Most Disappointing NBA Rookies and Sophomores

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterJanuary 2, 2020

Most Disappointing NBA Rookies and Sophomores

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    Predraft flashes and first-round contracts created expectations for most of the NBA's rookies and sophomores. A handful of these recent draft picks have disappointed. 

    Frustrating injuries have kept some off the floor. Otherwise, there are rookies many had high hopes for in terms of their ability to add some value right away. And a few sophomores haven't made a jump after quiet first seasons. 

    It can take a player more than just two seasons to finally get comfortable. Regardless, the following names have still started slower than expected.

Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks

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    The Atlanta Hawks looked past Cam Reddish's inefficiency at Duke when they drafted him before Tyler Herro and P.J. Washington. The same struggles he went through in college have carried over to the pros, where he's shooting 32.1 percent in 25.9 minutes per game.

    He shot 47.3 percent at the rim last year, and he's down to 41.3 percent with the Hawks. He was brutal catching-and-shooting when guarded at Duke (20.6 percent), and he continues to let pressure bother him on contested jumpers (20.0 percent). 

    Overall, Reddish ranks in the 5th percentile in half-court offense, but he hasn't been much better in transition (12th percentile). 

    Though the numbers won't suggest it, he has flashed promise operating in ball-screen situations, both in Atlanta and college. But Reddish will have a tough time justifying lottery value if he can't dramatically improve his ability to score efficiently off the ball (11th percentile in NBA, 33rd percentile at Duke). 

Jarrett Culver, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    The Minnesota Timberwolves traded up for Jarrett Culver following his breakout season leading Texas Tech to the national championship game. But so far, he hasn't been overly helpful, shooting 36.4 percent.

    Only Culver and No. 28 pick Jordan Poole have played at least 600 minutes and sport true shooting percentages below 42.0 percent

    For the No. 6 pick, the biggest concern is his jumper, which started falling apart last year despite his improved scoring versatility. Culver, whose mechanics have changed over the years, has made just 24.3 percent of his total jump shots, 27 of 108 three-pointers and only 41.9 percent of his free throws.

    He's been one of the least effective spot-up players in the league (5th percentile), as well as one of the worst transition players (21-of-54, 11th percentile). 

    Culver is being used from different spots, with 24 percent of his minutes coming at point guard, 53 percent at 2-guard and 23 percent at small forward. He's 20 years old with ball-screen and passing skills, plus promising defensive tools. But it's still been a rough start in what seemed like a good situation for him to develop, with Minnesota needing backcourt help and Culver having Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins to take pressure off. 

Jerome Robinson, Los Angeles Clippers

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    The Los Angeles Clippers have gotten little out of Jerome Robinson, their 2018 lottery pick. 

    He's a scorer by identity, yet he's reached double figures just twice since being drafted. Though Robinson's role has been limited for a deep, veteran team, he hasn't capitalized when given an opportunity, shooting 34.3 percent through 311 minutes this season. 

    Robinson can't get in a rhythm spotting up during most of his time on the floor (34.1 percent). His jumper isn't falling (20-of-60 in the half court) and he's missed nine of his 11 runner attempts. He's most effective as a pick-and-roll ball-hander, particularly scoring with the pull-up. But on this championship-caliber Clippers team, Robinson won't be receiving many on-ball reps.

    It's difficult to picture him jump-starting his career with this group as long as Paul George, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Landry Shamet are in its backcourt. Robinson figures to be an interesting buy-low trade target, with the Clippers having little use for him.

Kevin Knox, New York Knicks

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    Kevin Knox has gone from flashing star potential as a rookie in summer league to just trying to be a useful NBA role player. 

    Sophomores' roles, production and confidence are expected to jump. But Knox has seen his minutes fall to 20.1 (from 28.8) and scoring average drop to 7.9 points (from 12.8).

    The Knicks coaching staff and front office deserve some blame, as he's lost touches and shots to veterans who the team signed for short-term, quick-fix purposes. Knox, the 2018 No. 9 pick, has been primarily used as a spot-up player (34.8 percent of offense) at small forward (81 percent of minutes), when he'd create more of a mismatch as a hybrid 4.

    Either way, he's still only shooting 34.4 percent off the catch. But it's finishing in traffic that continues to give him the biggest problems. He's converting a dreadful 38.1 percent of his attempts around the basket, showing poor touch and feel for angles. 

    Without a basket scored out of isolation all season, Knox has also made no progress as a shot-creator since Kentucky.

