Every season, players that get drafted high in the lottery and are immediately subjected to immense pressure. And every season, the players either show up or they don’t. This year is no different, and the early selections in the draft are supremely talented with the potential to be All-Star caliber players. Sadly, if they evolve to anything less than that, they will widely be labeled as busts.
Below are five lottery picks who are taking on the pressures of an entire organization next season to perform at a high level relatively quickly.
5. Jaylen Brown, Boston, 6-7 Forward, Cal
I don’t believe anyone expected Jaylen Brown to go third overall, ahead of guys like Kris Dunn and Jamal Murray. Boston must’ve been incredibly enamored with him to take that gamble, and, out of the four other guys on this list, it’s arguable that Brown had the best Summer League. He averaged 16.0 points and 6.2 boards and displayed tremendous athleticism that made like look like a man amongst boys. His body is made for the NBA, and he looked very comfortable with the ball in his hands and was able to attack the basket and draw contact. A lot of it.
Through the last three SL games, Brown averaged 22 points per contest and raised his shooting percentage by 20 points — albeit it was still just 39.5, but 20 percentage points is a great improvement, no matter how you cut it.
Brown lands in a great spot with the Celtics because his workload isn’t going to be what it would’ve been on a worse team. The Celtics are already solid on the offense end, the part of the game where Brown needs more development. His jump shot is still shaky at best, but he has the physical attributes and willingness to be a game changer on defense early in his career.
4. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers, 6-9 Forward, Duke
On the opposite end of the spectrum is Brandon Ingram, who severely underperformed with the Lakers over his five-game showing. I can’t tell you what was up exactly, but all it looked like was that his jumper wasn’t right. That’ll be fixed eventually, and all players are different when it comes to adjusting their offensive game to the NBA.
He’s slated to be the next franchise player for the Lakers and has drawn a ton of Kevin Durant comparisons, but the purple and gold faithful shouldn’t panic if Ingram starts this season in a slump. Los Angeles is rebuilding, so Ingram playing poorly isn’t going to break anything. If his inconsistent play is sustained, however, that will be an issue. A good sign for the Lakers is that Ingram dropped 22 in his final Summer League game on July 15 and shot a very efficient 9/13 from the field.
Ingram’s pressure isn’t drawn from talent because this kid will be a threat for a good portion of his career, it’s from being wrongly compared to Kevin Durant who’s a once-in-a-generation player.
3. Dragan Bender, Phoenix, 7-1 Forward, Maccabi Tel Aviv
European prospects always get the short end of the stick. It’s either they’re viewed as the next Dirk Nowitzki or the next Darko Milici. There’s no in between. In Bender’s case, however, no one saw enough even to draw a comparison for him. Here we have a kid who scored fifteen total points for Maccabi Tel Aviv last season and was taken fourth overall. The need to max out your potential is real.
Phoenix took a gamble because of the way the NBA is trending with big men who space the floor, and shooting is something that Bender’s reportedly capable of — I say “reportedly” because he shot 26.5 percent from three in the Summer League and 16.7 percent in the Euroleague
I see the other side of the argument, the side that states there was such little production that anything he does is an improvement. That’s true, and there’s no doubt that Bender needs at least two years to become a consistent option for the Suns, but the way the NBA works, two seasons might not be quick enough.
Fortunately for him, the Suns as an organization will need just as much time to fix themselves.
2. Ben Simmons, Philadelphia, 6-10 Forward, LSU
When you’re the first overall pick, there’s always pressure. The Sixers drafted Ben Simmons with the hopes of turning the franchise around, and he was one of the few players who can do it. At 6-10 with phenomenal passing and rebounding skills, Simmons dazzled in the Summer League with pinpoint passes that only a handful of guards would’ve made.
He was very passive when it came to scoring, though. There was still a reluctance to shoot his jump shot, and it looked like Simmons just wants the NBA to start. All the tools and abilities are there for him to become a premier player in the league, but his drive and heart have been questioned since last fall when he was playing with LSU.
Similar to Ingram, Simmons has been labeled as a baby LeBron, and if he doesn’t put up numbers like James, some will be disappointed.
1. Thon Maker, Milwaukee, 7-1 Center, Sudan
Thon Maker makes this list because he was drafted too high and had an impressive Summer League showing. Much like Bender, not much was known about Maker post-high school, but his time at the Athlete Institute Academy in Canada gave us a glimpse at a unique skillset.
Despite being over seven foot, Maker can shoot and handle the basketball like a guard; he’s also a difference maker on the glass and on defense because of his height and athleticism. The Bucks took him at tenth overall when he was projected to go late in the first round, and he averaged more than 14 points and nine rebounds in Vegas, which drew a lot of buzz towards him. (Adding to the attention he gained when no one knew his actual age.)
When an organization drafts you as a top-10 pick, they want you to produce immediately. Especially when that organization is on the rise and a potential playoff team. That embodies the Bucks, who will most likely throw Maker into their already athletic and supremely-lengthy lineup.
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