The NBA each and every year brings in a new crop of players that assimilate into the league better than most, and these rookies are often times selected towards the top of the draft. Teams draft players based on team needs and the talent of those who are available at the time of their selection. Last year we saw players such as Karl Anthony-Towns and Jahlil Okafor take the league by storm, and they almost immediately became the best players on their new teams. Sometimes these rookies who had such great years struggle to play at the same level in their second year.
The sophomore slump often occurs in sports because of a lack of adjustments made from year to year. Players such as Tyreke Evans who seem destined for stardom after their rookie year, but looking back at Tyreke Evans career his rookie season was his best year in the NBA. The sophomore slump happens almost every season. There were a lot of great rookie years in the NBA during the 2015-16 season, but scouts for every team in the NBA have taken notice of each rookies strengths and weaknesses and now know how to game plan for these players come their sophomore season.
Here we present to you, 8 NBA rookies who will thrive and 7 sophomores who will slump.
8. Thrive: Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid was drafted in the 2014 NBA draft but has yet to play a game in the NBA. He is finally slated to begin his career this upcoming season, and he looks like he is ready. Embiid looks like he could be a physically imposing player right away. While at Kansas, Embiid looked a bit frail in physique and like he may get pushed around a bit at the next level, but Embiid is now two inches taller and has accelerated his strength training. Embiid should be an impactful player on offense almost right away.
He perfectly resembles the ideal big man in today’s NBA, and that is due in large part to the fact that he can knockdown mid-range jump shots and three pointers. Embiid won’t just be effective on the offensive side of the ball. The 76ers will have another big who is an elite defender alongside Nerlens Noel, and Embiid will also help the team tremendously in the rebounding department.
7. Slump: Willie Cauley-Stein
The Sacramento Kings drafted a center in the top 10 of the 2015 NBA draft despite already having one of the best big men in the NBA in DeMarcus Cousins, and Willie Cauley-Stein alongside Cousins made up one of the tallest front courts in the NBA last season. The Sacramento King franchise has failed to develop top draft picks into quality NBA players. Willie Cauley-Stein may have a tough sophomore year just because of this team’s failure to help rookies transition from first to second year players. The plus minus statistic can be very telling as to how a player is contributing to the team in all aspects. Willie Cauley-Stein’s plus-minus number seemed to be getting worse as the season went on, and this could spell trouble for the Kings if this continues. The Kings are looking to buck the trend of their terrible player development by helping their young big man become a star.
7. Thrive: Taurean Prince
The Atlanta Hawks were not the same team last year without DeMarre Carroll, and failed to replace what he gave for the team. Carroll’s main strengths were his ability to play lockdown defense and his three point shooting. Taurean Prince could certainly be groomed into a DeMarre Carroll type of NBA player, and he has got all the intangibles to mirror his game after Carroll. Prince is most known for his post-game comments after his Baylor Bears were upset in the NCAA tournament by Yale. Prince explained to the press what a rebound was, and he dumbed down his explanation of a rebound quite a bit for the reporters on the scene.
Prince has great length and should help the Hawks with their perimeter defense and their rebounding. Taurean Prince should be able to help the Hawks in areas where the team struggled last season, and it would not be a surprise if he played better than many expect him to play.
6. Slump: R.J. Hunter
R.J. Hunter had a rough rookie season which saw his playing time fluctuate throughout the year, and it is hard to see much positive happening to him in the future. In the month of December Hunter was getting a low 13 minutes a game. By the end of the season Hunter was only getting six minutes a game, and he even spent time in the NBA Developmental League last year. Hunter was best known for the shot he hit while playing for Georgia State in the NCAA Tournament that secured one of the most entertaining upsets in NCAA tournament history. Three point shooting was seen as Hunter’s strength coming into the NBA, but he struggled with his shooting for the Celtics last season. The Celtics have improved their team in the offseason. With all the roster turnover Hunter could be out of luck this upcoming season, and he may find himself out of the NBA soon if he can’t improve his production for the team.
