Since winning consecutive championships behind Hakeem Olajuwon and Clyde Drexler, the Rockets had added a number of veterans to challenge the dynastic Chicago Bulls. The roster included Charles Barkley, Kevin Willis and Eddie Johnson, all thirtysomethings who been around the block a couple of times.
In late February, the Rockets arrived in New York for a Sunday matinee against the Knicks. Despite sputtering near .500, they were in high spirits – probably a carryover from a Saturday night spent in The Big Apple – and there was no shortage of good-natured fun among teammates.
In particular, Barkley, Drexler and Willis – all at least 35 at the time – were having a laugh at the expense of rookie Rodrick Rhodes. Out of training camp, Rhodes had cracked the rotation and even started a dozen games in December when Mario Elie was hurt.
But now it was late February, Rhodes had 40-plus games under his belt, and the unforgiving NBA schedule was taking its toll. Supposedly, he had asked coach Rudy Tomjanovich to take him out of the rotation because he was tired.
Rhodes had hit the Rookie Wall, and the veterans were letting everyone know about it.
“Hey, Kev!” Barkley shouted while surrounded by reporters. “You hear about our rookie? He says he’s tired!”
Of course, everybody laughed. But the Rookie Wall is no joke for those who run into it. And the latest to do so is Philadelphia 76ers point guard Michael Carter-Williams.
After Monday afternoon’s loss in Washington, Carter-Williams said, “I’ve never played this long of a season, so I’m learning each and every day and I’m going through it a little bit. My body is tired a little bit, mentally I’ve got to stay strong.”
Carter-Williams actually had a very strong game, collecting 31 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals. It would have been easy for him to say, “I’m good,” and everyone would have believed him. So admitting to fatigue after a game like that should not be taken lightly.
Last season at Syracuse, Carter-Williams played 40 games over 146 days. The only back-to-back contests were the four games in four nights he played in the Big East Conference tournament, all in the same gym.
Furthermore, Syracuse didn’t leave the Eastern Time Zone from Nov. 30, when it played at Arkansas, until Feb. 25, when it played at Marquette. After that, the Orange left ET just once more – to San Jose for its first two games of the NCAA Tournament.
As of today, the Sixers have played 42 games in 85 days, including 12 back-to-backs. They have left the East four times, including one stretch of five games in eight days where they changed time zones three times.
And that doesn’t even consider the fact that Carter-Williams has had a pair of extended if unwelcome breaks in the season’s first half. He had an eight-day rest in November and a 16-day hiatus in December due to injuries.
How Carter-Williams plays over the next month bears watching. The same goes for Victor Oladipo, who leads all rookies in minutes played. And sometime down the road for Trey Burke, who got a late start to his season due to a broken finger.
All-Star Weekend is still four weeks away, but Carter-Williams won’t get four days off like most of the league. He is certain to be invited to play in the Rookie Challenge and may be in the Skills Challenge as well, given the number of sidelined point guards.
“You’re getting ready for spring break, and everybody’s going to Fort Lauderdale, and there’s a time where you can dig in pre-All-Star break and finish this middle third of the season with some grunt,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
Or you can go to your coach and tell him you’re tired.
On to the rankings.