It seems the long NBA season has taken its toll on the young rookie-forward in San Antonio, DeJuan Blair. If you look at the month of March, for example, his averages have dropped from 7.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per contest to 5.3 points and 6.1 rebounds in 18 minutes a game. The rookie is also averaging nearly two turnovers per game.
“He’s a young basketball player,” says Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “He’s got a hell of a lot to learn about a hell of a lot of things. But his future looks bright. He is certainly coach-able and hardworking.”
And just when it seemed Blair was hitting the wall face first, came his performance in a Spurs' victory over the Denver Nuggets, Blair had 12 points and 8 rebounds, including 4 offensive boards, in 18 minutes of action. Everyone, including coach Pop has took notice.
“I thought he hit a wall a couple weeks ago, but he’s come out of it,” said Popovich. “I think he’s starting to regenerate.”
With the playoffs around the corner, a giant question is will Pop continue to give Blair quality minutes? Highly doubtful.
He has had trouble staying consistent this season. If the playoffs started today, one potential team the Spurs would face would be the Dallas Mavericks, and Blair has had his share of trouble with Dallas.
In his three meetings with Dallas, Blair is averaging 1.6 points and 2.6 rebounds in 11 minutes. Also, acquiring Caron Butler from the Wizards gives the undersized Blair a match-up nightmare. Butler will not only be able to work Blair off the dribble, but use his size to back the smaller Blair down and work him in the post.
Blair also struggled this season against the first place Lakers. If by some miracle the Spurs were to face the Lakers in the later rounds of the Western Conference Playoffs, Blair has averaged six points but only a measly 3.3 rebounds per game against the much larger Lakers front court.
Of the top Western Conference teams, Blair has played his best basketball against the Nuggets. He averaged 10.7 points and 5.5 rebounds against the Nuggs. He is averaging 2.25 offensive boards a game when playing Denver.
Blair has the one thing needed to scale the rookie wall seeing how the playoffs are fast approaching -- a desire to grow as a player and learn the game. And there is no one better to learn from then the greatest power forward to ever lace them up, Tim Duncan.
“He’s a young guy and he’s willing to learn,” said Duncan. “He’s willing to do the work it takes. You put those two things together and it’s easy to extend a hand to help someone like that.”
Blair might have hit the proverbial "rookie wall," but he has all the tools around him necessary to climb and overcome this dreaded rookie curse. He has a head coach and a team that are confident in his ability to succeed. And as a young player in a grown man's league, confidence is essential if Blair is to be a consistently good player in a league where greatness is defined by consistency.
Let's just hope he smashes this wall come playoff time. Hulk style!