Whether taken No. 1 overall, in the first round or second round of the NBA Draft, each first-year player seemingly hits the proverbial rookie wall. The Los Angeles Lakers recently experienced it with Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma.
Prior to a sprained MCL that’s sidelined Ball for eight games running, including Wednesday’s contest, he and Kuzma were playing more minutes on a regular basis than they ever have. Forty games into this season, it was the most either played in college.
So it was understandable, if not expected, when Ball’s and Kuzma’s efficiency and effectiveness began to wan. But to former NBA player Caron Butler, it’s more of a mental hurdle than physical challenge.
“It is a spot where you feel like you’re running in quick sand for like 10 to 15 games,” Butler told LakersNation.com.
“But it’s all mental, and you have to get out of it. The legendary Pat Riley was coaching me at the time (of being a rookie) and he told me, ‘Look, it’s all mental. I know it’s a rookie wall and everybody is telling you it’s OK to be tired. It’s not OK. Snap out of it.'”
Riley was notorious for his strict and grueling training regimen during his coaching days. “He just stayed on me,” Butler said. “We were the best condition, most-prepared, and I got through it.”
To their credit, neither Ball or Kuzma have mentioned or used fatigue as reason for an off night or poor stretch of play. Kuzma in particular has been adamant conditioning or being a rookie adversely affected him on the court.
As Ball and Kuzma push through a rookie season that brings about peaks and valleys as part of the NBA learning curve, Butler is hardly concerned about either. He’s also trusting his eyes when it comes to evaluating the Lakers’ latest No. 2 overall pick.
“If you did analytics on Lonzo Ball, initially you would think he’s not a super-talent,” Butler said. “But if you watch him and his feel, you know that he has ‘It.’ Whatever ‘it’ is, he’s got it. He’s a summer away from being all those things that we can imagine. You can’t speed through it.”
James Worthy, who was named to the All-Rookie team for the 1982-83 season, put an emphasis on Ball and Kuzma continuing to develop and remain focused.
“I would tell them never forget the fundamentals of the game, despite all the talent they have. And move forward,” Worthy said. “Once you leave everything on the floor, and that’s my advice, then just move forward.
“Don’t get bogged down in meaningless stuff and stuff you can’t control. You have to improve every year. Like Kobe did ever year, came back with something new. Continuous improvement and don’t be afraid to face your weaknesses. That’s one thing in this game you’ve got to overcome.”
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