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July 17th, 2017

Rookies are Not Finished Products

Daniel Richardson @Daniel_ThomasGH
NBA

The 2017 NBA draft class (Brad Penner/ USA Today Sports)

NBA Summer League has commenced and with it the first look at this year’s NBA rookie class in action. Their performances have given us an excellent chance to begin making observations and some too early proclamations about what we have witnessed.

One thing is for sure though, the reactions have not all been tepid. Naturally, fans will come to wild and presumptive conclusions when they come across a context-less Tweet disparaging their favorite rookie.

Solely looking at box scores or watching highlights does not help you understand the little things. For example, missed shots aren’t necessarily a referendum on a player’s shooting ability. Instead, try to apply some context. What is the action the team was trying to run? How is the defense reacting? How much time is remaining on the shot clock? These are the small things that make up the larger picture.

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De’Aaron Fox (AP PHOTO/JOHN LOCHER)

The amount of scrutiny that NBA rookies are under is enormous.  From lottery picks to second rounders, we want our rookies to show us something. Anything. No one enjoys a wasted draft pick. General managers, the one’s who make up a large part of those who make draft decisions, shutter at the idea of a prospect not panning out. That pick then becomes a lost asset, and that’s never in the plan. Front offices don’t pick players on a whim during the draft. They spend the entire year scouting, interviewing, and preparing for the one day of the year. And when they’re on the clock, we see the results instead of the entire process.

For those watching and following the games, we see the pick and want nothing but the best for him. It would warm our hearts to see him go out and average 18-20 points a game in their first season. However, Karl-Anthony Towns, Kristaps Porzingis, and players of that talent are rare and unique.

As much as we want rookies to perform well, there is only so much we should expect from them. The NBA is filled with bigger, stronger, and more experienced players. The learning curve they have to endure isn’t unlike anything we have dealt with before when starting a new job – yet on a much larger scale.

The first day of the job is never the easiest. No one goes into a new job a complete master. Sure, you have experience in the area – that’s why they hired you. Having the requisite qualifications only makes you an ideal candidate for the job, not an expert. Once on the job, you become more comfortable, allowing you to translate your skills into performance. No matter how well suited you are for the job, there will always be room to grow.

Jayson Tatum has impressed with his Summer League scoring. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

This year’s draft class featured some of the best basketball talent in a few years. Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, De’Aaron Fox, Jayson Tatum, and Josh Jackson have us fascinated with their potential.  Those few and a solid group of others have the ability to help bring years of stability and success to their respective franchises. They will need time to develop their minds, bodies, and games to fit into the NBA. For fans, it’s important to understand that they will get there, just not in October.

For Ball, his modest summer league debut caused quite the panic. Questions about the authenticity of his skill arose. Why? It was his first ever game in an NBA type setting with the whole world watching him do something for the first time.  His 2-15 shooting night should not be a case against his future stardom.

The next evening, Ball posted a triple-double. Was this a sign that he has it figured out? No. His two erratic nights only show that he is a young player with tremendous upside who is going to need to play in the league before we can define what he is.

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Lonzo Ball (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images)

Rookies and how quickly they contribute to a team will forever be harped on. Inferences will be made from their inconsistencies. Praise will rain down from fans if things go well, and so will doubt if they don’t.

The excitement of a new rookie is one of the more intriguing facets of the NBA. Success in the NBA is fleeting, and anyone who follows the league knows this. The tabula rasa that rookies embody gives hope that the future will be okay.

However, development isn’t linear. For instance, Brandon Ingram of the Los Angeles Lakers looked much improved in a number of areas in his lone summer league game.  For now, he has silenced the few who quietly wondered if Ingram was even worth the trouble that made him the number two overall pick back in 2016. That won’t necessarily translate onto the court when the Lakers’ small forward is having to utilize those improvements against the likes of Jimmy Butler, Paul George, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard on a nightly basis. At least now he has acquired a right amount of knowledge that he can use to work and become his best self.

Of course, the rookies of this season will go out and try to do the same. There will be peaks and valleys. Give them the time to adjust to all that becoming an NBA player is. Just enjoy watching each one of them grow, and try to add a bit of context to your analysis.

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