Every year, there are players who just don’t get an opportunity to succeed in their rookie years. For some players, the transition is too big for them to grasp in one year. For others, they are playing behind a well-established player who is taking away minutes from them. There are some players who play for coaches that have an aversion to playing rookies for no apparent reason.
Whatever the reason, there are many sophomore players who do well once they break out of the shell of being “rookies.” Two examples: Gordon Hayward and Jeremy Lin. They were not given opportunities to succeed in their first seasons, but they broke out in their second seasons.
Here are five such players who could make that jump based on their Summer League performances.
18.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.5 APG, 58.3% FG, 1.0 SPG (2 Games)
Nolan Smith is a combo guard who came out of Duke University last year after a stellar four-year career. Smith came in with reasonable expectations to turn into a serviceable backup point guard, but struggled on the bigger NBA stage, averaging under 40 percent shooting and under 30 percent three-point shooting in just over 12 minutes a game.
During his two summer league games, Smith excelled at attacking the basket, as you can see by his 18 points per game and ridiculous shooting percentage. Smith could still use some work regarding his point guard play, but should learn to create much better when playing next to better teammates on Portland’s roster. Smith should be a valuable backup to Damian Lillard.
25.0 PPG, 47.2% FG, 6.0 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.0 SPG (2 Games)
Kawhi Leonard is not like the other players on this list. As a rookie, he started over half of his team's games for the Spurs, who finished tied for the best record in the NBA. He also averaged reasonably high numbers in his 24 minutes per game, even averaging almost 50 percent shooting from the field.
This Spurs team is not getting any younger, and Leonard will be relied on for a bigger role in the Spurs offense. The Spurs will likely struggle more than last year, but expect Leonard to take the jump into double figure scoring.
20.8 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 2.0 APG, 43.1% FG (4 Games)
Last year, Jimmy Butler showed flashes in very limited minutes, but never truly got an opportunity to succeed while playing behind Ronnie Brewer and Kyle Korver. This season, Butler should get more of a shot. If his Summer League statistics are any indication, he intends to run with his opportunity.
What Butler showed more than anything in this Summer League is that when he chooses to be aggressive, he is a foul-drawing machine. He shot double-digit free throws in multiple games in Summer League. He also showed his usual strong defensive presence. While he is not the offensive player that Korver is and not the defensive player that Brewer is, he is much more of a balance of both, and that will be invaluable for Chicago next year.
16.0 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 4.0 APG, 1 Game, 54.5% FG
Chandler Parsons was a second-round draft pick from Florida who turned some heads during his rookie season, averaging almost 10 points per game, almost five rebounds per game and over two assists per game. His play continued into his one Summer League appearance, where he dropped 16 easy points, along with five rebounds and four assists.
While Parsons was a solid player last year, expect him to be even better this year. The Rockets have fallen off a bit with the loss of Goran Dragic, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola. Jeremy Lin is expected to be the main contributor who picks up the slack, but Parsons will get every opportunity to complement him, and I expect him to take advantage of the opportunity.
24.2 PPG, 55.7% FG, 3.2 APG, 2.4 SPG (5 Games)
Josh Selby might have been the most impressive player in Summer League this year. Along with Portland rookie Damian Lillard, Selby was named Co-MVP of the Summer League and a Summer League All-Star. Selby was a highly heralded player coming out of Kansas, but fell to the second round. His first season did nothing to prove anyone wrong. He averaged only 2.3 points and 1.1 assists in 8.5 minutes a game.
In Summer League, Selby just dominated the competition. Selby essentially did whatever he wanted with the defense. With his Summer League performance and hopefully a strong showing in training camp and preseason, Selby could easily take over the O.J Mayo sixth man role for Memphis, and his productivity would multiply exponentially.