There was something about this rookie. He was more polished than the average first-year player. He knew his role and didn’t deviate from it. He understood defensive principles and often made his biggest contributions while hedging the pick-and-roll. He wasn’t perfect, not by any means, but he still spent the preseason impressing everyone who watched the Celtics. This Semih Erden kid was going to be a player.
Then the regular season started, and it’s been a different story since then. Through three games Erden hasn’t impressed anyone at all. He hasn’t exactly had a chance to, as he spent his first three NBA games doing what most rookies have done during the Doc Rivers era:
Erden watched every second of those games from his front-row seat. So much for that exciting preseason.
Rivers is well-known and respected as a so-called players’ coach, and some have noted that he’s the only leading man who can handle the Celtics’ strong personalities. But if he has one fault, it’s that he doesn’t trust rookies. He refuses to play young talents until they sufficiently impress him in practice. One gets the feeling that Michael Jordan would have waited on the bench for a year before finally cracking Rivers’s rotation. Okay, maybe not Michael Jordan, but you get the point.
Even though Erden is a rookie, Rivers might not have the option to keep him stapled to the bench. The O’Neal brothers are already ailing, and neither has ever been a candidate to play an 82-game regular season. At some point this season, and it could come as early as Tuesday, there will be a need for additional size. There will be a need to rely on a seven-foot rookie who barely speaks the English language.
“It’s tough when you’re a rookie and you understand me,” Rivers told ESPN Boston. “It’s even tougher when you don’t.”
But Erden looked just fine in the preseason, and he didn’t speak any better then. Language is a problem, sure, but the Celtics still need to give him an opportunity to play, an opportunity to blossom, an opportunity to get thrown into the fire and see if he survives.
Even if Rivers loved rookies, opportunities behind the O’Neal brothers would be thin. I know that. But when they do come, like when Jermaine O’Neal missed Friday’s game against the Knicks, why not play Erden? He earned spot minutes in preseason, didn’t he? At least when one of the O’Neals sits out?
“[Erden is] going to be a good big in this league and he’s going to be a good big in this league for a long time,” Rivers said. “I don’t know if he’s a good enough big right now.”
There’s only one way to find out, Doc. Put him in the game.