A great number of rookies are starting slowly in the NBA this season and Charles Oakley is one of them.
Oakley was the most surprising pick of the first round of last year's collegiate draft.
The 6-foot-9 1/2 forward came out of Virginia Union as the NCAA Division II player of the year and was selected ninth overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Chicago Bulls, who picked Keith Lee for the Cleveland two selections later.
Oakley's listed weight is 243 pounds and Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause felt the Bulls needed some inside strength after getting manhandled by the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of last year's playoffs. Chicago ranked as the fourth-worst rebounding team in the league.
Krause, who was just returning (for the third time) to his GM's job with the Bulls, received some criticism for the pick, mainly because few people knew who Oakley was. Krause brushed off the negative remarks, saying time and again that Oakley "takes no prisoners" and would help Chicago's rebounding.
"All the scouts knew that Charles Oakley could play," Krause said recently. "All you had to do was see him the way we did. Everybody who knew about the game and who knew the players involved thought we had made a great pick, because they certainly felt he was going to come on and be an outstanding rebounder."
Oakley played in 21 of Chicago's first 24 games, averaging about 14 minutes and five rebounds per game as the seventh frontliner on the club. He also had a 4.9 points per game average.
"I have no qualms about the way Charles has played," Krause said. "He's done several things for the franchise which people don't see right now. (Starting forward) Sidney Green is the 10th or 11th rebounder in the NBA and obviously one of those main reasons is Charles Oakley because he pushes him so hard in practice.
"If you break down 48 minute projections, which we do, I think Charles is averaging 18 rebounds. He'd also be averaging 10.2 fouls per game, which is something we're trying to correct."
Krause, in trying to defend Oakley, pointed out that there are only a couple of star rookies in the league this season.
"I don't think a lot of rookies have played well in this league," Krause said. "(Patrick) Ewing, (Xavier) McDaniel and (Karl) Malone are the only three starting in the league right now. (Wayman) Tisdale is starting to come on, but everybody else has struggled."
At least most of the first-rounders are playing and Oakley has stopped doing so. He did not play in two consecutive home games against San Antonio and Philadelphia.
The Bulls did not need Oakley to beat Philadelphia and after the game, Coach Stan Albeck refused to say why Oakley was not getting playing time.
"That's a dumb question," Albeck said.