Being a young player in the NBA is not an easy thing, especially if you enter the league with high expectations. Top-ranked prospects are asked to deliver right away, but making adjustments to get settled in the league can take some time.
Prospects can get a free pass during their first couple of seasons, but once they’re called to step up, they better live up to the expectations. Otherwise, people may start talking about how they’re a bust.
As a result, there are a handful of players that will be asked to take a step forward next season and prove they have what it takes to become the league’s next superstar. Today, we’ll talk about some of them:
6. Kris Dunn
Kris Dunn was a part of the Jimmy Butler trade, and Chicago Bulls fans were high on him. They viewed Dunn as an aggressive driver, a solid playmaker, and a young man with the potential to make it to the NBA’s All-Defensive team.
However, Dunn has struggled with inconsistencies and injuries, and he has struggled to adapt to the Bulls’ multiple ball-handlers systems with Zach LaVine also running the point from time to time.
Over 3 seasons, Dunn has roughly averaged 8.6 points and 4.4 assists in 41% shooting and the Bulls put a lot of pressure on his shoulders by drafting Coby White. Ultimately, this will likely be his last chance to prove he’s got what it takes to be a starting point guard in this league.
5. Frank Ntilikina
We all knew it would take some time before Frank Ntilikina established himself in the league, and while he has shown some glimpses of being a potential lockdown defender, he still has a lot of room for improvement.
The New York Knicks will likely give Dennis Smith Jr the starting point guard duties with Ntilikina coming off the bench -- mostly because he’s struggled to make his teammates better and create for others.
Through two seasons, he has averaged 5.9 points and 2.2 assists on 35% shooting (30% from three), so he really needs to bring his A-Game next season. He was an 8th overall pick just three years ago, after all.
4. Terry Rozier
Terry Rozier had a breakout tenure during the playoffs a couple of seasons ago, so most people - including him - thought he was ready to have a bigger role in the Celtic’s offense. Brad Stevens thought otherwise.
So, after walking away as a free agent, Rozier signed a 3-year, $58 million deal with the Charlotte Hornets and needs to prove that he is worthy of that kind of investment to put his doubters at ease.
Over his career, Rozier has posted averages of 7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.3 assists per game, knocking down just 38% of his shots. The Hornets aren’t likely to compete next season, but he must average at least 16 points and 5 assists per game to live up to that deal.
3. Zach Collins
Zach Collins has shown flashes of great talent and looks ready to have a bigger role with the Portland Trail Blazers this season, especially now that he’s finally poised to start for Terry Stotts team.
Collins can help the Blazers spread the floor on the offensive end, although he needs to be more consistent from beyond the arc (he’s a 32% career shooter from three) if he wants to continue his upward trend. Also, he’s a versatile, dynamic defender with a 7’1’’ wingspan.
The Blazers are bound to make another deep playoff run this season and he’ll get as many minutes as he can handle. Over his career, Collins has averaged 5.6 points and 3.8 rebounds on 44% from the floor.
2. Lonzo Ball
Lonzo has struggled with injuries, and the Lakers decided to take things slowly with him. But he is now in for a bigger role with the New Orleans Pelicans and the clock is ticking for him. Zo must prove why people compared him to Jason Kidd during his UCLA years.
Lonzo is in a prime position to succeed at New Orleans and he should make the most out of it. He has been an elite defender and solid playmaker thus far over his young NBA career but he needs to improve his shooting and be more aggressive as a scorer.
Through a couple of seasons, the older of the Ball brothers has averaged 10.0 points, 6.2 rebounds, 6.4 assists, and 1.6 steals per game on 38% from the floor and 31% from beyond the arc.
1. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum was really impressive during his rookie year, especially in the playoffs, but it looks like he hit a wall last season and the Celtics’ unselfish offense prevented him from having the breakout sophomore season everybody expected.
Kyrie Irving is gone and it will be up to Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker to carry the load on the offensive end for the Celtics. Now will be the time when he’ll show what he’s truly made of.
Tatum has all the tools to become the league’s next superstar. He’s got an elite jumper and footwork, a great work ethic, and is a much better defender people credit him for. So far, he’s averaged 14.8 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, but we all know he’s capable of much more than that.