Damon Stoudamire is one rookie who's not complaining about his playing time.
The Toronto Raptors point guard - who makes his first regular-season appearance at the Delta Center Thursday night - is averaging 41.2 minutes per game. That's more than any Utah Jazz player; Karl Malone tops out at 38.7 minutes."Ideally, I'd like to get him down to between 35 and 38 minutes," said Raptors coach Brendan Malone, "but we just aren't the same team when he's not in the game."
Malone and other folks in Toronto are high on Stoudamire. In an expansion season with not much to get excited about, the 5-foot-10 rookie from Arizona - the seventh pick in last summer's draft - has been the lone bright spot. He grabbed the spotlight three games into the season with a 22-point, 10-assist performance against the Bulls in which he was frequently matched up with Michael Jordan.
"He lit me up," Jordan said. "He had me off-balance. He's very quick. He's a good offensive player. He shows you a lot of different looks. I had to give him as much space as I could to keep him from penetrating."
Stoudamire was less impressive a few games later against the Jazz. He made just three of 11 shots in that contest, totaling seven points. He had nine assists but also six turnovers. The Jazz's John Stockton, meanwhile, totaled 29 points (11 of 16 shots), 12 assists, one turnover. In the fourth quarter of that game, a three-point Jazz victory, Stockton contributed 15 points, six assists.
(A side note: In that first Jazz-Raptors game, Toronto assistant coach Darrell Walker talked some trash to the Mailman early in the third quarter, inspiring Karl Maloneto a 13-point, five-rebound period. Walker and Malone aren't friends, dating back to Walker's NBA playing days as a Piston.)
Anyway, unlike a lot of rookies who typically show signs of wearing out at this point in a long NBA season, regular Raptor watchers say that Stoudamire is holding up well -- an assessment the youngster agrees with.
"I don't think I'm hitting any wall," he said.
As for the team, well, it appeared to hit the wall in December. After getting off to a respectable 6-10 start that had optimists dreaming about a playoff appearance, the Raptors lost 15 of their next 18.
It's not as if the guys in charge haven't tried. Brendan Malone has used 14 different starting lineups, and Executive Vice President Isiah Thomas is constantly on the lookout for a deal. Thomas recently sent Willie Anderson and Victor Alexander to the Knicks for Doug Christie and Herb Williams, a pair of guys who'd done strictly mop-up duty in New York.