Hasheem Thabeet a Work in Progress
Of course, if you think this guy is green now, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins says you should have been around for his first workout after the Grizzlies took the 7-foot-3, 267-pound Connecticut center with the No. 2 pick in last June's draft.
"He was really bad,'' Hollins said. "Even though he's a shot blocker, he only had to stand in the paint in college. Now you've got guys attacking you and how you have to go meet them, he knew none of that. He had no footwork. He had no jump hook. He had nothing. And I can say that out of all the rookies in this draft, he probably has come the farthest. He has the farthest to go, and he still has a long ways to go.''
So perhaps there has been progress in that it took Thabeet 12 minutes to foul out of Sunday's game in Denver. Before, he might have been done in six minutes.
After everybody's top player, Blake Griffin, was ticketed to be taken No. 1 by the Clippers in the draft, the Grizzlies were in a bit of a quandary over what to do next. They had agreed to trade for power forward Zach Randolph and they were armed with a fine young pair of wing players in O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay, so it pretty much came down to a center or a point guard.
The Grizzlies, who have a point guard who could develop into something in Mike Conley, considered Ricky Rubio before going with Thabeet. Since Rubio has elected to stay in Spain for the next two years, it can't be said at this point Memphis blew it.
Then again, available was point guard Tyreke Evans, who played with the University of Memphis and would have needed only to provide a ball boy with a nominal tip to take his belongings from one FedEx Forum locker room to another.
"You want to talk about a project,'' Hollins said. "There's a guy that's a project. I knew that when we drafted him. I never thought he was a guy who was going to dominate and do things this year. But, with the way the draft was, we felt he was the best option for us, and we go forward looking toward the future.''
So far, you need a microscope to see some of Thabeet's statistics. He's played in three of Memphis' four games, averaging 7/10ths of a point, 2.7 rebounds and 1.3 blocks over 8.3 minutes.
To find a top-two pick who figures be as unproductive as a rookie as Thabeet, one can go back to 2003 No. 2 selection Darko Milicic, who was staple gunned to the bench in Detroit. The difference, of course, was the Pistons were a title team that season while the Grizzlies are locked in a battle to win 30 games.
"I've got to learn,'' said Thabeet, the first native of Tanzania to play in the NBA "I want to come here and play well and help the team win. But it's my first year. It doesn't matter how many minutes I play. I just want to get better and then maybe next year [have a bigger role].''
The Grizzlies are now in no hurry to play Thabeet. Starting center Marc Gasol showed up for training camp having shed 20 pounds, and is averaging an impressive 19.0 points and 12.3 rebounds. And Memphis picked up some insurance at the spot last August in Steven Hunter.
So that leaves Thabeet to fight for minutes with another massive project, 7-2, 254-pound Hamed Haddadi, who almost certainly due to FAA regulations can't sit on the same side of the plane as Thabeet. But Thabeet insists he doesn't listen to critics who believe he should be providing more as a No. 2 pick.
"I don't look at it that way,'' he said. "I'm a young guy. I'm learning every day. Whatever [people] are going to say, it doesn't really affect me.''
One scout said, if everything works out for Thabeet, he could be another Dikembe Mutombo. If it doesn't, the scout said he could be another DeSagana Diop.
Thabeet is athletic. He grew up playing soccer, and Phoenix guard Steve Nash, quite accomplished in that sport, remarked how good Thabeet looked in a charity game Nash held over the summer.
In basketball, though, Thabeet sometimes looks lost. He was grabbing at everything when he picked up his six fouls against the Nuggets.
"He needs to learn to play defense in the NBA without his hands,'' Hunter said. "But he's learning a lot. He's very raw, but he has great physical gifts. ... He's going to be good one day. He's going to be a great shot blocker some day.''
For now, though, Thabeet isn't throwing much fear into teams. It was clear Sunday his name wasn't exactly underlined twice on Denver's scouting report.
"He's big,'' was about the only assessment Nuggets coach George Karl had of Thabeet before the game.
Just call Thabeet The Big Construction Site because it's going to be a long time before this project is ready.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at email@example.com and is on Twitter @christomasson.