Stroll Through the Paint – 12/27/11

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On a night where rookies ruled, Norris Cole had the most brilliant Tuesday night, earning post-game interview duties, Twitter recognition from the King and a place in Erik Spoelstra’s thoughts on the flight to tomorrow’s game in Charlotte. Somehow, he’s got to put Cole and Lionel Chalmers in positions to compete down the stretch with the Big 3 to get both comfortable and confident for what’s to come, but what if Cole is so magical that he reduces the guy getting paid starter money for coming up clutch against Chicago and Dallas to a backup role?

See, there’s always something to worry about for a coach, even one currently on the right side of things.

Spoelstra’s Quack Attack approach is 2-for-2 and legitimizing him further. Remember, he was the butt of jokes and criticism around this time last year, with people predicting he’d still be fired. Google it, I was in his camp. He finally silencing critics by outlasting them and winding up in the Finals. Now he’s given his team, filled with a few of the most skilled players in the world, freedom to play faster without worrying about mistakes. Trusting execution. That’s Chip Kelly’s approach. Play faster because you can. If their legs hold up through the lockout-accelerated schedule, he’ll rightfully be crowned a genius.

Rookie second-rounder Jon Leuer really played with confidence down the stretch for Milwaukee and isn’t one to sleep on. He simply knows how to play the game and is highly-skilled at basic basketball strengths like shooting and boxing out. Saw this throughout his career at Wisconsin where he was the backbone of Bo Ryan’s Badgers. There’s a junior named Jared Berggren doing the same thing for Wisconsin now and landing on the radar, but Leuer has been there for years. His heroics against the Timberwolves were no fluke. Between him, shot-blocker Larry Sanders and the briefly suspended Drew Gooden, there’s plenty to keep Andrew Bogut from getting overworked, a necessity for Milwaukee’s franchise big.

Minnesota’s rookies, Derrick Williams and Ricky Rubio, both have growing pains ahead of them. Neither, however, is going to be the disaster David Kahn trashers were hoping they would be. Williams is simply figuring things out, while Rubio already shows great instincts. The Wolves will be better. It helps that Kevin Love is serving as the anchor. Good thing Kahn didn’t trade him, huh? Not that he didn’t try.

It’s worth noting that if you have Marshon Brooks in your fantasy league, you’ve done well. He was one of the few beacons of light for the Nets with Deron Williams too tired to strap them on his back. It won’t be the last time. He’ll make a run at being an All-Rookie first-teamer.

Sacramento hung its head way too early, as catalysts Marcus Thornton and Tyreke Evans failed to get it going. DeMarcus Cousins was upset, at times rightfully, that he wasn’t more of the focal point, hence the scowls. At times, rookie Isaiah Thomas was the only one out there trying. It was a sad reminder after the rolling of the Lakers that there’s still a ton of growing up to do. Paul Westphal has to push the right buttons, because Chuck Hayes can only do so much lifting of morale. Kids can’t hang their heads out there and quit. Portland suffocated the Kings into submission, but it wasn’t difficult after a while.

Love that Mike Brown is out there whistling at players, yelling their names and issuing golf claps. It’s decidedly most un-zen. He welcomed Pau Gasol back during a stoppage and threw his arms around him like he was meeting him at the airport after losing touch for 10 years. I threw out a prediction that #MikeBrownhugs would begin to trend on Twitter and that Kobe Bryant would never get one. I like my chances on both. Brown is one of my favorites and I cringe for the task he’s facing, but loving and pumping up his vets to a beatdown of the painfully young Jazz was not only the right strategy during the third game in three nights, but a fitting recipe for win No. 1 in Lakerland. There’s a new style in town. After hinting for years that he’d prefer if Stan Van Gundy chilled a bit, I’d imagine it’s one Dwight Howard would embrace, pun intended.