We’ve watched the top 2016 NBA draft prospects for a month-plus now, and a small handful has emerged as letdowns. Whether it’s underwhelming skills, subpar assertiveness or statistical regressions, these pro candidates put an early dent in their pro value. It doesn’t mean they can’t eventually regain favor in NBA circles, but they’ve been largely disappointing through the first stretch of this season.
We picked our top three most disappointing players based on how far they’ve slid below preseason expectations. How exactly are they failing to produce and show the skills required to warrant a lofty pick?
3. Malik Newman, Mississippi State G (6’3″ Freshman)
Although Newman has warmed up as a shooter during his last couple of games, he’s still had an unsettling season for the most part.
Mississippi State’s star freshman is comfortable from three-land, shooting 37 percent from beyond the arc and 7-of-13 in his last two games. But he’s been inefficient as an overall scorer, converting just 32 percent of his two-point jumpers (per hoop-math.com) and 39 percent from the field. Newman’s also posting more turnovers than assists as the Bulldogs’ primary handler.
Given his high school career and modest 6’3″ frame, I was hoping to see more dynamic creativity and combo-guard skills from Newman. Unfortunately, he’s mustering just 2.2 assists per game despite his gifted handles and footwork. He’s not making great reads in Ben Howland’s offense and has exhibited dicey shot selection.
We’re not asking for pristine stats and NBA-ready command yet. Newman’s just 18 years old. Nevertheless, he needs to demonstrate improved collaboration with teammates and fewer mistakes if he wants to be taken seriously as a 2-guard or combo guard.
Right now, he’s viewed as a late first-round pick or a fringe first/second rounder. If he can take control of Mississippi State’s offense and shoot more accurately, he could sneak back into the mid-first round mix.
2. Skal Labissiere, Kentucky PF/C (7’0” Freshman)
One NBA scout went overboard in his ruthless critique of Labissiere. After Kentucky’s 7’0” freshman had yet another underwhelming performance against Louisville (two points, three rebounds), the scout called the young Haitian a “fraud,” among other things, and made it seem as though there is no hope for Labissiere. That’s a bit excessive, because there’s plenty of time and tools for the long, agile weapon to come into his own.
However, he has certainly been disappointing thus far. Labissiere has delivered meager production on the glass and in the scorebook against Kentucky’s toughest opponents.
He hasn’t been nearly strong enough around the bucket, grabbing just 7.0 boards per 40 minutes. This mediocre rebounding and wavering physicality in the post has afforded him sparse interior scoring opportunities. Defensively, Labissiere is still learning how to beat opponents to the spot and not rely on length. He’s in foul trouble far too often, committing 6.2 fouls per 40 minutes.
Chad Ford of ESPN.com explained that Labissiere is much more comfortable as a floating jump-shooter than an inside-out threat:
His lack of strength has hurt him to the point where there’s been only one game in which he has grabbed more than five rebounds. Head coach John Calipari is trying to toughen up Labissiere by asking him to play in the post. He’s much more comfortable on the perimeter, though, and projects as a potential stretch-4 in the NBA. We haven’t seen his three-point shot, but he has one. However, if this keeps up through the entire season, his stock could plummet.
As previously mentioned, there’s still time for him to gain some traction and solidify himself as a versatile top-five selection. But he needs to show more caginess and confidence on both ends of the floor.
1. Malik Pope, San Diego State F (6’10” Sophomore)
After showing sporadic glimpses of potential as a freshman, San Diego State’s rangy forward was one of the most highly anticipated returning prospects in college hoops this year. Pope entered the year as a first-round asset in most prognosticators’ eyes, with some projecting him as a lottery dark horse.
Fast-forward to today, and he has pretty much played his way out of the 2016 draft picture. Pope has regressed in most major categories despite getting more opportunities this season.
Despite his athleticism and raw shooting ability, the sophomore has struggled to consistently attack off the dribble and find high-percentage shots. Pope is shooting just 28 percent from the field, including 2-of-18 against ranked opponents, along with 21 percent from three-point range. His shot chart is bleak (note: blue = not good).
Pope’s lack of creativity and aggressiveness is reflected in his inability to get to the free-throw line. He’s averaging just 1.3 free-throw attempts per game, 2.6 per 40 minutes and 3.9 per 100 possessions.
Even without advanced skills, someone with his length and athleticism needs to be resourceful and scrounge up a few more charity tosses. Pope must gain a greater sense of how and when to attack.
Malik Pope is still so far away from putting it all together. Tools are there but feel and toughness major question marks.
— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) November 27, 2015
He may eventually put it all together, but as of today, it doesn’t look like this is Pope’s year. He still has a truckload of polishing to do.