The NBA draft is now well behind us, it feels like a lifetime ago (it was less than 2 weeks ago in reality). And the initial flurry of NBA free agency moves have been made with really only Kawhi Leonard as the last major piece to fall into place.
Its now time to start thinking about how the existing pieces fit into the new puzzle each team is trying to put together called their 2019-2020 roster.
We’re going to review 5 non-lottery talents taken in the first round of the 2018 draft that were brought along at a snail’s pace last season. These ugly ducklings that their teams believe and hope can turn into gorgeous swans contributing major minutes on rookie contract salaries.
Some seismic activity has gone down in the last 2 days of NBA transactions. Jimmy Butler is no longer a 76er, nor is JJ Redick. But Al Horford is.
Can someone emerge organically for the Spurs to remain even competitive for a Western Conference playoff berth? They’ve always developed from within, who is next to make that leap?
The Bucks were the top seed, will losing Malcolm Brogdon hurt that much? What about Nikola Mirotic? What about the Warriors? No more Durant, Thompson out for the year, Igoudala gone, Livingston gone, Bell gone, Cousins is likely headed elsewhere, how do Curry and Russell fit together?
NBA fans are always looking for the next big thing, the next flashy move, but often times ascending teams are aided by ascending players. Players ready to make that next step. We’re not talking about the DeAndre Aytons, Trae Youngs, or a Luka Doncic, guys that stepped immediately into major minutes, and major roles on less than stellar teams. We’re looking for the guys that spent the year working, busting their asses in practice, living like vultures on the scraps that are scrub time minutes. Guys with loads of potential, that may be ready to step up and bask in the bright lights of the big stage.
Zhaire Smith – Wing – Philadelphia 76ers
The athletic wing was a standout in his lone season at Texas Tech. The hole he left there was so big that Jarrett Culver managed to become a lottery pick, by filling it when Smith left. The 6’4” wing is very athletic and a talented scorer. Not a knock down shooter like Redick was, he can be very effective in an up and down game. As a rookie the 20 year old played just about 111 minutes over the course of 6 games. With Jimmy Butler in Miami, and JJ Redick in New Orleans, the only real person standing between Zhaire and big minutes at the 2 guard spot is recent acquisition Josh Richardson. Whether by merit or necessity, you can expect to see a big bump in the impact Zhaire Smith has on the 76ers success.
Donte DiVencenzo – Guard – Milwaukee Bucks
The former Villanova Wildcat played more minutes than anyone else being mentioned here, and by a pretty hefty margin. But in the grand scheme of things, the 410 minutes he played in 2018-2019 is chump change compared to what each player should be trying to earn next season. DiVencenzo appeared in 27 games, averaging 15.2 minutes a game. If an NBA player managed to play in 70 games, and averaged 15 minutes a game over that span, he’d play in 1050 minutes. 70 games and 15 minutes is a solid rotation player. Not a star, not even a starter, but a solid rotation player. That’s not out of line for any of these players. The Bucks have lost significant contributors from last season’s Eastern Conference Finals losing squad as Malcolm Brogdon is in Indiana and Nikola Mirotic is headed overseas. They’ll be boosted though by a full year of George Hill, and the additions of Robin Lopez and Wes Matthews. The advantage for DiVencenzo is his youth, and his knack for making an instant impact off the bench, a characteristic he displayed abundantly at Villanova. Also, with Giannis’ supermax extension looming, the fat deal that Bledsoe got last year, and the big…. BUCKS… that Middleton just signed for, Milwaukee needs to find out if they can move on from these other veteran contracts in favor of the cheaper DiVencenzo.
Lonnie Walker IV – Wing – San Antonio Spurs
In 2018-2019 Walker came in like a lite drizzle instead of the Hurricane he was in college. He managed to play a total of 117 minutes over the span of 17 games. In those limited minutes he averaged 2.6 points per game. Can he make the 2nd year leap that fellow former Spurs first rounders Dejounte Murray and Derrick White made? He is certainly the most capable scorer of the three. Though not the defender Murray is nor the playmaker White is. The Spurs have to be hoping the answer is yes, as that triumvirate would serve as a nucleus moving forward. Unlike with DiVencenzo and Smith, where the loss of a free agent is opening up a window, this feels more self imposed. The organization is disciplined enough to not rush their prospects. But as mentioned, history shows that pays off for them in year 2. Even with DeMar DeRozan around, expect Walker to push for consistent rotation minutes.
Robert Williams III – Center – Boston Celtics
Al Horford, gone. Aron Baynes, gone. Daniel Theis hasn’t actually been signed yet (though as a restricted free agent I’d expect him back). In comes in Enes Kanter. A solidly built Turk who can rebound and score, but isn’t exactly known as a lock down defender. To say that Robert Williams has an opportunity in his second year would be an understatement. If he doesn’t average 20 minutes a game, its his own damn fault. There was talk in the weeks leading up to the offseason of Clint Capela being a Celtics target. Which is interesting because that is the player I’d feel most comfortable comparing him too. In fact, the similarities between the two are stunning, as outlined here: CLINT CAPELA AND THE BOSTON CELTICS Time Lord, as he has been nicknamed in Boston managed to play 282 mostly scrub time minutes. In the meaningful minutes he did play though he showed the ability to block and alter shots at a very high level. If he can improve his ability to move his feet defending the pick and roll, and become more adept at NBA defensive rotations, he could become an elite rim protector in the league.
Jacob Evans – Guard – Golden State Warriors
With the Warriors experiencing some extreme upheaval there is ample opportunity for last year’s first round draft pick to make his mark. Gone will be Kevin Durant, Andre Igoudala, Jordan Bell, and Shaun Livingston. Klay Thompson is coming back, but not likely until the 2020-2021 season. MAYBE he’ll be around for the late season playoff push, but even then I wouldn’t expect much more than dipping his toe into the waters of NBA game minutes. That toe dipping is precisely what Evans did as a rookie as he managed about 205 minutes over 30 games. The Warriors saved face in losing Durant by acquiring D’Angelo Russell. He’ll likely be paired with Curry in the staring backcourt, which could flourish on offense, but will probably be a disaster on defense. It is there than Evans can make his mark and earn his way into consistent minutes. As a third guard capable of playing with either Curry or Russell he will best be served by being the backcourt’s go too defender. He’ll never be Klay Thompson in that regard, but he can sure as hell do better than Curry and Russell in that regard. And that right there could get him 20 minutes a night.
- Written by Jason Sullivan
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