Kim Klement/USA TODAY
The going theory on how best to develop the young players on teh Magic's roster is to play them.
After all, the team has very low expectations (at least from the outside) and many fans believe building through the draft means taking on a lot of losses. Playing young players also means learning through mistakes and that means struggles during the season. An 82-game season is long, up-and-down road that has multiple storylines running through it seemingly at all times.
So there is regular frustration when certain young players do not get playing time. Andrew Nicholson has hit one of those pockets and Maurice Harkless has been in and out of the rotation recently too. Doron Lamb cannot seem to get any minutes at all.
That has been part of the process for these young players. Sometimes, the playing time is just not there and they have to sit, wait and learn from the bench.
"This is all part of being in the NBA," Jacque Vaughn said. The first thing I talked about to these guys at the beginning of the year is this year is different. Because you played last year doesn't at all mean that you're going to play this year. Because you started, because you had minutes, and this message was to everybody. And there are going to be different pockets throughout the course of the year where I'm going to play different guys.
"Now, being a true professional, you stay ready. And that's part of having your mental approach and developing a mental stamina through this thing is that you stay ready, you keep your skills current and when your number is called you're ready to play. There is no guarantee in this game. Whether I'm an eight-year veteran or a two-year veteran, I need to understand that. That's the whole concept and part of a team."
Several of these young players have hit these pockets already.
Nicholson, who has shown tremendous improvement on the defensive end and has a strong offensive game has hit one of those pockets where he is sitting on the bench several times already. Nicholson played in at least 19 minutes per game in the first seven games, then did not hit that mark for nearly a week and a half and then not again until early December. Currently he recently missed several games with a coach's decision and is fitting his way back into the rotation.
Nicholson, he of the crafty offensive game, has not shot better than 50 percent in a game since the Dec. 9 loss to Memphis. The inconsistent playing time probably does not help with timing or rhythm. He has not hit double figures since the Dec. 13 loss to the Cavaliers.
Those are just numbers. Nicholson has not been in the rotation and has been out of rhythm. Nicholson has kept a positive attitude about it. His playing time seems like it will continue to bump up and down in the rotation.
So too has Maurice Harkless for a long while.
Harkless expressed to Brian Schmitz of the Orlando Sentinel that he was frustrated with his lack of playing time from mid-December. Harkless has been the biggest project for the Magic so far. The incredibly raw, athletic forward is still struggling with his jump shot and finding consistency on the offensive end.
"You try to give [Harkless] advice," Glen Davis said. "But this is a learning curve for him. You have to learn how to play in the NBA. You give him advice when it's needed but at the same time, he's a smart guy. He'll pick up. It won't be tough for him."
Harkless has had small improvements but hasn ot reaped the benefits of his improved confidence working off the dribble. Confidence seems to be the biggest key for him as he continues to make his way in the NBA.
Working Tobias Harris back into the rotation also took away from Harkless' playing time, forcing him to develop more in practice and from the bench rather than in games.
That lack of playing time though does not mean he was abandoned at all. Vaughn said Harkless, during his absence from the rotation in December did a good job communicating with each other and staying sharp by watching game film and the like. There is still a lot to learn. The trick is to apply those to the game when he finally gets in.
"There are going to be pockets in the season where some guys don't play," Vaughn said. "There just are not enough minutes. I will always be up front and fair and honest with every single guy. That's the way I approach it. [Harkless] knows where we are as he and I and his time on the floor. He's fine."
The young players have had to learn professionalism and ways to get better when they hit these pockets, as Vaughn describes them. And, most importantly, be ready when their number is called.