That’s no dig at either player. It is usually what happens to high draft picks during their first couple of seasons. You have to go back to Derrick Rose in 2008 to find a top overall pick who reached the playoffs in his rookie season.
In fact, among the last 40 top-five picks, only six played in the postseason as rookies: Rose and Michael Beasley in 2009, James Harden in 2010, Evan Turner in 2011, Enes Kanter in 2012 and Otto Porter in 2014.
Jabari Parker’s Milwaukee Bucks made the playoffs in his rookie season, but he was sidelined with a torn ACL. And none of last June’s top five picks will play in the postseason next month unless Mario Hezonja’s Orlando Magic engineer a dramatic turnaround.
However, there are some teams headed for the playoffs this season that rely heavily on rookies. How much those kids play once they get there remains to be seen. Here’s a look at those teams and how much they are leaning on their kids.
CHARLOTTE HORNETS: They have won five in a row and 14 of 17 since Jan. 31, and the Southeast Division title and a top-four seed is not out of the realm of possibility. After a slow start to the season, Frank Kaminsky has become a rotation big, playing at both spots and averaging 7.4 points and 4.1 rebounds in 21.1 minutes. What will keep him in the postseason rotation is his 3-point shooting; he knocks down 33 percent of his shots from the arc for a team that is third in the NBA in attempts, trailing only Golden State and Houston.
CHICAGO BULLS: They are barely clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and might be on the outside looking in if not for the contributions of forward Bobby Portis, who was forced into the rotation due to injuries and has more than held his own. He averaged 9.8 points and 7.3 rebounds in 23.8 minutes in February but has played just four minutes in each of the last two games as Nikola Mirotic and Mike Dunleavy have returned from injuries. If the Bulls make the playoffs, Portis likely will be an emergency big off the bench.
DETROIT PISTONS: They are the team chasing the Bulls, currently just percentage points behind. Stanley Johnson had been their starting small forward until Tobias Harris arrived in the trade with Orlando. But Johnson has missed the last seven games with a shoulder injury, and coach Stan Van Gundy recently said, “I don’t think we’ll see him on this (road) trip.” Detroit does not play at home again until next Wednesday. Whenever Johnson returns, he will play. The rescinded trade with Houston has depleted Van Gundy’s bench. In Wednesday’s win at Dallas, he used Aron Baynes, Steve Blake and Reggie Bullock as reserves. That’s it.
INDIANA PACERS: Not quite secure, either, as they are seventh in the East and even in the loss column with the Bulls. They also have the most impactful rookie among prospective playoff teams in big man Myles Turner, who has been gangbusters since mid-January, averaging 13.6 points, 6.2 rebounds and 1.88 blocks in his last 25 games. He has benefited from coach Frank Vogel’s return to a more conventional two-big lineup and will be the only rookie starter in the postseason – if Indiana gets in.
MIAMI HEAT: No playoff team is relying collectively on its rookies more than the Heat, who have two in their rotation. Miami is 8-3 since the All-Star break without All-Star forward Chris Bosh, who may not return this season. Lottery pick Justise Winslow has been the Heat’s sixth man virtually all season, primarily because of his defense. But since the All-Star break, second-round pick Josh Richardson has overtaken Gerald Green in the rotation and is averaging 8.0 points while making 13 of 22 shots from the arc. The longer Richardson remains in the rotation, the more likely it becomes that he will play in the postseason.
OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER: Rookie point guard Cameron Payne has had a rollercoaster season as far as playing time is concerned. He didn’t play more than 12 minutes in any game until after Christmas, when he supplanted D.J. Augustin as Russell Westbrook’s backup. Then he averaged 16.3 minutes (with 7.2 points, 2.6 assists and 27-of-66 3-point shooting) over the next 24 games. Then Augustin was traded for Randy Foye, bumping Payne out of the rotation again. He has played just nine minutes in the last seven games, and it is hard to imagine him logging significant playoff minutes.