6. Thrive: Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn could have chosen to leave Providence earlier for the 2015 NBA draft, but decided to stay and improve his game even more at the college level. In the process he improved his draft stock and was selected fifth overall in the 2016 NBA draft. Dunn has all the skills to be able to be an excellent defender at the NBA level, and with the plethora of young talent currently on the Timberwolves roster, Dunn should have no issues with getting along with his new teammates. This good chemistry off the court will lead to familiarity between teammates on the court. Dunn is quick and can get to the basket easily, but he also made three pointers at a 37 percent rate which will keep defenders honest. Dunn when driving to the basket will be able to dish it to wing players in Zach Levine or Andrew Wiggins for jump shots. The Timberwolves are beginning to mold a team together, and Kris Dunn has a great opportunity to be successful on this squad.
5. Slump: Mario Hezonja
Mario Hezonja started off his rookie season with the Magic in a bit of a rut, but began to pick up more playing time from Coach Scott Skiles as the season progressed. During the month of April Hezonja averaged 27 minutes a game. This was much higher than the 11 minutes a game he was playing in November and Skiles began to have much more trust in giving Hezonja playing time towards the end of the season. Scott Skiles is no longer coaching the Orlando Magic. This could directly affect Hezonja’s standing on the team, and his playing time could significantly decrease as a result of Skiles leaving the team.
Hezonja’s offensive game was trending in the right direction as a result of his increased playing time in the month of April. It seemed like he would be able to become a double figure scorer for this upcoming season, but with his minutes now in question this may be difficult to achieve.
5. Thrive: Denzel Valentine
Denzel Valentine was a first team All American during his senior year at Michigan State, and many teams overlooked him in the 2016 NBA draft. Valentine slipped to the Chicago Bulls who had the 14th pick in the draft. The Chicago Bulls were lucky to be able to get Valentine, and there are so many different ways in which the rookie can help this team regain its form after a down year. Scoring is something that he can give the Bulls in spurts. One of the most desired attributes in today’s NBA is three point shooting, and Valentine improved his shot in college every year shooting a remarkable 44 percent from three during his senior season. Valentine also averaged seven rebounds and seven assists per game in his senior season. For the Bulls he may not get to start because of the presence of Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, and Jimmy Butler, but he is capable of relieving all three of them because he can play the point guard through small forward positions.
4. Slump: Josh Richardson
Josh Richardson was a second round pick of the Miami Heat, and not much was expected out of him in his rookie season. Richardson contributed much more for the Heat in the second half of the season than many expected coming into the 2016-2017 NBA season. During the months of March and April Richardson consistently scored in double figures helping the Heat finish the season strong, and he kept up this surprising play during the postseason. The Heat had a tumultuous offseason when they lost the face of the franchise in Dwyane Wade. The team may struggle to be as competitive as they were last season, and teams are now aware of Richardson’s weaknesses on the basketball court. Richardson surprised many last year by contributing to a playoff team after slipping to the second round of the 2015 NBA draft. This upcoming season could be a rough one, and Richardson may not be as effective if he is more of a focal point of opposing defenses game plan.
3. Thrive: Jamal Murray
Jamal Murray was expected to be drafted as high as number three overall in the draft, but he fell to the Denver Nuggets with the seventh overall pick. The Nuggets had a nice rookie duo of Nicola Jokic and Emmanuel Mudiay last season. The Nuggets are hoping that Murray can make up a big three which has become a moniker to resemble around the NBA. Murray is not the most athletically gifted player, but his ability to hit over 40 percent of his three pointers in college should translate well going into the NBA. The Nuggets will now be much more of a threat from beyond the arc than they were last season. Murray should be in consideration for the rookie of the year award at the end of the season, and if he scores over 20 points a game most nights like he did in college the Nuggets as a team should move up the ladder of the western conference.
