NBA fans are impatient. I get it. I mean it’s insane to expect an immediate return and label someone who can’t legitimately purchase alcohol as a bust, but I understand we all want young guys to champion as soon as humanly possible. Between flying from city-to-city, dealing with the ups and downs of an 82-game season and playing against much more knowledgeable and stronger veterans, rookie seasons tend to look excruciatingly painful. Some defy the odds and have Jayson Tatum-like success. Others don’t find their fitting until much later. Here we highlight the guys who’ve blossomed so far in Year 2.
SACRAMENTO KINGS PG, DE’AARON FOX
When Fox opened the first month of the 2018-19 season by averaging 17.5 points on 48.1 percent shooting from the field and 6.9 assists whilst leading the rebuilding Kings to a 5-3 record, eyes around the NBA widened. He then followed a flawless October by torching Trae Young for 31 points, 10 rebounds and 15 assists -- his first triple-double -- to kickoff November. *Cues Charles Barkley* We’re going to start a dialogue. Fox isn’t just lighting up opposing point guards, knocking down 3s (something critics thought he’d always struggle with) and putting foes in the torture chamber defensively, he’s spearheading Vlade Divac’s babies to wins. He’s still playing at warped speed, but he’s no longer out of control and it shows in the way he’s been able to finish at the rim and make his teammates better. If the Most Improved Player voting ended today, Fox’s name would dominate the polls.
PORTLAND TRAIL BLAZERS F/C, ZACH COLLINS
Portland got off to a 10-3 start to open 2018-19. Do I think it’s sustainable? No. Do I think the emergence of Zach Collins has made this team much better? Hell Ya. After striking out on Meyers Leonard, a 7-footer who signed a huge contract and then proceeded to go more than a year without a block, Portland has to be thanking the Vegan Gods that Collins, a player with a similar body composition, is panning out. He’s almost a cheat code when switching pick-and-rolls, using his quick feet and long arms to stay in front of opposing guards and force tough shots. He’s also been valuable as a rim protector, tallying 1.2 blocks in his first 13 games and earning praise from All-Star Dame Lillard, who said the sophomore has Defensive Player of the Year potential. On the offensive end, he’s been the quintessential new-age big who sets physical screens, catches lobs at the rim and hits jumpers from distance. With so much progress made before his 21st birthday, the ceiling is higher than the roof for this young boul.
BROOKLYN NETS C, JARRETT ALLEN
You want to hear something absurd? Because Jarrett Allen, who is a self-proclaimed tech nerd builds computers from scratch and has a plethora of interests outside bouncing a basketball, people questioned his love for hoops. Now Allen will never wow you with outward displays of emotion like John Wall or other NBAers, but listen, this quiet 7-footer is an assassin. During the Nets’ season opener, he responded to an attempted assault on the rim by proverbial rim assaulter Blake Griffin by sending him back up 8-Mile road with a rejection. Setting the tone for a terrific start to the campaign, the big man then went on to author at least four blocks in three of his first 13 games of the year. Quite the rim protection from someone who “doesn’t care about the game,” if I do say so myself. Not only does he block a ton of shots, he’s an excellent finisher at the rim who shoots north of 60 percent. If you want to be entertained, I’d suggest you make the Nets a League Pass mainstay.
DALLAS MAVERICKS F/C MAXI KLEBER
Everytime one of my coworkers sends me a text about Kleber, my eyes light up and I instantly stop what I’m doing. If you’re a fan of the eye test and you don’t bank your basketball opinions on just numbers compiled by nerds who haven’t seen daylight or a hardwood in years, then you’ll love Max Kleber’s game. At 6-foot-10, he passionately erases shots, drills long-range jumpers and cleans the glass like a janitor. I’m hoping one day Rick Carlisle sees the light and inserts him as the Mavericks’ starting five. Now, he isn’t fellow Mavs German MVP Nowitzki, but he’s a suitable starting big man in this league.
PS: He’s old as hell at 26, but he’s still a sophomore.
TORONTO RAPTORS F, OG ANUNOBY
When the Raptors drafted Anunoby, they wanted him to develop in the mold of two-way superstar Kawhi Leonard. He quickly proved to be a lockdown defender who hounded opponents with a combination of physicality, length and quickness. Now in Year 2, he’s upped his defensive intensity and even assumed a ball-handling role when Kawhi’s out of the game. His improved handle has made him a much better shot creator and more of a playmaking threat. Combine that with the fact he’s becoming a knockdown outside shooter and ohhh man, the world is going to have to prepare themselves for OG unleashed.