Class loaded with disappointments.Warning: Spoiler! (Click to show)
Just as rookies with great Novembers can end up out of their team's rotation by April, guys who have struggled early can finish with excellent seasons by spring. In this class, however, as disappointing as it is, to limp out of the gate is even more depressing. It should be easy to stand out in this crowd in a positive way. So to clearly be one of the more disappointing players in this class suggests some real problems.
To further make the point, in a league where it is getting easier to make the adjustment to the pro game at a younger age because of the value of young and fresh legs, those who are falling flat are drawing more concern than in previous years. Considering the impact the previous top overall picks made as rookies, it is obvious as to who has disappointed his team and fans the most so far.
Most disappointing rookie
Anthony Bennett, Cavaliers
It's alarming to think that Bennett is not just the leader of this list but could potentially top the list of the most disappointing overall No. 1 picks. Of course, it's still early and no one is suggesting he can't end up being a terrific player. It also should be noted that he played only one year of college and lost some development time this summer because of his shoulder injury. Still, being overweight, disinterested in almost anything that requires toughness and effort on offense, and lacking energy on the court is no way to start a career for any rookie. For a No. 1 pick, it's disastrous.
The list of problems plaguing Bennett is long. For starters, we can look at Bennett's lack of aggression on offense. His size and skill level suggest he should have at least some success at drawing fouls inside. Doing so would be a great way to begin playing efficiently and productively. In November, though, he played 133 minutes total and made just one free throw in four attempts. Michael Carter-Williams had eight free throw attempts in his first NBA game.
Bennett's incredible lack of production comes from a complete disinterest to fight inside. That weak mindset is what is troubling, more so than his poor shooting stats. Consider that he has taken as many 3s (17 as of Tuesday) as rim shots and has attempted (and mostly missed) more long 2s than any other shot. Yes, he was drafted so high in large part because of his talent as a long-range shooter, but that came within the discussion of his overall talent as a scorer. And in the NBA, scorers have more weapons than just deep bombs, especially when they have the kind of size Bennett does.
It does not take an expert to detail how Bennett can start to improve. There is a saying that to get yourself out of a hole you first have to stop digging. For Bennett, that means getting in far better shape and working to make an impact in the paint. Once those two things start happening, Cleveland can begin to see just what kind of player it has in Bennett.
Rookies who are playing but not producing as expected
Cody Zeller, Bobcats
Bennett has the worst true shooting percentage in basketball, but Zeller is pretty close. Only a struggling Kevin Garnett and rookie guard Phil Pressey have a lower TS% than Zeller among players who have played in roughly three-quarters of their team's games at over 12 minutes a game. And that is hugely disappointing for Zeller, the No. 4 pick, whose shooting and overall offensive skill were seen as positives in the months leading up to the draft.
The good news for Zeller is that he is trying to make an impact inside near the rim. The bad news is he is struggling to finish there. He is making less than half his shots from close range and drawing few fouls, and this is where his short arms are a real problem. While Bennett can do so much to help himself play better, Zeller does not have nearly as many options. He is already in great shape, for example.
That's not to suggest Zeller can't become an excellent perimeter shooter, which probably will happen one day. But big men who can't protect the rim or finish around it in half-court action are not top-five picks (or even lottery picks). Zeller has the athleticism to be a beast in transition, where the less crowded lane would make it easier for him to finish shots. But Charlotte plays at a slow pace, giving him fewer chances to engage that part of his talent.
Kelly Olynyk, Celtics
As we've written before, Olynyk had a good summer. He looked like he would be a great shooter and someone who would be ready for the NBA game thanks to a unique skill set on a big, albeit slow, body. And skills tend to carry over from the summer if the player is given solid minutes, which Olynyk earned in November.
But the bottom line is it hasn't translated yet for Olynyk, who just hasn't made many shots when he has played (he has been out since just before Thanksgiving with an ankle injury). It's not a cause for alarm, though, as most rooks start their careers slowly as shooters. He also has been able to rebound adequately, and it's fair to expect better shooting from him this season and beyond.
Still, Olynyk was expected to be among the few players in this class who would be ready to help his team the minute the regular season began, and that has not been the case.
Lottery pick who can't even break into the rotation
Shabazz Muhammad, Timberwolves
Heading into the season, little was expected of Muhammad because the Wolves already boasted good veteran wing players. But then Chase Budinger went down and there was a glimmer of hope that Muhammad would be able to fill in some until he returned. But that hasn't happened. Fellow rookie Robbie Hummel has gotten the chance to play instead. Muhammad was once thought of as a potential top-five pick, but fell to 14th on draft night. When Budinger returns, Muhammad will become an excellent candidate for the D-League.
Most disappointing storyline: Injuries
This class was deemed as a weak one long ago, but there have been other classes that outperformed expectations over time. Sadly, injuries have limited this class in the early going from getting that chance. Phoenix's Alex Len, the fifth pick in the draft, has played in just four games. An ankle injury is the culprit, sidelining him indefinitely. Philly's Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick, is out for the season while recovering from an ACL injury, and Rookie of the Year front-runner Michael Carter-Williams is now out with a knee infection. Meanwhile, we're just finally getting to see Washington's Otto Porter (No. 3 overall) and Utah's Trey Burke (No. 9) after they missed the first few weeks of the season.
On the bright side: Rookies who are having a nice holiday season
ROOKIE 50 RANKINGS
We're keeping track of every NBA rook. Here are the latest Top 50 rankings.
Rank Player Stock
1 Michael Carter-Williams
2 Mason Plumlee
3 Trey Burke
4 Tim Hardaway Jr.
5 Vitor Faverani
6 Steven Adams
7 Victor Oladipo
8 Nate Wolters
9 K. Caldwell-Pope
10 G. Antetokounmpo
• Click here for the complete rankings »
Tim Hardaway Jr., Knicks
The Knicks have a lot of drama, and a lot of losses, but they have to be thrilled with the way Hardaway is scoring. He's shooting great from behind the 3-point line on spot-ups, which is enough to make his team happy, but he's also finding other ways to get buckets: on run-outs, off pin-down curls, and on jumpers off screens. December has been a good month for him so far.
Trey Burke, Jazz
Burke continues to shine amid a sea of despair in Utah. He's not making shots inside the 3-point line, but he is shooting well from 3. And, impressively, he's running the offense and moving the ball without committing many turnovers. It's been only two weeks since he made his debut, but Utah has to be thinking it has its point guard of the future.
Hollis Thompson, 76ers
Thompson hasn't done nearly enough to assure himself a long NBA career, but he has done well this month shooting and rebounding at a good rate. He showed some confidence in an otherwise poor effort against the Clippers when he missed a left corner 3 that was rebounded by his team, then raced to the opposite corner and nailed the 3 from there. The Sixers were down 20 halfway through the third quarter at that point, but most young players would have passed up that second shot despite it being a good one.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Pistons
Detroit had a nice run going before losing to Miami and Minnesota, and KCP continued to show signs that he is going to be a legit starting shooting guard in this league. He's making easy plays, not forcing shots and utilizing his skills and quickness to burst into scoring mode when the situation arises.