Sure, Montrezl Harrell is a mammoth of a man and tenacious
defender, but Shai Gilgeous-Alexander was already oozing with
confidence by the time he got the switch.
The young Canadian had already made a fool of Dennis Schroder on
a few possessions, so when Kentavious Caldwell-Pope came with a
hard show to trap the Oklahoma City Thunder’s young star, Shai
crossed over from left to right, faking the two defenders out of
their shoes. He slithered to the rack and threw down a two-handed
Somewhere, Chris Paul was smiling.
Gilgeous-Alexander, of course, spent last season as Paul’s
understudy. And although Paul would’ve probably finished the play
off by finding a backdoor cutter, the entire sequence had Paul’s
fingerprints on it.
So know this: the journey to becoming a superstar in the NBA
isn’t as simple as giving a kid the ball and the keys to a
franchise. More often than not, young players with promise have to
learn as they go. Just like Gilgeous-Alexander did. Just like RJ
Barrett, Obi Toppin and Immanuel Quickley will.
Above all else, that’s why the New York Knicks’ decision to run
it back with Derrick Rose -- especially considering what they had
to give up in exchange for him -- was a no-brainer.
It’s disconcerting the extent to which NBA fans allow themselves
to be peddled falsities. Once upon a time, we were told that
tanking was the best way to building a contender. Not too long ago,
we were led to believe that hoarding cap space was the way to sign
impact free agents and more recently, for some reason, many have
been led to believe that players with promise need to be force-fed
the ball for 40 minutes per night.
You know what young players really need more than anything else?
Guidance and experienced wisdom.
Neophytes need to learn how to win games and see, first-hand,
what kind of commitment it takes to be successful in the NBA. They
don’t need to be on the receiving end of 30-point blowout losses or
to be torn apart by the likes of Jrue Holiday or Patrick Beverley.
They need veteran players whose attitudes and habits help them get
to the next level. They need a coaching staff that connects with
them and helps them develop their talents, and they need to be
properly primed before they’re entrusted with the marbles.
They need to marinate, and they need players who've been there
and done that before them help with their seasoning. For the gross
majority of players, this is fact even if some players
-- LeBron James, Damian Lillard, Donovan Mitchell and Luka
Doncic to name a few -- are ready from Day 1.
Far more players have been brought along slowly and surely. In a
basketball culture that is often fooled into thinking there’s only
one way to do things, the want to see immediate dividends on the
investment in a player with potential is understandable... It’s
just not usually the reality.
About 25 years ago, a young backup guard named Sam Cassell was
instrumental in helping deliver two NBA championships to the
Houston Rockets. Nonetheless, he couldn’t find a starting role
playing behind a bevy of accomplished veterans that included Kenny
Smith, Vernon Maxwell and Clyde Drexler.
Humbled, Cassell studied under the veterans, learned some
lessons and applied the teachings in his subsequent stops. He ended
up enjoying a fruitful career, to say the least.
The late, great Kobe Bryant became a starter in his third
season, but only after it became apparent that he was the
franchise’s future and that Eddie Jones, Nick Van Exel and Derek
Fisher didn’t quite have the same gifts.
In more recent times, Draymond Green, CJ McCollum, Jaylen Brown
and Fred VanVleet are examples of players who spent their first
couple years fighting for their keep. Before Giannis Antetokounmpo
was a two-time MVP, he was playing behind the likes of Ersan
Ilyasova, John Henson, Larry Sanders and Zaza Pachulia. Same with
Stephen Curry, who has preached patience with rookie James Wiseman
and pointed out that Curry
himself "used to get benched for Acie Law."
In other words, most young NBA players are like seeds. They need
to be planted, given proper conditions and some time. Not everyone
comes into the league 100 percent ready, and that’s fine. Nobody
likes force-ripened fruit, anyway.
That’s exactly where players like Derrick Rose come in.
Given his relationship with Tom Thibodeau, the early returns
suggest that he’ll fit right in by providing the Knicks a
much-needed attack guard who can help make the game easier for the
team's youngsters, who Rose will ultimately help bloom.
At this point in his career, on an individual level, the former
MVP is a player who has gone from the top of the mountain to the
bottom of the barrel and back. Through it all, he’s kept a positive
attitude and persevered. A step slower and less athletic than he
was 10 years ago, he's come to rely more on his ability to see
through defenses and penetrate them than his blinding athleticism.
At 32 years old, he plays the game more like an aging halfback who
has to plan his cuts rather than a greyhound chasing a rabbit. As
he’s aged and enjoyed his renaissance, Rose has naturally become
more methodical about his game. Those are qualities that any young
guard would be wise to develop.
Serving as understudy worked out quite well for
Gilgeous-Alexander. There's no reason to believe the same fate
doesn't await Quickley and the Knicks' other promising
Although far from a front-office lifer, Leon Rose has spent a
lot of time around the Knicks organization. In the recent past, New
York has always sought the shortcut. In the end, they discovered
that the only thing shortcuts are good for is making you bleed.
The road to respectability in the NBA -- a long, windy,
treacherous one -- can only be successfully traversed with steps on
Today more than ever, players watch one another, talk, share war
stories, form relationships and create alliances, but nobody wants
to join a sinking ship. No franchise-altering player will
proactively take his talents to a losing franchise more renowned
for its off-court shenanigans than on-court promise. So the first
step toward helping the Knicks regain some respect around the NBA
is to string together some wins, show some sort of developmental
culture and overachieve relative to the individual parts. It’s
precisely what the Brooklyn Nets did and,
if you look closely, it seems to be precisely what the Knicks are
attempting to do. Rose is a means to that end.
Despite the Knicks' inclusion of Charlotte's second-round draft
pick, trading Smith for Rose is a no-brainer. Rose provides the
club with attributes they need that Smith didn’t possess, and the
11-year veteran gets them closer to the playoffs than Smith would
For a franchise attempting to find its way, the Rose acquisition
is a low-risk move with a potentially high reward, especially if
Rose is able to impart any of his wisdom or teachings to
Thibodeau’s young and impressionable group of players.
So the next time Jaylen Brown draws praise or
Gilgeous-Alexander impresses you, remember when they were seeds.
Realize that now, in New York, they’ve just begun planting.