3. Slump: T.J. McConnell
TJ McConnell was an undrafted point guard out of Arizona who many felt had no chance at playing in the NBA due to his size. He made the Philadelphia 76ers roster to many people’s disbelief, and had a great start to his rookie campaign. He showed everyone that he belonged in the NBA as a backup point guard. McConnell averaged six points, four assists, and three rebounds a game on the year, but these stats may go down in the upcoming year. The Sixers drafted a forward in Ben Simmons who will handle the ball the majority of the time he is on the court. Sergio Rodriguez and Jerryd Bayless are two veteran free agent point guards who signed with the 76ers in the offseason, and these two will surely cut into all of if not most of the playing time that McConnell had during the 2015-26 NBA season.
3. Thrive: Jaylen Brown
Rookies who are selected as high as number three overall in the draft often times go to a bad team that is infected with a losing culture, but Jaylen Brown was fortunate enough to be selected by the Boston Celtics. The Celtics were one of the best teams in the eastern conference last season. Jaylen Brown will be able to improve his game while winning basketball games, and this is a great thing for a rookie’s confidence. Jaylen Brown is capable of playing either wing positions in the NBA. He and Ben Simmons have the most NBA ready physiques among this year’s rookie class, and Brown will be able to use his body to get to the basket against smaller defenders. The one aspect of his game that needs to improve is his three point shooting. Brown has vigorously been working on his jump shot in the offseason, and if he can knock down threes at a consistent rate he will be able to score more than expected this upcoming season.
2. Slump: Jerian Grant
Jerian Grant did not have a great rookie season, but he also did not get a ton of playing time during his time in New York. Grant was acquired by the Bulls in the Derrick Rose trade leaving the point guard depth on the team weak. With little to no depth for the point guard position it seemed Grant may have a chance to compete for the starting job, but then the Bulls made a big splash in free agency. The Bulls signed Rajon Rondo and Dwyane Wade to bolster their back court. These two acquisitions may lead to Grant getting less minutes per game this season as he got last season, and with the Knicks, Grant only managed to play 16 minutes per game. Grant averaged nearly six points a game last season. That output could go down with the Bulls, and Grant seems destined to ride the bench in Chicago.
2. Thrive: Thon Maker
Thon Maker was very much a mystery when he entered the 2016 NBA draft seemingly straight out of high school. The Milwaukee Bucks struggled last season after being a playoff team the previous season, and the addition of Maker gives them a pretty good frontcourt with Greg Monroe alongside him to mentor him. Maker can play center, power forward and even small forward if the Bucks choose to let him play the wing. The NBA summer league in Las Vegas was a great indicator of just how much more developed Maker had been compared to what many thought, and he earned All-NBA Summer League Second Team honors. Maker showed that he was a very capable shooter from beyond the arc and from mid-range. This is one of the most desired qualities of an NBA power forward today, and Maker’s ability to score in a variety of ways and rebound the basketball will help him achieve success in his rookie year.
1. Slump: Kristaps Porzingis
The New York Knicks faithful was very skeptical of the Knicks selection of Kristaps Porzingis with the number four pick in the 2015 NBA draft, but his rookie year has brought a glimpse of hope for the future of this team. Porzingis electrified fans with his put back dunks and his ability to knock down three pointers. He also was a capable defender, and averaged almost two blocks a game in his rookie season. Porzingis is no longer a secret around the NBA. Scouts across the NBA landscape now know exactly what his strengths and weaknesses are, and this should limit his effectiveness against teams with a great scouting department. The Knicks have also acquired players who are shot happy. Derrick Rose and Courtney Lee are now members of the Knicks, and they are high volume shooters and scorers. This may limit the offensive output of Kristaps Porzingis for the 2016-17 NBA season.
1. Thrive: Ben Simmons
Ben Simmons was the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft, and there was no question that he was the most NBA-ready prospect to come into the association in quite some time. Simmons has the ability to get a triple double every single time he steps foot on the basketball court. Many comparisons have been thrown around about this youngster, but at 6’10 and the ability to play the point guard position if given the chance, many say he resembles Magic Johnson. Simmons is also a great defender and his defense is often overshadowed by his dominance on offense. Simmons has the rare ability to grab a rebound dribble the length of the court at a quick pace and finish at the basket or drive to the basket and kick it out to an open shooter. Simmons should be able to thrive in coach Brett Brown’s system, and he should be the favorite to take home rookie of the year honors.
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