It’s almost Christmas, which means that the NBA season is in full flow. All-Star picks will start to enter the minds of fans, journalists and pundits alike, rifling with debate about early MVP candidates.

After a troubled year that eventually saw him traded from the San Antonio Spurs to the Raptors, Kawhi Leonard has flourished in Toronto. He has led his team to the top of the Eastern Conference, who also boast the record in the NBA.

Giannis Antetokounmpo, i.e. The Greek Freak, has also been tearing it up in Milwaukee. The Bucks see themselves currently sit second in the East thanks to their star forward, who is currently averaging 26.2 points a game.

In the West, Stephen Curry is back to his brilliant best after coming back from an ankle injury that saw him miss 11 games. As great as the Golden State Warriors are, they clearly missed their superstar point guard and it’s great to see him back on the court.

The NBA is at its exciting best, but the league is more than just household names. Part of what makes it so great is the abundance of talent that comes through the ranks every year from the NBA Draft.

This article is going to focus on how the first five of the class of 2018 have fared so far this season, assessing midseason performances and whether they have what it takes to make a successful career in the NBA.

Deandre Ayton

He is one of the most athletic big men in the league and has all the talent in the world. The No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft has had a good start to life in the NBA. 

Ayton is currently averaging 16.6 points and 10. 9 rebounds per game, albeit for a Phoenix Suns team that continues to struggle, who have only managed to win eight out of a possible 34 games. 

However, where Ayton shines in attack, he needs to work on his skills at the other end of the floor. This is perhaps highlighted by Ayton’s inability to average less than a single block a game. If he can improve his defensive abilities, there is no doubt he can become a star in this league. 

Marvin Bagley III

Coming in at the No. 2 spot in the 2018 draft was Marvin Bagley III. It was deemed a safe choice for the Sacramento Kings, but it has paid off so far. 

Bagley is averaging around 13 points a game, which looking at it face on isn’t that impressive when compared with other players in this league in the same position. 

However, it’s his combination with De'Aaron Fox that has impressed many this season, and has seen Sacramento occupy the current final playoff spot. 

If Bagley can continue to learn from Fox and the experienced Bogdan Bogdanović, he may inspire the Kings to an unlikely postseason appearance. 

Luka Dončić

The Dallas Mavericks probably can’t believe their luck right now that they have the Slovenian on their roster. Dončić has so far exceeded all expectations, although there was a slight surprise when he was picked as low as third in the draft.

He has combined brilliantly with Dennis Smith Jr. in the back-court, with DeAndre Jordan profiting from Dončić’s exploits. He himself is averaging 19 points a game, shooting 36.4 percent from 3-point range.

It comes as no surprise that Dallas’ man is seen by professional sports betting analysts as the early season favourite for the Rookie of the Year award, with a place in the All-Star team a possibility.

If Dončić continues to play this way for seasons to come, he will get a max deal with ease, with the Mavericks just eager to offer it to him.

Jaren Jackson Jr.

Coming in at No. 4 in the draft was Jaren Jackson Jr. Given the picks before them and their lack of a centre for several seasons, he was the correct choice at the time. However, it seems Jackson has failed to impress. 

This was summed up in the Grizzlies’ recent victory over the Portland Trail Blazers, where he only managed to score six points, three rebounds, two steals and just a single assist. 

This poor form has seen him lose his minutes on the court to JaMychal Green, who had been making a much bigger impact in games. If Jackson is to make it in the NBA, he needs to compete more defensively and move in the paint, allowing playmakers to find him for an easy bucket. 

Trae Young

The Atlanta Hawks were desperate to get this player after scouting him vigorously in college. Young was seen as their franchise player, someone who they can build their future around, and creates excitement every time he gets the ball in hand.

So far, Young’s rookie season has been everything the Hawks would have wanted, even though they currently find themselves near the bottom of the league.

Despite the lack of star talent around him, he is managing to score over 15 points a game and creating a real buzz around the State Farm Arena.

Comparisons to Steph Curry and debates on whether they should have gone with Dončić will continue but in Trae Young, they have a player that is the makings of a great modern NBA player.

Markelle Fultz

Okay, so Fultz wasn’t drafted in this year’s draft but considering he missed last season with injury, it made sense to include him on this list. A lot was expected of the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, with the Philadelphia 76ers making it known he was part of "The Process."

Unfortunately, Fultz has looked a shadow of the player they found in Washington. The dynamic player that lit up the opposition remains to be seen. 

It has recently emerged that he has been suffering from a terrible nerve injury in his shoulder, ruining his shot that looks beyond broken.The good news is that it doesn’t seem to be just a mental or confidence issue. Once he returns, real judgements can be made. 

In the words of Stephen A. Smith, he could be the biggest bust in NBA history if not.

By Alex Denholm


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