Biggest Hurdle Every Top NBA Rookie Will Face in 2017-18 Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 25, 2017

Biggest Hurdle Every Top NBA Rookie Will Face in 2017-18 Season

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    The NBA game isn't college basketball, and many of the top rookies will soon find that out. 

    Each one has a signature weakness that will act as a hurdle during his transition to the pros. 

    Many of them are bound to experience dramatic role changes. Meanwhile, the non-shooters or weaker athletes must finds ways to compensate. 

    We broke down the major challenge for each lottery pick (and Ben Simmons) in position to crack his team's rotation. Note that Zach Collins and Bam Adebayo aren't projected to have significant roles as rookies, so they are not included. 

Ben Simmons (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/PF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Scoring in half court

    Ben Simmons is more effective creating shots for teammates than himself. He's a natural facilitator, but without a pull-up and step-back jumper or advanced post game, he's not an isolation scorer. Simmons leans mostly on transition, drives and tough runners when handling the ball, which he got away with in college.

    But in the pros, for a player who's likely to operate around the perimeter, it will be tough for Simmons to hit the 20-point mark by mostly relying on scoring chances in the paint.

    Off the ball, he's merely a finishing target and cleanup man around the basket. The fact he won't threaten the defense as a spot-up three-point shooter eliminates more scoring opportunities.

    Simmons will have to find ways to make shots when defenses pack the paint or Markelle Fultz drives and dishes to him. 

Markelle Fultz (Philadelphia 76ers, PG/SG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Adjusting to less time on the ball 

    Markelle Fultz took 5.8 more shots per game than anyone on Washington last year. His 31.4 percent usage rate was 9.6 percent higher than the next most-used Husky (minimum of 25 minutes played). 

    Now he's in Philadelphia, where Ben Simmons will do much of the facilitating and the No. 1 option is Joel Embiid. Fultz may not be the primary ball-handler or scorer after occupying both jobs in college.

    He'll go from a ball-dominant role to one that has him playing off the ball more frequently. And it could mean his playmaking and scoring chances will originate differently. 

Lonzo Ball (Los Angeles Lakers, PG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Scoring in half court

    Lonzo Ball will lean heavily on transition and three-pointers for his own scoring.

    In the half court, he lacks blow-by explosiveness and isn't the type to put pressure on the defense by driving and slashing (3.1 free-throw attempts per 40 at UCLA). 

    Ball also rarely looks for his shot in the mid-range, having made just 12 field goals as a freshman that weren't at the rim or behind the arc.

    The challenge for Ball is staying impactful during those single-digit scoring nights, although his ability to do so is ultimately what makes him unique and fuels his value.

Jayson Tatum (Boston Celtics, SF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Building rhythm and confidence without consistent minutes/touches

    Had Jayson Tatum gone to the Philadelphia 76ers, Phoenix Suns or Orlando Magic, he'd likely start and play big minutes right away. But he wound up with the Boston Celtics, who just acquired Gordon Hayward and Marcus Morris to join Jae Crowder, Al Horford and Jaylen Brown up front. 

    Even in positionless Celtics basketball, only five men play at a time. And with Boston looking to compete for a title next season, it will be tough for coach Brad Stevens to give his 19-year-old rookie consistent minutes.

    Tatum's hurdle is efficiently scoring on a short leash without the touches and shots to build confidence or rhythm. He won't get the same freedom he's had to hold the ball and work in isolation.

Josh Jackson (Phoenix Suns, SF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Scoring efficiently

    It will be difficult for Josh Jackson to score efficiently if he struggles to consistently make outside shots. 

    His 56.6 percent free-throw mark at Kansas raised red flags concerning his touch and mechanics. He did nothing to squash them in summer league by missing 13 of 16 threes and shooting 64 percent from the stripe.

    Jackson's first step and slashing ability only give defenses more of a reason to sag back and force the jumper. As a likely backup or complementary option in Phoenix, where the Suns will lean on Eric Bledsoe, Devin Booker, TJ Warren and their bigs for offense, Jackson will need to convert his quality perimeter looks.

De'Aaron Fox (Sacramento Kings, PG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Scoring efficiently

    Every scouting report will have De'Aaron Fox's 24.6 percent three-point mark from Kentucky. He missed seven of eight threes in summer league and clearly isn't ready to shoot a strong percentage on jumpers.

    Knowing Fox isn't reliable around the perimeter, and that he's very quick and explosive, defenses will immediately focus on taking away his driving angles. 

    He'll have to be extra sharp on his runners and floaters and finish at a good rate at the rim, a challenge for a 175-pound teenager, no matter how athletic. 

