Will These Disappointing 2018 Rookies Have Bounce-Back Seasons?

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterOctober 10, 2019

Will These Disappointing 2018 Rookies Have Bounce-Back Seasons?

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    Mary Altaffer/Associated Press

    Last year's NBA rookie class got off to a hot start. Numerous stars in the making emerged. Only a handful of first-round picks disappointed, whether it was due to not having a consistent role, poor performance or injuries.

    The microscope will zoom in closer during their second seasons. More concern would arise about their potential after consecutive underwhelming years. 

    Will the following prospects bounce back as NBA sophomores? We took a lot at their chances of improving based on their projected trajectory and team situations. 

    Michael Porter Jr. was excluded since the Denver Nuggets held him out all season following back surgery.

Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Rookie stats (47 games): 16.3 minutes, 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.4 blocks, 48.1 percent FG, 30.0 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 20.0 minutes per game, 9.0 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 52.0 percent FG, 32.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Bounces back to stud-prospect value, regardless of production 

    The top-five picks were as good or better than advertised, each earning a first-team All-Rookie nod. The No. 6 pick's rookie season didn't go as smoothly. Mohamed Bamba averaged 6.2 points in 47 games before suffering a season-ending foot injury. Will he bounce back and catch up to Deandre Ayton, Marvin Bagley III, Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Trae Young?

    He'll at least get back on the right track, though Nikola Vucevic's presence will continue to limit his immediate upside in Orlando.

    Bamba has looked good in limited action since fully healing, having scored 15 points in 15 minutes of his one summer-league game and 18 points in 19 minutes during his preseason sophomore debut.

    Last year, he had similar trouble executing out of the post (30.8 percent FG) as he did at Texas (26-of-70). He already looks more toned this October, now up to 241 pounds from 225.6 pounds at his NBA combine. And more strength should mean less reliance on finesse, which he leans on often from tougher angles when playing with his back to the basket.

    Regardless of what his shooting numbers said last year, his smooth release is promising. He didn't take too many jump shots, but he converted 50.0 percent of his attempts in the mid-range and 21 threes before going down. I'd bet on his catch-and-shoot jumper gradually improving each season, starting in 2019-20.

    Otherwise, Bamba will continue to block shots using his 7'10" wingspan and mobility, even if it doesn't translate to impact defense right away. Still, it's worth betting on his intelligence leading to a reduced foul rate (4.8 per 36 minutes). And even as a skinny rookie, he still grabbed a solid 16.3 percent of available rebounds.

    The toughest question is whether he can hit his stride backing up an All-Star center. Bamba played 95 percent of his possessions at the 5 last year, and that's not changing. 

    As long as Vucevic is healthy, Bamba can only hope for around 20 minutes per game. That should still be enough for him to regain confidence and build on last season's flashes, however. He might not put up exciting statistics, although few players in the league share his potential to hit threes and block shots. 

    Regardless of what his averages are for this upcoming season, bet on Bamba to revive his stock and value as a potential franchise anchor in the middle.

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

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    Rookie stats: 12.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 37.0 percent FG, 34.3 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 13.8 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 42.0 percent FG, 33.8 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Improvements made to scoring skill set, but inefficiency questions remain

    Kevin Knox's success during 2018 summer league didn't carry over to the regular season. His production in July probably led to unrealistic optimism, possibly making the No. 9 pick's rookie year feel like even more of a letdown.

    But there really shouldn't have been too much expected of a 19-year-old playing for the league's worst team. He was often forced to create something out of nothing, a skill he's far from proficient at, having left Kentucky 4-of-18 out of isolation. 

    For his sophomore NBA year, the Knicks added veterans to help support their younger prospects. But will the additions of Julius Randle, Marcus Morris, Bobby Portis and Taj Gibson—plus No. 3 pick RJ Barrett—make the game any easier for Knox?

    It's tough to picture his 22.3 percent usage rising too much. He wasn't even in the starting lineup to begin preseason. And the front office did little to improve the team's spacing. The rotation has poor-shooting guards in Barrett, Elfrid Payton, Dennis Smith Jr. and Frank Ntilikina. Randle (34.4 percent, 0.9 3PTM) could push for 30 minutes per game, while Mitchell Robinson (0 3PTM) will take the majority of center minutes.

