Thursday, January 8, 2009

Balancing a razor's edge

Made it over to the Lakers-W's game in OAK last night. [Here's the box score.]

Watching two of the league's best veteran coaches manage minutes for their young players reminded me of something Jim Boylen told me Rudy Tomjanovich used to say about balancing winning and developing young guys: "You can't serve two masters."

To paraphrase Rudy, "It's like balancing on a razor's edge. You can fall off either side if you're not careful."

For the Lakers, who have some injuries, Coach Jackson got 6-foot-9 rookie Sun Yue into the game for a few minutes. As this article describes, Sun looked "uneasy" on the court.

Sun entered the game in the second quarter with 5:56 left and the Lakers leading by 16 points. He was back on the bench with 2:42 left in the second quarter and the Lakers lead down to seven points.

After the game, Sun admitted he's not comfortable with the system yet, saying, "I might not be getting used to the whole system 100%, but I think I'm at about 60% and it's getting better."

According to Coach Jackson, the staff has a plan for Sun:

"He's still a guy learning how to manipulate the offense and get into the position where we want to work on the floor. We just want him to go in there and play spot minutes, just do a job. I thought he did fine. He hustled and he worked hard. Things deteriorated around that group that was out there, [but] it wasn't all his fault. He has practiced hard. He's worked hard on his game. He's not ready yet, but he's going to have to play. Some of it's about advancing the ball and setting up the offense and being comfortable under pressure out there."

On the other side, Don Nelson got rookie Anthony Randolph into the game for nearly 15 minutes. He finished with 8 pts, 2 rebs, and 3 fouls.

After the game, Coach Nelson said he's trying to "bring my guy along the way I think is best. [Randolph] takes things for granted and he's got to work his way into it."

What often goes unseen to even ardent followers of basketball is how the flow or momentum of the game changes when young players who aren't as comfortable with the system enter the game.

In Sun's case, he showed good athleticism, ran the floor well, and can handle for his size, but he lacks experience and clearly is not ready to be on the floor for extended periods with a team challenging for an NBA title. Of course, with all of LA's injuries, Derek Fisher needed rest, which gave Sun a chance to play some.

This game was a good example of how every possession of a game is important. Every time down the floor matters. With Sun, three minutes had a real impact on the game.

Two final observations:

1. Kobe's out for pre-game and halftime warm-ups and, unlike a lot of guys, isn't chatting or casually shooting. He's focused, taking game-speed jumpers.

2. W's fans are incredible. 20k there last night. Knowledgeable. Passionate. Loyal.