The most popular guy on a football team is often the backup quarterback, and the most popular players on an NBA team are often the promising youngsters buried toward the end of the bench.
Doc Rivers has heard the calls for the kids throughout his five-year tenure in Boston. From Al Jefferson, to Gerald Green, to Ryan Gomes, to Rajon Rondo, to Leon Powe, to Gabe Pruitt, the unknown quantities have intrigued fans and media, and Rivers has had to explain why it’s taking so long to get to know them.
Now Rivers is hearing those questions about rookie Bill Walker. His combination of leaping ability, size, and toughness makes him an intriguing option. But Rivers has made his young players earn their way into the lineup in recent years, and he says he is not ready to rush Walker from the Development League right into a spot in the main rotation just yet.
“Whenever I hear that about Patrick [O’Bryant], or this week it’s Billy, or next week it might be J.R. [Giddens], I always wonder who they want me to take off the floor,” Rivers said. “It’s not anything they’re doing or not doing, but they have to beat out the guy in front of them. You play nine guys, we play 10 as much as I can help during the regular season, but it’s just that simple.
“It’s either that, or in the olden days, you’d just take the guy out who is in front of you.”
Given Walker’s propensity for not backing down to anyone at any time, that might be one option. But Walker seems content to go the more conventional route of earning his time. He finally did a bit in the last week, seeing significant minutes in place of Tony Allen (sprained right ankle) in back-to-back bashings of the Nets. In the 105-85 rout by the Celtics in East Rutherford on Jan. 17, he even saw a short run in the second quarter when the game was still somewhat in doubt.
“You just want to go in there and show coach, however long you are in there, that he can trust you,” Walker said. “I think that’s what I am trying to do. Just be a guy that’s going to work hard and defend because we have a lot of scorers right now.
“I feel like I can do that role. My role is to go in, give guys a rest, and not slack off on the defensive end. I feel like I am a good enough player where I can go in there and we can not miss a beat.”
Since the beginning of camp, Walker has appeared to be a step ahead of Giddens — more poised and readier to make an impact, despite being almost three years younger. Still, although he has been able to excite with a powerful baseline move or a menacing block, he has struggled with fouls. In two games against the Nets, he had 12 points and five rebounds, along with seven fouls, in 24 minutes.
“You are too close with a guy and they call it,” said Walker, who was whistled five times in his first eight minutes of action in New Jersey. “You bump a big and they call it. It’s trial and error. You’ve just got to go out there, and what you get away with, you get away with. In college, you can get away with a lot more hand-checking than you can in the league.
“But you just have to play. You can’t let that be a factor. You can’t go out there timid. You’ve got guys out there like Paul [Pierce], then you’ve got Kobe [Bryant], LeBron [James]. If you are timid, they’ll just destroy you.”
Lots of shots
At the conclusion of the last two practices in Waltham, Rajon Rondo has stayed on the floor and fired a series of deep jumpers in a workout that calls to mind the displays James Posey put on after practices last year and the ones Ray Allen has made a trademark.
Rondo, who puts up a combination of three-point shots and deep two-pointers right off the catch, said the workout has come with some encouragement.
“I’ve got a thing going on with [Kevin Garnett], so every time I’m in the gym I’ve got to shoot a fair amount of shots,” he said. “It’s something I decided on and something that he said would pay off in the end. I was shooting shots, but it wasn’t really consistent. Now, it’s like every day I shoot after practice.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports