In the NBA, not every prospect gets real opportunities to thrive. The stunning rise of Jeremy Lin is stunning precisely because so few players make it after going undrafted. The ones that do tend to become NBA roleplayers or are big men ... not electrifying lead guards. The same tends to apply for second-round picks: patience is sometimes rewarded by teams, but is not always granted by teams. It's a dice roll as to whether lower-rung prospects ever get their chance.
So when they do get a chance, they are really put on the spot, forced to prove they belong and they were worth waiting on. Isaiah Thomas had that chance earlier this season, and grasped it and owns it. Even though he's struggled a bit of late, he has let the world know he is a legit NBA player. The rest of his career could have been made simply because he was ready to run with the opportunity granted to him.
Hassan Whiteside looked the part on Monday. He'd never before played more than four minutes in a game for the Kings, but he played well enough -- and the other Kings bigs played poorly enough -- that Keith Smart stuck with SWAT for 14 minutes. Whether through preparation, talent, luck or some combination of three, Whiteside produced, racking up five points, seven rebounds, two blocks and a steal. That all but ensures he'll get another chance, probably on Wednesday against the New Orleans Hornets, especially if J.J. Hickson remains out.
As fans, we are tantalized by promise, and I for one can't help but get excited to see what Whiteside does with this opportunity (just as I remember being giddy with delight when Donte Greene got chances to defend Amar'e, LeBron and Kobe early in his career). But promise is only half of the battle, and we have little insight into how prepared and motivated Whitside is to make this count, to make his career in the NBA. We're about to find out some preliminary answers to that question. Fingers crossed.
(Forever and ever and always: free Donté. /threadjack)