Mavericks’ Rookies Learned to Be Patient in First Season
For the Dallas Mavericks’ three first-round rookies, the barbs from the opposing teams made the seven months of frustration seem even longer.
Utah, which lost to Dallas in the first round of the Western Conference playoffs, prepared a chart, comparing Karl Malone’s numbers to the aggregate figures of Detlef Schrempf; Bill Wennington, who won more acclaim for his towel-waving than his rebounding; and Uwe Blab.
“The development of our rookies has been phenomenal,” Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello said after the Hawks defeated the Mavericks, 107-103, on March 21 in Reunion Arena here. “On other teams, rookies sit on the bench and don’t play, but not here.”
“Utah drafts players in the first round to play, not be cheerleaders,” Jazz President Dave Checketts said during the playoffs.
With the addition of Schrempf, who’d been compared with Larry Bird, Rick Barry and Magic Johnson, and two 7-footers--Wennington and Blab--the belief in Dallas was that the Mavericks would improve their record.
“It doesn’t matter what people think,” said Dallas Coach Dick Motta, whose team finished 44-38 for the second consecutive year. “We are better. We are a better team. Our whole division is better. To talk about one or two wins and say we’re not better is not looking at the proper perspective. We’re better than we’ve ever been. This is the best basketball this organization has ever played.”
The three first-rounders made little or no impact on Motta’s view of the Mavericks, real or imagined. Together, they received 1,940 minutes from Motta. Jay Vincent, Dallas’ version of a sixth man, played 1,994. Due to lack of exposure, no Maverick received a vote for the all-rookie team.
“I didn’t expect any of our rookies to make it because none of them has started,” Motta said. “You’ve almost got to be a starter to make the all-rookie team. You don’t write a history of rookies until their third year.”
Schrempf, the eighth player chosen last year, said, “I guess that’s probably the way it is under his system. That’s when you get to play more, I guess, or get traded.”
Last year Dallas, which has the seventh pick in the June 17 draft, was the seventh team to pick three players in the opening round. Philadelphia got Charles Barkley, Leon Wood and Tom Sewell in 1984. Sewell and Wood were traded. The Lakers picked Kenny Carr, Brad Davis and Norm Nixon in 1977. All remain active, but none is a Laker.
“It’s been a very difficult year for us,” Motta said. “Most teams that are in our position, which is the mid-40s, have a hard time working in one rookie, let alone three. It’s hard for a rookie on a team above .500 to get a lot of playing time, unless there’s a change or an injury.”
Seven rookies became starters this season. Malone, Detroit guard Joe Dumars and Chicago center Charles Oakley started on playoff teams. Dumars, projected by many as Dallas’ final choice in the first round, was the lone rookie starter on a club that finished comfortably above .500.
“Our three rookies will be very, very valuable contributors next year,” Motta predicted.
Schrempf, who worked at four different positions, appeared in 64 games, starting 12. He played 969 minutes and averaged 6.2 points and three rebounds. He was charged with 166 personal fouls.
“I think Detlef had a really nice year. His work ethic will make him successful,” Motta said. “He reminds me of Ro (Rolando Blackman) a lot. Ro had a hard time that first year. I don’t think Ro made Rookie of the Year, did he? I don’t think Ro made the all-rookie team. Go ask Ro if he’s a failure today. Detlef will be the same way.”
In 10 games as a starter, Schrempf averaged 10.2 points and shot 51.1%. With Mark Aguirre ill and Vincent injured, Schrempf scored 23 points, got nine rebounds and blocked two shots against Denver on Dec. 14.
“Detlef just needs to play next year. We’ll just have a place for him,” Motta said. “He’s been through quite a bit. It was very difficult for him to be drafted by us in the first place. He knew, coming in, that he’s behind two guys (Aguirre and Blackman) who’ve both been on the All-Star team and are both young.”
Early in the season, Motta used all three first-rounders. But he tightened the rotation after the Mavericks’ 2-6 start. Lack of a consistent rotation was the pattern for the rest of the year.
“The hardest thing was the changeup,” Schrempf said. “I was playing a lot early in the year, and maybe I got a little spoiled and then I just didn’t play at all again. If I had started that way, it would have been easier to accept because I would have known my position.”
Wennington, who logged 562 minutes in 56 games, said, “I came out every night, expecting to play. If it didn’t happen, it didn’t happen. There was nothing I could do about it. I could sit, cry and suck my thumb for a while, but that wouldn’t solve anything. I just have to work harder and make it difficult for Coach Motta to leave me on the bench.”
Said Motta: “Every team in the league would like to have Bill Wennington, and we’d like to have him. We enjoy the hell out of him. I think he’s got a real nice future.”
Blab, the 17th player chosen last year, made his biggest contribution in Dallas’ first victory over Boston by making a free throw and inducing Celtics center Robert Parish into goaltending one of his hook shots.
“At the start, I played more than I thought I would, then I didn’t play,” Blab said. “That part was disappointing. It was definitely up and down. I started down, came up and went back down again. Going from getting some playing time to no playing time was hard.”
Said Motta: “Within a year, two years, Uwe will be a very, very adequate backup center and with the right combination, if you had a great rebounder at forward, he could be a nice starting center. I like him.”
Except for the better hours and far greater salary, Motta doesn’t distinguish between a rookie season and basic training. Blackman, a two-time All-Star, started 16 times during his first year.
“I didn’t expect any of the rookies to come in and beat out any of our players, unless there had been a trade,” Motta said. “Sometimes you get to where you don’t appreciate what you have. You get spoiled. I’ve never seen where a good player doesn’t rise to the occasion, given a little more opportunity their second and third year.”
A year ago, Dallas held the option of converting its three first-round choices and its surplus at forward into a big trade, but the Mavericks kept their picks. Dallas still has all its forwards and another first-round choice going into this draft.
“We’ll see what happens this summer,” Schrempf said. “I think something will probably happen, have to happen. They have one lottery pick. If we get another good player, we’ll make some changes, I think, but we’ll see.”