Setting the bar high in one’s rookie season can be a gift and a curse, the first season excellence will always be a measuring stick for a player’s progress. Maintaining the same form or even surpassing it is considered a success while going below that form is considered a slump.
Last season, basketball fans were given a treat as the 2017/18 rookie class put on displays that were not only eye catching but historical as well. The likes of Donovan Mitchell helped knock out the Oklahoma City Thunder in the playoffs, Jayson Tatum helped the Celtics reach the Eastern Conference Finals, Ben Simmons helped the Philadelphia 76ers earn the third seed in the East and he even averaged a triple-double in the first few games in their First Round series against the Miami Heat.
Although Dennis Smith Jr. and Kyle Kuzma did not lead their teams to the playoffs they still made meaningful contributions to their teams. Kuzma and Smith Jr. both averaged double digit points in their maiden seasons in the NBA, they were also one of the few shining lights in their struggling teams.
All the aforementioned players will not have the luxury of being unknown in their sophomore seasons, opposition coaches have now studied the players and they will be paid closer attention than last season. They might be double-teamed or intentionally frustrated, their task is to add more to their game in order to improve on last year’s performances.
Mitchell is still the main player for the Utah Jazz, last season he led a team wihout a single All-Star to the playoffs and he was a top contender for the Rookie of the Year award. He will still be the main focus of the team’s offence and looks set to average double digits again given his explosive nature, the shooting guard has been likened to Dwyane Wade, if he maintains last year’s form he could become an All-Star in the not so distant future.
Getting playoffs experience under your wing is a learning experience which could make Ben Simmons a better player. His shooting was criticized a lot last term but if he spent the whole summer working on his jumper he could become a more efficient player, an improvement on last year’s incredible campaign wouldn’t be far fetched in this case. Simmons is a pass first player and his distribution skills made him an asset for the Sixers, he has displayed leadership skills from a young age and he could become a complete player if he works on a few of his shortcomings.
Kuzma has improved his physique, he is spotting a bulkier figure and this makes sense since he is rumored to be playing the center position in the upcoming season. This could help him become a better rim protector and scorer in the paint, he will benefit from having three top distributors of the ball in the form of LeBron James, Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo. Last year he averaged 16 points per game, as well as 6.1 rebounds per game, the Los Angeles Lakers are likely to be a better team in the forthcoming season and he could also benefit from that much needed change.
The Boston Celtics man has told multiple media outlets that he would be willing to accept a bench role given the imminent return of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, this proves that the youngster is a team player and he will not be affected by a reduced role. On the flip-side, a bench role would see him handle the ball a lot more with the second unit, he could get more shots and a chance to stamp his own authority, this could see him average double digits again. He has been pictured working out with Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and this could also improve his all-round game given Kobe’s knack for playing tough defence as well as a killer approach on the offensive end.
Dennis Smith Jr.
The Dallas Mavericks had a year to forget but Smith Jr. enjoyed a stellar debut season in the NBA, he averaged 15.2 points per game as a starter. His offensive game showed lots of promise and he will still be the team’s primary ball handler and play maker, he could add more assists to his game given DeAndre Jordan’s excellent finishing in the paint. If he strikes a good balance with Jordan the team could find a new scoring outlet which would make Smith Jr. one of the best passers in the game.
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