Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 2/22/12
MILWAUKEE It is, by all accounts, a crazy season in the National Basketball Association. A 161-day lockout led to a shortened training camp and a condensed, 66-game regular season that started much later than usual has made for some interesting changes. The schedule has been hectic for seasoned veterans. For rookies, though, it has been even more difficult. In a normal season, rookies would be drafted in June and work out briefly with the coaching staff before heading to summer league play in either Orlando or Las Vegas. They'd then get some additional work with the coaches before training camp opens in the fall. This year, the lockout prevented all of that from taking place, leaving little time for learning the nuances of the NBA game and making the adjustment from the collegiate to pro ranks. Add in the limited in-season practice time due to the reduced number of off-days between games, and the learning curve for first-year players couldn't be steeper. In Milwaukee, the Bucks' two rookie forwards, first-rounder Tobias Harris and second-rounder Jon Leuer, are getting a crash course in the NBA game. They've been impressive at times but are far from where they might be in a normal season. "The lack of practice time really hurts those guys, coach Scott Skiles said earlier this week. "We can't go further into our concepts and things like that. It's nothing at all we're concerned about at all. Harris has appeared in 19 games, playing a total of 213 minutes fewer than any Bucks player other than Jon Brockman. He's averaging 5.8 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11.2 minutes per game. The 19-year-old played just one season at Tennessee before declaring himself eligible for the draft, so the transition from high school to college to the NBA has been a quick one. Without the benefit of regular practice, Harris is leaning heavily on his coaches and teammates to help him improve as a player. "You've just got to ask a lot of questions, Harris said. "You have to be a sponge for everything. Harris has missed Milwaukee's last two games after injuring his shoulder Friday night in Orlando. Skiles didn't think the injury was serious, but for the time being Harris is day-to-day. "We feel fortunate he didn't separate his shoulder or something like that where he would be out an extended period of time," Skiles said. "It's just a matter now of managing the pain. Leuer, 22, was a darling early, both because he played college basketball at Wisconsin and his impressive play. He's appeared in 30 games, with nine starts, and a total of 408 minutes. Leuer is averaging 5.3 points and 2.8 rebounds. For Leuer, it's been the little things, like ball screens and defensive concepts, that have proved hardest to grasp without regular practice time. "Obviously, it makes it a little more difficult, but the coaches have done a really good job teaching us the system, he said. "I'm trying to learn as fast and as much as I can. The little principles, defensively, have been difficult. Certain screens, a lot of things that just come with repetition are probably the hardest. Leuer's playing time has decreased in recent weeks, a decision Skiles said was because of the way Leuer played with Andrew Bogut in the lineup. But with Bogut and now Drew Gooden out of the lineup with injuries, Leuer started the past two games. "Jon played a little better with Andrew in the lineup because he had a defender behind him, Skiles said. "Jon's unfortunately been in at some times when we've really been breaking down defensively. It hasn't been all his fault or anything, but he has a long ways to go on that end of the floor. Having said that, he's gotten better already. "There's no reason to assume he's not going to continue to get better with more practice. Skiles knows exactly what Leuer needs to work on, but like all rookies this season, he just needs time. "Instead of being ahead of some plays, he's behind them," Skiles said. "He's reacting after the fact instead of anticipating, and it's something he's working on. It's certainly something we can help him with as well; we're just not able to get the (practice) reps to help him. It's not lack of effort or anything like that." Unlike Harris, Leuer had the benefit of getting some additional work over the summer. As a second-round pick, Leuer didn't have a guaranteed contract, and it wasn't certain that he'd make the team if and when the lockout was lifted. With that in mind, Leuer signed with Skyliners Frankfurt of the German League. His deal included an opt-out clause that would allow him to return to the United States, and the Bucks, when the lockout came to an end. He appeared in 10 games for Skyliners, averaging 14.8 points and 7.8 rebounds while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. Leuer also appeared in three EuroCup games, averaging 12 points and 4.3 rebounds. The experience wasn't much, but it was enough for Leuer to feel comfortable when he returned to Milwaukee for the start of training camp in November. "I think it helped, Leuer said. "There was some good competition and the chance to play some real, organized basketball while other guys were playing in exhibitions or pickup ball helped me out and prepared me for the NBA. Skiles has been happy with his rookies' play and willingness to work this season. He knows the Bucks aren't the only team dealing with the weird schedule and isn't concerned about Harris or Leuer not being ready when called upon. "It's just a matter of the hand we've been dealt this year with no rookie league, no September, not much of a training camp and hardly any practice time, Skiles said. "It's tough on rookies. Follow Andrew Wagner on Twitter.
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