Not all NBA players pop right away whether it’s due to injuries, playing time, or just needing the time to develop. This article highlights 2nd year NBA players I expect to make a big jump from their rookie years.
PG Anfernee Simons (Portland Trailblazers):
Simons took an unconventable route to get to the NBA as he spent a 5th year of highschool at IMG Academy. This decision made talent evaluators look at him as a project. In his rookie season, he averaged 7.1 mpg in only 20 games played. Simons started in one game the whole season and made the most of it. He had 37 points, 9 assists, and 7 rebounds and led Portland to 28 point comeback against the Sacramento Kings. The 37 points scored was the most by an NBA player in his first career start since 1986. Then, in the 2019 summer league, Anfernee didn’t disappoint averaging 22 ppg and shot over 60% from 3 according to NBA.com. Anfernee knows how to score and find ways to get the ball in the basket. The mechanics of his jumpshot are pretty good. I think his balance could be better, but his shot is still going in at a high clip. His handles have improved as he is very good at his hesitation dribble to attack the basket. It is also obvious that Portland is very high on him. After he was drafted, Trailblazers GM Neil Olshey famously called Simons “the most gifted player I’ve ever drafted.” To put context into this, Olshey drafted Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum. Additionally, Olshay drafted Simons at the 24th pick in the draft so it was player that was passed on by 23 other teams, and this is the guy Olshey wanted to put all his stocks into. This offseason, Olshey backed it up by not picking up a backup PG even though Simons is only 20 years old on a team that has championship aspirations. I am expecting Simons to be a big contributor, and will give Portland something it hasn’t had off their bench in recent years.
SG Zhaire Smith (Philadelphia 76ers):
Zhaire Smith had a very quiet rookie year as he only participated in 6 games due to a foot injury, an allergic reaction, and the 76ers ultra conservative approach after having nightmares they drafted another Markelle Fultz. Smith was the 16th pick in the draft in 2018. He’s undersized for a wing at 6’4, but has a 6’10 wingspan. This allows him to be a switchable defender, which fits the 76ers scheme. Zhaire is very althetic, and should be a great lob threat with his 45 in. vertical. The big issue with him is shooting. He was 18/40 from the 3 point line in his one college season, but he only shot when he had time and space. He will have to be a higher volume 3 point shooter especially in lineups with Ben Simmons. Smith has good balance on his jump shots with a high release point, but has a slow release. This will allow his man to sag off of him even more, because he’ll have more time to close out. I still think there’s a possibility that Zhaire could be a 6th or 7th man for this team as their bench is fairly weak. Zhaire will be the third guard on this team as I don’t expect Trey Burke to have a big role. 76ers starting SG Josh Richardson can play either guard position, which will allow Smith to play even more minutes. I don’t expect their to be ideal spacing all the time, but Zhaire will be dangerous around the rim while giving the 76ers a guy who can guard 1-3.
SG Lonnie Walker (San Antonio Spurs):
Lonnie Walker played in only 17 games his rookie year due to injury. He played 6.9 mpg on average, so we didn’t get to see him much last year, but he showed the public what we’ve been missing out on in summer league. Walker averaged 24.8 ppg, while showing off a variety of difficult shots. He finished very well around the basket displaying great body control in the air. Walker was able to attack the basket frequently thanks to his ability to change speeds and catch his man off guard. His jump shot can still improve, but I think his mid range game will be his calling card even in an era of the 3 pointer. His ability to get his shot over a high hand allows him to hit tough shots. Lonnie is very comfortable with his mid range game. The biggest barrier to him getting minutes this season is the team’s lack of direction. The Spurs have a mix of veterans and young guys that make it difficult to tell if they are trying to win now or rebuilding. Their ceiling is limited building around Aldridge and DeRozan, and they should hand the keys to the kids. Spurs have done a great job of accumulating young perimeter talent such as Derrick White, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and Lonnie Walker. It’s time to move on from DeRozan as he’s taking up too much time from the young guys. Lonnie projects to be a similar type of player as DeRozan who is score first, while dominating inside the arc. Lonnie walker is ready to make a jump and be a part of the regular rotation, but it remains unclear if he will have the opportunity to do so.
Article written by Bradley Patten
All NBA stats found on Basketball Reference (https://www.basketball-reference.com/)
All college stats found on Sports Reference (https://www.sports-reference.com/)
Anfernee Simon’s summer league stats found on NBA Media Ventures (https://www.nba.com/blazers/video/2019/07/18/simons)
Lonnie Walker’s summer league stats found on Spurstalk (https://www.spurstalk.com/final-spurs-summer-league-stats-grades-2019/)
All salaries found on Spotrac (https://www.spotrac.com/)
All rosters found on NBA Media Ventures (https://www.nba.com/teams/)
2018 NBA Draft results found on Sporting News (https://www.sportingnews.com/us/nba/news/nba-draft-2018-picks-order-results-first-second-round-1-2-full-list-players/597abh4mxruw10wln80n5xa94)
Photo credit to Dave Deckard at Blazer’s Edge (https://www.blazersedge.com/2018/11/17/18100258/anfernee-simons-portland-trail-blazers-stats-2018-nba-draft)