The 2017-18 Rookie of the Year race was one of the tightest and most competitive in recent memory. Ben Simmons took home the honors, but Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum had compelling cases for the award as well, as both were also key players on playoff teams.
One of the storylines coming into the 2018-19 season was how that trio would follow up stellar rookie campaigns, and many expected them to build off of those years and take the next step towards being superstars in the NBA. However, through three weeks of their respective second seasons as professionals, it’s been a mixed bag for the trio and a not-so-friendly reminder that development of young players is far from a linear growth from year to year.
So often we want to project young players into what they will be in the future, assuming they all follow the same growth pattern. If a player is this good as a rookie, then he surely will be a superstar a few years from now … but that’s usually not the way it happens. There will be those that follow the path to superstardom, but sometimes players take steps back or plateau before going forward again, sometimes taking years before it clicks how to make that leap. Others will never make that jump and will tread water around the same level they entered the league, carving out careers as a quality role player while never living up to “star potential,” which is perfectly fine.
This can be a product of many things, from the development program and coaching of the team they’re on to simply garnering more attention from opponents who start gameplanning for them and are no longer taken by surprise as may have happened their rookie season. Whatever the case may be, player development isn’t as simple as people want to make it out to be, and early this season we’re getting a number of new examples of the difficulty in not just taking the next step but maintaining success in the NBA.