Originally posted on Celtics Town  |  Last updated 6/13/12
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The Boston Celtics practiced once, twice, maybe three times over the entire second half of the season. It was a concession Doc Rivers needed to make to allow his older player’s recovery time to better handle the hectic schedule made necessary by the NBA lockout. It was also a concession that helped rob E’Twuan Moore and JaJuan Johnson of their rookie seasons.

Moore told CSNNE he hopes to make a bigger impact next season. He’s not disgruntled, but players want to play.

And if he’s looking for a blueprint on how to do it, he has to look no further than (Avery) Bradley.

“It’s definitely a good thing to know that if you work hard, and make the most of your chances to play, good things will happen,” Moore told CSNNE.com. “I feel pretty good about my chances next year.”

Moore added, “I’ve learned a lot from all these guys, Avery included. But we’re all players here. We all want to win. We all want to play, too.”

Doc Rivers has been critiqued through the years for his unwillingness to play young players. I’ll choose another day to thoroughly research his dealings with rookies, but without delving too far I tend to think the notion is overblown. Many of the players we wanted Rivers to play — including Bill Walker, J.R. Giddens and Gabe Pruitt — are already out of the NBA. These aren’t All-Stars Rivers sat, and he shared as much with the Boston Herald a couple days ago:

Doc is a little defensive on the subject, saying, “You know, I’ve been hearing that for years, but what about all those young guys I started? I don’t know where that came from. Al Jefferson started for me. Kendrick Perkins started for me. Rondo started for me. You know when I stopped playing young guys? When I had Kevin, Paul and Ray. And, by the way, Baby (Glen Davis) in the championship year (of 2007-08) played a lot of minutes.”

But there’s a flip side to the story. The Celtics badly needed a sharp-shooter and play-maker off the bench. Moore showed the potential to become one in short glimpses, including a 16-point outburst which was crucial to Boston’s “bar fight” win against Orlando earlier this season, but Rivers stuck with Keyon Dooling the entire season instead. Dooling played hard, didn’t make too many mistakes and possesses a professional approach which Rivers admires. But he also had severe limitations, which were shared by the entire bench, which was highlighted in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, when the second unit played 40 combined minutes and mustered only two points.

Could Moore have helped? We don’t really know. We could guess one way or the other based on what we saw during brief moments of playing time, but we don’t really know because he never played enough for us to draw a proper conclusion. Danny Ainge sees that as a problem, though the solution — playing rookies more minutes — didn’t necessarily make sense for the Celtics these past five seasons. (Herald)

“I’ve really looked at this, and with the development process all around the league, it’s rare that guys get developed without playing,” Ainge said. “You can practice all you want, and you can have the best development coaches, but if you don’t get experience in crucial times and you don’t play with rhythm and confidence, it’s tough to develop.”

So how have the Celtics fared in this regard?

“I feel like in some cases we’ve been great at it with the players who’ve gotten opportunities,” said Ainge. “In some cases we haven’t done as good as we can just because our team is trying to win championships. It’s tough to serve two masters, is what I’d say on that. It’s not impossible, but it’s difficult. Our goal has always been to be the best team we could possibly be, and development isn’t a priority all the time even though it’s emphasized in practice.”

During Jackie MacMullan’s recent piece on Rivers’ importance to the Boston Celtics, she shared an anecdote about Avery Bradley dominating practices even as a rookie. “He was knocking down shots, dunking on people, and we were like, ‘We’ve got a player here.’ He was the only guy who could stay in front of Rondo,” said Paul Pierce. Rivers did try playing Bradley from time to time during his rookie season. But Bradley looked like a deer staring at the sun from 10 feet away whenever he entered games. Pierce continued, “But then he got into the games and you didn’t see any of those things.”

The Celtics couldn’t afford Bradley the time to learn on the fly because their goals were focused on banners rather than development. Times are changing now, but Rivers still won’t hand a rookie playing time just because he’s young and needs work. (also from MacMullan’s piece)

“You can’t hand it to them,” Rivers said. “I look at the Washington [Wizards] model, where they played Andray Blatche and those guys, and what did it teach them? That they’re going to play them anyway?”

It’s a difficult balance between making a rookie earn his time and allowing a rookie ample space to develop. Rivers tends to favor making his rookies earn playing time during practice. But this season, for Moore and Johnson, that was even more difficult because practices didn’t exist.

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