5 NBA Rookies Who Will Have to Change Positions as Pros
During his days with the Arizona Wildcats, Derrick Williams excelled as a power forward whose ability to score inside and outside kept defenders on their heels.
In fact, he was so successful at the college level that the Minnesota Timberwolves selected him with the second-overall pick in the 2011 draft.
One year later, the 21-year-old's progress demands a mixed assessment at best. He averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, but played just 21.5 minutes and seemed an awkward fit on the roster.
The difficult transition had a lot to do with the fact that the Timberwolves already have a pretty good power forward named Kevin Love. Williams wasn't about to cut into the All-Star's minutes, nor was he at all prepared to become a full-time small forward.
It should come as no surprise that this summer is an opportunity for the forward to carve out a consistent role under head coach Rick Adelman.
Williams slimmed down in order to spend more time at the small forward position and get out from behind Love's shadow.
Of course, he's not the only young prospect who's had to adjust his game at the next level. Nor will he be.
Here are five rookies who may have to do the same this season.
Austin Rivers, New Orleans Hornets
With Eric Gordon owning the shooting guard spot for the New Orleans Hornets, Austin Rivers will have to learn how to the run point for his new team, according to the Times-Picayune's Alex Cassara:
“He understands the game, which you want in a point guard,” [assistant coach James] Barrego said. “His instinct is to score. But we’re trying to slow him down, learn our offense, learn our pace, learn our rhythm, and I think those are things he’s going to get."
That kind of transition is never an easy one given the unique demands placed upon floor generals. Running the offense is a unique responsibility and shares little in common with the tasks taken up by scoring guards.
It may be an even more difficult adjustment for Rivers, though.
He looked for his own shot at Duke, and he did so for good reason. Now he'll be asked to create opportunities for others as well.
Maurice Harkless, Philadelphia 76ers
Maurice Harkless has always had a small forward's frame that can't help but remind you of a more athletic Marvin Williams.
Given the lack of interior size at St. John's, Harkless was often asked to play in the paint, and he certainly got the job done. Thanks to his length and athleticism, Harkless was a menace on the glass and an explosive inside scorer.
In the NBA, he'll have to develop more of a perimeter game.
He's not especially well-suited to body up with bigger 4s, but his physical tools would be quite an asset against small forwards. He'll need to improve his three-point shot, but he should be quite the asset on the wing when he does.
Royce White, Houston Rockets
Royce White could probably survive in the NBA as a versatile power forward, but cultivating the quickness to play on the wing would still be a wise move.
White is strong enough to hang with bigger players, but he may not be long enough. HOOPSWORLD's Bill Ingram explains the unique situation in which White will find himself:
"He lacks the height to play the NBA 4, but his bulk would make it difficult for him to play the four. For that reason, scouts labeled him a power forward."
It certainly helps that White can pass the ball, but that doesn't really clarify how he fits in as a defender. Can he move his feet well enough to guard athletic wing players? Can he exploit his strength enough to move bigger guys offer their preferred spots near the basket?
These are the kind of questions that will ultimately have to determine how White is used.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets
Terrence Jones has a few things in common with teammate Royce White. Both played power forward at the college level, but neither is an especially conventional power forward.
Jones is a bit more athletic than White, so he may be better suited to play the 3. On the other hand, Jones is also taller and longer than White, so he may be more useful against bigger power forwards.
It may be the case that the Houston Rockets eschew traditional forward positions altogether and simply use these guys differently depending on the matchups at hand. That kind of game-to-game flux might be a bit difficult for rookies looking for some stability, but it could make both of these guys incredibly valuable down the road.
Perry Jones III, Oklahoma City Thunder
It's not so much that the Oklahoma City Thunder will need Perry Jones to play a different position.
They must just need him to play two or three different positions depending on the occasion. No big deal, right?
Jones has the potential to be one of the most versatile players in the league. He has the kind of physical tools you associate with Anthony Randolph, but the strength to make more of an impact from the outset.
We might see him playing some time at both the 4 and 5 at the very least. His length and athleticism make him a dangerous option at power forward, but he'd give OKC a quick, up-tempo lineup if he could hold up at center.