It's not a player's fault that he gets drafted high or that much is expected of him. Teams draft players because of what they have done and, more important, what they might be able to do.
I have frequently written that it is a mistake to think a player has arrived after one good month just as it is a mistake to think they are doomed for failure because they had a bad month, season, or even two seasons. However, it is fair to evaluate second-year players to determine just where they stand in the league.
There is not a defining connection between players younger than 22 who start out poorly -- some end up figuring it out, some don't. As discussed frequently, much of that success or failure results in large part to where the player is playing, who he is playing for, etc.
For these five men, though, there has been ample opportunity for them to consistently impress. But this season they have all taken a step backward or sideways. Here are the most disappointing players of this class:
SOPHOMORE 20 RANKINGS
1. Anthony Davis, Pelicans
2. Damian Lillard, Blazers
3. Andre Drummond, Pistons
4. Terrence Jones, Rockets
5. John Henson, Bucks
6. Jonas Valanciunas, Raptors
7. Jared Sullinger, Celtics
8. Bradley Beal, Wizards
9. Miles Plumlee, Suns
10. Dion Waiters, Cavaliers
11. Brian Roberts, Pelicans
12. Terrence Ross, Raptors
13. Thomas Robinson, Blazers
14. Jeremy Lamb, Thunder
15. Mike Scott, Hawks
16. Khris Middleton, Bucks
17. Draymond Green, Warriors
18. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
19. Maurice Harkless, Magic
20. Kendall Marshall, Lakers
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Bobcats
The concern about MKG going into his rookie year was that, though he was the youngest player in the draft in terms of his birthdate, his body was already fully formed. That meant he was probably beating up inferior and weaker athletes for most of his career, which wasn't going to happen often in the NBA. Still, coming out of college, he projected to be an excellent cutter and transition player with athleticism and feel. But, thus far, he hasn't made an impact in those areas.
MKG has taken advantage of his rare matchup edge on the offensive glass, however. And his length and strength on defense are part of Charlotte's overall success, to be sure. He could be their top overall defensive player. But the fact the Bobcats are a bit better, metrics-wise, with him on the bench than on the court is not a surprise. Wings who can't shoot or score cause all sorts of crowding problems for the other four guys on the offensive end.
For MKG to take a huge step forward on offense, he must either learn to find more ways to get to the rim or clean up his jump shot, which is really problematic and makes him reticent to be aggressive. His free throw stroke only furthers his concerns and is a big reason why he gets to the rim so infrequently.
The Bobcats expected more from the No. 2 overall pick, naturally, and their front office is surely imagining what the team would look like with Andre Drummond instead. Like it or not, MKG has to live with those comparisons.
Harrison Barnes, Warriors
Ask any member of the Denver Nuggets last season about Barnes and they'll tell you the Warriors suddenly gained a huge advantage when he replaced an injured David Lee in that series. Based on that performance, it was fair to expect a big jump in Year 2 for the supremely talented wing. Instead, it looks as if his move to the bench with the arrival of Andre Iguodala has hampered his confidence. He is a huge step down from Iguodala on offense and defense and knows he is not helping his team.
Barnes may be the best overall athlete in this class but, like MKG, he's not getting to the rim often. His overall lack of aggression translates into few free throw attempts and he has become more of a one-trick pony (a good 3-point shooter) even though he's getting more minutes than last season.
This is a man who should be dynamic on the wing in transition and, as a second-unit player, abusing wings in the post (he has the potential to have a strong post game). But it's just not happening. Barnes is only 21, and still growing into his body, so there is hope for him. Perhaps we'll see another postseason surge from him.
Austin Rivers, Pelicans
During Rivers' rookie season, I could see he was learning how to get by his defender but wasn't ready to finish around help defenders. There was reason to believe the game would slow down for him some in his second season, helping him to finish around the rim better or just shoot better. But both areas continue to be major problems for him. His minutes are down because his production is the same or worse in almost every metric. And if Jrue Holiday hadn't been hurt, we'd probably almost never see Rivers play.
Rivers' burst of speed off a stop-and-go move is still close to elite level, but it doesn't result in anything good often enough. Still, his ability to break down defenses does create open looks for teammates off a swing pass or two and his competitiveness on defense is a plus. So all is not lost here, especially considering his age; at 21, he can still get much better.
But when your dad is an elite coach, and when you were one of the top prep players in the country who went to Duke and got drafted in the lottery ahead of John Henson, Jared Sullinger, Terrence Jones and Miles Plumlee (all who would look very nice playing next to Anthony Davis -- even off the bench), expectations are exceedingly high.
Andrew Nicholson, Magic
Earlier in the season, Nicholson had the look of a very distinctive player -- part Al Jefferson, part Ryan Anderson. Few big men in the NBA can score in the post efficiently and stretch defenses with a 3 or long 2, and it appeared Orlando might have that kind of player in Nicholson.
Then 2014 hit and Nicholson's minutes and production dropped almost immediately. He has not scored 10 or more points in a game since Jan. 2 and it looks as if Orlando is concerned about his defensive liabilities. He can mask his less-than-athletic body on offense with his special set of skills, but it's harder for his coaches to hide it on defense, as evidenced by his lack of playing time.
Orlando has a number of talented young prospects; until recently that group included Nicholson. Now, as a 24-year-old that has to deal with new talent coming on board in June via the draft, the future is uncertain for him. But his potential skill as a 3-point shooter (it is not yet a reliable weapon) may still allow him to specialize as a shooter off the bench down the road.
Alexey Shved, Timberwolves
Shved has all the tools to be a very good starter in this league -- he's tall, long and very athletic, and he's a skilled dribbler with a good feel for passing the ball. But not only has he not materialized into a starting-level player, his inconsistent focus and effort have often made it tough for his head coach to play him at all.
The Wolves are desperate for bench help at any position and would love for Shved to fill a role as a scorer, a defender, an energy guy, or just a playmaker. But he hasn't been able to fill any of those roles and his stay in the NBA looks as if it could come to an end soon. It's not a question of talent, but an inability to utilize his talent to create any kind of impact or moderate production.