Photo Credit: Bob Donnan- USA Today Sports
The draft class of 2018 faced large expectations coming into the 2019-2020 season after a successful rookie year. Despite the high expectations, the second year players were able to deliver. After just two years, Luka Doncic and Trae Young appear to be the crown jewels of the class after both secured starting all-star spots. Despite the two taking most of the spotlight, the rest of the draft class also delivered with many others finding their roles as borderline all-stars, quality starters, and high-end role players. This season only adds to the case that the 2018 draft class was one of the deeper drafts in recent memory.
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Due to a draft day trade, the careers of Trae Young and Luka Doncic will forever be linked and compared. Both showed promise in their respective rookie years years, and blossomed into all-star starters in their sophomore year. Whether you think Atlanta or Dallas won the trade, it is clear to see that both players are clear franchise players that’ll have great careers for their teams.
21.2 Pts, 6.0 Asts, 7.8 Rbs, 3.4 TOVS
28.7 Pts, 8.7 Asts, 9.3 Rbs, 4.2 TOVs
After one of the most productive rookie years in NBA history, many people expected Luka to regress or at the most stay stagnant in his production. However, Doncic came back this season not only as an all-star level performer, but as a lock for All-NBA this season. At one point early in the season Doncic was drawing MVP buzz as he lead the Dallas Mavericks to a 16-6 record earlier in the year.
Despite the Mavericks cooling down, Luka continued to come in night after night delivering near triple doubles and running the number 1 offensively rated team. With his mix of step back, floaters, and cross court dimes, Doncic increased his production across the board. The Maverick’s offense relied heavily on Luka being able to make the right decision and in second year he rose to the occasion night in and night out.
The Mavericks were built this year to support Doncic. Porzingis was the ultimate option to pick n’ pop/roll. Meanwhile Tim Hardaway and Seth Curry provided space for Luka to operate in isolation and pick n’roll situations. As Luka continues to progress and become more of a superstar, the Mavericks may soon have another European’s jersey up in the rafters when Doncic’s career is done.
19.1 Pts, 8.1 Asts, 3.7 Rebs, 3.8 TOVs
29.6 Pts, 9.3 Asts, 4.3 Rebs, 4.8 TOVs
It seems like almost an eternity ago when doubters were writing off Trae Young during his lackluster summer league performance before his rookie year. Even during the early parts of his rookie year, it seemed Young had to learn the pace and decision making of the NBA. He finished his rookie year showing flashes of the star he could become and this year he took off.
With the 4th highest usage rating (only behind Giannis, Harden, and Doncic) the Hawks entrusted Young to lead the offense. Young not only took the opportunity, but he thrived. Showing the talent that was evident in college, when he was able to lead the country in points and assists per game. This year he was able to display the same production, as he was 4th in the NBA in points per game (29.6) and 2nd in assists (9.3).
Despite the explosive offensive season, Young’s weakness on defense is still apparent with the third lowest defensive box plus/minus rating. At this point however the hawks just need Young to be a neutral defender at most, as he is already at an disadvantage with his slight frame and lack of length. If the Hawks can surround Young with some wing defenders and a deeper bench they can soon become a threat in the east in the future.
Photo Credit: Brandon Dill, Brandon Dill
Even though Trae and Luka were the only players in the class to make the all-star team, they surely will not be the last. These players not only were very productive but also flashed potential to become household names in the league
10.8 Pts, 3.3 Asts, 2.8 Rebs, 1.2 Stls
19.3 Pts, 3.3 Asts, 6.1 Rebs, 1.1 Stls
After producing for a surprise playoff team in the LA Clippers his rookie year, the potential was apparent for Gilgous-Alexander as a primary ball-handler. However when he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, his role on the team came into question as now he had to share the back-court with future Hall of Famer Chris Paul. To much surprise, Gilgous-Alexander thrived in the off-ball role as he progressed as a scorer and helped another team become a surprise playoff team.
What makes Gilgous-Alexander a special player is the poise that he plays with. Even during his first season, Shai was able to score with a mix of different floaters and lay-ups that you’d expect from a seasoned veteran. Even as he moved to an off-ball role, Shai’s usage continued to rise and yet surprisingly, his assists to turnover ratio actually decreased. His length and athleticism allows him to switch onto wings on defense, and as his offense progresses a possible all-star birth could be in his future sooner rather than later.
16.3 Pts, 1.8 Asts, 10.3 Rebs, 0.9 Blks, 2.9 PFs, 1.8 TOVs
19.0 Pts, 1.9 Asts, 12.0 Rebs, 1.7 Blks, 3.2 PFs, 2.4 TOVs
The former 1st overall pick of the draft only played one game to start the season before he was hit with a 30 game suspension for violating the NBA anti-drug policy. However when Ayton came back he showed the improvements that he had made during the off-season. Ayton’s floor was already high, which was why he was the first pick in the draft. His mix of freakish size and athleticism mixed with his touch gave him the potential to be a premier big man for years to come.
A lot of Ayton’s offense comes from his sheer size and athleticism allowing him to dive hard to the paint to catch a lob. However, unlike a lot of big men in the league, Ayton provides more with quick post-up moves as well. Furthermore, Ayton has good touch allowing him to spot up occasionally for a free-throw line jumper occasionally. With a 75% free throw rating, it is interesting to see if Ayton will expand his range to the three-point line as he has only attempted 7 in his whole career.
