NBA Sophomores Who Aren't Guaranteed to Improve Next Season
NBA lottery picks are naturally expected to make sophomore jumps the way De'Aaron Fox and John Collins did last season. But teams looking to win now don't always put their young players in position to elevate their games.
Five sophomores stand out as candidates for stalled development based on their 2019-20 projected roles following the draft and free agency. These players would benefit from higher usage rates or different fits based on their teams' offseason additions.
They may not regress this upcoming season, but they also don't seem likely to improve their values.
Kevin Knox, New York Knicks
The New York Knicks front office didn't do Kevin Knox any favors by signing Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Taj Gibson, Bobby Portis and Reggie Bullock.
Coach David Fizdale suddenly has an abundance of mouths to feed. Could Knox's 22.3 percent usage rate plateau or even fall? That would make it difficult for the 2018 No. 9 pick to build more confidence and rhythm after a rookie season in which he shot 37 percent.
He won't have many chances to improve his on-ball creation and 0.58 points per possession out of isolation (11th percentile). And with the rotation expected to include Randle, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr., RJ Barrett and Mitchell Robinson, spacing will continue to be poor. That's a problem for Knox, who struggles to finish in traffic, having just shot 39.7 percent on drives, 48.0 percent in the restricted area and 24.3 percent in the mid-range.
He'll be used mostly as a floor-spacer himself, playing to his strengths as a shot-maker off spot-ups and screens. But for Knox to take a step forward, he'll need to become much sharper off the dribble. And he won't have a suitable opportunity to develop that aspect of his game because of his projected role on this brand-new roster.
Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers
The big question heading into Cleveland Cavaliers training camp is about the backcourt. How will Darius Garland and Collin Sexton be used, and how will Garland's arrival impact Sexton's development?
Our early prediction is the team's 2018 lottery pick won't benefit from the front office's selection of Garland at No. 5 in June.
Sexton, who averaged 16.7 points per game and led the Cavaliers with 14.7 field-goal attempts per game, will lose ball-handling touches as a sophomore. Among players who logged at least 20 minutes per game last year (minimum 50 games), Sexton ranked eighth in the league in dribbles per touch.
More sharing and fewer shots could mean an adjustment and unfamiliar role for Sexton.
Was his 40.2 percent three-point shooting also fluky? Sexton shot 33.6 percent at Alabama (1.3 makes per game), and though it's possible he improved, it wouldn't be shocking if he failed to match last year's accuracy.
Sexton may not regress in 2019-20, but expecting a sophomore jump seems unrealistic, especially since Garland has joined the rotation.
Mo Bamba, Orlando
Mo Bamba's rookie season was cut short by a foot injury, but it's still difficult to picture the 2018 No. 6 pick taking a notable step forward this year.
Unable to play any position but center, he'll continue to back up All-Star Nikola Vucevic. Even when Vucevic is on the bench, coach Steve Clifford could have the urge to go small with Jonathan Isaac at the 5.
The Orlando offense last year scored 97.5 points per 100 possessions when Bamba was on the court—and 112.5 points when he was off it. And after the Magic finished eighth in defensive efficiency and 21st in offensive efficiency, per ESPN, Clifford could feel less of a need to use the 21-year-old for long stretches.
The Magic are already taking extreme precaution with Bamba, who was shut down after one summer league game for general soreness.
Because of his unique size (7'1", 241 lbs), length, shooting touch and potential to protect the rim, his long-term ceiling hasn't moved. But it doesn't seem like this will be the year he makes the big jump. For Bamba, a breakout season may require a change of scenery.
Jerome Robinson, Los Angeles Clippers
Jerome Robinson was probably pumped during the 2018 draft when the Los Angeles Clippers drafted him in the lottery. Since then, they've traded for Landry Shamet and Paul George and signed Kawhi Leonard and Rodney McGruder.
Robinson could barely find playing time last season. This year, he'll have to wait for load management of the team's veteran wings to get minutes.
He may even have to watch out for 2019 second-round pick and B/R sleeper Terance Mann, who filled up box scores during summer league.
The L.A. roster situation will slow Robinson's development and delay his arrival as a rotation player. The fear for the No. 13 pick is that he won't receive many chances to establish his identity or value before contract No. 2.
Mikal Bridges, Phoenix Suns
The Phoenix Suns this offseason focused on adding veterans and shooting, a sensible game plan. But how will that affect Mikal Bridges, who the team traded a future first-round pick for in the 2018 draft?
His role will be capped by the return of Kelly Oubre Jr. The additions of Dario Saric and Frank Kaminsky will also limit his opportunities at power forward, where he logged 44 percent of his minutes last year.
The signing of Ricky Rubio also means more time for Devin Booker off the ball (where Bridges plays). Plus, it's possible the Suns, who ranked last in the league in three-point percentage (32.9), could have the urge to play rookie sniper Cameron Johnson after they surprised the league by trading down to draft him at No. 11.
Bridges should improve on his 33.5 percent shooting from behind the arc. But this won't be the year he evolves into an off-the-dribble threat. Another season averaging in the range of 8.3 points and 2.1 assists per game sounds reasonable for the sophomore, who will turn 23 on Aug. 30.