Bigs Take Time

James Wiseman, Golden State Warriors

There's a word in the English language that fans of basketball struggle to comprehend. It's a word that especially gets ignored when dealing with situations in the NBA. That word is Patience. In case you don't know what the definition of Patience actually is, allow me to break it down for you. 

pa¬∑tience 

the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Now let's set the stage for you degenerate basketball minds who we love so much here. Your team just went through an absolutely brutal year. The type of season in which you wish you were just playing a video game and you could sim the rest of the year. But you realize there's always a great thing about sucking the year before...the lottery. Well, luck is on your team's side as your favorite NBA organization lands a high pick. It's obvious what your team needs. A young talented big man. That's just what your team gets, and you find yourself dreaming of a big man coming in immediately and having an Anthony Davis or Karl-Anthony Towns type of early impact. Fast forward to the middle of the year, and that hasn't been the case. You're frustrated, as a number of picks that went after your selection are performing at a high level early on. Sure...they weren't bigs either, but why should that matter...it's all about performing at a high level right away right? AND THAT'S WHERE WE STOP THIS MADNESS ONCE AND FOR ALL BOYS AND GIRLS.

Now all of that was necessary. It's a process that happens each and every year with a variety of NBA fan bases. While I personally get the frustration, it all stops now. By the end of this article, I hope you've calmed down and realized that time...can be a precious thing. A long time ago, in a basketball blog far far away...we wrote an article similar to this that looked at how rookie point guards hit their "stride" during different times over the course of their careers. Although this is looking at a completely different position, I still believe it's just as important of a position to discuss. 

Look ladies and gentlemen it should be pretty obvious that bigs are mythical creatures in the basketball world. No one truly understands them. They are often weird, outspoken, and just generally misunderstood. NBA Front Offices and scouts fall in love with them more than any other type of player. We get it, an individual that's taller than everyone and can dunk the ball with vicious intentions is awesome. But at the end of the day, we all need to realize one thing...not every big man "gets it" right away. Some of these incredible specimens take years to finally hit their stride and "breakout." With your permission, we'd like to take a deep dive into some of the notable NBA big men over the years who struggled as rookies but saw that the game finally started to slow down for them eventually. (Kidding we are going to do it without your permission anyway). An important note for everyone reading this, all of the bigs that are discussed throughout this article will share some similarities but also have some interesting differences. I thought it was important to extend the range when it came to where these players were drafted, how long they played in college, and how long it took them to "breakout" in the NBA. Let's get weird. 

THE PAST

NIKOLA VUCEVIC

Drafted 16th in 2011 NBA Draft
Played 3 Years at USC
"Breakout year": 2012-13 (2nd year)

Nikola Vucevic

I thought it'd be fun to start out with some players that are currently making some notable "noise" in the NBA currently. Let's rewind the tape a little. As you'll see above, Nikola Vucevic didn't really have the storybook rookie year for a big man that was drafted just outside of the lottery (16th overall). Vucevic was a fascinating big man prospect I wanted to make sure to include in this discussion. Some of you might not remember this but "Vuc" was dominating the PAC-12 in College. During his junior year, Nikola went on to average 17.1 PTS and 10.3 REB for the USC Trojans. Although Vucevic was a junior, he was still just 21-years-old during his rookie year with the Philadelphia 76ers. Vuc would go on to struggle throughout his rookie year, only averaging 5.5 PTS and 4.8 REB in 15.9 MPG. While the Sixers could have waited to see what they had with Vucevic, they had other plans in mind as they traded Nikola in a four-team trade. This trade would involve Dwight Howard going to the Lakers and Andrew Bynum going to the Sixers but the Orlando Magic would slide in and acquire the 22-year-old Nikola Vucevic. After that, Vucevic hit his "breakout year" in his 2nd year, jumping his points per game from 5.5 his rookie year to 13.1 and seeing his rebounds per game go from 4.8 to 11.9. There's an argument to be made that Vucevic has been one of the more underrated big men throughout the course of his career and it only took his 2nd year for Vucevic to develop the trust and ability to shine. 

DEANDRE JORDAN

Drafted 35th in 2008 NBA Draft
Played 1 Year at Texas A&M
"Breakout year": 2013-14 (6th year)

