The Biggest Hurdle for Every Top 10 NBA Rookie in Upcoming 2018-19 Season

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJuly 23, 2018

The Biggest Hurdle for Every Top 10 NBA Rookie in Upcoming 2018-19 Season

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    Each of the top NBA rookies has specific weaknesses that will create hurdles for them during their transition from college to the pros.

    The challenge of creating shots against NBA defenses is a theme. Most obstacles will ultimately stem from having to adjust to a different caliber of athlete.

    Some tricks that worked in college won't moving forward.

    These are the top lottery prospects and the biggest hurdle they'll each face in 2018-19.

Deandre Ayton (Phoenix Suns, C)

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    Biggest hurdle: Adjusting defensively

    Scouts were critical of Deandre Ayton's defense at Arizona, where he was slower to react and read off the ball. But he was also playing mostly power forward, spending time defending away from the basket.

    He'll be going from guarding college 4s to NBA centers, which will require an adjustment. 

    Moving to the anchor position may benefit Ayton, who'll have less ground to cover, unless he's facing one of the NBA's stretch 5s. But NBA bigs are significantly taller, stronger and longer than the forwards he faced in college.

    The Phoenix Suns ultimately ranked last in defensive efficiency, per, and they'll be counting on Ayton to adjust and improve their rim protection.

Marvin Bagley III (Sacramento Kings, PF/C)

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    Biggest hurdle: Creating offense, scoring efficiently

    Don't count on Marvin Bagley III matching last season's 61.4 percent field-goal mark at Duke, when he was able to lean heavily on post-ups and athletic plays around the basket.

    He lacks length and strength relative to NBA centers. Bagley shot 33.3 percent in summer league. And NBA strategies and offenses have shifted away from featuring bigs with their backs to the basket. Plus, the Sacramento Kings don't have the best passers to get Bagley the ball in the right post-up spots.

    In the half court, he'll have a tough time scoring efficiently as he struggles to create shots for himself facing up. He doesn't have a pull-up game, and he won't be able to regularly breeze past defenders for layups. 

    Bagley also shot 1-of-10 from three in summer league, and despite shooting 39.7 percent at Duke, his 62.7 percent free-throw mark was the more indicative number. 

    Without a reliable jumper or the ability to create quality looks for himself, Bagley's biggest hurdle will be scoring efficiently on nights when the easy dunk chances aren't always there.

Luka Doncic (Dallas Mavericks, PG/SG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Defending quicker point guards, bigger forwards 

    Compared to Europe, NBA guards are faster and more explosive. And lateral quickness isn't a strength of Luka Doncic. 

    Though not a bad team defender in terms of reacting off the ball, he could have trouble containing dribble penetration one-on-one in space. 

    The good news for Doncic: Alongside Dennis Smith Jr., he'll be guarding 2s and wings. But we've also seen him get overpowered inside the arc or around the basket. 

    An offensive wizard for his playmaking, crafty scoring and shooting, Doncic's biggest hurdle will be keeping his man in check.

Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis Grizzlies, PF/C)

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    Biggest hurdle: Two-point scoring

    Jaren Jackson Jr.'s value is fueled by the combination of shooting and defense. It's creating offense and scoring inside the arc that will represent his biggest hurdle.

    He shot just 36.2 percent on two-pointers in summer league. Still 18 years old, Jackson isn't advanced as a shot-creator facing the basket, and even in the post, his game is relatively basic.

    Jackson didn't even excel as a finisher around the rim in college (54.2 percent).

    He'll lean on chances around the block, putback opportunities and spot-up three-pointers. But on those possessions where he isn't left for an open look, Jackson will have difficulty scoring as a teenage rookie.

Trae Young (Atlanta Hawks, PG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Creating separation, scoring efficiently 

    The skepticism around Trae Young's ability to star in the pros stems from his uninspiring tools and athleticism. He lacks size, strength, length and explosiveness.

    Young shot just 49.6 percent around the basket at Oklahoma. He made four jump shots in the half court that weren't threes. 

    He attempted 328 threes to 290 twos, mostly because it was easier for him to get a clean look from 23-plus feet out. 

