As a rookie, playing time is usually sporadic.
The average first-year player in the NBA is subject to hazing. Calls from officials aren’t likely to be favorable, and the adjustment period usually takes the entire season.
And then there are the Golden State Warriors, who have traded away one star in Monta Ellis, have seen another go down for most of the season in Stephen Curry, and walk into most nights with a wafer-thin bench.
That’s when you become Klay Thompson, Charles Jenkins and Jeremy Tyler. That’s when you become the NBA rookie with all the playing time and responsibility you can handle.
“We try to tell these guys every day that they are in a unique position and should take advantage of it,” veteran forward David Lee said.
With the Warriors missing so many key pieces, and with rampant whispered allegations of tanking to keep a lottery pick that could potentially go to the Jazz, Golden State fought hard against Utah on Friday night, eventually losing 104-98 before 18,933 at EnergySolutions Arena.
Even with the defeat, one could easily see why the Warriors are so excited about the future. And why they so desperately want to keep their draft pick and add another piece to an explosive young corps.
Thompson is proving to be one of the bright young shooting guards in the league, a pure shooter with range and size. His 23 points against the Jazz came on a dizzying array of smooth jumpers and post-ups that resulted in midrange baskets.
“He’s as good a shooter as there is in this league,” Golden State coach Mark Jackson said. “He’s learning the game, night in and night out. I thought he had an outstanding performance tonight.”
Jenkins labels himself the second-best point guard in Hofstra University history, behind Speedy Claxton, who once helped San Antonio to an NBA title. Like Claxton, he was a relative unknown to all but NBA scouts. Like Claxton, Jenkins is proving himself more than capable of having a long career in the league.
Al Jefferson was unstoppable against Tyler, who famously skipped his senior year of high school to play overseas. But Tyler scored 14 points and grabbed five rebounds in 20 minutes, making Jefferson work at the defensive end.
Jackson acknowledged his excitement at the prospect of pairing those three with Curry, Lee and former Utah star Andrew Bogut next season, when everyone is healthy. The thought of a lottery pick in the deep 2012 draft makes the Warriors salivate even more.
“We think we have a chance to be very good next season,” Jackson said. “Once these guys get a full offseason under their belts, and we get our guys back and healthy, we will have a chance. For now, it’s tough. But the future is bright.”