NBA Rookies Who'll Have Steepest Learning Curves in 2017-18

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterSeptember 29, 2017

NBA Rookies Who'll Have Steepest Learning Curves in 2017-18

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    Some prospects are more than prepared for their rookie NBA seasons. These aren't them.

    The following eight first-rounders will need extra time, whether it's due to youth, lack of experience, lower skill levels or physical immaturity.

    Team fit can also play a role in a rookie's learning curve. The longer it takes to crack the rotation, the longer it takes to improve and climb the developmental ladder.

    Regardless of what the hype was like before the draft, lower the bar for the following rookies in 2017-18. Only first-rounders were taken into account.

Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)

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    Jonathan Isaac's learning curve could be steeper than most of the top 10 prospects'.

    He was a "potential" pick for the Orlando Magic—a raw talent with a versatile skill set that could create mismatches against slower bigs or smaller wings. 

    But Isaac only averaged eight field-goal attempts per game and just 1.8 assists per 40 minutes at Florida State. He isn't ready to make things happen one-on-one against a set NBA defense. And though he flashed promising shooting mechanics and shot-making, he only converted 34.8 percent of a relatively small three-point sample size (89 attempts).

    Landing with the Magic won't speed up Isaac's learning curve. The team's projected starting guards and wings—Elfrid Payton, Evan Fournier, Terrence Ross—combined to average just 10.6 assists per game last season. There aren't many setup playmakers or high-level scorers to draw attention and create easier looks for teammates like Isaac, who struggles to create shots himself.

    Listed at 6'10" and 210 pounds, a lack of strength against NBA 4s and 5s could also be challenging early.

    Isaac may wind up being one of the draft's most versatile, two-way players—just not during his rookie season.

Zach Collins (Portland Trail Blazers, C)

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    Drafted before Malik Monk, Luke Kennard, Donovan Mitchell and Bam Adebayo, Zach Collins will take the longest of all the lottery picks to develop.

    It's reasonable to think he wouldn't have gone as high as he did if it weren't for a handful of flashes for Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament. He spent most of last season in a limited role facing West Coast Conference competition.

    Collins, who played just 17.3 minutes a game, needs time to sharpen his basic skill set, which isn't advanced in one particular area. He can score over the shoulder but doesn't have nifty counter moves. He's shown a shooting touch but hasn't taken many jumpers. He rebounded and blocked shots at strong rates in college but isn't overly tough, strong or explosive by NBA standards.

    Through three summer league games, he shot 6-of-23 from the floor—another indication Collins isn't ready. He's already missed time for a concussion, and the Portland Trail Blazers have Jusuf Nurkic, Meyers Leonard, Ed Davis and Noah Vonleh to play center.

Justin Patton (Minnesota Timberwolves, C)

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    Justin Patton's learning curve was steep even before his early-July foot surgery that's kept him out all summer.

    He isn't likely to be a factor in this year's rotation, particularly with the Minnesota Timberwolves suddenly playoff threats and Karl Anthony-Towns in position to make a case for the NBA's best center.

    Strictly a 5, Patton won't see any minutes at power forward, either, limiting his opportunities even further.

    He averaged 12.9 points at Creighton, finishing with uninspiring rebounding (13.8), shot-blocking (5.9) and free-throw (51.7) percentages. He isn't a physical presence in the paint or a skilled perimeter player.

    Patton entered the draft well-recognized as a project, and the Wolves chose to bet on his upside. They shouldn't count on much production over the next year or two.

D.J. Wilson (Milwaukee Bucks, SF/PF)

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    The Milwaukee Bucks didn't buy into D.J. Wilson for his years of production or impact. He hadn't started a game for Michigan until last season, when he put up career-high averages of 11.0 points and 5.3 rebounds and finished with single digits in scoring 16 times.

    The Bucks clearly liked the idea Wilson, a versatile forward with three-point range, ball-handling skills and defensive quickness. But that idea isn't ready to come to fruition against NBA competition.