The biggest improvement that Ayton made this year was on the defensive ended of the court. Often times his rookie year Ayton would be disinterested off-ball and would catch himself in the wrong position in help. Given his quickness and athleticism, Ayton should be up there as an All-Defense candidate but he still has to understand the mental part of defense. The off-season and possibly mentorship from veteran Aron Baynes helped him this year become an anchor for the Phoenix Suns.
Jaren Jackson Jr.
13.8 Pts, 1.1 Asts, 4.7 Rebs, 1.4 Blks, 0.9 Stls, 3.8 Fls
16.9 Pts, 1.4 Asts, 4.7 Rebs, 1.6 Blks, 0.7 Stls, 4.1 Fls
Staring at just the statistics, Jaren Jackson Jr. does not look like a future all-star. If anything his stats look like a mediocre starter. But after watching him play it is clear that the potential is there he makes a big impact on the game. First and foremost, JJJ embodies the modern big man. His offense is the perfect blend of the ability to get to the rim, while also having an efficient jumper which forces defenses to expand. Meanwhile on defense, JJJ’s lateral quickness allows him to switch onto anyone on the court and hold his own.
There are two big problems in JJJ’s game though and they’re fairly important, fouls and rebounds. Jackson Jr. only stays on the court for 28.0 minutes per game because he cannot get out of foul trouble. He is a constant threat to foul out of the game which takes him out of the game more often. Furthermore given his size and length, Jackson Jr. should be a double digit rebounder. Despite these weaknesses, JJJ and the Memphis Grizzlies improved to a record good enough for the 8th seed in the West. If JJJ can improve on these weaknesses, then the Memphiz Grizzlies have a potentially dangerous core in Jaren and Ja.
Photo Credit: Jacob Kupferman, Getty Images
These players did not have the biggest rookie years. Whether it was through an expanded role or just more minutes, these players were able to stand-out and have a breakout season this year.
4.7 Pts, 2.6 Asts, 1.4 Rbs, 14.7 MPG
18.2 Pts, 7.5 Asts, 3.4 Rbs, 35.1 MPG
Out of all the guards in Charlotte this year, Graham was probably the last that I would expect to have a breakout year. Which is somewhat surprising, considering that coming out of college he was an AP first team All-American for Kansas. Yet due to a mix of his age and size, scouts didn’t rank Graham too highly. The 2nd round pick had an underwhelming first year, however he was able to find a role off the bench. However, this year Graham found a premier role for the struggling Hornets.
This year Graham displayed the play-making and shooting that made him such a good player in Kansas. While dishing out 7.5 assists, he shot a threatening 37.3% from three. Where we can see Graham improve is his efficiency while scoring. While he has been efficient from outside, he needs to work on his shots around the rim and mid range if he wants to reach the next level.
16.7 Pts, 3.0 Asts, 2.9 Rebs, 2.3 TOVs
20.8 Pts, 3.0 Asts, 3.1 Rebs, 2.4 TOVs
If you’ve never seen Collin Sexton play, I wouldn’t blame you. The Cavaliers haven’t exactly been the most exciting team to watch since Lebron left, and they haven’t exactly been the most competitive team either. Two things are guaranteed though when it comes to Collin Sexton: intensity and scoring. Sexton is the definition of a scoring guard, he uses his athleticism to make up for his lack of height of length. If you wanted to see his effort and determination in work just watch his game against Minnesota while he was in college, where he drops 40 points and almost wins the game for his team while they went 3 vs 5 half way in the second half.
Within his second year, Sexton improved on his efficiency in scoring, however he still has to become an efficient play maker for his team. Before the season became suspended, Sexton had gone on a hot streak scoring over 25 points in 7 of the last 8 games. He still has games where he needs to get more of his teammates involved however he is still growing as a player. As his career progresses he needs to prove that his points aren’t empty points, but that he can contribute to a winning team.
3.3 Pts, 0.3 Asts, 1.4 Rebs, 28.6% 3Pt
13.3 Pts, 1.4 Asts, 3.3 Rebs, 44.8% 3Pt
Duncan Robinson has probably had one of the most improbable roads to the NBA. If you want to learn more about his story, the wall street journal wrote an excellent article about his path to the NBA. With his near impossible rise to the league, it would’ve been considered a success if he was just a player coming off the bench for a team. Yet this year he was a starter for a top 4 team in the Eastern Conference. After a year bouncing between the bench of the Heat and playing for their G-league team, this year Robinson found his role for the Heat and helped them become contenders in the East.
Duncan has only one role on the Heat and it’s no secret to the other team, and that is to shoot the ball. He makes sure that other players have the space to drive and not worry about his man coming to help. Defenses have to worry about Robinson’s location on the court as he’s a 44.8% shooter from three. It’s not like he’s shooting any other shots either, out of all his field goals this season, an astonishing 88.6% of his field goals came from beyond the three point line. Although he might have disappointed his Heat teammates at all star weekend this year during the three point contest, the heat have an undrafted gem in Duncan Robinson.