Many people already regard the 2017 draft class as one of the best ever. Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, Lauri Markkanen, and Dennis Smith Jr. look like future stars. Many rookies last season showed great promise as well, such as De’Aaron Fox and Josh Jackson. However, some rookies didn’t live up to expectations. Whether it be due to injury, lack of opportunity, or just disappointing play, some players didn’t have a chance to prove themselves. In their second seasons, these players will have a chance to prove that they were worth their draft selection in 2017.
Markelle Fultz, PG, 76ers
When Philadelphia traded up for the number one pick, most touted Markelle Fultz as the final piece of “The Process.” Fultz was the consensus number one prospect in the 2017 draft class. Analysts raved about Fultz, comparing him to the likes of James Harden. A 6’5″ point guard with elite athleticism, a great shooting touch, good vision, and excellent footwork. His potential on both sides of the ball seemed immense and his shooting would allow him to coexist with Ben Simmons.
Unfortunately for Fultz, an enigmatic shoulder injury destroyed his jump shot mechanics and sidelined him for nearly the entire season. When Fultz returned towards the end of the season, he showed flashes but was not the same player scouts saw coming out of Washington. He saw few minutes in the postseason as he was clearly not ready for high-level action.
At this point, many have already given up on Fultz, dubbing him a bust. However, many forget how good Fultz really was in college and will neglect all of the work he puts in this summer. If Markelle Fultz can return to the form he had in college, he puts himself in position to legitimately become a star. Pairing him with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid could push the Sixers out of the East this season.
Jonathan Isaac, F, Magic
Drafting Isaac with the sixth pick in the draft, the Magic knew that they were acquiring one of the rawest players in the draft. Isaac didn’t exactly star during his one season at Florida State but he did show enough to warrant a top draft selection. The 6’10” forward has the potential to be one of the best two-way players in the NBA. Isaac’s length is ridiculous; he has the defensive potential to switch one through five. His offensive game is very raw and didn’t do much for him in his rookie season. Issac spent time in the G-League and didn’t accrue too many meaningful minutes.
This season, Isaac looks to see more playing time under new head coach Steve Clifford. Paired with 2018 sixth overall pick Mohamed Bamba and Aaron Gordon, the Magic look to build a stalwart foundation on the defensive end. If Isaac will start, it projects to be at small forward due to the resigning of Aaron Gordon. In his first Summer League game, Isaac showed flashes of an improved handle and an overall improved scoring ability. Playing on the wing, he will need to improve his ball-handling and three-point shooting tremendously. Isaac put up 21 points and eight boards against the Nets, displaying his improved offensive skill set.
Malik Monk, SG, Hornets
Coming out of Kentucky, Monk was an undersized shooting guard with potential to be one of the best scorers in the draft. The 6’3″ shooting guard played very well in college, showing himself as an elite shooter, a great all-around scorer, and a very good athlete. He averaged 19.8 points shooting 39.7% from three in his freshman year in college, earning him a near top 10 draft selection by the Hornets.
There were concerns about his defense and playmaking ability, which showed in his rookie year. However, many were surprised by his inability to shoot and score. In his defense, former Hornets’ head coach Steve Clifford is notorious for limiting rookies’ minutes and roles and Monk was no different. Monk only averaged 13.6 minutes per game for the whole season. However, when Clifford handed the keys to Monk at the end of the season, he reminded all of us what he can do. Over the last eight games of the season, on 22.4 minutes per game, Monk led the Hornets in scoring with 17.1 points and shot 40.6% from deep.
With an increased role in 2018 under new coach James Borrego, he should see his usage and his production increases. Malik Monk put up 23 points in his only Summer League game before unfortunately suffering a right thumb injury, which will sideline him for 6-8 weeks. Missing the Summer League will hurt his development but he will be ready to go for the season. If all goes well, Monk’s scoring should drastically increase in 2018-19.
Luke Kennard, SG, Pistons
Luke Kennard took a huge jump in his sophomore season at, Duke, emerging as their most important player. He averaged splits of 19.5 points and 5.1 rebounds shooting 43.8% from three, a whole 11% more than in his freshman season. The 6’5″ shooting guard isn’t overly athletic but Kennard showed his value as a scorer and a leader. His shooting is excellent, especially off of the dribble. Kennard showed a good handle and excellent footwork, allowing him to get to any spot on the court.
Kennard didn’t feature in too big of a role in his rookie season, averaging 20 minutes off of the bench. Detroit struggled to score at times last year and still don’t have a true go-to scorer besides Blake Griffin. In 2018, there is nobody standing in Kennard’s way for the starting shooting guard position. Detroit doesn’t have any true perimeter scoring threats, paving the way for Kennard to have a dominant sophomore season shooting and passing the basketball.
Bam Adebayo, C, Heat
With the 14th pick of the 2017 NBA draft, the Miami Heat shocked many, drafting Edrice “Bam” Adebayo, the center from Kentucky. Many people had Bam lower on their boards and the Heat already has Hassan Whiteside on the roster. Whiteside has just come off of a career year in 2016, averaging 17 points, 14.1 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. But, it seems Erik Spoelstra is an oracle as he must have foreseen Whiteside’s falling off of a cliff in 2017.
Whiteside’s struggles went farther than his drop in productions. Attitude concerns and an internal conflict lowered Whiteside’s minutes. His style of play also just doesn’t fit in the modern NBA, leading to him being benched in the playoffs. Spoelstra played Kelly Olynyk and Adebayo over Whiteside against the 76ers and has success with those two. Now, Whiteside is in trade talks and likely won’t be in Miami for long. Even if he does stay on the Heat, I fully expect Bam Adebayo to beat him out for the starting center job.
Adebayo has a relentless motor, is very mobile, and is an excellent defender. His offense seemed limited to inside scoring but that was all he was required to do. But, as for many Kentucky big men, his true skill set had yet to break out. In the 2018 Summer League, Bam has been given the keys to the offense. He often was the one initiating the offense, bringing the ball up the floor, breaking down defenders and finding open teammates. His shooting touch even looked solid. Bam’s playstyle, if he continues to develop, is perfect for the modern NBA and could see him becoming an All-Star in a season or two.
Ben Pfeifer is the Managing Editor of the Colts for Full Press Coverage, the AFC South Division Editor, and head NBA editor. Want to continue the discussion? Contact Ben Pfeifer on Twitter @Ben_Pfeifer_, @FPC_NBA and @FPC_Colts.