Jonathan Isaac (Orlando Magic, SF/PF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Not disappearing 

    Jonathan Isaac shows great patience scoring within the offense, but he isn't overly aggressive and doesn't create at a high level.

    It led to disappearing acts throughout his one season at Florida State. He finished with eight or fewer points in seven of the Seminoles' last 15 games. And he rarely activated takeover mode, having hit the 20-point mark just three times.

    Being drafted by the Orlando Magic should mean more minutes and touches, but there isn't great playmaking or scoring talent for Issac to play off. He would have benefited from landing on a team that had established threats to draw attention and open up shots, since Isaac isn't ready to consistently create good ones against a set half-court defense.

Lauri Markkanen (Chicago Bulls, PF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Physicality/speed of NBA game

    Lauri Markkanen can shoot and should immediately give the Chicago Bulls shot-making off the bench. But will he offer anything else without standout athleticism or much power around the basket?

    He gave Arizona minimal rim protection, blocking just 19 shots in 1,140 minutes as a freshman, while his 14.0 rebounding percentage was below average. His challenges will be holding his own physically inside and beating or separating from hybrid and small-ball 4s off the dribble.

    If Markkanen's jumper is off, his plus-minus could suffer, given he doesn't project as an impact defender, rebounder or passer and isn't known for driving or post offense.

Frank Ntilikina (New York Knicks, PG/SG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Creating offense 

    Frank Ntilikina should earn minutes right away for his defensive length and quickness. But he hasn't proved to be a dangerous creator, either for himself or teammates. 

    He isn't explosive off the bounce or around the rim, while his handle could still use some extra tightening. He often played off the ball in France. And as of now, it looks like Ntilikina, who turns 19 years old July 28, could be the New York Knicks starting point guard on opening night.

    Their rookie has developed into a promising shooter and unselfish passer. But Ntilikina's challenges will be scoring without a one-on-one game and playmaking despite lacking blow-by jets.

Dennis Smith Jr. (Dallas Mavericks, PG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Leading

    Dennis Smith Jr. put up big numbers at North Carolina State, but scouts still questioned his mental approach and leadership. 

    He often looked checked out when his team went down big, and we saw the tendency for Smith to over-dribble or rush hero shots early in possessions. He's now the lead decision-maker on the floor for a Dallas Mavericks team that lacks supporting star power and could fall out of the playoff race midway through the year.

    One scout addressed his concerns to Bleacher Report:

    "He still hasn't been put through the part of the season and through the hurdles that we all had concerns about, which would be the doldrums of the regular season—losing streaks, back-to-backs on the road.

    "Is he going to be revved up for those games like the elite players? Can he lead his team through the spells like elite players do? Or is he going to continue to be known as an inconsistent, bright-lights player?"

Malik Monk (Charlotte Hornets, SG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Staying consistent  

    Between Malik Monk's dramatic projected role change and his particular shot selection, staying consistent won't be easy.

    Monk goes from No. 1 option at Kentucky to the likely sixth man in Charlotte, which could throw off his rhythm and potential to build it. 

    Even if the fewer touches doesn't bother Monk, his jumper-heavy attack still creates a recipe for erratic offense. He's always appeared more comfortable separating into a pull-up or step-back than trying to finish through traffic in the paint. Only 20.4 percent of his shots last year came at the rim.

    Monk shot 40 percent or worse during 11 of Kentucky's final 16 games. Those are the slumps he'll want to avoid as a rookie.

Luke Kennard (Detroit Pistons)

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    Biggest hurdle: Compensating for lack of athleticism, strength and length

    Limited athleticism and strength could hinder Luke Kennard at both ends of the floor.

    He'll have to compensate offensively with footwork, basketball IQ and tough shot-making. His challenge as a scorer will be separating from quicker, longer and tougher defenders, both as a shooter and driver.

    But unless he proves he can adequately guard opposing 2s, Kennard may not receive many minutes from coach Stan Van Gundy. Short-armed and easy to play through, the Detroit Pistons rookie will be a target for opposing teams to attack right away.

Donovan Mitchell (Utah Jazz)

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    Biggest hurdle: Staying efficient offensively

    Though a dynamic offensive weapon, Donovan Mitchell's streaky scoring and suspect playmaking instincts could lead to inefficiency.

    He often settles for hero shots and hasn't yet put together a full season of consistent outside shooting. Mitchell only shot 39.6 percent from the floor in summer league after converting just 40.8 percent of his field goals during his sophomore season at Louisville, when he registered a 16.0 assist percentage that suggests facilitating for teammates isn't a strength.


    All stats courtesy of Sports Reference and


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