As the 2017-18 NBA regular season winds down, we’ve seen another class of young players finish their first seasons. Rookies will inevitably be given All-Rookie denominations and discussions are sure to be had. Who exceeded expectations? Who was the steal of the draft? And Who busted?
In the clutter that is this year’s Rookie of the Year competition, it’s important to re-evaluate young players of previous drafts and ask similar questions. Which good players regressed? Who is improving unexpectedly? Which players should we give up on? In this article we seek to examine five players, all aged 24 or younger, who we need to see more of before answering these questions. Whether a change in role or lack of exposure changed our opinions, it’s clear that these five players need more playing time before being labeled as stars, steals, or busts.
The first of these players is 22-year-old D’Angelo Russell. Taken at number two overall in 2015 by the Lakers, Russell was awarded All-Rookie Second Team honors after a solid first season. In his two seasons with the Lakers, Russell made improvements in all five major statistics. However, his shooting percentages left something to be desired; in his first two seasons, he shot only 40 percent from the field. After a trade to the Brooklyn Nets, Russell suffered a knee injury that sidelined him for two months this season.
In the 40 some games he has played so far, he’s put up nearly identical numbers despite playing fewer minutes. Russell has shown potential as a shooter, passer, and scorer, but his production has yet to live up to the hype. Should his minutes increase as the Nets try to force their way out of a rebuild in the coming years, Russell will have to become a more efficient scorer, as well as reining in his 5-3 turnover ratio, in order to make major improvements.
Like Russell, Myles Turner was drafted in 2015 and made the subsequent All-Rookie Second Team. Unlike Russell, however, Turner has stayed on one team for those three years with his role staying relatively static as a rim-protecting third option. The past two seasons, Turner has been the third highest per game scorer on the Pacers, behind Paul George and Jeff Teague last season, and behind Victor Oladipo and Bojan Bogdanovic this season.
In three seasons, he’s been an efficient scorer at 50 percent over his career. This season he’s shot nearly 38 percent from three on 2.4 attempts per game. This is impressive for any center, let alone one who’s particularly regarded for his defense. And speaking of defense, Turner has a lot of potentials. Despite his age, he’s averaged two blocks in the past two seasons to go along with seven total rebounds (five defensives). Turner also has two seasons of playoff experience, soon to be three. His rookie postseason, he doubled his output to lead the Pacers at 3.3 blocks per game over seven games.
Myles Turner has a lot of potential as both an offensive and defensive threat. He only averages 10 total shot attempts per game, yet still averages 13.4 points per game on an efficient clip. With more looks on offense and a concerted primacy on the defensive end, Turner could easily become one of the better role players at the center position.
The 2015 Rookie of the Year was hailed as the second coming of LeBron James, the future leader of the Minnesota Timberwolves. In 2018, however, Wiggins has become a streaky third option on a playoff-bound team. Wiggins is one of the most controversial players under the age of 25. His usage rating has declined significantly in the past couple years as Karl-Anthony Towns, and later Jimmy Butler grew to overshadow him. Wiggins improved steadily in his first two years before his averages took a dip despite his playing time staying nearly the same.
The obvious reason for this is his role as the third option, but his declining offensive efficiency in his fourth season still leaves some doubt. In most cases, players in that situation should have better shooting splits when taking fewer shot attempts. This season, Wiggins is averaging 33 percent from three, with a low true shooting percentage of 51 percent. So if Wiggins isn’t a great shooter, what is he? Nicknamed Maple Jordan, Wiggins may be best known for his sporadic highlight dunks and buzzer beaters, as well as his guard-like scoring from the forward position. Though he may not be the next LeBron, it’s clear that Wiggins still has potential in his fourth year. The only question is what role he needs to fit in to succeed as a Timberwolf.
His potential may be wasted as the third option, as rumors have risen that Wiggins is dissatisfied with his position behind Towns and Butler. Assuming that the T-Wolves can keep their big three of KAT, Butler, and Wiggins together, Coach Thibodeau may need to reconsider Wiggins’ current position as Minnesota looks forward to their first playoff run since the Kevin Garnett years.
Like Wiggins is known for his dunks and buzzer beaters, Zach LaVine is best known to the wider NBA community for his two Slam Dunk Contest titles and his ACL injury in February of last season. In LaVine’s first two seasons, he averaged a solid 12 points per game to go along with 2.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists. In the 47 games he played before tearing his ACL, he upped his scoring to 19 points per game on a 48 percent scoring clip (nearly 39 percent from three). Unfortunately, LaVine missed 11 months with his injury, during which he was traded to the Chicago Bulls.
Since coming back this past January, LaVine has scored 16.7 points while playing a whole ten fewer minutes per game. This is nothing to scoff at, and signals that he should hopefully improve as his playing time increases in coming seasons. For now, LaVine needs to focus on rejuvenating his scoring efficiency, which has decreased to a measly 38 percent, as well as defining his position in the backcourt. Many fans are split on whether or not LaVine should play as a point guard, shooting guard, or combo guard. In the meantime, LaVine continues to cement himself as a solid scoring presence, regardless of his injury.
There are more than a few young players that could round off this list. In the end, Kris Dunn was chosen because he has already had a long list of ups and downs in his short career. This list is defined by players who need more exposure, playing time, or development before we define them as stars or busts. Before the 2016 draft, there were inklings of Dunn being taken third by the Celtics because he was considered the most NBA ready prospect. In the annual questionnaire, Dunn was voted by his peers the most likely to win Rookie of the Year honors. Many pundits were therefore shocked when he seemed to underperform as the Wolves’ backup point guard.
Since being traded to the Chicago Bulls, however, Dunn has caused surprise again after improving on the rebuilding team. For this reason, he is rounding out our list as another player for who can’t be judged yet. In the past season, Dunn has improved his scoring by nearly ten points per game, as well as doubling his steals and rebounds, and nearly tripling his assist totals.
Overall, after playing 52 games this season, Dunn is averaging 13.4 points per game with 6 assists — decent bounce back numbers for a sophomore point guard. He has also proven himself as an on-ball defender, showing great movement and agility when defending other point guards one-on-one. Like several other players on this list, Dunn’s biggest knock against him is his below average shooting efficiency; 43 percent from the field compared to the league average 46, and only 32 from three compared to the average of 36 percent. Still, these numbers are improving compared to last season, when Dunn shot only 37 percent total, including an abysmal 29 from three.
For a point guard in today’s league, unless he becomes a volume scoring Russell Westbrook overnight, he needs to improve those numbers in the coming seasons. Another problem Dunn may face is improving over the time he’s allotted on the court. He’s already playing nearly 30 minutes per game and starting over half the games he’s played. Assuming his time on the court doesn’t increase drastically next year, he will need to up his impact himself rather than simply increasing his playing time. There’s no reason not to have faith in Dunn because if he can somehow improve half as much next season as he did last season, he will evolve into an above average point guard.