DeAndre Jordan, Brooklyn Nets

There's going to be a couple of players in this article that tie into players that were recently drafted, so as tradition, I promise there is some point to the madness that I am currently throwing your way. Let's take a look at DeAndre Jordan real quick. Remember DeAndre being drafted out of Texas A&M? Well of course you don't. DeAndre was the definition of a freak-of-nature athlete who was potentially lightning in a bottle if a team stressed some patience with him. He was one of those centers that had no idea what he was doing yet but he was psychotically athletic and could dunk over everyone. The Los Angeles Clippers took a flier on him with the 35th pick in the 2008 NBA Draft and agreed to give him some time to develop. Remember, DeAndre Jordan was only 20-years-old during his rookie year, in which he went on to average 4.3 PTS and 4.5 REB for the Clippers in 14.5 MIN. In case you were curious, that Clippers team was coached by Mike Dunleavy and went on to post a record of 19-63. It wasn't until the 2013-14 season in which DeAndre Jordan had his breakout season. Jordan would see a jump in his minutes. After averaging 24.5 MIN in 2012-13, DeAndre would average 35.0 MIN in 2013-14 and his numbers across the board would see a substantial boost as well. He would finish up his 6th year in the NBA averaging 10.4 PTS, 13.6 REB, and 2.5 BLK for the Clippers. An eye-opening development in a variety of areas. On one hand, it was a substantial boost of production across the board for DA, who averaged 8.8 PTS and 7.2 REB the year before. But on the other hand, it showed that the Clippers had stressed patience with their raw big man, and it paid off in a big way in year 6. To prove the point even more, from 2014-2018 Jordan would go on to average 11.9 PTS, 14.2 REB, and 1.9 BLK while shooting 68.9% from the field. 

JERMAINE O'NEAL

Drafted 17th in 1996 NBA Draft
Drafted out of High School 
"Breakout Year": 2001-02 (6th Year)

Jermaine O'Neal

I wanted to make sure to get a little outside of the box with some of these former bigs. It's important to open the range to demonstrate truly how different each player can be when it comes to finding their groove in the NBA. Let's talk about Jermaine O'Neal. If you don't remember, Jermaine was drafted straight out of high school by the Portland Trail Blazers. That means he was 18-years-old during his rookie season. A year in which O'Neal would only play 10.2 MPG. So he's automatically a bust then? Not exactly. Not every young talent hits their stride right away. The Blazers stressed patience with Jermaine, but his breakout never seemed to happen. They moved on from O'Neal after 4 years in Portland, trading him to the Indiana Pacers for Dale Davis. O'Neal had struggled to gain any significant playing time in Portland and it looked as if that marriage just simply wasn't going to work. Did that mean that O'Neal wasn't any good? No not at all, sometimes bigs just click at times you don't expect them to. Remember, O'Neal might have been in his 5th season in the NBA, but he was still just 22-years-old when he was traded to the Pacers. The change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered. Jermaine would go on to average 12.9 PTS and 9.8 REB in his first year with Indiana and followed that up by winning the NBA's Most Improved Award in the 2001-02 season, also earning himself his first NBA All-Star appearance. 

DERRICK FAVORS

Drafted 3rd in 2008 NBA Draft
Played 1 Year at Texas A&M
"Breakout Year":  2013-14 (4th Year)

Derrick Favors

This is another notable name that a lot of you might not be considering, but it's still an important individual to bring to the discussion. I promise folks, I might be crazy, but all of this is going to make sense at the end of the day. Derrick Favors was a hyped big man coming out of Georgia Tech. During his one-and-only year at GT, the then 18-year-old would go on to average 12.4 PTS and 8.4 REB. Favors would struggle early on throughout his career after being the 3rd overall selection in the 2010 NBA Draft. If you remember, Favors was included in the infamous Deron Williams trade and it took him a while before he would hit his stride in the NBA. In his 4th year in the NBA, Favors would finally see his points per game jump to the double-digits, averaging 13.3 PTS and 8.7 REB. While Favors might not have the flashy numbers that some previous top-3 selections have had, he's still carved himself out a 10+ year career which is always a notable accomplishment in this league. 

LAMARCUS ALDRIDGE

Drafted 2nd in 2006 NBA Draft
Played 2 Years at Texas
"Breakout Year": 2007-08 (2nd Year) 

LaMarcus Aldridge

Now we're starting to bring up some players that are currently still making some noise around the league, but you might not have realized they didn't have the rookie year that NBA fans today expect them to have. Take for example LaMarcus Aldridge, who was the 2nd overall selection in the 2006 NBA Draft. Aldridge spent two years playing in Austin for the University of Texas, and he put up some solid numbers during his sophomore year averaging 15.0 PTS and 9.2 REB. The Portland Trail Blazers believed in the future and would make a draft-day trade in order to secure Aldridge. During his rookie year, the Blazers had a plan and they didn't force the issue when it came to their new talented big man. Remember this was a team featuring a young determined Zach Randolph, who would go on to average 23.6 PTS and 10.1 REB that season, as well as Brandon Roy who was a bucket getting machine. Aldridge put up respectable numbers during his rookie year, averaging 9.0 PTS, 5.0 REB, and 1.2 BLK in 22.1 MIN. But the following year is when the Blazers finally let Aldridge run wild. The numbers across the board spiked for the 22-year-old, as LaMarcus was now averaging 17.8 PTS, 7.6 REB, and 1.2 BLK while shooting 48.4% from the field. That's why it's so important for some of these young big men to get valuable playing time during their rookie year. Once they take some time after their first season to process everything and realize that the game is finally starting to slow down, they can blossom in a HURRY. 