    His most valuable skill has been making jumpers off screens (10-of-25). But between his offensive inefficiency and lack of defensive awareness, Knox has been a huge disappointment for a franchise that can't afford to waste its lottery picks.

Mohamed Bamba, Orlando Magic

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    A change of scenery may be needed for Mohamed Bamba. The Orlando Magic signed Nikola Vucevic through 2023, but even when the All-Star center missed 11 games with an ankle injury, Bamba still only managed 7.9 points in 17.9 minutes.

    The coaching staff doesn't seem to have a great deal of confidence in the 2018 No. 6 pick. Bamba hasn't helped himself, either, particularly in an area where his length and touch should allow him to thrive. He ranks in the 11th percentile in pick-and-rolls, shooting just 6-of-16 on dives to the basket and 10-of-30 on pick-and-pops. 

    While his jump shot was expected to take time, Bamba has been a major disappointment around the basket, where he's converting 53.9 percent of his finishes. He ranks in the 36th percentile on cuts, inexcusable for a center with his tools and mobility. 

    It's especially problematic when considering that he's never been an advanced post player (1-of-7 so far). 

    Ultimately, Bamba's shot blocking hasn't been impactful enough to make up for his offense and lack of physicality. It would be surprising if the Magic didn't gauge teams' trade interest in their backup big man.

Nickeil Alexander-Walker, New Orleans Pelicans

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    There wouldn't be a feeling of disappointment in Nickeil Alexander-Walker if he didn't create such high expectations during summer league (24.3 points, 6.0 assists) and preseason (15.4 points, 4.0 assists). 

    He's one of five NBA players (minimum 20 games) shooting below 35.0 percent on at least six field-goal attempts per game. 

    Without explosion or strength, Alexander-Walker has struggled around the basket (37.2 percent). He's having trouble executing out of pick-and-rolls, particularly as a scorer off ball screens, as he's a combined 17-of-48 on pull-ups, runners and drives to the rim.

    A lack of explosion and strength were question marks out of college, and despite him seemingly answering them in July and October, they've made it tougher to execute during the regular season. 

    The New Orleans Pelicans have plenty of guard depth, so Alexander-Walker hasn't been given a green light to play full-time through mistakes. That could change if the team becomes a seller at the trade deadline and looks to deal Jrue Holiday and JJ Redick. 

Missing Time

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    Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

    Though the New Orleans Pelicans are seemingly being cautious with Williamson, zero games played in 2019 is still disappointing. He's now missed time in high school, college, summer league and the regular season due to injuries. 

    Early knee trouble is bound to result in some type of load management. The worry (from a fan's perspective) is that it becomes a preservation tactic used throughout his career. Either way, until he's back playing on a nightly basis without setbacks, there will probably be conversation about the relationship between his weight, reliance on knees for explosion and long-term durability. 


    Marvin Bagley III, Sacramento Kings

    After missing 20 games as a rookie, Bagley has already been sidelined for 25 games this season. It has to be especially frustrating for the Kings, who took him one pick ahead of Luka Doncic. Through 212 minutes, Bagley hasn't looked much different from last year, showing no early signs of an improved jump shot (3-of-14 3PT). 

    His long-term outlook remains bright, but his shot-creation and touch both need plenty of work, and he hasn't been able to stay healthy enough to build the necessary rhythm to improve. 


    Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns

    With the Suns anxious to make a jump in the standings, Ayton earned himself a 25-game suspension, came back for a night and hurt his ankle. He returned against the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night (six points, 12 rebounds), but he's played just three times all season.

    Meanwhile, the Suns have lost 16 of their last 22 games. 


    Grayson Allen, Memphis Grizzlies

    The arrow seemed to be pointing up for Allen after his 40-point explosion in April and the trade that sent him to a young Grizzlies team. But an ankle injury has forced him to bounce in and out of the lineup. He has a 57.4 true shooting percentage on 39.4 percent from three, so Allen has been relatively efficient when on the floor. He just hasn't been able to stay on it consistently.


    Chandler Hutchison, Chicago Bulls

    A shoulder injury has limited Hutchison to nine games this year after he played 44 games as a rookie. He also hasn't been convincing enough when healthy without a speciality skill the Bulls can value or bank on every game. Unless Hutchison is able resurface in the rotation and start making threes at a promising clip, the 2018 first-rounder won't last much longer in Chicago.  


    Stats courtesy of Synergy Sports Technology and Basketball Reference