Bucks rookies playing time scarce of late
MILWAUKEE -- Playing time has become scarce in recent weeks for the two Milwaukee Bucks rookies, Tobias Harris and Jon Leuer. That is the downfall of a team competing for a playoff spot that has several veteran players on the roster.
While that makes it difficult for coach Scott Skiles to throw his youngest players into pressure-packed situations with a possible postseason berth on the line, it's not just the inexperience of Harris and Leuer that has kept them off the floor.
"If I felt like they could help us win a game, I wouldn't hesitate to put them in there," Skiles said. "I haven't lost any confidence in them or anything. Those guys are both works in progress. They're both going to be good players, but they have guys in front of them right now that are better than they are right now. That's just the fact of it."
Harris, the team's first-round pick at No. 19 overall, started seven games at the small forward position during the middle of the Bucks' March schedule. At the time, Milwaukee still had Stephen Jackson and Andrew Bogut on the roster, but both players were not playing due to injuries, allowing Harris an opportunity for some minutes on the court. Once the Bucks acquired Monta Ellis and Ekpe Udoh, even though neither former Warriors player is the same position as Harris, it pushed Milwaukee's 19-year-old rookie down in the rotation.
Harris has played a total of only 19 minutes in the past 10 games, getting six ‘Did Not Play - Coach's Decision' lines next to his name in the box score during that span.
"It's been tough," Harris said. "Like any player, you want to play. It's been tough just sitting there and watching. The vets on the team have told me to continue to work hard and that my time is going to come, to stay positive and stay focused."
For Harris, those veteran players have been Drew Gooden and Shaun Livingston.
"They've been embracing me as a rookie," Harris said. "Those are guys that I look up to."
In 38 games played this season, Harris has averaged 4.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 10.3 minutes per game.
For Leuer, the former Wisconsin Badgers star who was drafted by the Bucks in the second round at No. 40 overall, it's been an even greater challenge. Despite being healthy, Leuer has been on Milwaukee's inactive list for several games over the past month. With each NBA team allowed to carry 13 active players, when the Bucks have had a fully healthy team, Leuer has been that odd man out.
"I wouldn't say I need any pick-me-ups," Leuer said. "It's just a matter of looking at it as an opportunity to improve your game so you stay ready for whenever you are called upon. My focus, and Tobias' too, is to work hard and be supportive of our teammates and do whatever we can to help."
Very early in the season, when Ersan Ilyasova was struggling a bit and Luc Mbah a Moute was injured, Leuer earned Milwaukee's starting spot at power forward. However, when his defense started to become an issue for Skiles, Leuer's playing time drastically declined.
"In practices and shootarounds, you try to listen and pick up as much as you can," Leuer said of adjusting to this role. "In games, I'm always trying to watch Ersan or Drew when they're out there, seeing what they're doing, seeing how they're reading different situations, how hard they go to the glass and how they play. That's what my focus has been."
Leuer has appeared in 43 games this season with 10 starts and has averaged 4.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 11.6 minutes per game.
Recently, as the Bucks have continued to chase the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race -- of which they are currently two games behind New York -- Leuer and Harris have only been used at the end of blowout games.
"Each game, I go in ready for whatever," Harris said. "If my name is called, I'll be ready."
Follow Paul Imig on Twitter