    Young won't have the same success making YOLO shots for 82 games in the pros, and he won't have the green light to regularly take them. His biggest hurdle will be separating from his defender, both in terms of creating with pull-ups and step-backs and finishing among the trees at the basket.

Mohamed Bamba (Orlando Magic, C)

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    Biggest hurdle: Physicality 

    Mohamed Bamba will match up strictly with NBA centers throughout his career. And most will be tougher and more powerful.

    He was pushed around inside by Ayton in summer league, and holding his ground in the post and under the boards will continue to be a challenge early in his career. 

    He'll still shoot a high percentage, assuming most of his field-goal attempts are off lobs and catch-and-finishes, where he can convert from high above the rim. But carving out space and keeping from being moved against NBA teams' biggest, strongest players will represent Bamba's biggest hurdle as a rookie.

Wendell Carter Jr. (Chicago Bulls, C)

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    Biggest hurdle: Perimeter defense

    Strong, long and skilled, Wendell Carter Jr. projects as one of the more NBA-ready rookies. If there is a hurdle that stands out, it's switching, hedging and closing out defensively.

    He's already on the right path toward improving, having looked slimmer and quicker during summer league.

    Still, guarding in space and sliding his feet laterally while defending pick-and-rolls and spot-ups could be challenging for the 259-pounder.

Collin Sexton (Cleveland Cavaliers, PG/SG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Playmaking effectiveness/efficiency 

    From high school and AAU to Alabama, Collin Sexton has always been known for scoring. Creating for others hasn't come as easily.

    He finished college with averages of 3.6 assists and 2.8 turnovers per game, and his ratio was worse in summer league, where he totaled 24 assists to 23 turnovers.

    At Alabama, he graded out in the 87th percentile as a pick-and-roll scorer but only the 28th percentile as a passer. He totaled six assists out of isolation all year.

    His scoring will always be valued. However, if he wants to be a complete lead guard who runs the Cleveland Cavaliers offense, he'll have to find more ways to use his dribble and vision to facilitate for teammates.

Kevin Knox (New York Knicks, SF/PF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Overall consistency

    Still 18 years old, Kevin Knox will have those games and even weeks where his shot just won't fall. He was relatively inconsistent at Kentucky, and though expectations have risen after his strong summer league, Knox still doesn't have one signature strength to lean on for offense every night.

    He can get to the basket, but he struggles going left. He can make threes, but not at a strong rate (34.1 percent in college). Knox isn't a playmaker, plus rebounder or disciplined, fundamentally sound defender, either.

    He'll flash loads of potential this season with his offensive versatility and defensive tools. But he's too young and raw to count on for regular, efficient production. 

Mikal Bridges (Phoenix Suns, SF)

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    Biggest hurdle: Creating/locating quality scoring chances 

    Mikal Bridges took a step forward as a junior, but creating his own offense still isn't a strength. And with Devin Booker, Deandre Ayton, TJ Warren, Josh Jackson and Trevor Ariza each ahead in the pecking order, Bridges will only have so many opportunities to try to make a play with the ball.

    In 100 minutes of summer league, he only took 22 shots, 16 of which were threes. 

    Bridges figures to do a lot of standing around the arc waiting for spot-up shooting chances. On those days when the open looks aren't there or his three-ball won't fall, he's bound to struggle scoring.

    Just cracking the regular rotation could be tough for Bridges during his rookie season.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (Los Angeles Clippers, PG)

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    Biggest hurdle: Creating own shot and scoring in half court

    Young and Sexton were drafted before Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, whose lack of blow-by burst, explosiveness and shooting prowess raised questions about his offensive upside.

    His challenge will be separating from defenders and ultimately creating his own shots.

    Gilgeous-Alexander scored 37 points on 50 isolation possessions at Kentucky, ranking in the 41st percentile in points per possession. 

    He isn't an advanced shot-creator or shot-maker around the perimeter with his shooting off the dribble. And after making just 0.7 threes per 40 minutes in college and three of 12 during summer league, it's hard to imagine Gilgeous-Alexander offering too much scoring firepower. 


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports and Sports Reference unless otherwise noted.