With 4:23 remaining in the fourth quarter of Wednesday's 98-95 win over the Sacramento Kings, Derrick Caracter found himself at the center of an intriguing sequence. Steve Blake just finished worming his way through traffic towards the left baseline, then zipped a pass under the basket to the rookie along the opposite baseline. Wide open from eleven feet out, Caracter raised up, then briefly but noticeably hesitated before letting fly.
Nothing but bottom.
Caracter's jumper created a 90-80 lead and prompted Kings coach Paul Westphal to call time out.
It was a big sequence for the UTEP product, who'd missed his previous three attempts from the floor. But more than a shot Caracter needed to make, clean look at the hoop and such, it was a shot he needed to take. And for a second, it looked like he'd either pass it up or wait long enough for a Sacto defender to effectively challenge. All's well that ends well, but a happy result appeared momentarily jeopardized.
I asked Caracter afterward what led to the hesitation, and as I suspected, the culprit was uncertainty:
"Just thinking about the offense. Still being out there as a rookie. Trying to learn the offense. Sometimes I just catch myself thinking more than I actually have to."
For a late-second round draft pick still sopping wet behind the ears, every situation on the floor is a layered challenge. Caracter's minutes aren't just about (hopefully) his role in securing a win. They are a proving ground, and specifically, it's quest to prove his presence won't automatically upset the applecart.
Mistakes aren't simply mistakes. They're "rookie mistakes." Take a bad shot and you're either too anxious or unable to read a situation. Pass up a shot and you're either too intimidated by the moment... or again, unable to read a situation. In either case, you come off like a child not ready for a game played by men, as Phil Jackson often describes the NBA.
It's a weird life being a rookie on a stacked team, where the goal alternates between earning your keep and maintaining a suitably low profile. When the ball ends up in your hands, it's easy to over-think the situation in an effort to please your coaches and veteran teammates. Caracter admitted simultaneously playing freely while justifying his existence is a difficult objective, but nonetheless understands it's part of maturing as a basketball player.
"That's something I have to deal with if I want to be a professional and get that second contract and prove to people that I'm supposed to be here," nodded the power forward. "So I'll continue to keep working on it and believing in myself."
All things being equal, Caracter's time on the floor will be limited. He's well behind Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom in the big man pecking order. Even Theo Ratliff, despite his advanced age and own unfamiliarity with the triangle, is likely a player PJ would readily trust more often than the young 'un. But between Drew's unavailability and concerns about burning out LO after a summer of non-stop basketball, Caracter could very well log a reasonable amount of minutes early in the season. Thus, he needs to trust himself on the floor.
Yes, he's trying to learn the nuances and intricacies of the triangle. Yes, he needs to be conscious of making the right play and staying within the offense. But it's also crucial he doesn't let that challenge result in constantly second-guessing himself.
Like we learned in Risky Business, sometimes you just gotta say "what the &%(@."
Caracter may still have boatloads to learn, but the significance of taking that shot nonetheless wasn't lost on him.
"I think it's important, as far as confidence and what I feel I can do to help the team," nodded Caracter. "Just go out there and show them what I'm made of."