The five most disappointing sophomores so far

Frank Ntilikina averaged just 5.9 points and 2.3 assists on 21.9 minutes of gameplay as a rookie (image by Getty Images)

The 2017 NBA Rookie Class let tremendous players in Donovan Mitchell, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum, Lonzo Ball and more showcase their talents on the big stages all across North America. And of course, with every NBA Draft, there are players that didn’t get to showcase their talents on the court in their rookie season. Going into this season, these players were predicted to break free from their rookie slump and show flashes that they belonged to the franchise that selected them in the draft. Of course, not all predictions become true, as is shown with the list shown here.

The players included on this list could also have had great (or even average) first years, but were predicted to make a huge jump on their game, and ultimately failed, or stayed the same as they did in their first season.

Ultimately, these sophomores have been disappointing, and it is possible for the value of their second contract with the team (guaranteed or non guaranteed) could drop, or even in some cases disappear if they don’t give a reason for their franchise to keep them around a little while longer.


Dennis Smith Jr, Dallas Mavericks

Dennis Smith Jr played well in his first season, but has started slow going into 2019  (image by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Dennis Smith Jr was the 9th pick overall by the Dallas Mavericks in 2017, making the All-Rookie Second Team. Going into this season, DSJ’s stats have dropped, but not by a percentage that is deemed concerning. So why is he on this list? Simple answer; he doesn’t fit in with the new-look Mavs.

During the offseason, Smith Jr’s team took Luka Doncic as a notable draft pick, and picked up DeAndre Jordan during free agency. It’s clear Mark Cuban wants to lead into a win-soon mentality in the franchise, and currently it’s working; with 18 wins on the season to 21 losses. While that may not sound so impressive being a losing record, keep in mind that the Mavericks finished last season 24-58, and the season is still young, so there is always room for improvement.

Dennis Smith Jr has lost two minutes at an average to accommodate for Jalen Brunson, who is currently coming into his own by averaging 6.1 points in 16.4 minutes. With a loss of those two minutes, DSJ has seen his regular stats drop (pts, ast, trb) but at a higher efficiency (see the table), improving tremendously from the field. He has improved slightly at the defensive end, but not enough to pinpoint him as a solid defender in the league; something the Mavericks will need going forward to complete their retooling.

If you watch Mavericks games, you will notice that Dennis Smith Jr looks lost on some plays whilst Luka Doncic runs plays for the team. In the offseason, articles popped up everywhere saying Smith Jr and Doncic will be a great young combo guard duo, but that hasn’t worked out entirely. The stats are there, but he staggers on offense, leading into mistakes while setting up plays.

It seems that his play style does not mesh well with rookie star Doncic, hence why trade rumours have surfaced on moving DSJ before the trade deadline. While it is highly unlikely he will be shipped off, he’ll need to explode for a better second half of the season if he wants to see his role with the team increase.

Josh Jackson, Phoenix Suns

Josh Jackson, while already secured by the Phoenix Suns until 2020, will need to show he should deserve starting minutes over Mikal Bridges (image by Craig Mitchelldyer/USA TODAY Sports)

Josh Jackson came out of the University of Kansas with the 4th overall pick in the 2017 draft as a thrilling athlete with high-class defensive potential. He was drafted to act as the two way player that pushed the pace on both offense and defense while Devin Booker gets the offense played through him.

A few games in of showcasing DeAndre Ayton and Mikal Bridges, Josh Jackson was shoved to the bench by head coach Igor Kokoskov after teammate forwards Bridges, Warren, Ariza (then traded) and now Oubre Jr have shown more potential in the starting spots.

Josh Jackson has been flung all over the bench on different roles, after a shaky first season. It should be noted however that in the last two months of the NBA Regular Season, Jackson produced over 17 points on near 45% field goal shooting. This was supposed to be a sign that his second year would be MUCH better than his first. As we all know, that didn’t turn out true.

Personally, I don’t think it’s Jackson to blame. He can score in a multitude of ways, but there isn’t one move he can continuously go to at a high percentage. He experiences problems shooting and driving to the rim regularly. This is mainly at fault to Suns coach Igor Kokoskov’s system. Jackson hasn’t played with a proper point guard in Phoenix since Eric Bledsoe. Without a true PG, let alone off the bench, there’s been no one to feed the ball to Jackson this season. This is where the coaching system comes into play here, with Igor forcing Josh Jackson into a playmaking role off the bench due to their logjam at the wing positions.

It’s clear he isn’t ready for this role, averaging more turnovers (2.3 as oppose to 1.9 the previous season) in less minutes (see table). He is, however, averaging more assists, but the cost here outweighs the reward, with the extra .4 of a turnover not boding well for Phoenix.

With himself losing minutes to Mikal Bridges, his name has shown up in trade rumours like Dennis Smith Jr. This seems more likely to happen as Phoenix barely even sees him as a forward for the future, dishing him to the bench. Perhaps a change of scenery in a new system is what will motivate Josh Jackson to improve upon his stats.

Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets

A photo of last years Malik Monk (image by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Malik “God of Dunk” Monk was selected with the 11th pick by the Charlotte Hornets in the 2017 draft class. Fans were outraged that Monk even fell this low, suggesting that the Knicks or the Kings taking Monk would’ve been more fair. However, at the end of his rookie campaign which consisted of 63 games due to lack of defensive focus, it was clear to see why he fell this far, and probably should’ve fallen lower.

Don’t get it wrong, Monk can get hot at any moment and deliver you a large amount of buckets when shots start falling, but that hasn’t happened all too often this season. Despite roughly the same field goal percentage, his poor decision making has led to him taking bad shots all throughout the season. He is scoring more points, but that’s expected with more minutes being given to him.

Coming out of the University of Kentucky alongside Josh Jackson, he was valued for his offensive capabilities. Currently in the NBA, that’s the only reason he’s still on this seemingly always .500 team of the Hornets. Malik Monk’s defense in his time with the NBA has been worse than disgusting, allowing his opponents to score on 43.6% field goal percentage throughout the season so far. That doesn’t seem so bad to a regular fan, but if you pair up that number to game film of his defense you’ll wonder how the number isn’t higher.

Michael Jordan should not be happy with the lack of defensive game from his supposed future guard, however there seems to be no trade rumours in the works for him. There were talks of him being traded before the deadline during his rookie season (Knicks were in the leads to trade for him), but thankfully no deal went through. I believe that this is the correct way to go; let Monk learn that his defensive game will not cut it in the NBA. Hopefully as he learns to fit into a starting role his defensive game will come along with it.

Frank Ntilikina, New York Knicks

Frank Ntilikina has shown little improvement in his offensive game  (image by Elsa/Getty Images)

We all knew Frank Ntilikina, 8th pick of the New York Knicks in the 2017 draft would appear on this list at some point. This French point guard was selected to be the defensive pass-first point guard to glue the raunchy offense together on this Knicks roster. It didn’t work so well this season, with Emmanuel Mudiay rising as the superior guard on the young roster.

Frank was known for his defense, which translated well into the NBA; leading the league in defense of the pick and roll in his rookie year. He only allowed .65 points per possession if the possession was set for a pick and roll. The second best at that spot of defense was Jrue Holiday, who allowed only .71 points per possession.

He was praised for his defense, as his lack of offense was something that fans of New York wanted to burrow deep into the back of their minds. So far, head coach David Fizdale has let Ntilikina start on 14 occasions this season, more than the 9 that previous coach Jeff Hornacek handed the rookie. He looked solid, but his offense is a big concern, with many players off the bench for the Knicks easily outplaying him.

In roughly the same minutes, Ntilikina is averaging almost 1 assist less, and almost half a rebound less. His lack of awareness on the court (except for when it comes to defense) should concern the front office, as game film shows Ntilikina miss wide open layups and shots within 5 feet.

A lot of the media is suggesting that they trade him in a deal to pick up on his young value, but the organization has stayed firm put with a Ntilikina trade. I think this is the way to go, as it’s not often you can pick up a defensive minded point guard in the NBA that can also pass the ball on a good night. On a team filled with scorers, Ntilikina is exactly what they need to run the floor. They just need to work out some of his stress points.

Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia 76ers

Markelle Fultz has been battling injuries in his first two years in the NBA  (image by Bill Streicher/USA TODAY SPORTS)

Markelle Fultz, first overall pick by the Philadelphia 76ers. What more can we say? We’ve literally seen so little of him on the basketball court.

In what few games we saw of him, his jumpshot and freethrow looked like a force jolt of his dominant arm, which resulted in balls clanging off the basket after every shot. He looked uncomfortable on the court, always clutching either his shoulder or arms. It was clear something was wrong with him; that wasn’t the same Fultz from Washington.

There have been many supposed “explanations” for what happened to Markelle Fultz’s career so far. Some reports state it was a motorcycle incident from before his career began. Recent reports came out that show that Markelle Fultz being diagnosed with Neurogenic Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a nerve injury that affects the nerves between the neck and the shoulder, which would explain the change of his shooting form.

In the University of Washington, fans fell in love with his sweet jumpshot that notched him 23.2 points per night along with 5.7 boards and 5.9 assists. Looking at his college statistics, it was clear to see why he was a top 3 pick. This athletic kid could do everything and more, and seemed like the clear choice.

However, whatever happened had happened, and the Markelle Fultz fans watched in Washington disappeared once his name was called out to the 76ers in the draft. What came out was a defunct, broken shooter in Fultz.

Of course, it’s too early in the career for Fultz to call it quits. We’ve seen players battle from injuries before, so hopefully whatever Fultz is going through can be healed so he can go back to playing the game he loves.

All statistics are correct as of January 8, 2019, 2:00am ACST


2 thoughts on “The five most disappointing sophomores so far

  1. I agree with all except Monk, he wasn’t used properly last season and he’s the type of player that should have the ball in his hands and just score, he could do better though.

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