I think that young players who enter the league are often burdened by unrealistic expectations. Fanbases of teams that have tanked for high lottery picks can expect those picks to be the saviors of their teams and that they will be successful right away. It can be easy to forget that players taken high in the first round are a lot of times just college freshmen and really are still just kids.
If a player doesn’t live up to expectations right away they are dismissed as a bust before they have a chance to adjust to the travel, the amount of games, and playing with people who are 10 years older than them. Different players develop at different rates. Here are some second-year players who didn’t meet expectations in their rookie seasons, but are rewriting their narratives this year.
The 6’4” guard was selected by the Denver Nuggets with the 7th pick in the 2016 NBA Draft. In his rookie campaign he averaged 9.9 points, 2.1 assists, and 2.6 rebounds while playing in all 82 games. A decent rookie statline by most standards, but he struggled shooting. Murray shot just 40.4% from the field and 33.4% from three. Sub par considering he was expected to be a three-point shooting specialist.
In his sophomore season he has increased his shooting percentages and point totals, 44.2% from the field, 35.8% from three, and 15.3 ppg, but what is perhaps more significant, is that he has become the Nuggets’ starting point guard. He has simultaneously become a more efficient scorer, while dispelling the narrative he came into the NBA with, that he is neither a 1 or a 2.
He still has a long way to go when it comes to passing and isn’t widely considered a “true point guard”, but has become the starting point guard on a Western Conference playoff team in just his second season.
There probably isn’t anyone who benefited from the Paul George trade this offseason more than Victor Oladipo, but if there is, it is Domantas Sabonis. The Lithuanian power forward was taken 11th by the Orlando Magic, and then was promptly traded along with Victor Oladipo and Ersan Ilyasova to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sabonis started 66 games for the Thunder, but only managed to score 5.9 ppg. He struggled mightily shooting the ball, shooting 32.4% from three and 39.9% from the field, a really abysmal field goal percentage considering he’s a forward.
In the offseason he was again traded with Victor Oladipo to the Indiana Pacers and Sabonis is a much improved player with his new team. This year he is averaging 11.7 points and 8.1 rebounds while improving to 53.2% shooting from the field.
I think the biggest reason for this drastic improvement is that with the Pacers he plays a lot more Center. He is closer to the basket, and the team doesn’t rely on him to shoot threes. His three-pointers attempted are down from 2 per game last season to 0.4 this season.
Brown was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 3rd pick in 2016, which I think surprised a lot of people. Some mock drafts had him going as low as 8th. He played mostly small forward but some shooting guard during his rookie year and averaged 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds, hardly numbers that justify a 3rd overall pick.
This offseason the Celtics dealt Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons, leaving a vacancy in their starting lineup at shooting guard. Brown filled that spot this season and has improved with his increased role. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, and is shooting 40.1% from three.
He is one of the better three-point shooters on a top ten three point shooting team, and his size and length for the position have surely contributed to the Celtics having the best defensive rating in the league this year. He will likely be one of the finalists for most improved player at the end of the season.
Ingram was the 2nd pick and the highest pick that played a game in the NBA last year with Ben Simmons missing the entire season due to injury. The now Laker drew comparisons to Kevin Durant due to his length, handles, and shooting ability in the buildup to the draft. In his first season he averaged 9.4 ppg, which really isn’t bad, but shot just 29.4% on threes.
This year he has improved in every statistical category and is shooting a respectable 34% from three. His play hasn’t resulted with the kind of team success the other players on the list have enjoyed this season, but it looks like, more so than last year, that he is on track to become the player we expected him to become.