ANDRE DRUMMOND

Drafted 9th in 2012 NBA Draft
Played 1 Year at UConn
"Breakout Year": 2013-14 (2nd Year)

Andre Drummond

You're starting to see a trend developing here, aren't you? Yes, raw "one-and-done" bigs have gone on to have successful careers in the NBA. It can actually happen. They also don't have to come in and dominate immediately. They can take their time and figure out the game. PATIENCE folks. Insert Andre Drummond, who was the 9th selection in the 2012 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons. Now Drummond only played one year at UConn and he didn't have stats that would wow you for a top 10 pick. While playing for the Huskies, Drummond averaged 10.0 PTS and 7.6 REB. He would be 19-years-old during his rookie year with the Pistons and would go on to average 7.9 PTS, 7.6 REB, and 1.6 BLK in 20.7 MIN. But during his second year, the light came on for Drummond who would see his numbers jump to 13.5 PTS and 13.2 REB in 32.3 MIN. His Rookie year would be the only year in his entire career in which Andre Drummond didn't average double-digit points and rebounds. 

THE FUTURE

Yes, this is why you're here. This is why you're so intrigued by the direction of this entire article. There are three notable big men rookies that I want to take a moment to discuss here. Now I get it, if you're the fan base of one of these prized possessions you want results immediately. You're so excited to potentially have a franchise-altering presence in the middle of the paint. Someone who can make an impact on both sides of the ball and help your team take the next step forward towards the playoffs and potentially the most beautiful golden basketball trophy in the world of sports. But by now you should realize that bigs are going to take time...

JAMES WISEMAN

Good evening Golden State Warriors fans, I thought you might be interested in this article. Look I understand that Warriors fans are nervously watching LaMelo Ball dominate in Charlotte and asking themselves what they could have had. But, let's pump the breaks just a little bit and talk about your big fella for a second. Wiseman was going to be a work in progress and anybody telling you otherwise would be a liar. But after reading everything I just put out on the table for you, realize that one of the rawest bigs in recent NBA Draft history is currently averaging 11.8 PTS, 6.0 REB, and 1.0 BLK in 20.8 MIN. Please read that entire sentence again. 

Wiseman is going to take some time. He played three games at the University of Memphis before opting out and then spending the rest of the year training for the NBA draft. In so many words, you can consider Wiseman to be a player who was drafted directly out of high school. Sure, it's easy to look around at the rest of the league and wonder how other rookies would be performing with your team but I still firmly believe that the Warriors could look back and have a monster in Wiseman in a couple of years. Wiseman won't turn 20-years-old until the end of the month and head coach Steve Kerr has even come out and said that the Warriors need to give Wiseman some more looks in the second half of the season. It's been extremely strange to see the amount of second-guessing some have had when it comes to this year's second overall selection. If you're a Warriors fan you should be thrilled. Wiseman is right on track and this was never going to be an immediate type of superstar. Patience Dubnation, Patience. 

ONYEKA OKONGWU

Another perfect example of a player that needs some time to get things rolling. Sure, Atlanta Hawks fans, and basketball fans in general, want to see what this year's 6th overall selection can do with more playing time. But that time will come. Onyeka Okongwu hasn't had the rookie year that most were hoping for, but there's still plenty of time for the young big man to blossom. The thing with Okongwu is that now he's starting to need to earn his minutes. But at this time, the players that have earned minutes in front of him, such as veteran big man Clint Capela, are having outstanding years. Okongwu just recently turned 20-years-old, so there's no need to rush his development. As of now, he's averaging 3.2 PTS and 2.6 REB in just 9.9 MIN. Things could open up for Okongwu during the second half of the season, but this pick wasn't made to be a short-term solution. The Hawks have bigger plans and dreams with Okongwu and there's no need to rush his progress. 

ISAIAH STEWART

Now while some might be questioning the "immediate impact" of the two bigs above, I'd like to talk about the other side of the equation. Sometimes a big man just lands in the perfect situation. A situation in which they can not be afraid to make mistakes because they have the opportunity to learn on the fly. Isaiah Stewart landed in a perfect situation when he was acquired by the Detroit Pistons on draft night. Stewart has set the tone for the rebuilding Pistons organization with his mentality and toughness on the floor. Sure, Stewart might not wow you with his stats as of now, but his play continues to impress and it wouldn't surprise me to see the Pistons start to let him get some serious run in the second half of the year. As of right now, Stewart is averaging 5.7 PTS, 5.9 REB, and 1.0 BLK in 18.7 MIN.