Semih Erden is a rookie. He doesn’t speak much English. He looks a lot more like Shaggy from Scooby Doo than the average NBA player. And he plays for Doc Rivers, noted rookie despiser. Still, Erden’s play is commanding minutes. From the sound of it, Erden should see some playing time even after Shaq returns from his miserable bruised knee. (ESPN Boston)
“Don’t let Semih fool you; He speaks English very well, and understands it very well,” said [Kevin] Garnett. “I don’t know if he’s got all the plays under his belt, but he’s playing hard. Really, really hard.”
Added [Doc] Rivers: “I think traveling is actually helping him [learn the language], being on the plane with the guys. He’s getting it, it’s just going to take time. We’re going to play him, regardless. He’s going to make mistakes and you just gotta try to let him play through mistakes. He needs to be on the floor.”
“We’re going to play him, regardless”? “You just gotta try to let him play through the mistakes”? “He needs to be on the floor”?
Imposter, who are you and what have you done with Doc Rivers?
But Erden isn’t the average rookie. He has been playing professionally since Rajon Rondo was still a freshman in college. Really, he has. He played for the Turkish National Team that won silver in this summer’s World Championships. He’s a rookie in NBA terms, but he’s not as green as the average first-year NBA player. He knows how to play the game.
Watching the way Erden understands angles, it’s clear that he has received good coaching over his career. He screens, then rolls hard to the hoop. He closes down opponents’ drives by stepping to the right spot with his hands outstretched above his head. But he still has rookie moments.
One play last night showed both Erden’s knowledge of the game and the rookie mistakes Doc fears. Erden started the play by setting a ball screen for Nate Robinson at the top of the key. Erden’s defender, Nenad Krstic, decided to double Robinson hard on the right wing, outside the three-point arc. If Erden had simply rolled and then flashed to the ball, he would have found himself wide open in the middle of the lane. Instead he continued to run the offensive set, setting a down screen for Ray Allen on the other side of the court. One opportunity lost for Erden. But the play wasn’t over.
Robinson passed to Allen, who had curled loosely off Erden’s screen. Erden opened nicely to the ball and found himself in lunge position — where a big man does not need a dribble to score, but simply a lunge to the basket (unless he’s Kendrick Perkins, in which case he undoubtedly dribbles). Allen dropped off a pass to Erden in the lunge position, with Krstic still trailing, but Serge Ibaka rotated over to keep Erden from the easy bucket. Rather than force a contested shot, Erden shoveled a beautiful pass to Glen Davis for an easy layup of his own. Alas, Davis missed the shot, but Erden’s off-ball movement, court vision and solid decision-making had created an easy look. Even after he initially made the wrong choice when Krstic double-teamed Robinson.
So yes, Erden will make mistakes. All players do, and especially rookies who don’t understand much English and still have difficulty grasping the offensive playbook. But he also has good basketball instincts, which should help make up for his inevitable blunders.