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NBA Daily: Rookie Trio Shows NBA Learning Curve Is Varied

For some, success is natural and comes early. For others, it takes takes patience. Spencer Davies takes a look at three rookies who have finally found their niche.

Spencer Davies

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There’s a lot of talk about the Rookie of the Year race right now.

Multiple members of the Philadelphia 76ers and Utah Jazz have stated their cases and voiced their support for Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell throughout the season. It’s likely that one of the two will achieve the accomplishment when all is said and done.

Just because it’s likely a two-horse race, though, doesn’t mean there weren’t others in this year’s class that opened up eyes.

The Boston Celtics thrust Jayson Tatum into a primary role that very few could’ve thrived in the way he did. Lonzo Ball clearly has a high ceiling as the future face of the Los Angeles Lakers. Lauri Markkanen showed flashes all season with a Chicago Bulls team that had its moments early. You can mention De’Aaron Fox, Dennis Smith Jr. and John Collins as well regarding players who have seen success in their first go-round in the NBA.

The majority of these guys found success either early or in the midway portion of the season. There wasn’t too much of a struggle to find their game at the professional level.

The same cannot be said for three other rookies, all of whom were lottery picks, but that has changed in the final stretch of the year. It’s something that proves the worth of player development over the course of an entire 82-game long campaign.

Let’s have a look at this trio and highlight their recent body of work.

Markelle Fultz

A nagging shoulder injury forced the number one overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft to miss 68 games this year. In addition, videos of Fultz’s altered shooting form floated around social media. It didn’t take long for pundits and fans alike to scream “BUST!” at the top of their lungs with the former Washington product.

But wouldn’t you know it, the 19-year-old guard looks like he’s got plenty of potential as of late. Averages aren’t really an indicator here in the small eight-game sample size he’s been back, but there have been a number of examples. The explosiveness? It’s there. The handle? It’s there. The confidence? It’s there.

Obviously, the Sixers are going to take it easy on Fultz by monitoring his minutes and likely taking extra precautions with his playing time in the postseason, but there’s something there to be excited about.

Josh Jackson

There hasn’t been very much to be excited about when it comes to the Phoenix Suns, but the gradual progress of Jackson is a light at the end of the tunnel. He has flown under the radar because of the team he plays on, so a lot of fans aren’t aware of how much better he’s gotten since the beginning stages of the season.

Misuse and an inconsistent role plagued the first few months of Jackson’s rookie year. That has changed significantly since the New Year. In the span of 39 games, the 21-year-old forward is averaging 17.2 points and nearly six rebounds per contest. He’s gone 44 percent from the field and is nabbing a steal a game as well.

And since St. Patrick’s Day, a night where he scored a career-high 36 against the Golden State Warriors, he’s averaged 22.6 points per game. There’s plenty of work to be done with the three-point shot (26.3 percent on the year), but it’s clear that when his usage has increased, so has his production. It’s quite possible that between Devin Booker and the Kansas alum could form a formidable duo moving forward in the desert. They just need the right coach to make it work.

Malik Monk

When the Charlotte Hornets sent Monk down to the G-League multiple times to get game reps in for experience, there was a collective groan by the NBA audience about how he wasn’t ready for the big stage. That was partly true.

You see, the developmental franchises are used for that very criticism. Take a player or rookie who is buried on the bench for any team in the association. In Cleveland, we cover guys like Ante Zizic who had that distinction of being “raw” coming into it. At first, the big man came into Cavaliers games looking unprepared for professional level basketball. With two or three games left in the season, he has a completely different confidence and understanding of the ins and outs of the court.

Monk could’ve been overwhelmed by the stage. The Hornets organization could’ve thought that he needed work. Either way, going down to the G-League completely revamped his psyche and, therefore, his freedom as a player in the pros. The recent torrid stretch for the former Kentucky Wildcat guard is a telling sign of what the experience did for him.

Using that same month-long sample as done with Jackson previously, Monk has been electric as a volume-scoring sixth man off the bench for Charlotte, which is a big reason why they’ve made a push late in the season. In that stretch, he’s averaging 11.8 points on 36.3 percent from deep, taking six of his 10 attempts per game beyond the arc. Most recently, he’s ripped off three straight games with at least 21 points in each game, including a career-best 26 against the Orlando Magic.

