Young NBA Players have Questions Unanswered

Ben Simmons

Look past the Tinashe-Kendall Jenner TMZ headlines, Ben Simmons isn’t a rookie talk, and Bryan Colangelo burner account stories, and you see Ben Simmons’ outstanding first season. Producing 15-8-8 for the Sixers, he was like Penny Hardaway on the ‘95 Magic with Joel Embiid playing mobile Shaq. Except Penny was 23 and the Magic made it all the way to the finals (only to get swept 4-0 by the Sonics). Simmons is only 21 years old and Embiid is just 24. They have sufficient time to turn a promising team into a dynasty. With calculated moves by management and improvement by their young star they might be able to do it. Emphasis on might.

Against the Celtics, Simmons struggled finishing shots at the rim. By using Al Horford and Aron Baynes as the second line of defense, Simmons’ shots at the rim (0-3 feet) fell to just 60.5%, notably lower than his 74.4% during the regular season. On floaters and mid-range shots (5 to 14 feet), he shot just 5-19, 26%.

Simmons can’t let this playoff series define his career as a player. You see it happen too many times to young stars, like Denver Carmelo Anthony or Memphis Rudy Gay. More likely than not, the 76ers will be back in the same spot next year, facing off against Boston once again. Teams have a read on his discernible weaknesses, that he can’t shoot outside of 5 feet, and thus will lay off him. He will have to figure out how to shoot or he might suffer a devastating loss next year as well.

On Christmas Eve in 2005, I was restless as I imagine any 8-year-old video game addicted kid was. My parents had hinted at my new gift on multiple occasions, subtly asking what video game I wanted. Except I didn’t have a console, which meant they were definitely going to get me one (I basically was the Sherlock Holmes of 8-year-old kids). Christmas morning finally was upon me and I raced downstairs to the gifts under the tree. I unwrapped the biggest gift and there it was: A jaw-dropping pearly white Xbox 360. My parents echoed, “Aren’t you going to open your other presents?” It was too late. My feet thudded against the stairs as I raced towards the outlet next to my TV. My hands were sweaty and stumbling from pure excitement. I couldn’t wait to throw in 2k7 (with fat Shaq on the cover) and dominate my little brother. Except that didn’t happen. My hand motioned towards the on button, all my adrenaline was built up for this moment.

Three red rings flashed endlessly over the on button. My 2005 Christmas was forever ruined. I swear I was ready to swing my fists at that Xbox 360 like Ron Artest did at the beer-throwing fan in the Malice at the Palace.

Simmons’ jump shot is the red ring of death. Forever ingrained in my head are those three bleeping red rings much like when I flip onto a Sixers game and witness Simmons’ lefty throw (not calling it a jump shot). If only the red wire had been attached to the green wire, or Simmons had been taught to shoot with his (dominant) right hand. If only Simmons could hit outside of 10 feet.

If only Microsoft hadn’t made broken Xbox 360’s.

Jonathan Isaac

2012 became the first season of all-star teams consisting of two backcourt and three frontcourt starters. Draymond Green played center in the famed Hampton’s 5 lineup in the finals. In the current finals, Kevin Love and Tristan Thompson are constantly switched onto Stephen Curry and Kevon Looney is continually switched onto Lebron James, creating paradoxical mismatches. Isaac is the biological response to switches, able to mutate into a poor man’s Kawhi Leonard at one moment and the next a homeless man’s KG. Nonetheless, right now he’s about as talented as Jeff Green.

I can’t imagine J-Isaac (horrific nickname by the way) working in an office or even driving a car. Isaac can probably jump over me and slam it on an 11-foot rim, with his center-like 9’0.5 reach. Unfortunately, he still boasts shortcomings and outliers in his game.

His wingspan after further review, is not all that impressive given his 6’11’’ height, reaching only 7-feet.

Isaac has to polish his in-between game. On mid-range shots, Isaac shot just 6-47. His game is not nearly as refined as other rookies, like Jayson Tatum and isn’t even as refined as Josh Jackson’s.

