Don’t let the numbers fool you, Roko Ukic’s season has been an understated success.
Despite averaging 12.3 minutes this season and a pedestrian 4.4 points and 1.8 assists, Ukic is proving to be a more than capable back-up to Jose Calderon. Now all the rookie needs is more time on the court to continue to grow as a player.
The problem with that is Jose Calderon is finally healthy so minutes are in short supply for the rookie.
“I think my minutes are down this month because Jose (Calderon) is healthy,” Ukic admitted to Hoops Addict before a game against Indiana. “Through January and February he missed a lot of games and that was the reason my minutes were up.”
According to head coach Jay Triano, the reason for Ukic’s minutes shrinking aren’t due to Calderon being back at full healthy, it’s due to things not clicking or bad matchups.
“I think it’s just a feel,” Triano explained to Hoops Addict when asked why Ukic’s minutes have shrunk this month. “I thought when he went in a couple of times he had matchup issues and I went to Anthony Parker instead. I think when Anthony plays the point we have a height advantage so I’ve played him at the point.”
So, does this mean Ukic is bound to see his minutes continue to shrink this season? Not a chance. According to Triano, the rookie just needs to gain some more experience which will only come with more playing time.
“We’re still trying to get him minutes,” Triano told Hoops Addict. “He came in the other night and did a real nice job, but he’s going to have to earn his minutes. He’s a young player in this league trying to find his way.”
Part of the process involves trial and error, something that’s tough for a coach to provide when a team is fighting for a playoff spot. As a young player he needs to get playing time to learn on the fly, luckily for Ukic this is something the Raptors are willing to do in small spurts this season.
As the playoffs slip further out of their reach it could lead to even more minutes for Ukic due to the coaching staff thinking so highly of his progress and willingness to listen to the coaching staff this season.
“I didn’t think he played well in the first half the other night but he bounced back in the second half,” Triano explained to Hoops Addict. “I love the way he’s a quick learner. He came into the game and took two quick shots without anybody else touching the basketball and you can’t do that as a point guard. In the second half he came in and the ball went swing-swing and he was the third guy to touch it after bringing the ball up the floor and he made two great plays. That’s a huge difference. I love the way he learns so we’re going to keep trying to get him minutes but we’re trying to win basketball games, too.”
This is something that Ukic recognizes and embraces, however he also understand that a big reason why he’s had success this season is due to the fact he’s being aggressive. Whether that’s attacking the rim with reckless abandon or kicking the ball out to open teammates he knows he needs to continue to play with passion to secure more minutes.
While Ukic is listening and applying what the Raptors coaching staff is teaching him, he’s also trying to stay true to what has allowed him to have success in the past.
“He still wants me to be aggressive with the basketball,” Ukic told Hoops Addict. “Maybe sometimes he wants me to make better decisions when I get into the lane. He wants me to pass more and look for a teammate that’s. I want to continue to play like I’ve played the last few games. I just need to be aggressive all the time. I need to make easy baskets, that’s the best way I can help this team.”
While his numbers may not pop out, it’s clear that Ukic is becoming a big part of the Raptors future. Between his willingness to learn and his natural talents, it looks like he’ll be a big part of the teams playing rotation for years to come.
Now all Ukic needs is Triano to give him some more playing time as this season winds down.