As you can see, the learning curve for one guy could be completely different than the other. There’s a difference between somebody who gets an opportunity right away to show off their skill set and somebody who has to wait it out to get their turn. In other cases, one rookie could grasp it easier than another can at first, but maybe the rigors of the 82-game season cause a role reversal down the line.

As the league gets younger and younger, you can’t put a time limit on first to third, sometimes even fourth-year players to blossom.

For some, success is natural and comes early. For others, it takes takes patience.

Spencer Davies is an NBA writer based in Cleveland in his first year with Basketball Insiders. Covering the league and the Cavaliers for the past two seasons, his bylines have appeared on Bleacher Report, FOX Sports and HoopsHype.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft

Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.

Simon Hannig

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The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.

The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy

The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.

The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.

In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.

Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?

The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.

Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.

Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.

Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.

Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly

Despite the Hawks trading Luka Doncic, the Hawk drafted players that can help and contribute right away, plus Quavo from the Migos got his wish of Trae Young being selected.

With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and they took Omari Spellman from Villanova with their third pick in the first round. The Hawks are starting to build themselves like the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with the Golden State Warriors before taking the job with the Hawks.

They have the core for their future and I am really excited to see what Young can do in the NBA.

The Rich Got Richer In Boston

The Celtics once again got a steal in Robert Williams from Texas A&M. They get another athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. I am pretty surprised he fell this far.

He is another rim protector the Celtics can use. He averaged 2.5 blocks per game in college. He will also provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams averaged 3.0 offensive rebounds per game in college. He is just a monster on the defensive end of the floor and on the boards.

He would have been a lottery pick in last years draft, but he decided to stay in school another year, and I am sure the Celtics are happy about that.

Luka Doncic Found A Good Home

The Mavericks have the best young backcourt duo in the NBA now in Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. They also drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo, Giannis’ younger brother, in the second round. I love the Mavs’ backcourt a lot.

It is going to be very scary in a couple of years. It will take time and patience to develop them, but it will be worth it. This is going to be a dynamic duo for years to come for the Mavs. The Mavs have set themselves up not only for the future, but also to compete and to try to get into the playoffs. It also depends if they can bring in a max player in free agency, but I love the core the Mavs are building.

The Mavs should be a better defensive team next season, and will be a better offensive team next season with the weapons they have added to the team.

The Mavs are the clear cut winners of the 2018 NBA Draft.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

NBA Draft Night Trades

David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.

David Yapkowitz

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Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.

1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks

The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.

Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.

For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.

2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers

The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.

For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.

The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.

The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.

3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns

The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.

Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.

For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.

The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.

4. Second-Round moves

There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.

For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.

The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.

The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.

The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.

In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.

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2018 NBA Draft Diary

#28 – Jacob Evans – Golden State Warriors

Jesse Blancarte

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With the 28th overall pick, the Golden State Warriors selected Cincinnati Junior Jacob Evans.

Evans represents a solid pick for nearly any NBA team. Evans fits in the mold of a potential 3-and-D role player. Evans improved in his time at Cincinnati, culminating in his junior year, where he scored 13 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. Evans spent three seasons at Cincinnati and rounded himself into a versatile two-way player who can bring a lot of value at the NBA level.

Evans is a very cognitive player, especially on the defensive end. He has a better grasp of his limitations than most players at this stage of their respective careers and is able to maximize his individual defensive ability within a team concept. Evans generally makes the right rotations, double-teams at the right times and funnels his opponents to where his teammates are when he cannot contain the ball-handler on his own. With the right coaching, he could become a valuable defensive wing in an NBA rotation sooner than some anticipate.

Additionally, Evans is more than just a shooter. He led his team in assists last season and has some skill as a playmaker. Evans will be more of a shooter and finisher in the NBA, but the ability to make the right pass, swing the ball when he isn’t open and take the ball off the dribble when necessary make him an intriguing prospect. This is especially true when you consider how valuable a player like Khris Middleton has become over the years, adding layers to his 3-and-D skill set each season.

The Warriors aren’t in need of an influx of talent but are happy to add Evans regardless.

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