SAN ANTONIO SPURS: Their league-leading victory margin of 12.4 points has allowed coach Gregg Popovich to play both Jonathon Simmons (14.0 minutes per game) and Boban Marjanovic (8.1) much more than expected on such a veteran-laden club. However, with the rest given to Tim Duncan and David West throughout the season, the recent pickups of Andre Miller and Kevin Martin, and the collective savvy of this group, it is unlikely Simmons or Marjanovic will play meaningful minutes in the postseason.
UTAH JAZZ: Like the Heat, the Jazz also have two rookies in their rotation with point guard Raul Neto and forward Trey Lyles. Unlike the Heat, their postseason prospects are shaky. Utah is three games in the loss column behind Houston for the West’s last spot. Neto started for the first half of the season but was bumped to the bench upon the arrival of Shelvin Mack, who was Atlanta’s third-string point guard. If Trey Burke were healthy, Neto might not be playing at all. Lyles played well when Rudy Gobert was hurt but is back to coming off a very shallow bench, although he will play in the postseason.
On to the rankings, filled with guys not going to the postseason.
1. KARL-ANTHONY TOWNS, C, MINNESOTA: He has supplanted Jahlil Okafor as the top scorer among rookies. More importantly, he has supplanted Kristaps Porzingis atop these rankings and likely will remain here for the rest of the season. Towns is one of just seven players averaging at least 15 points and 10 rebounds (Cousins, Davis, Gasol, Drummond, Love, Howard), is tied for sixth with 36 double-doubles and ninth with 1.75 blocks. It is scary to think what he will be like with another season of tutelage from Kevin Garnett. LAST RANKING: 2
2. KRISTAPS PORZINGIS, F-C, NEW YORK: My, how things have changed. Last time around, we anticipated Porzingis having the inside track for Rookie of the Year because he plays in New York and the Knicks were in the playoff hunt. But they have lost 17 of their last 22 games – changing coaches along the way – and Porzingis has just three 20-point games against five single-digit games in that span. It is possible that the “Unicorn” is getting tired; in his last five games, he is averaging 10.8 points and 6.0 rebounds on 17-of-56 shooting, well below his season averages. LAST RANKING: 1
3. DEVIN BOOKER, G, PHOENIX: Among rookies, only Raul Neto (.385) is shooting better from the arc than Booker (.383) at nowhere near the volume. Since Christmas, he is averaging 16.6 points in 33 games; only Towns is scoring at a higher clip in that span. Booker also has thrown in a 10-rebound game and a 10-assist effort along the way. He is on fire right now, averaging 26.8 points and 5.0 assists while shooting 47 percent (10-of-26 from the arc) in his last four games. Brandon Knight is due back soon, which may help Booker even more. LAST RANKING: 4
4. D’ANGELO RUSSELL, G, LA LAKERS: Really coming on as the Lakers and soon to be ex-coach Byron Scott have finally committed to playing the kids unconditionally. Russell bounced back from a nightmare 3-of-16 vs. Atlanta to drop 21 points with five assists and four steals in the nationally televised upset of Golden State. Toss out the clunker and Russell is averaging 25.8 points and 4.7 assists on a blistering 52 percent from the field (21-of-48 from the arc) in his last six games. In that run is a 39-point eruption vs. Brooklyn, the most points by a rookie in any game this season. LAST RANKING: 5
5. JAHLIL OKAFOR, C, PHILADELPHIA: He averaged 18.5 points on 57 percent shooting in 11 games in February. But he also averaged just 6.5 rebounds and has missed the last five games with a shin injury that required a CT scan. Results are expected today, and don’t be surprised if the Sixers take the “Ming vase” approach as they did with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid before him and shut Okafor down for the rest of the season. Meanwhile, coach Brett Brown has talked about the difficulty of playing Okafor and Noel together, which creates huge spacing problems. LAST RANKING: 3
FIVE TO WATCH: Nikola Jokic, C, Denver; Frank Kaminsky, F-C, Charlotte; Emmanuel Mudiay, G, Denver; Josh Richardson, G, Miami; Myles Turner, F, Indiana.
Chris Bernucca is the managing editor of SheridanHoops.com. His columns appear Mondays, and his Rookie Rankings on Fridays. Usually. Follow him on Twitter.