Up the Learning Curve Quickly
When Josh Childress landed at Stanford, it wasn't until his second season that he truly became comfortable with the college game and started to play to his potential. The NBA season is more than twice as long as a college campaign, so it was not a surprise to see that adjustment last only half a season in the Association. However, the learning process was fraught with more than a few disappointing games and gave detractors a great deal of ammunition.
ESPN sensed that good things were to come from Childress when they made him their ‘cover boy' for ESPN College Hoops 2K5, but things went downhill quickly after that. Childress was the featured scorer on the Atlanta Hawks' summer league team, but his play was overshadowed by that of fellow rookie Josh Smith, just out of high school. One ESPN talking head went as far as to describe Childress' summer league play as "frighteningly mediocre." When the regular season started, things went from bad to worse, particularly in the shooting department, where the rookie's touch completely abandoned him. At the end of January, with the season half over, Childress was shooting 42% and an ugly 15% from behind the NBA three-point line, averaging 6.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game. He had six starts for the 9-33 Hawks, the league's worst team. There were occasional flashes of brilliance, like a stunning dunk over Yao Ming, but consistency eluded the former Cardinal.
While the Hawks continued to struggle, Childress' season turned around in one game. Finding himself back in the starting lineup in February, he erupted for his first career double double in a rare win against the Los Angeles Lakers on February 7. With his confidence suddenly soaring, Childress shocked the league with six double doubles in an eight-game span, then went on to become Atlanta's most consistent player down the stretch. In the second half of the season, he reeled off a total of a dozen double doubles and shot 50% (30% from behind the arc). The rookie averaged 12.9 points, 7 rebounds and over a steal per game - all while keeping up an impressive 3:2 assist to turnover ration. This performance was enough to earn Childress Second Team All-Rookie honors.
Summing up his giant leap forward over the second half of the season, Childress explained, "I definitely felt more confident and felt more comfortable. That came with more playing time and more expectations of scoring and rebounding."
The Future Is... Next Year
The Hawks didn't fare as well as Childress did during the second half of the season. They finished with the worst record in the league at 13-69, but their poor play earned them the #2 pick in the upcoming draft. That pick will most likely turn out to be center Andrew Bogut, if he's available, or a point guard, such as Chris Paul or perhaps Deron Williams. Marvin Williams presents an interesting possibility, but his position may overlap too much with Atlanta's core young players: Childress, Smith and Al Harrington.
With the departure of Antoine Walker and Kenny Anderson, Atlanta is officially going with the youth movement and will feature Childress either at a shooting guard or small forward next year, depending on which new pieces are added to the roster puzzle. The Hawks have young talent, yet they have enough room under the salary cap to go out and sign top quality players to fill positions of need. Whether general manager Billy Knight and coach Mike Woodson can get this team turned around before Childress and Smith become free agents remains to be seen.
Josh Childress had the best NBA rookie season by a Stanford alum since Brevin Knight was a First Team All-Rookie selection in 1998. While the Hawks still think his best position is shooting guard, Childress has yet to show he can shoot from outside with consistency (only 13 three-pointers all season) and has also demonstrated an ability to score inside and grab rebounds. It will be interesting to see if he can avoid the sophomore jinx and elevate his game next season. In the meantime, despite a disastrous start, it is important to note that by finishing his rookie season with a scoring average of 10.1 points per game, Childress is already in an elite group of only four Stanford alumni who sport a career double digit NBA scoring average.
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