By now the NBA’s Rookies last season have a year of experience under their belts. Well, except if you’re Ben Simmons and experienced a full season from the bench. The hangover from the Rookie season traditionally means that the Sophomore season can be a bit more challenging.
With new challenges and perhaps some new found attention it can either make or break an NBA player. Of course, trades, coaching changes, and player additions to a team can help or hurt a second-year player’s growth. Here are a few Sophomore players this season that should have the biggest growth coming off their Rookie season.
Lonzo Ball – Los Angeles Lakers
The obvious here is that LeBron James is officially in town and for the purple and gold. Rumors have swirled that James would rather play more off the ball and take a backseat in playmaking. Will the King adjust to LA lifestyle and be more reserved in the ball handling?
If Ball is blessed with the ability to be the primary ball handler while James is on the floor his productivity and playmaking should also increase. The worry and concern is his shooting as the expectation is to also have more of a scoring opportunity with the attention of defenses shifting on James. Coming off his Rookie season, his shooting has always been a concern and his 36-percent should be a low enough bar to increase in year two with LeBron James.
The other setback for Ball could be injuries. He was riddled with a couple of injuries and currently coming off arthroscopic surgery on his left knee in the offseason. He managed to play in 52 of the Lakers games in his Rookie season. Despite missing about a third of the season, he managed 10.2 points, 7 rebounds, and 7.2 assists per game.
Again, Ball can have one of the biggest upsides should be he able to become the primary ball handler. A significant increase in scoring and assists would be a Laker dream come true as James takes on the limelight in LA. Keep in mind, now that James’ presence is in LA it can take just a small bit of pressure off Lonzo.
John Collins – Atlanta Hawks
Collins came into a rebuilding Hawks team that now is clearly in a direction to develop a young team. His opportunity to showcase his talent came late in the season when Collins started the last 22 games he played in for the Hawks. In those games, Collins averaged 10 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1 block per game.
Last season his game was more of a true Power Forward than the hybrid shooting big man. However, in comes Trae Young this season who will demand more attention on the perimeter. This can easily open up more of an opportunity for Collins to seek opportunities on the offensive end in a pick and roll game or crashing the offensive boards on long rebounds.
The Las Vegas Summer League showing for Collins only was two games deep. He averaged 24 points, 8.5 rebounds, and shot 48-percent from the field. He also displayed a game where he poured in four three-point baskets. This is promising and will add another arsenal to his game where the Hawks can run a pick and pop with Young and Collins. The playing time and minutes are available for Collins. If his shooting ability increases, he can see minutes over Alex Len, Omari Spellman, and Miles Plumlee without question.
Jonathan Isaac – Orlando Magic
Isaac had an injury-riddled Rookie season as he only appeared on 27 games for the Orlando Magic. He was one of the better lottery picks in the 2017 Draft that appeared to have a solid jump shot and using his length to become a defensive force. At the times he was able to play last season, Isaac displayed solid defensive efforts and shot blocking abilities.
Of course, a healthy Isaac will translate to a better opportunity this season to showcase his talent. We got a brief glimpse at the Vegas Summer League this summer when paired next to Mo Bamba. The duo took on Jaren Jackson Jr and blocked his shot in sequence.
His opportunity is clear and wide as Orlando enters a full rebuilding process in the past couple of seasons. They have paved the way of a versatile defensive lineup with Isaac and Bamba as two lengthy defensive-minded players. The Magic have signed Aaron Gordon to a max deal this summer and beyond him, as the franchise cornerstone, it shouldn’t impact the growth of Isaac.
His jump shot appeared to be better in the Summer League games that he played in. A more comfortable look coming off the dribble for a pull-up jumper can give him the ability to shoot over defenders with ease. At 6’11 his comparison at that rate will be much of a Kevin Durant.
Markelle Fultz – Philadelphia 76ers
A bit similar to his teammate Ben Simmons and missing almost the entire 2017-2018 season, Fultz will have a full year to start the season healthy. He was able to play in 14 of the last regular season games for the Philadelphia 76ers and only appeared in minimal minutes in three playoff games.
The promising future for the Sixers may have been expedited with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid leading the way. Philly remained patient with Fultz and even with the time they are scratching the surface of a win-now attitude. The biggest question coming this season will be, how well can Fultz shoot the ball?
His ability as a playmaker is a strength and Ben Simmons’ lack of a confident jump shot is where Fultz can fill a void. Shooting is an area where the Sixers would like to lock in on as they lost Marco Belinelli and only added Wilson Chandler. Retaining J.J. Redick is a huge win for Philly however, only for a bit of short-term comfort. If Fultz’s jump shot fails to come around then, the Sixers have the 2019 Summer with plenty of cap space to lure in an All-Star free agent.
With a full summer of healthy workouts instead of rehabbing, Fultz will have a higher expectation to fill in voids next to Simmons and Embiid. The easiest opportunity is to mesh with Simmons and become a shooter to help create space.
Jayson Tatum (Celtics), Harry Giles (Kings), Frank Ntilikina (Knicks)
Baseline Times Contributor