The beginning of this 2016-2017 NBA Season saw historically low performance across the board for an entire draft class. Of course #1 overall pick Ben Simmons has yet to play an NBA game, and even among the other highly coveted picks, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown, Dragan Bender, and Kris Dunn, none of them have averaged above nine points per game for the season. In fact, before Buddy Hield was traded to the Sacramento Kings, nobody in the entire draft besides 2nd round pick Malcolm Brogdon had hit that double digit scoring average mark.
It is very discouraging to be a team with these top draft picks, which are supposed to be highly valuable assets, to have them come in the league and play like role players, but towards the end of this 2016-17 season, the rookies have begun to show up.
Since the all-star break, #2 pick Brandon Ingram has played much better – to the point where he is now averaging 13.5 points and 4.1 rebounds per game on 50.3% shooting.
Another Laker rookie, Ivaca Zubac, has also stepped things up. In eleven games as a starter, ten of which have come since the all-star break, Zubac has averaged 18.3 points and 9.1 rebounds per 36 minutes, shooting 59.1% from the field, and having a 119 offensive rating, all at the age of 20 as of 13 days ago today.
After showing signs of life in November, Jamal Murray really picked things back up again in March. The Canadian averaged 11.9 points with a three point percentage of 37.9% in just 22.0 minutes per game. Murray also had a +12.3 plus/minus for Denver, which has helped fuel a run to try and make the playoffs.
The rival shooting guard in the draft class: Buddy Hield has really stepped things up. His March saw him average 15.1 points and 3.9 rebounds in 28.7 minutes per game on shooting splits of .487/.450/.840. Only five players have been able to produce at that level and efficiency for a whole season since 2000: Rip Hamilton, Steve Nash, Jameer Nelson, Yao Ming, and Stephen Curry – all of whom were all-stars in the year they did this.
Hield’s new teammate, Skal Labissiere, has also picked things up tremendously. After playing a measly 6.5 minutes per game in just 8 games before the all-star break, Labissiere averaged 10.2 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks on 57.0% shooting in just 18.8 minutes per game during March.
The player who Labissiere was traded for, Marqueese Chriss, has also been performing quite well. Chriss has shown it all since the all-star break with not only high-flying dunks, but a great stat line of 12.9 points per game, 5.6 rebounds, 1.5 blocks, and 0.9 steals per game, 50.6% shooting from the field, and even 40.0% shooting from three on 3.5 attempts per game.
Ultimately, Jaylen Brown’s contributions as of late are what will be the most important for this season. The 20 year old out of Cal has truly stepped up when needed, averaging 16.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 1.0 steals per game on 46.5% shooting, 50.0% from three, a 127 offensive rating, and with a +13.6 plus/minus in games he’s gotten over 30 minutes, 75% of which have been since 1/27. Brown has been a higher level even without the playing time, and it’s definitely been a factor in Boston’s capturing of the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference.
There are other guys too. Malcolm Brogdon, Pascal Siakam, Patrick McCaw and Domantas Sabonis have been helpful in their team’s chase for playoff contention all year. Timothe Luwawu, Caris LaVert, and Juan Hernangomez have been playing good basketball for their teams as well.
This draft class was young and largely unheralded coming in, and in a younger NBA nowadays, the expectation to perform is very real, even for teenagers, which many of these rookies are during the beginning of the season. This draft might not have players putting up superstar numbers from the get go as is traditional, but the development of these youthful prospects is going to turn out a very solid group of NBA players one day.