"What Mike's going through is even tougher than what most rookies have to deal with," Hollins says. "With the lockout wiping out the preseason, he didn't have a summer league and eight exhibition games [Vancouver played two] to get his feet on the ground. He would've been so much further along by now if he had. On top of that, he's got the toughest position to master. You're trying to learn about your teammates, the plays, the opponents; and you're trying to learn about yourself, what you can do in this league. It's all happening at one time."
What's more, the youthful Grizzlies don't have an established veteran who can show Bibby the ropes on and off the court. Point guard Lee Mayberry, a seven-year vet, is on the injured list and also happens to be one of the most reserved players in the league. Forwards Tony Massenburg, Carl Herrera and Pete Chilcutt are journeymen who have to worry more about their precarious hold on their jobs than about nurturing a rookie.
So it's up to Hollins to fill that void for Bibby. He's starting to feed Bibby tidbits about the point guards he'll face. When you feel Derek Harper wrap one arm around your waist, his other arm is about to try to poke the ball away.... Make sure you get on Damon Stoudamire's outside hip as he comes off the pick-and-roll, to keep him from curling into the lane for his shot. But for the most part, Hollins will wait for Bibby to seek him out. "I usually let the young guys come to me, because you can't tell someone something before he's ready to hear it," he says. "The good ones eventually come for help. It usually happens on the long plane flights. I expect Mike will be no different."
On this day Bibby is looking for his own answers, staying after practice to shoot hundreds of jump shots. The coaching staff is pleased to see Bibby's willingness to attack his problems and that he's in good enough shape to keep working after a tough practice. "In terms of conditioning Mike's probably been affected less by the lockout than anybody else," says Hill. "Practice is over, and it looks like he's barely broken a sweat." But that doesn't mean he won't eventually hit the proverbial wall, even in a shortened, 50-game season.
"He'll get tired," Hollins says. "They all do."
TAKING ON THE TRASH-TALKER
Feb. 28: Grizzlies at Nuggets
Before every game, it seems, Bibby is asked about some other rookie on another team. For the first few weeks of the season those questions centered on Jason Williams, the Kings' surprising point guard, but lately forward Paul Pierce of the Boston Celtics has become the main topic of conversation. Bibby realizes that the rookies who are flashier and off to better starts than he are making more of a splash. "I'm not a high riser like some other guys, so I'm not on ESPN all the time," says Bibby. "But I feel I'm doing a pretty good job. It's going to take time to be like Jason Kidd, Rod Strickland or Gary Payton. If people think other rookies are more exciting, I can't really worry about that."
This is not just a line he has practiced for the media. One of Bibby's strengths is that he is even-tempered. "He doesn't bring the game home with him," says Darcy. "He doesn't get frustrated easily, especially over things he can't control."
Besides, Bibby's more immediate concern is his first matchup with one of the trash-talkingest, most intimidating point guards in the league, Denver's Nick Van Exel. The Vancouver coaching staff has been happy with Bibby's composure, but he hasn't faced anyone nearly as expert at getting under an opponent's skin as Van Exel. "Guys like Pay-ton and Van Exel are the ones who get you out of your game by yapping at you and annoying you," says Vancouver forward Cherokee Parks. "The thing Mike has to stay away from is letting Nick draw him into some kind of macho, one-on-one battle."
At the start it appears that Van Exel is trying to bump Bibby off his game rather than talk him off it. He keeps his body on Bibby as much as he can, but that only serves to get him into foul trouble. Meanwhile, in the early going Bibby goes 3 for 3 on jump shots and throws a long, feathery pass to Abdur-Rahim for a fast-break basket. He also makes all the right decisions on the pick-and-roll, knowing when to pull up for the jump shot, when to make the pass to a teammate rolling to the basket and when to keep the ball and move into the lane. He seems far more confident than he did three weeks earlier, especially when shooting.