The draft class of 2018 was among the better ones in the recent history (looking at you Wiggins and Jabari Parker) and has thrown in some good NBA players who, in their second season, are starting to find their feet. The class is missing some of its fire power after Markell Fultz went full bust mode in Philadelphia, but was supposedly injured and has nw been traded to Orlando, where he should get more time and less pressure to find himself.
Also, missing is Lonzo Ball who has missed nearly a third of his first two seasons through injuries. Both players can still prove they can still be NBA stars in the future (Ball is already a star on the defensive end, the less glamorous and therefore overlooked end, and had started to improve offensively right before he got injured this season).
And while the rookie class missed out on Fultz, they did add Ben Simmons although Donovan Mitchell will have you believe that not playing a single game prior to 2018 season, does not a rookie make. And last year the rookie of the year race boiled down to Simmons and Mitchell, however Jayson Tatum’s play in the ECF against LeBron bought him a lot of hype and Boston fans proclaimed him the second coming of Jesus pretty soon.
Now the erstwhile rookies have nearly had another full regular season under their belts and ESPN writer Tim Bontemps rang up Team Executives from around the league to ask them about the sophomore stars and their preference of them. Added to the 3 man list last year, was breakout star De’Aaron Fox who has been at the helm of the surprising breakout season by the young Sacramento Kings.
Is it just me or did we see a little Jayson Tatum pounting because he wasnt getting touches? I swear after he finally got the ball and scored on a drive he mumbled to himself “get me the #%^**# ball”??? Seems very disengaged on defense.
— Clay Davis (@Coach_C_Davis) March 21, 2019
— CelticsBlog (@celticsblog) March 26, 2019
Executives ranked the players in order of their preference and unsurprisingly, Ben Simmons came on top. 9 out of the 18 executives ranked Simmons no.1 on their list. However given his style of play, where he looks like Magic Johnson with his passing and like Shaquille O’Neal with his shooting he also divided opinion among those that did not see him as no.1 option. He received the most no.3 picks with 6 executives ranking him there and honestly, that is the most action we will see from Simmons from the 3 this season.
Next up was Donovan Mitchell with 5 votes as the no.1 player. Mitchell had a great rookie season as the Jazz who weren’t fancied as much more than a possible fringe playoff team went on a tear in the second half of the season, with Mitchell leading the way as top scorer, and upset the Thunder “Super-Team” of Westbrook, Carmelo and PG. The Jazz had a slow start to the season again and most of it was due to Mitchell’s slump at the start of the season, but he has broken out of that and Jazz once again look ready to upset any team in the playoffs in the West not named Warriors.
Jayson Tatum came in third with 3 first place votes (surely one of them comes from a Pelicans executive, no?). Tatum statistically has the weakest numbers this season, but that is expected coming on a team where Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward also ply their trade. But his game doesn’t excel in the eye test this season either. As multiple executives pointed out, Tatum’s ceiling does not seem very high at this point.
Tatum is good at a lot of things but no part of his game stands out (at this point) at an All-Star level. The argument for the ceiling of the other three players is that they have parts of their game that excels and projects to be what they can develop their game around. Ben Simmons has the vision to be a pass maestro and his height makes it a lot easier for him to find the pass and execute it. Mitchell is a very good ball handler and can shoot lights out from the distance while also having the explosiveness to attack the rim if his defender over commits. De’Aaron Fox is fast as a lightning bolt and thats a skill that will never go away from the NBA.
Tatum’s game seems to rely on iso-ball and needs the ball in his hands to be effective. One West executive said of Tatum, “Tatum might be Carmelo. He needs the ball in his hands.” While this comparison a few years earlier might have been a great thing, in the modern NBA it is not, as teams look for a faster game with more ball movement than pound the rock iso play that defined the previous generation of stars.
Although to be honest this could be Magic Johnson trying to sabotage a Celtics deal for Pelicans by insulting Tatum or it could be LeBron (are we really not going to count him as a West executive?) and he genuinely meant to praise Tatum by comparing him to Carmelo; after all he has all through the season wanted to play with Melo.
Some East executive also pointed out that while Tatum’s game is solid, he is a complimentary player and not an outright star for a team that wants to contend for a championship. He is an average 3 point shooter and not a volume scorer. His defense is decent but he’s not a lock down defender by any means.
To be a star you need one skill that makes you unstoppable and the rest of your game can develop around it. Tatum seems to lack that skill and while its harsh to judge a player who hasn’t completed two years in the league, it has to be done while looking at future stardom in NBA.
De’Aaron Fox got one top pick (seriously Vlade?) and executives seem to agree that with his skill set he might be the player with the highest ceiling among the 4 players, but only finishes in the 4th place because of how far back he was from the other 3 after their 1st season.