    Though Wilson shows potential in a number of areas, he isn't advanced in any. He shot 38.3 percent in summer league and 6-of-22 from three. And with Tony Snell, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton, Mirza Teletovic, Thon Maker and Jabari Parker returning this season, there isn't much room in Milwaukee for a rookie who lacks a speciality.

Harry Giles (Sacramento Kings, PF/C)

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    No rookie's image has changed more over the past year than Harry Giles'. From potential No. 1 overall pick to late-first-round project, he's set to split his first season riding the bench with the Sacramento Kings and developing in the G League.

    He only played two full years of high school basketball thanks to a pair of torn ACLs. And after starting last year behind the eight ball because of another knee procedure, he struggled to crack Duke's rotation as a freshman, finishing with averages of 3.9 points and 3.8 rebounds in 26 games. 

    Giles, who fouled 7.7 times per 40 minutes and shot 50 percent from the line, isn't ready for NBA competition. Outside of easy finishes, putbacks and jump hooks, he's too limited as a scorer without shooting range, perimeter skills or tricks in the post. He also totaled 18 turnovers to just nine assists all season.

    He didn't play a minute of summer league and could need years to strengthen his legs, offense, defensive IQ and confidence.

Tyler Lydon (Denver Nuggets, PF)

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    The Utah Jazz were presumably drawn to Tyler Lydon's shooting from the power forward spot. He backed up his 40.5 percent three-point freshman mark with a similar 39.5 percent clip last season. But he didn't add anything else and still isn't proven on defense after two years playing zone.

    For the second consecutive season at Syracuse, he finished below 15 points per 40 minutes, was a below-average rebounder (9.6 per 40) and showed minimal improvement as a shot-creator or playmaker. 

    In five summer league games, he combined to shoot 4-of-20, with 15 of those attempts coming from three. At this stage of his development, Lydon isn't much more than a spot-up threat. And for the Denver Nuggets, the team he was traded to on draft day, Lydon's core strength won't hold enough value to offset the issues his limitations can cause.

    Denver is already loaded with one of the deepest frontcourts in the league. It could be a while before we see Lydon in an NBA rotation.

Terrance Ferguson (Oklahoma City Thunder, SF)

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    Instead of playing a key role for a power-conference school, Terrance Ferguson chose Australia, where he averaged 4.6 points in 15.2 minutes per game. 

    He turned 19 in May and hasn't seen much action the past year. Even when Ferguson did find game time abroad, he underwhelmed, having shot 38.1 percent and 31.3 percent from three with 18 total assists in 30 games.

    Limited off the dribble, he struggles to create shots for himself or teammates, and though coveted for his three-and-D potential, neither his shooting nor his defense stood out in Australia as NBA-ready strengths.

    After he missed all of summer league, the return of Andre Roberson and additions of Paul George and Carmelo Anthony will make it even tougher for Ferguson to see the floor for the Oklahoma City Thunder. 

Tony Bradley (Utah Jazz, C)

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    Tony Bradley sneaked into the first round, with the Los Angeles Lakers picking him 28th overall, and he will have trouble creeping into the Utah Jazz rotation. 

    He only averaged 4.7 shots in 14.6 minutes per game at North Carolina. In terms of skill, he's far from ready without convincing shooting range (61.9 percent FT) or advanced post moves. 

    His body and length are strong, but he doesn't get advantageous bounce or explosiveness in his legs, having finished with the lowest max vertical (27½") and second-lowest standing vertical (tied, 24½") at the NBA combine.

    Soft hands and rebounding won't be enough for Bradley to earn minutes behind Rudy Gobert, Derrick Favors and Ekpe Udoh. He's a definite G League candidate for 2017-18. 

             

    NBA combine numbers courtesy of NBA.com. Advanced stats courtesy of Sports Reference and Hoop-Math.com.