Denton: Vaughn Attentive to Needs of Young Players (Part 2)


By John Denton
December 13, 2012

Of specific interest to the Magic is getting off to a better start in Friday’s game. In the past six games, the Magic have faced first-quarter deficits of four points (vs. Lakers), six points (vs. Warriors), nine points (vs. Jazz), 11 points (vs. Kings), nine points (vs. Suns) and 14 points (vs. Hawks).

Some of the struggles could be traced to the lack of productivity from the small forward spot where Orlando has been forced to start rookies Maurice Harkless and DeQuan Jones and veteran Josh McRoberts in place of the injured Hedo Turkoglu.

The Magic’s ball movement and player movement tend to improve dramatically when Redick enters the game at shooting guard and Afflalo slides over to the small forward position. But Vaughn wants to keep Redick in a reserve role to balance out the scoring on the first- and second-string units, and therefore Harkless will remain in the lineup on Friday night.

Vaughn pointed out that it would be unfair to blame Orlando’s first-quarter struggles on Harkless, a 19-year-old rookie who is less than a year removed from college.

Vaughn likes putting Harkless in the lineup to keep him engaged in the action and hopefully shorten his learning curve. He feels the rookie has made strides in recent weeks, even though they might not show up immediately in the stat lines.

``The great thing is that we watch film of every single game and every game is broken down by a coach. For us, they are measuring sticks,’’ Vaughn said. ``We can physically see it from every game the improvement that he’s made and we’re extremely excited that he’s going to continue to improve.

``During the course of one possession, did he rotate correctly? Did he V-back (defensively), box out and contest the shot? Did he get in help position and recover?’’ Vaughn asked rhetorically. ``Each possession is graded and I can see from the second game of the year to the 82nd game of the year, I’ll be able to see his improvement and the things that we need to work on.’’

Vaughn hasn’t been hesitant about playing his rookies and young players around the core of Jameer Nelson, Davis, Afflalo and Redick. Harkless has started the last 11 games, while power forward Andrew Nicholson has evolved into a key cog off the bench. DeQuan Jones made three starts early in the season, while Kyle O’Quinn played key minutes in last week’s rousing defeat of the Los Angeles Lakers.

As for second-year players, Nikola Vucevic has started all 21 games and is approaching double-double numbers on a nightly basis while averaging 9.6 points and 8.8 rebounds. E’Twaun Moore started early in the season while Nelson was hurt and has since come off the bench and chipped in 9.3 points and 3.0 assists a night in 24.7 minutes on average.

The Magic likely wouldn’t have won Sunday in Phoenix if not for the play of Nicholson, who registered career highs in points (19) and rebounds (nine). Vaughn even showed his trust in the rookie, who was selected 19th in last June’s NBA Draft, when he called timeout in a five-point game and drew up a play for the power forward late in the fourth quarter. Nicholson, who had made his first six shots, drilled a 15-footer from the baseline to help the Magic secure the win.

Nicholson knows that there is an emphasis on developing the young players this season, and his every action on the court is being graded and evaluated. He said he’s also quite thankful he’s on a successful team and not on one that has little chance to win from night to night.

``It’s just about paying attention to details and executing the game plans,’’ he said. ``It’s a good opportunity for me to come in here and learn some stuff. It’s been everyone who has been chipping in and helping the younger players.’’

On days after games where the veterans play big minutes, Vaughn uses those practices to specifically focus on the development of the young players. In those practice sessions, the rookies will get one-on-one time with coaches and then they will be play major minutes in scrimmage sessions.

Davis, Orlando’s power forward and a co-captain along with Nelson, has taken it on himself this season to try and be a role model for the younger players. Davis said he owes his career to the leadership that Boston stars Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce showed him when he was a rookie and he’s trying to do the same for the Magic’s inexperienced players.

``It helped me out tremendously having that leadership, showing me the way to play together and having an understanding for the greater good of what everyone is trying to accomplish,’’ Davis remembered. ``As a young player you think about trying to be a star and wanting to get certain (statistics). I came into the league not relying on that, but instead doing the little things that really count. It’s like I worked my way from the bottom up and it helped me out a lot.

``As for our guys, I just tell them to respect everything about the game and don’t take anything for granted,’’ Davis continued. ``And they have to understand what they are trying to accomplish as a player. When you have that mindset of being open to everything and you are open to hard work, it makes you better as a player.’’

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