How to Fix NBA Rookies Who Are Still Struggling

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 12, 2014

How to Fix NBA Rookies Who Are Still Struggling

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    There have been few standout NBA rookies this season, and many aren't even playing.

    Most of the ones who are have stunk so far, and there's no secret as to why.

    The only rookies who've seemed to overachieve have been Michael Carter-Williams, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Trey Burke (based on his scoring outbursts and terrific assist-to-turnover ratio), while rookies like Steven Adams, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nate Wolters, Mason Plumlee and Matthew Dellavedova have played well in limited roles or doses.

    The following players are the high draft picks and rookies getting regular minutes who haven't quite done enough with their opportunities. I've diagnosed each struggling rookie, listed his symptoms and prescribed a possible solution, with the order set based on where they went in the 2013 draft.


    Stats courtesy of

Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    David Liam Kyle/Getty Images

    Diagnosis: Tweener

    Symptoms: Offensive inefficiency, low-quality scoring chances 

    Solution: Find a niche 

    I hate to bring it up, but Anthony Bennett is on pace to pose as the new face of the ultimate draft bust.

    "I don't pay attention to all that," Bennett told Bob Finnan of The News-Herald. "That's people's opinions. I have to focus on what's going on here and win some games."

    Bennett doesn't fit into an NBA offense right now. Without a post game or reliable jumper, he hasn't found any luck as a power forward or stretch 4. And at 259 pounds (according to the Cleveland Cavaliers' website, though it might be lower now), Bennett doesn't have the body or off-the-dribble game of a 3.

    Bennett has to find a niche for himself by locating his sweet spots on the floor. Through two months, he hasn't been presented with many quality scoring opportunities.

    The answer isn't black-and-white here. There isn't one thing Bennett can do to suddenly resemble the player Cleveland thought it was getting.

    Finding a niche is more of a long-term solution for Bennett. In the meantime, he just has to start hitting some open shots and finishing his easy opportunities.

    Bennett will have to establish some type of identity for himself as a 3 or a 4, because right now he's fallen between positions.

Victor Oladipo, Orlando Magic

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    Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

    Diagnosis: Inexperience (with his new role)

    Symptoms: Turnovers, low-percentage offense 

    Solution: Repetition  

    Victor Oladipo's solid production hasn't come without a few wrinkles. He is averaging over three turnovers a game and shooting just 40.3 percent from the field.

    Credit that to a new role and added responsibilities. In Orlando, Oladipo has had the ball in his hands more than ever before. The decision-making process, scoring opportunities, required skill set—it's all new to him.

    He's learning on the fly out there and will ultimately have to go through trial and error.

    Oladipo isn't shooting it particularly well either, but nobody expected him to as a rookie. His stroke, along with his floor game as a playmaker, will take some time to develop. Repetition is the ultimate solution for Oladipo, who's improved and expanded his game with each year since 2011.

    There's no reason to think he'll stop after 2014.

Cody Zeller, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Kent Smith/Getty Images

    Diagnosis: "Interior soft-itis" 

    Symptoms: Inability to separate or finish in the paint

    Solution: Embrace role as a stretch big man, develop reliable jumper

    He's experiencing the same problems in the pros that plagued him during his up-and-down sophomore year in college. Cody Zeller struggles against stronger, longer and more physical defenders. He just doesn't take contact very well.

    With a shorter wingspan (6'10.75") than height, an immediate red flag, Zeller hasn't been able to separate for good shots around the key. Everything seems to be either contested or off balance.

    He's only shooting 46 percent at the rim and 30 percent around the stripe despite 7'0" size and athleticism.

    Instead of seeking out most of his scoring opportunities from foul line to baseline, where he has a tough time finishing in traffic, Zeller should look to become a bigger threat from outside. He'll be able to get more open, balanced shots from 18 feet away. Given his foot speed, a jumper could also help set up the dribble-drive against slower-footed big men uncomfortable defending away from the rim.

    He's only shooting 26 percent from mid-range this year. If Zeller wants to make a good NBA living, the catch-and-shoot jumper needs to become his moneymaker.

Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    Diagnosis: Creatively challenged

    Symptoms: Lots of low-percentage shots, heavy inconsistency 

    Solution: Expand off-the-dribble game

    Ben McLemore has shown little ability to create off the dribble, and it's really hurt his shot selection. He's mostly catching and finishing on the way to the rim or spotting up from three—rarely anything in between.

    McLemore has made only 15 mid-range jumpers all season long, and he attempts just 1.3 free throws a game.

    Shooting an ugly 36.2 percent from the floor, McLemore needs to expand his off-the-dribble game, which would allow him to dictate his own scoring opportunities and find some better looks. Right now, he's overly dependent on teammates setting him up, resulting in sporadic scoring chances while making it tough to establish rhythm.

    Unless McLemore finds a way to create some better (and more frequent) shots for himself, consistency might be tough to achieve.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

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    Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

    Diagnosis: Perimeter overdose

    Symptoms: Frequent cold streaks, inconsistency, low-percentage offense 

    Solution: Improve shot selection and creation

    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is only shooting it 39.7 percent from the floor this year. The fact that he's taken 100 three-pointers to just 29 free throws might explain his offensive inefficiency.

    What's ironic is that Caldwell-Pope has actually been effective in the paint, where he's finishing 58.5 percent of his shots at the rim, compared to just 30 percent in the mid-range and 34 percent from three. Caldwell-Pope might want to make it a priority to try to get to the rack more often, given his recent track record finishing around it.

    He overworks the pull-up and spot-up game, taking too many low-percentage shots. He'll have to find ways to create more quality looks at the rim, as well as finish more of his makable ones from outside.

    Detroit drafted Caldwell-Pope in the top 10 because of his ability to complement size and athleticism with a dangerous outside stroke. If he's not shooting it well, he's not serving much of a purpose out there.

Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics

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    Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

    Diagnosis: Rim shrinkage, athletically challenged (no available solution)

    Symptoms: Few easy buckets, no sweet spots, minimal defensive impact

    Solution: Improve perimeter game

    It's as if the rim suddenly shrunk for Kelly Olynyk, who, after shooting it 62.9 percent as a junior at Gonzaga, is shooting just 41.1 percent as a rookie for the Boston Celtics.

    For a big man, he's converting at a below-average rate at the rim, in the mid-range and from behind the arc.

    A subpar athlete with a max vertical leap under 30", Olynyk struggles to get easy buckets and isn't a factor on the boards or defensive end. At 7'0", he's blocked just 12 shots all year. Unfortunately, there isn't much Olynyk will be able to do to improve in this department.

    Offensively, he has to become more of a threat facing the rim, given he's struggled to finish around it thanks to short arms and underwhelming athletic ability. Olynyk might want to look at Luis Scola as a guy he can try to model his game after—a big who can score despite similar athletic limitations.

    Olynyk flashed some promise in the 12-20-foot range in college. To succeed in the pros, he'll probably have to fulfill it.

Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls

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    Diagnosis: One-dimensionality 

    Symptoms: Minimal scoring chances

    Solution: Develop in-between game (or improve as a spot-up shooter)

    He catches, finishes and shoots. Rarely does Tony Snell do anything in between, like putting it on the deck or separating one-on-one.

    Snell has taken just 27 shots at the rim and 19 free throws all year.

    He projects as a role player, so his lack of creativity isn't really that big of a deal. But it is if he's going to shoot just 31.3 percent from downtown after convincing scouts and executives he had three-and-D potential.

    If Snell never expands his off-the-dribble game, he better improve his accuracy as a spot-up shooter.