    Knox struggled as a finisher in the restricted area (36.4 percent), showing weak feel adjusting through rim protection. He took wrong angles and made bad decisions in terms of knowing what shot/path to take in or before traffic. Any extra spacing through driving lanes would have helped, but it doesn't seem like more will be available in 2019-20. 

    His 1.7 threes per game were the biggest positive. They highlighted his perimeter shot-making potential. But he only shot 34.1 percent off the catch and 33.9 percent off the dribble, and an abrupt jump forward this early still seems out of reach.

    Assuming he's a little stronger and more comfortable in year No. 2, Knox should execute at a higher rate in areas related to scoring. He's not likely to ever be much of a playmaker. He'll slightly improve on his 12.8 points per game and 37.0 field-goal percentage, but this could be another difficult season, partly due to a clunkier roster situation.

Jerome Robinson, Los Angeles Clippers

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    Jim Mone/Associated Press

    Rookie stats (33 games): 9.7 minutes, 3.4 points, 1.2 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 40.0 percent FG, 31.6 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 13.5 minutes, 5.0 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 42.0 percent FG, 33.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: More flashes of scoring potential, but still no consistent role

    The only lottery pick to average fewer than 10 minutes per game (except for injured Michael Porter Jr.), Jerome Robinson will face similar playing-time obstacles as a sophomore now that Kawhi Leonard and Paul George have arrived. 

    Coach Doc Rivers will presumably favor Landry Shamet's shooting at the 2, and even rookie Terance Mann can make a case for minutes with his unique versatility fueled by rebounding, passing and defense. 

    However, L.A. clearly believes in Robinson, having drafted him No. 13 overall. I ranked him No. 13 on our predraft big board, seeing similarly attractive potential. Robinson, who averaged 18.9 points in the G League and 20.3 points his final year at Boston College, possesses a promising mix of size, athleticism and scoring skills. His final NCAA season, he ranked in the 94th percentile as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, the 91st percentile on dribble jumpers and the 84th percentile out of spot-ups. 

    He's a bucket-getter, and eventually, a lineup will value his ability to create and make shots. It probably won't be this year, however, or least not on a consistent basis. Expect more flashes than last season, mostly during games when George and Leonard are load-managed or an injury leads to an opportunity. But Robinson's full emergence and breakout won't come until either later in his rookie contract or possibly with his second NBA team.

Donte DiVincenzo, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Aaron Gash/Associated Press

    Rookie stats (27 games): 15.2 minutes, 4.9 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 40.3 percent FG, 26.5 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 17.0 minutes, 6.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 41.0 percent FG, 30.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Maintains reserve status with questions remaining about upside/ceiling

    A late, predraft riser after uncharacteristically scoring 31 points for Villanova in the national title game, Donte DiVincenzo soared all the way to No. 17 overall. Will he validate his jump up the Milwaukee Bucks' 2018 board?

    Probably not. A post-rookie-season redraft might now see Lonnie Walker IV (No. 18 overall), Kevin Huerter (No. 19) and Josh Okogie (No. 20) all go before him. Though quad and heel trouble limited DiVincenzo to just 27 games last year, he was disappointing when he did play, shooting 40.3 percent from the field and 26.5 percent from three.

    At least he sounds healthy for preseason, and with Malcolm Brogdon in Indiana, the rotation has an opening. He received a respectable 15.2 minutes per game last year, so coach Mike Budenholzer seemed to value the rookie's versatility and energy. He surely wasn't valuing his outside shot, as DiVincenzo converted just 21.1 percent of his pull-ups and 28.6 percent of his catch-and-shoot chances.

    Lacking ball-handling wiggle and explosiveness, DiVincenzo won't be used on the ball. To score, he'll need to rely on cutting, which he did well (73rd percentile), but he'll still receive more looks as a shooter. 

    He should bring up his percentages, although immediately banking on dramatic improvement sounds unrealistic. Without creation ability or a reliable jump shot, there is only so much DiVincenzo can do.

    On a positive note, his athleticism, effort and timing should still translate to rebounds, defensive playmaking and finishing at the rim, where he shot an impressive 78.8 percent (restricted area).

