Breaking Down Why Top NBA Rookies Are Struggling to Begin 2013-14 Season

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Breaking Down Why Top NBA Rookies Are Struggling to Begin 2013-14 Season
Ned Dishman/Getty Images

The transition from college to the pros has been more of a roadblock than a speed bump for most 2013 NBA rookies. 

Even the top guys are struggling—guys who excelled in summer league and preseason. 

By using shot charts, along with analyzing both the physical and fundamental weaknesses of each player, their individual problems really aren't that tough to detect. 

With nearly half the lottery on the injury shelf, let's break down Kelly Olynyk, Anthony Bennett and Victor Oladipo. 

 

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

After shooting 62.9 percent as a junior at Gonzaga, Olynyk is at 41.2 percent through 11 games as a Celtic. He's averaging 7.8 points in 22.3 minutes, offering minimal resistance on the defensive end (three blocks total).

He's played a few nice games so far, but following a standout summer league and preseason, Olynyk's NBA start has been slightly underwhelming.

 

No More Easy Buckets

The biggest fear or red flag surrounding Kelly Olynyk out of college was his lack of athleticism. He just doesn't fit the mold of the new-school above-the-rim big man. 

He registered a whopping 29.5'' max vertical leap at the NBA Combine, tied for No. 49 out of 51 prospects in attendance. 

Olynyk has terrific footwork, along with the ability to knock down shots from all different angles. But in the pros, the help defense is quicker to respond, and the challenging arms are longer—which makes it tougher to separate for clean, balanced looks. 

With the shortest wingspan amongst the 7-footers at the Combine, as well as minimal lift in his legs, he's going to be forced into taking dozens of awkward shots inside.

And awkward doesn't equate to easy.

 

Not Capitalizing on the Perimeter

Whether it's a deeper arc, better defenders or just a small sample size, Olynyk isn't making any jump shots. 

It's been a legitimate weapon for him over the past year. Olynyk likes facing up his man as a dual threat, where he can rise up for a jumper or take his man off the bounce. 

He's also a reliable spot-up shooter, and he can go to the pull-up or fadeaway if necessary.

But the shot chart doesn't lie: He's three-of-18 from downtown and two-of-12 in the mid-range. 

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Olynyk's conversation rate on the interior is also only league-average, which you can trace back to his lack of athleticism and inability to play above the rim.

It's what ultimately limits his upside. And unless he starts capitalizing on the perimeter, Olynyk might come up short of where the bar has been set. 

 

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers

I wasn't exactly a fan of this pick, but let's not go crazy yet. He's not really this bad. This is just an ugly stretch at a time when everyone is looking. 

Bennett's scoring average isn't even worth noting. His season high is six points, and he's already dealing with shoulder trouble.

But the root of his problems is simple enough to diagnose. And if he's willing to put in the work, they're treatable. 

 

Shooting

Bennett can't make a shot—contested or open. He's missed 30 shots so far, which sounds worse when you know he's only made five. 

But it's just 30 shots. I recently saw Rudy Gay miss 26 in one game. This looks bad for Bennett, given it's the first 35 shots of his career, but many of the ones he's getting are in his wheelhouse. He just needs to knock down a few of the mid-range jumpers and open threes that defenses will probably dare him to take.

Bennett shot 37 percent from three as a freshman at UNLV. With natural and promising mechanics, there's good reason to believe these jumpers will start falling eventually. 

But that's not his only offensive issue at the moment: He's also struggling to finish in the interior, a place you'd imagine he'd thrive in. Bennett has only made one shot at the rim so far this yearthat's crazy. 

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He's getting chances; Bennett just isn't converting them. Hopefully, a few made shots will help turn his year around.  

 

Conditioning

After undergoing offseason shoulder surgery, Bennett found himself missing months of basketball activities. And he fell out of shape in the process, which he admitted to Jodie Valade of The Plain Dealer. 

It's unclear what his true weight is at the moment, but if it's anything close to the 259 pounds that the Cleveland Cavaliers' website lists him at, then he's got some work to do. 

At 259 pounds, he'd weigh six pounds lighter than Marc Gasol, who is five inches taller. 

Bennett was listed at 240 pounds at UNLV, a number that seems ideal. 

So far this year, he hasn't been the same open-floor threat he was in college. Where's the explosiveness? 

Bennett will have to get a little lighter on his feet and ultimately boost his stamina. When a capable shooter is missing jumpers, it's usually the result of either fatigue or lack of confidence. And right now, Bennett is suffering from both. 

He needs to add a little fuel to the tank. Once Bennett's conditioning improves, his performance should do the same. 

 

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

He's producing, but not with the efficiency many were hoping for. Despite averaging 11.7 points, 3.7 boards, 3.3 assists and 1.5 steals per game, Oladipo is shooting just 38.9 percent and turning it over a ridiculous four times a game. 

Considered arguably the most efficient player at his position in college a year ago (he shot 59.9 percent from the field), Oladipo's new role as a combo guard with the Magic might take some getting used to. 

 

Finishing at the Rim

Here's the way I see it: Based on his shot chart, Oladipo is making shots when he's set and missing them on the move. 

He's shooting an impressive 37.5 percent from downtown so far—above the league average. In the mid-range, an area that sees Oladipo go to the pull-up and step-back jumper—he's shooting around the league average.

Most jumpers come off two feet, when they can set and square to the basket. 

But where Oladipo is really struggling is finishing at the rim. For a guard, an opportunity to finish at the rim usually comes off a high-speed drive to the basket. And right now, he's not really making many. 


Oladipo is only shooting 43.7 percent in the paint, a number you'd expect to be much higher given his athleticism. 

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There's no doubt that the trees are thicker, taller and longer around the rim in the pros. It might take a while for him to adjust, improve and expand his finishing moves in traffic.

 

Turnovers

The Magic have given him playmaking responsibilities by occasionally putting the ball in his hands as the point guard.   

This is completely brand new for Oladipo, who played exclusively off the ball during his time at Indiana. And his handle, timing and facilitating instincts just aren't NBA-ready for the position. 

Regardless, four turnovers in 25.5 minutes per game sounds hard to fathom. Doing a better job of choosing his spots as a passer and attacker should be atop his immediate priority list moving forward. 

 

They're Not Alone...

It seems as if every 2013-14 rookie is struggling with the transition. 

Cody Zeller is shooting below 40 percent and can't seem to stay out of foul trouble. Supposed three-point sniper Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is just four-of-15 from downtown. Ben McLemore isn't finishing anything inside the arc, making only 39 percent of his two-point attempts. 

Otto Porter, Trey Burke, C.J. McCollum, Shane Larkin and Nerlens Noel have each yet to play a game, while Alex Len has missed seven-of-nine himself. 

It's been a disastrous start for the 2013 class. But for the top guys like Olynyk, Bennett and Oladipo, their struggles are detectable and fixable over time. 

Either way, it sure seems like Michael Carter-Williams picked a good time to declare. 

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