With Steve Clifford coming in as head coach of the Orlando Magic, fans are praying Isaac won’t turn into Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who hasn’t found any sort of offensive rhythm after 6 seasons.

Malik Monk

C.J. McCollum, Ray Allen, Klay Thompson. The comparisons for Monk to the top shooting guards fell anywhere and everywhere. And after I saw Malik drop a crisp 47 points vs. North Carolina, I even bought Monk stock. His floaters were straight silky, his pull up game wet, and his jump shot smooth. I was certain I was watching Ray Allen dominate 20-year-olds. Everything Malik Monk touched turn to gold and it seemed like that was going to carry over into the big leagues.

Except it didn’t, Monk disappointed and ultimately fell out of the rotation by the 13th game for a 35 win Hornets squad. Shooting was his featured strength, yet he hit on less than a third of his three’s in his debut season. If he’s not hitting 40% of his three’s, he’s a fringe NBA player, producing a brutal 3.8 assists and 2.8 rebounds per 36 minutes.

Remember Doron Lamb? Exactly. Lamb was once a highly touted 5-star recruit who was a marksman at Kentucky, hitting an astounding 47% of his three-point attempts. Sound familiar? After two years shooting below 40% from the field, Lamb was labeled as an expired product and cut from the Magic. Believe it or not, Monk is headed down the same career path. One trick ponies just aren’t popular anymore, teams need versatility at every position.

Monk had a really hard time fighting through screens and keeping up with quicker guards or bigger forwards. When he was on the floor, the Hornets allowed 112 points and contributed -0.5 defensive win shares despite playing only 13 minutes per game.

In the final 8 games of his career, he flashed his authentic potential as a starting shooting guard. He produced 16 points on 42% shooting from deep. Of course, 8 games is a sample size but it’s the one positive thing Malik can take away from his horrendous season.

Malik Monk is fairly confident he can beat his boss, Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one, “He’s pretty old right now,” Monk said of Jordan. “I think I can get him.” Slow down Malik and prove you can beat Kent Bazemore off the dribble.

Malik Monk could find himself out of the league pretty soon.

Donovan Mitchell

Right when Dwyane Wade’s career is coming to an end, his clone is taking over. Donovan (or as I like to call him, Donnie) Mitchell is a 6’4’’ undersized combo guard who makes up for his diminutive height with explosiveness, huge biceps, and yo-yo handles.

Contrary to D-Wade’s rookie season, Donnie Mitchell put up all-star like stats. Averaging 20.5 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 3.7 assists, Mitchell did a lot bit of everything for a team lacking in star power after the saddening loss of “hometown hero” Gordon Hayward (not really a hometown hero but he’s white and everyone from Utah is white so it seemed like he was).

Mitchell was 14th in usage rate and 11th in points in the pick and roll. The Jazz gave him plenty of opportunities as the primary ball-handler in their offense, and even though he fell into just the 52nd percentile for pick and roll ball handlers, those opportunities should hone his ability as a shot-creator. Look for Mitchell to average more assists.

Donovan Mitchell and D-Wade’s careers could end up eerily similar. Even though Kobe’s career was more elongated, D-Wade arguably had a better prime than Kobe Bryant. James Harden is unquestionably the most talented shooting guard of this generation and will probably end his career on that note. What D-Wade was to Kobe Bryant, Donovan Mitchell could be to James Harden.

D-Wade put up 24-6-5 his second year and the league and by the third, he had captured a championship. It might be a little unrealistic for Mitchell and the Jazz to win a championship so soon, but I expect his usage to rise and with that, for his stats across the board to increase as a result. 23-7-5 is a feasible objective for the rising star.

I half-expect Spida Mitchell to throw on a Spiderman suit, scale walls, save mary jane from the green goblin, and whisper in Joe Ingles’ ear that he’s his friendly neighborhood Spiderman. I mean check out this pass off the rim to himself (which was debatably intentional). Mitchell climbed the ladder and made Ariza look like a string bean decided to try basketball.

Donnie Mitchell is basically Spiderman D-Wade.

Luke Kennard

The 6’5’’ shooting guard from Duke is theoretically playing for his pride. For the entirety of his career, he will be known as the ‘deceptively athletic’ dude selected one spot ahead of Donovan Mitchell.