Grayson Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

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    John Locher/Associated Press

    Rookie stats: 10.9 minutes, 5.6 points, 0.6 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 37.6 percent FG, 32.2 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 20.0 minutes, 10.9 points, 1.8 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 40.0 percent FG, 34.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Value spikes to role-player status, but unpredictability remains part of identity 

    The Utah Jazz gave up on Grayson Allen after a year of questionable shooting and defense. He'll benefit in the short term from the trade to the Memphis Grizzlies, a team without a surefire starting shooting guard or any expectations. 

    With the Grizzlies just focused on stockpiling assets and developing young talent, they should be motivated to find out what they have in the 2018 No. 21 pick. 

    A rhythm player who thrives off confidence, Allen will get the chance to build some with regular minutes. The freedom to play through mistakes will lead to off-games but also outbursts that highlight Allen's streaky scoring.

    He's already gone for 18 points (six total threes) in consecutive preseason games with Memphis. And whether he's playing with Ja Morant or Tyus Jones, all of Allen's minutes should be spent alongside an excellent passer. 

    He's set up for a bounce-back season, at least to the point where he should emerge as a shot-making role player, even if it's for one of the league's weakest teams.

Moritz Wagner, Washington Wizards

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    Rookie stats: 10.4 minutes, 4.8 points, 2.0 rebounds, 0.6 assists, 41.5 percent FG, 28.6 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 17.0 mpg, 9.2 points, 3.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 41.0 percent FG, 31.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Becomes serviceable reserve

    Moritz Wagner wasn't expected to crack an All-Rookie team, but there was a need for his frontcourt shooting with the Los Angeles Lakers, and it seemed possible he'd capitalize. He didn't, and the team traded him to the Washington Wizards.

    He'll have greater margin for error and a longer leash in Washington. The Wizards will prioritize player development, although there will be available minutes, anyway, in a rotation led by bigs Rui Hachimura, Thomas Bryant and Davis Bertans. 

    A stretch forward/center, Wagner ranked in the 95th percentile out of spot-ups his final year at Michigan. Last year, he graded in the 16th percentile. He's bound to shoot and execute better off the catch as an NBA sophomore. Wagner's jumper is cleaner than last year's numbers suggest. And more three-point makes should create extra driving opportunities past closeouts. 

    Defense, passing and rebounding may never be major strengths of Wagner, but his offensive skill level and versatility should eventually begin translating to scoring and shot-making. Playing time and low team expectations can help jump-start Wagner's career with the Wizards.

Jacob Evans, Golden State Warriors

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    Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

    Rookie stats: 6.8 minutes, 1.3 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 34.0 percent FG, 26.7 percent 3PT

    Projected sophomore stats: 7.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 40.0 percent FG, 32.0 percent 3PT

    Prediction: Bounce back to role-player value

    Versatility and two-way impact led to draft buzz for Jacob Evans during his final year at Cincinnati. The Golden State Warriors also seemed like a strong fit for a player who can make open shots, play-make and defend, even though he wasn't the most advanced scorer. But Evans struggled in limited action last season, finishing his rookie year shooting 34.0 percent and 26.7 percent from three with more fouls than rebounds and assists. 

    He did look different during his second summer league, though, wrapping it up with averages 14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 4.0 assists through seven games. Since then, coach Steve Kerr has begun to talk about Evans' likelihood of bouncing back as a sophomore. 

    He'll have a good chance to earn reps and build confidence with Klay Thompson out recovering from a torn ACL. 

    A 39.4 percent three-point shooter over his final two NCAA seasons, Evans is bound to give the Warriors some type of shot-making with more minutes. He'll improve on last year's 26.7 percent shooting off the catch, and he'll flash more of his pull-up when given the chance to dribble.

    He may even surprise as a pick-and-roll passer for the second unit. Either way, Evans' opportunities and usage will spike this year, and with a regular role, more confidence and enough minutes, the 22-year-old is poised to become relevant. He's too well-rounded not to find a way, particularly on a well-coached team that still has talent to take off pressure.


    NCAA stats courtesy of Synergy Sports. NBA stats courtesy of NBA.com.