In the past few weeks, I've run across a couple of stories about young NBA players with big physical talent that still need time to develop emotionally before they can truly tap take advantage of all of that talent.
In both cases, I thought about Brandon Rush and how he obviously lets on-court struggles get to him. There's no doubt, B-Rush has all the talent he needs to build a solid NBA career, but until he learns how to deal with the highs and lows equally and stop carrying the baggage of negative thoughts, he won't develop into the player Jim O'Brien expects to see and wants to play.
LaMarcus Aldridge and Greg Oden are the other two players I referenced above and they share a similar path to Rush, which may explain the emotionally underdeveloped game of all three.
Ric Bucher chronicled LMA's issues recently which included a story of Aldridge holding a grudge against Brandon Roy because he was left out of dinner plans with other teammates in Memphis. This is the petty reaction of junior high girls, not the way most guys handle things, let alone an NBA superstar. As Bucher reveals, though, LMA has gone through some crazy times growing up as a hoops prodigy and is still trying to learn to trust people and open himself up to others. His incredible game could become even more imposing if he can develop the stunted emotional side of his game and play with a confidence to match his skill.
With Greg Oden, the emotional development issues are far different but equally important in unleashing his game. I've seen plenty of Oden since he was a high school frosh. He's always been nice, smart, engaging and an incredible team player. Having said that, I always wondered if he'd be able to develop a killer instinct on the court because he rarely attempted to dominate games in high school, even though he could've each time out.
My thoughts on Oden's struggles to find his game this year, and appearing to be down after poor play and talkative and charming after good play, go back to his time as a hoop prodigy. As the consensus top pick whenever he decided to go pro, Oden didn't face much real adversity to toughen him up emotionally. Even during his year at Ohio State, he played through a broken wrist so while he had a great season with the Buckeyes, any issues he had dominating were easily passed off as a great player gutting it out through a wrist injury. Which was true, by the way, but it also helped buffer the expectations.
So then Oden has to sit out what was supposed to be his rookie year, so there is a full year in Portland with fans and media enjoying Oden and his personality while holding high expectations for the man child. After the long wait, Oden's still-developing game could never live up to the hyped expectations. This creates some criticism and a situation where Oden is dealing with real adversity for the first time in his basketball life and he's not emotionally developed enough to handle it properly.
JMV had a great interview with Oden's high school coach, Jack Keefer, a few weeks ago. When asked about Oden and his struggles with the media, Keefer immediately mentioned that it didn't surprise him because Greg is so thin-skinned. He also was sure Oden would grow and learn to deal with criticism. Like his teammate Aldridge, Oden has to develop his confidence, maybe even gather a little arrogance, to play through the ups and downs with no concern for what others think of the outcome.
It appears that Brandon Rush has to take his game through the emotional growth much like Aldridge and Oden. Rush gives off an air of confidence but behind the shell something's missing. I recall on Media Day, he mentioned how nervous he was and you could tell by the way he was acting he was extremely nervous. That could only be the case if you are worried about what everyone else thinks of you.
During games, Rush let's his frustration show and you can see him hesitating or passing up plays because he doesn't want to miss another shot or repeat an earlier mistake. Unfortunately, that hesitation is even worse and usually doesn't end well.
Jim O'Brien has had Rush in and out of the lineup all year as he's ridden the confidence roller coaster. JOB told Mike Wells it has been a challenge dealing with Rush's lack of confidence.
"I have a difficult time figuring it out to tell you the truth," O'Brien said before the Golden State game. "He's not playing with the same amount of confidence that I have in him. He needs to be more aggressive. Certainly it's not easy to come in the league as a rookie. He'll find his way, but he's still searching."
Like Aldridge and Oden, Rush went through the hoops prodigy circuit and had a knee injury serve as his brush with adversity before hitting the League. From considering these three cases, despite all the training and exposure the AAU/shoe camp environment offers, it also coddles the emotional side of the game for the young players.
For plenty of players, confidence and arrogance is no problem. Michael Jordan never shied away from failure because he simply didn't care what people thought if he missed a big shot. Kobe, LeBron, same way. Now Aldridge and Oden are big boys with great ability as is. They will make an impact in the NBA, but just how big may depend on their emotional development and confidence.
But for a player like Rush, some patience is required since he won't ever succeed by physically dominating an opponent. He needs to be pushed and prodded by coaches and teammates, but in the end Rush and only Rush has to look adversity square in the eye and learn to push past it, trust in his game and let it grow.
We've witnessed that type of development with Danny Granger, so now it's time to let Rush's emotional game develop along with his physical skills as he continues to work hard to improve and search for his NBA game. Knowing he's not averse to work helps. Eventually Rush will find his emotional and physical games in sync and his NBA game will give us plenty of excitement.