

"They're different kinds of players," cautions Googs, "but Al is good. Al can play."

Stoudemire came off the bench in the first 10 games of his rookie year in Phoenix. The starting power forward: Googs. Over those 10 games, Stoudemire averaged 22.2 minutes. In eight of the 10 games, he had six or more rebounds. Then, in the 11th game, he was inserted into the starting lineup for good, mainly because Gugliotta came down with a right foot stress fracture that would force him to miss 44 games.

"Amare went through a lot of the same things in the first month and a half that Al is going through," Gugliotta said. "He was all big-eyed and that kind of stuff. Well, Al has turned the corner as far as that is concerned. You come in from high school and you're not sure how good you are or what you can get away with. You don't even think of what you can get away with as far as moves because they all worked.

"In that respect, they're going through the same things and I've told Al that. When [Stoudemire] was learning plays, he was bombarded in the beginning and he was lost. I brought that up with Al. Amare, as good as he is, went through that, too. So don't worry about it. Just try to learn it as fast as you can and eventually things wil move a lot slower. Right now, it's moving pretty fast."

In his first six games, Jefferson averaged 10.7 minutes. Rivers has said he thought about sending Jefferson out in the closing minutes of the Portland game (but didn't) and the Washington game (but didn't). In Stoudemire's ninth game as a pro, he went 0 for 8 from the field and had no points in 24 minutes. In his 10th pro game, he went scoreless and fouled out in 11 minutes. In other words, it can and probably will get ugly out there.

Then Googs got hurt, Stoudemire became a starter, and the rest is history. This is not to wish ill on LaFrentz or to suggest that Jefferson start, but the kid needs to play. What's Doc saving him for? The NBA Rookie Game?

"I've had pretty good experience with Amare and it's enjoyable when you have a guy like Al who works hard and wants to listen to you and hear your advice," Gugliotta said. "And what I see now, I really like. He wants to know how to play and he's picking it up. All he needs is experience and an understanding of how to play. I think he'll be terrific."

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