With so many changes in the offseason, it’s time to take a look at some young players who will be thrust into a larger role simply by staying put.
So much changes every offseason in the NBA. Players change teams. Teams change coaches or general managers. Coaches change systems and rotations. And more.
All of these changes, whether we know it right now or not, will be reflected on the floor in some way or another during the 2019-20 season. One of the most interesting ways things will change, however, is the level of responsibility borne by players who stayed right where they already were, but because of the way things changed around them, will now be thrust into a larger role.
Below, we’ll identify some of these young players, and dig into what exactly might be expected of them in the coming season.
Mitchell Robinson, New York Knicks
Given how much (deserved) hype has surrounded his performance, it’s easy to forget that Mitchell Robinson played only 1,360 minutes last season, making just 60 starts. He packed so much production into his short time on the floor, though, that expectations for his sophomore season have been raised considerably.
He should enter the season as New York’s starting center right from the jump, and he’ll likely bear a lot of responsibility for returning the team’s defense to something resembling respectability. That is, of course, far easier said than done. Robinson was clearly learning on the fly last season, and will have to continue to improve his timing and focus so as to reduce the number of fouls he commits. (His 5.7 fouls per 36 minutes average last season is obviously untenable.)
There is game-breaking defensive potential here, though, and if Robinson can develop lob chemistry with any of the Knicks’ various point guards, he should be able to make an even stronger offensive impact than he did last season as well.
Aaron Holiday, Indiana Pacers
The offseason departures of Darren Collison (retirement), Cory Joseph (Kings), and Bojan Bogdanovic (Jazz) mean that Aaron Holiday will enter his second season with a whole lot more on his plate — even after the signing of Malcolm Brogdon.
We don’t yet know when Victor Oladipo will return from his devastating knee injury, or what type of condition his game and body will be in when he does return. That means Holiday is likely to pick up substantial ball-handling duties as both the team’s backup point guard and someone who seems fairly well-equipped to play next to Brogdon on occasion.
He did not get much of a chance to play last season, but his performance in limited minutes was admirable (16.4 points, 4.8 assists and 3.7 rebounds per 36 minutes, despite below-average shooting numbers). Holiday showed at UCLA that he has the versatility to handle the kind of combo guard role that will be required of him in Year 2, and he should get a chance to prove he can do it at this level.
Zhaire Smith, Philadelphia 76ers
Zhaire Smith had perhaps the strangest 2018-19 season of anybody in the league, missing almost the entire year after an allergic reaction he suffered while rehabbing an offseason injury. He enters this season as one of Philadelphia’s most important backup guards, and his brand of aggressive defense should prove useful for Brett Brown’s bunch.
Smith has good size at 6-foot-4 and 199 pounds, and he should thus be able to play next to any of the Sixers’ backcourt starters, and handle just about any perimeter matchup the team asks him to work. He made six of 16 3-point shots in extremely limited action last season, and if he can stretch that conversion rate out over a full year, he’ll provide even more value to his team.
Anfernee Simons, Portland Trail Blazers
Anfernee Simons is the underground basketball secret the Blazers can’t stop talking about. The No. 24 overall pick in last year’s draft, he barely got off the bench as a rookie, only really registering in the national consciousness when he played all 48 minutes and dropped 37 points in Portland’s regular-season finale.
But the Blazers love this kid and feel like he is ready to contribute. After they traded Moe Harkless and let Al-Farouq Aminu walk in free agency, there are some minutes available on the wing and Simons should have a chance to grab a hold of some of them. His size means he’s unlikely to play alongside both Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum at the same time, but when the team is in bench looks, he should be able to share the backcourt with one of them.
Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
Kemba Walker is gone. The Hornets are going to need somebody to pick up the perimeter scoring burden and — spoiler alert — Terry Rozier is not gonna do it all by himself.
Malik Monk showed during his Kentucky days that he has the ability to go off at any time, but that hasn’t yet fully translated to the pros. He’s been in and out of the rotation during his first two NBA seasons and his playing time has been inconsistent at best, but with this team now firmly in rebuilding mode, the Hornets should give Monk a chance to show them what he really is. It’d be better for him to stretch his game, and it’d be better for them to get as much information about what he can and can’t do as possible before he becomes extension-eligible next offseason.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
After the offseason trade of Hassan Whiteside, Bam Adebayo should be in line to take over as the team’s full-time starting center. He’s ready for the gig. Miami has outscored its opponents with Adebayo on the floor in each of his two seasons, and his combination of size, length, athleticism and instincts makes him a natural fit in Erik Spoelstra’s system.
He’s a strong finisher on the inside, a very good rebounder, and he is improving in the kind of timing and feel areas that are necessary for a modern big man to round out his game and stay on the floor against the best opposing lineups, especially when they go small. If he can stretch his offensive impact out beyond the immediate area of the rim, he can become a real force.
Harry Giles, Sacramento Kings
Harry Giles looked like a really nice player in the first action of his career last season — even after sitting out an entire year while rehabbing the injuries that limited him during the latter stages of his time in high school and college. We don’t yet know if he’ll start for Sacramento in the frontcourt, but it seems imperative that they find him more than the 820 minutes he played last season.
He and Marvin Bagley III make for a wildly intriguing 4-5 combination, and his speed fits well with the De’Aaron Fox-driven transition attack that powers so much of what the Kings want to do. He’s an extremely versatile big man who hits the boards, makes plays on short rolls, and even has a nice face-up game if given enough space. There’s a lot to like here, and if he can stay healthy, he can become a really good find in the late first round.
OG Anunoby, Toronto Raptors
After OG Anunoby’s lost season, it’s easy to forget that this time last year, he was considered to be ahead of Pascal Siakam in the development curve. The Raptors were able to keep both players out of the Kawhi Leonard trade, and they’re obviously better off for it, having won a title along the way.
Now Leonard is gone, though, and OG will presumably slide back into the larger role he occupied before Kawhi was in town, before the tragic loss of his father, and before the untimely emergency appendectomy he had to undergo prior to last year’s playoffs. He’s a very versatile, functional piece who makes a lot of sense in Nick Nurse’s system, and he should show this year that he’s back on the rise.