Sometimes, the best way to learn is to be thrown directly into the fire. Just ask Lester Hudson.
The original plan for Hudson, the Celtics' 25-year-old rookie guard out of the University of Tennessee-Martin, was to send him to the the Maine Red Claws of the NBA Development League last month, where he'd be guaranteed a good amount of quality playing time with players of his own level. A low-risk way to cut his teeth, you could say.
Not everything went according to plan.
With Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo all sidelined, the Celtics have been undermanned and forced to get creative. That means not just an activated Hudson — but Hudson on the floor, a key cog in the Celtics' rotation. Welcome to the big leagues, kid.
With Rondo out of the lineup and Hudson serving as a seventh man in the Celtics' return home to face Toronto on Saturday night, the C's rookie got in a career-high 12:21 of action — and this wasn't garbage time, either. Hudson was all over the place in the second and third quarters, helping to fuel the Celtics' charge to victory, scoring, passing and grabbing rebounds when needed. He finished with five points, two rebounds and two assists, the highlight of his night being a 26-foot jumper that brought the Celtics faithful to life midway through the second quarter.
"I just wanted to come out and be aggressive," Hudson told CSNNE.com after the game. "Run the offense for my teammates and make the most of the opportunity."
Be aggressive. Run the offense. Make the most of it. All simple basketball cliches, but all baby steps toward a greater understanding of what it takes to be a Celtic.
Hudson is still figuring things out. As the No. 58 overall pick in last summer's draft, he was never expected to be a superstar right away — but he does have the raw talent to make something of himself in the NBA. He's athletic, he's aggressive, he's got instincts and he's got the raw ability to score the basketball. The mental stuff, that comes with time.
"He scared the hell out of me," coach Doc Rivers admitted to CSNNE after Hudson made two turnovers. "He's got to value the ball better."
Hudson will learn that there's more to being a Celtic than raw talent. There's intelligence, there's teamwork and there's a sense of selflessness that you can only learn by making the players around you better. Ubuntu isn't learned overnight — but once you pick it up, it can take you a long way.
Hudson is learning the game the hard way. He had some rough patches on Saturday, as he has in most of his outings this season. There are missed jumpers, there are bad passes, there are the usual rookie mistakes. But the learning curve will be faster here in the NBA — this is the game the way it was meant to be played. The kid's getting his hands dirty, and fast.
It might be better for his long-term future for Hudson to stick around in the D-League. But the Celtics are taking a gamble — they're not thinking long-term, they're winning now. And with Hudson, they're developing another bench contributor for a team that already has plenty of good ones.
Is it working out so far? Sort of, sort of not. But if you ask one of the only two Celtics starters left healthy, there's only one right answer.
"J.R. is 1-0 as a starter, [Hudson] is 1-0 as a seventh man," Kendrick Perkins told ESPNBoston. "It's all good."
1-0. That's the stat that matters.