Most Disappointing NBA Sophomores

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 3, 2019

Most Disappointing NBA Sophomores

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    A handful of lottery picks from the 2017 NBA draft have struggled to meet expectations by 2019. 

    These sophomores have been disappointing, either based on the bars that were set by their draft slots, rough rookie seasons that called for improvement or impressive first years that hinted at bigger second ones to follow. 

    As a result of minimal development, the height of their perceived ceilings has suddenly dropped.

    The value of these players' second contracts could be in jeopardy if they don't start to make adjustments soon.

Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks

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    Long-term potential earned Frank Ntilikina a pass last year after he averaged just 5.9 points and 3.2 assists per game on 36.4 percent shooting. 

    Based on the first 34 games of his sophomore season, the expiration date on that pass has been moved up. He's shooting worse this year from the field (34.9 percent) and the three-point arc (30.0 percent) while averaging 6.2 points and 2.6 assists in roughly the same amount of minutes per game (21.7).

    He's the only NBA player with at least 20 minutes per game and a true shooting percentage of under 45 in back-to-back seasons

    Converting 50.0 percent of his shots at the rim and 42.9 percent inside 10 feet, Ntilikina has limited explosiveness that continues to hold him back. He's also shown no improvement as a shot-creator, and if he's not making his catch-and-shoot opportunities, he's of little use offensively.

    He loses confidence too easily, which becomes obvious when he's passing up open shots. He'll go stretches without looking at the rim or trying to make a play off the dribble.

    Even Ntilikina's defense, which is still considered to be his NBA moneymaker, has looked suspect at times in terms of containing dribble penetration.

    The New York Knicks will have a tough call at the Feb. 7 trade deadline. On one hand, his value is low, given the recent DNPs (did not play) and no improvement. He's also just 20 years old with a potentially valuable skill set as a combo who can guard multiple positions.

    Either way, New York's front office can't be thrilled with Ntilikina's lack of development and aggressiveness 112 games into his career. 

Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets

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    Marginal improvement isn't enough for Malik Monk to avoid the disappointment label, given his draft slot and poor rookie season. 

    He's still shooting 39.3 percent from the floor and is unable to find consistency with his jumper, the supposed top weapon in his bag. 

    Valued for his scoring at the University of Kentucky, the 2017 No. 11 pick is making just 0.9 of his 3.1 pull-ups per game (30.4 percent), 37.3 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances and 33.3 percent of his threes.

    He's also been prone to poor decision-making, and Charlotte Hornets head coach James Borrego has limited his minutes at times, presumably because of his defense, which ranks 90th out of 99 2-guards in defensive real plus-minus, per ESPN.

    Monk can catch fire at any moment, and chances are he still has explosive scoring outbursts up his sleeve. But his erratic play has been too frustrating for a lottery pick in his second season.

Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns

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    Rick Scuteri/Associated Press

    After Josh Jackson averaged over 17.0 points and shot near 45.0 percent in both March and April of last season, the arrow was pointing up heading into Year No. 2. 

    It's back down again. He's losing minutes to rookie Mikal Bridges, who's No. 24 among NBA small forwards in real plus-minus while Jackson ranks No. 80 of 86.

    The 2017 No. 4 pick, one before De'Aaron Fox, the Sacramento Kings' budding star, is shooting just 38.6 percent from the floor, 46.9 percent inside 10 feet, 31.0 percent on pull-ups and 29.1 percent from three. He continues to experience problems shooting and finishing.

    While he can score in a variety of ways, there isn't one he can bank on every game, leading to frustrating inconsistency for a player averaging 2.1assists to 2.3 turnovers.

    Jackson also turns 22 next month, making him a year older than the other one-and-done lottery picks from his draft class. 

Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas Mavericks

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    LM Otero/Associated Press

    Dennis Smith Jr. hasn't played poorly, but this isn't the breakout his rookie season suggested was coming. 

    He's averaging fewer points (13.0) and assists (3.9) as a sophomore alongside Luka Doncic and has been unable to optimize his offensive skill set while sharing the ball. 

    The Dallas Mavericks are scoring 10.4 more points per 100 possessions when Smith is off the floor.

    While his jumper has shown signs of improvement, it still hasn't been reliable. He's also struggled figuring out how to maximize his athleticism on drives, making 50.5 percent of his attempts and only getting to the free-throw line 0.8 times on them per game. That's fewer than 36-year-old Tony Parker's averages.

    Smith isn't doing himself any favors from the stripe, either, where he's shooting 67.7 percent, the second consecutive season he's below 70 percent.

    His playmaking efficiency, a weakness dating back to North Carolina State, has also been troubling. He's the only NBA guard (since 2014) playing at least 25 minutes with an assist percentage below 25 percent and a turnover percentage above 20 percent. 

    An early wrist injury didn't make it easier to build or sustain rhythm. Still, expectations were higher for Smith in Year 2 after putting up 15.2 points and 5.2 assists last season. 

    Suddenly, it's at least worth questioning whether he fits into the Mavericks' long-term plans, given Doncic's start, obvious potential and the likelihood the offense will continue to run through him.

Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers

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    If Markelle Fultz's redemption story is to be written, it won't happen this year. He left the team after 19 games and a possibility of losing the backup point guard job.

    Regardless of where the blame falls—bad luck, the Philadelphia 76ers front office and coaching staff, Fultz's communication—the result has led to one of the most disappointing NBA storylines in recent memory.

    It took until December of his second year for a diagnosis (thoracic outlet syndrome) to be made on the shoulder that's forced Fultz, a 41.3 percent three-point shooter in college, to drastically revamp his jump shot and practically stop attempting it altogether.

    He's being re-evaluated next week, per the Philadelphia Inquirer's Keith Pompey. And ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Fultz's agent expects his client to play again this season.

    Now it's just wait-and-see time for the Sixers and the 2017 No. 1 overall pick who was averaging 8.2 points and 3.1 assists in his second NBA season.

          

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com