Besides being a wonderful meme, Kennard has a variety of talents. I vividly remember watching Kennard pass King James for number one in all-time Ohio high school scoring and thought, this guy could overtake Kevin Love for the Mokeski award (see: Bill Simmons).

And for the most part, Kennard had a solid year, accounting for more wins than prior 12th picks Taurean Prince (1.0 WS) and Trey Lyles (2.3). It wasn’t his fault the worst GM (sorry, Isaiah Thomas) happened to steer a train wreck of a Pistons organization and made a decision to choose Kennard.

But it is Kennard’s job to prove his haters wrong. I am rooting for Luke Kennard.

Terrance Ferguson

I couldn’t stop pondering during the first round of the playoffs: Who’s this guy alongside Paul George in this Gatorade commercial? “Real smooth. Woah” was his singular line, which is kind of hysterical because that’s what I said after Ferguson’s gravity-defying cock-back windmill mid-season against the Lakers. That was a defining play for an otherwise spotty rookie season. Ferguson’s flash in the pan play displays his potential as a future all-star.

While Terrance Ferguson may not be the two-way menace as his commercial counterpart yet, PG, he’s well on his way. In three games he played 30 or more minutes, 2k Ferguson showcased his eccentric volatility. He first produced 24 points, with a +12 plus/minus against the Lakers. Then, Ferguson shot 4 for 12 with 11 points. After, he put up a Tony Snell box score, with zero points, zero assists, and two rebounds.

Terrance Ferguson is that one popular high school friend that can end up two ways. Widely known for his intense drinking ability, he also won prom king in high school. At times, he makes boneheaded decisions like getting suspended for cheating on a test or getting arrested by the cops. On the other hand, he’s really street smart and his wittiness quickly gets him out of sticky situations. Like that time he threw a rager at his house and persuaded the cops that it was actually the house next door making all the ruckus. To make things clear,  Ferguson isn’t going to actually get suspended, arrested or even throw a party, but in a basketball sense, this makes perfect sense. Ferguson will either find himself as the athletic freak on the Fort Wayne Mad Ants or as a budding star alongside Russ. It’s one or the other.

Just like the popular high school friend, Terrance Ferguson has a few years to figure out his future.

Markelle Fultz

You’re telling me a number one pick was so out of funk that he was practicing jump shots with his non-dominant hand? I would have been flabbergasted 5 years ago, but apparently, we exist in the alternate universe where players do this sort of thing.

Fultz has the ability to thread the needle and fit the ball into tight windows. In the 3 regular season games he appeared in, his assist percentage fell at 26.3, assisting at a similar rate as Kemba Walker. In his lone collegiate season, Fultz held a Pac-12 best 35.5 assist percentage. With players like Lonzo Ball also playing in the Pac 12 this is very impressive.

In college, he also displayed his ability to take over games. His box plus-minus, at 9.1, was good for 6th in the Pac-12. He is not an empty stat stuffer, but rather a player that impacts his team’s outcome.

Overall, Fultz is a unique case. He was drafted into an awkward scenario where a young 6’10’’ demigod, who also lacks a jump shot, plays his position. The situation is reminiscent of James Harden his rookie season playing with established superstars, Durant and Westbrook. Harden earned minutes on the floor with his playmaking and jump shooting ability. Fultz can create shots for himself and others. The real question is to whether he can sink those jumpers he creates for himself.

Markelle is like the 30-year-old son that won’t leave his parents house. There’s an awkward tension between the man and his parents, who are doing everything in their power to get this guy out of their house. He doesn’t have a job and refuses to get one, he can’t support himself and still plays with his toy Legos. Onlookers wonder why he can’t attain a minimum wage job. Fultz and management have an awkward relationship, as detailed by these tweets by Eric Jr. (Bryan Colangelo or his wife’s burner account), he can’t figure out if he’s a righty or lefty, and fans question his judgment. So in many ways, Fultz is like the guy that won’t leave the nest, afraid of what lays ahead.

Markelle Fultz still lives in the Sixers’ basement.

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