By Hocine LOUKKAF on 1/7/2019

While some rookies like Simmons, Tatum or Mitchell succeeded in showing right away their potential to be stars, others like Fox or Allen have taken more time to adjust to the expectations of the League. Last year’s class seems deeper than expected with many players already playing important roles for their teams.

#1 Ben Simmons, 6-9 PG, Philadelphia (16.4pts 9.2rbds 7.9as)

Our #1 sophomore is averaging almost the same stats than last year, taking one more rebound and scoring a bit more (16.4pts to 15.8 last year) with a better FG % despite shooting less. At the same moment last year, the Sixers were only 20-20 while they are 26-14 at the moment. Simmons is still the same mediocre shooter, something which could prevent him from being one of the top players ever. This season, he hasn’t taken any shot from three (sic) and is averaging a poor 58% from the free throw line. Simmons really needs to break that psychological barrier and at least shoot some from outside to reach his full potential.

#2 De’Aaron Fox, 6-3 PG, Sacramento (17.8pts 7.5as 1.7st 37% 3pt)

One of the main reasons of Sacramento’s rebirth, Fox has gone from inconsistent offensive player to permanent threat for his opponents. Playing only four more minutes than last year, Fox has improved both his overall (46.7% to 41.2%) and 3pt shooting (37.9% to 30.7%), which has opened lines for him to attack the rim. Consequently, he’s shooting twice more free throws than last year (5.3 to 2.7) and his scoring average has skyrocketed from 11.6pts to 17.8pts. That has not prevented him from defending hard (1.7st) and involving his teammates more as his passing has also improved from 4.4as to 7.5as, good for 7th best in the League. Of course, the fact that Sacramento is no longer a joke with  a 19-20 record in the tough Western Conference (compared to 13-27 last year) is the best indicator of Fox’s new status as a legit franchise player.

#3 Jayson Tatum, 6-8 SF, Boston (16.1pts 6.5rbds 1.8as)

After his awesome performance in the playoffs last year, Tatum has been praised by most experts as the future of the Celtics…maybe too much. As Boston struggled earlier in the season (23-15 now compared to 28-10 last year) and had to welcome back Hayward, Tatum has also been less efficient than last year. While his scoring and rebounding numbers have improved, Tatum has slowly gone away from the rim, taking almost two more three pointers per game as his 3pt % has dropped from 43% to 37%. It has also been the same inside the 3pt line as Tatum’s finishes at the rim have dropped from 32% to 21%. Tatum should work on being more physical as he’s shooting only 3 free throws per game and drawing far less fouls per minute than last year.

#4 Donovan Mitchell, 6-4 SG, Utah (20.2pts 3.4as)

In that tough Western Conference, Mitchell is not longer a surprise for opponents and needs to adjust to that ASAP. A bit streaky from long distance last year with 34%, Mitchell now is less than average with 30% while shooting less. His overall % has dropped to 41% but the other stats have remained stable. Mitchell is the main scorer and the best at creating his shot in a team which may lack another major outside scorer. With 20-20, Utah is still in the run for the playoffs and glad to have the 2017 draft’s 13th pick playing so well.

#5 Jarrett Allen, 6-10 C, Brooklyn (11.8pts 8.3rbds 1.4bl)

Never underestimate an athletic big!! Drafted only at 22, Allen has turned into the Net’s defensive anchor inside and for many years. Playing six more minutes than last year, he has steadily improved his scoring (8.2 to 11.8), rebounding (5.4 to 8.3) and doubled his passing (0.7 to 1.4). Above all, Brooklyn has been far more competitive with a record of 21-20 compared to last year’s 12-19 at the same period. At 20, Allen still has room to improve and already appears to be a major steal for the long-time struggling Nets.

#6 Kyle Kuzma, 6-9 PF, LA Lakers (18.3pts 5.8rbds)

Another steal picked at 27, Kuzma has not benefited as much as he could from Lebron’s signing. While he has improved his scoring and overall shooting %, his 3pt % has dropped from 36% to 32%. Not he best defending or toughest PF, Kuzma has to be a more efficient shooter from outside to be fully useful for the Lakers.

#7 Lauri Markannen, 7-0 PF, Chicago (17.4pts 7.4rbds)

Coming back from an injury after an interesting summer with the Finnish national team, Markannen is slowly recovering his athleticism and strength as he’s averaging 19pts on 48% FG and 8rbds over the last ten games. He has also improved his 3pt shooting and reached the 40% mark. That doesn’t help Chicago win more games for now but the young Bulls are set at the PF spot with Lauri.

#8 John Collins, 6-10 PF, Atlanta (18.3pts 10.3rbds 2.4as)

Another PF and another steal with the 19th pick of the 2017 NBA draft. Injured at the beginning of the season, Collins has been one of the most impressive sophomore as he’s averaging a double double and is nearing the 20pts-10rbds mark, benefiting from Trae Young’s creativity at the PG. He’s worked on his 3pt shooting which, even if it’s still limited to 30%, is becoming a more used weapon (2.3at this year to 0.6 last year). One field Collins has to work on is his defense as he’s too much of an athlete to average only 0.5bl per game, half the number he averaged last year.

#9 Bogdan Bogdanovic, 6-6 SG, Sacramento (15.7pts 3.9rbds 3.5as)

An old sophomore, Bogdanovic has been another consistent contributor for the rising Kings. Playing as many minutes as last year, he’s averaging three more points per game, albeit on lower shooting percentages. Most importantly, he’s doing that in a team which is winning more games and may clinch a playoff spot at the end of the season.

#10 Monte Morris, 6-3 PG, Denver (9.8pts 4as 44% 3pt)

Morris has only played three games last year but has been impactful this season for the Nuggets, the top team in the West. A poised PG, he’s averaging an impressive 5.7a/to ratio and 44% from three. He may not be as hyped as Ball or Smith Jr, who I know are younger, but his level of play right now is much higher than both of them.

Best of the rest : Dennis Smith Jr (12.6pts 4as) is not asked anymore to be the main scorer or passer with Doncic on the team but he has been far more efficient (44% 36% 3pt to last year 39% 31% 3pt). Lonzo Ball (9.4pts 5.2rbds 5as) had to deal with both Lebron and Rondo as the Lakers main playmaker. He’s improved his shooting but more is expected from a 2nd pick of the draft. Bam Adebayo (7.8pts 6.9rbds 2.1as) is steadily improving as Whiteside’s back up center. Josh Hart (9.5pts 3.7rbds) may not be as efficient as last year but his defense allows him to spend more time on the court for a more competitive team.  OG Anunoby (7.2pts 3rbds) has lost his starting job due to the presence of a certain Kawhi but will have the oportunity to learn behind the star forward. Zach Collins (7.1pts 4.2rbds 0.8bl) has become much more solid and could with more work find the way to a starting spot if he can knock the outside J more consistently.

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