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The Donte Greene Experiment: Developing an NBA Player

Jim Valvano said: “Greatness is finding a void and filling it.”

After watching the NBA play-offs, the current NBA player with the most potential to find and fill a void is Sacramento’s Donte Greene.

The NBA is a copycat league. So, what should we expect? Teams looking for players like Trevor Ariza and Mikael Pietrus to complement their stars and forwards like Rashard Lewis, Lamar Odom and Hedo Turkoglu who can do a little bit of everything.

Donte Greene is an enigma. He’s either a supremely talented, athletic shooter who is ready to blossom into a prototype NBA player (I once called him Kevin Durant Lite) or he is a tall, lanky gunner who will be out of the league in three years. (I remember yelling “stop settling” at the TV when he was at Syracuse).

I don’t know. I have never met him and only watched him sparingly. However, I think he has enough talent that the choice is his and it depends largely on his approach and his attitude.

The Kings have a star: Kevin Martin. The Kings lack consistent play and defense. If I were to advise Greene, that would be the void to fill. Can you imagine the market for an athletic 6’9 forward who can guard players like LeBron James, Rashard Lewis, Paul Pierce, Kevin Durant, Dirk Nowitski and others? Pietrus received the full middle-level exemption (I think) which means a starting salary around $6-million next year – that wouldn’t be a bad salary for a 22-year-old drafted at the end of the 1st Round.

How does Greene become that player? I think defense is more about attitude than anything else, especially for a player like Greene. He needs to develop the attitude that he is going to shut down his man, that he wants to be the defender. He needs to take pride in forcing a superstar to take 27 shots to get 30 points, like a Shane Battier. Basically, he needs to take it personally when the other team scores.

Additionally, Greene needs to get stronger. If he can add muscle to his frame without losing lateral quickness, it will help him against bigger players like James.

Next, to increase his value, he needs to learn from other top defenders like Bruce Bowen and Shane Battier. They know their role. They get minutes because of their defense, but they have to offer something offensively. They make open three-pointers and they do not make mistakes. They allow the playmakers to make the plays, and they finish them when they get the ball.

What does that mean for Greene? He needs to become a 40% or better three-pointer shooter. He needs to work harder to get on-balance when he shoots and he needs to be able to make shots in late-game situations.

What does Greene’s situation mean for youth players?

When I coached in Sweden, I had a 17-year-old on my team. She had the best lateral quickness on our team and she had decent height. In a pinch, she could defend a 1-4 though her true position was a wing. She also had a little fight in her that made her a good defender.

However, she was inexperienced, nervous and unskilled for a professional player. So, I set small goals. I told her that she would earn her playing time with her defense, but she had to be able to play offense without committing turnovers. Once she could do that, she would play.

Once she accomplished that and started to play, teams started to double off of her because they saw that she was not a threat. So, I told her to put her had down and attack the basket every couple times she caught the ball regardless of situation or result. I figured that the best case scenario would be that she would score; worst case, she’d draw some defenders and either get fouled or miss a shot with our players in good rebounding position.

She had simple goals. We concentrated more on free throw shooting in case she got fouled. We did not worry about her below-average dribbling or shooting skills. We maximized her defense. She found a void in our team and filled it. Then, to get more minutes, she worked on her own and at practice to expand her skills one baby step at a time to increase her minutes.

So, what void can you fill? What role can you play to make your team? Once you make the team, what void can you fill to get minutes? Once you earn minutes, how can you make yourself indispensible? How can you make yourself into a starter?

Greene made the team. Now he needs to find a void to earn consistent minutes. Fortunately, the Kings lack a good option at small forward. If he works in the off-season, he can be the player to fill the void. If he can make himself into a defensive stopper, he will play. Once he gets the minutes, he needs to play effectively on offense. If he can knock down the open threes, he will make himself indispensible. Once he reaches that point, he can expand his game to make himself into a starter or even one of the “stars.” However, it starts with finding a void to get consistent playing time.

He has a huge opportunity. So, what would I advise? He and Durant are both froom Baltimore. If Greene spent the entire summer working out with and playing against Durant in 1v1 and 5v5 games, I imagine that he would return to the Kings with the confidence to earn the small forward position. If he wants to be a player, it is his choice.

If a young player wants to make his or her team or become an indispensible, it is his or her choice too. Find a void and fill it. Practice in proportion to your aspirations. Work hard to reach your goal and do not let anything get in your way. No excuses.

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