I came up with the idea for this article because of Shane Battier. If you look at his all of his averages, he had career-highs across the board during his first season with the Grizzlies. After that, he was primarily a role-player.
Battier put up career-highs in: Minutes played (39.7 per game), field-goal attempts (12.3), points per game (14.3), rebounds per game (5.4) and steals per game (1.6). He was a big part of Memphis’ identity. He went on to an impressive career, but statistically speaking, rookie Battier was the best version.
Given that so many other players across all sports have dominated as rookie and then fallen off, it’s worth a look into some of them. Four other players will be mentioned here, but there are so many others.
The youngest player to appear on this list will be Jahlil Okafor. He’s entering his sixth year in the NBA, and is actually a few months younger than me (25). As a rookie in Philly, he was playing great ball before suffering a season-ending injury with two months left in the season.
Okafor averaged 18 points, seven rebounds and a little over one block per game in 30 minutes a night. He looked to be a part of the team’s future. We knew he would have a smaller role with Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid coming back to the lineup. But it didn’t appear that he would become ineffective.
His averages dropped to 11 points and five rebounds in year two. And in year three, he was traded to Brooklyn. He played minimally in New Orleans over the last two years, though he had a few good stretches.
Statistically speaking, Okafor’s best days are from that first season in Philly. And as he starts his next chapter with the Pistons, it’s safe to say that he peaked as a rookie.
Carnell “Cadillac” Williams
After being drafted #5 overall by the Buccaneers, Cadillac Williams was set to be the team’s starting running back. And during his first year in the league, he was really solid for them. He put up great numbers.
Williams rushed for 1,178 yards on 290 carries (4.1 ypc) and scored six touchdowns. Given that this was his first season, the future seemed to be bright. His totals dipped in year two, down to 798 rushing yards and just one single touchdown.
Cadillac would appear in just 10 games over the next two years due to injury. He had a bit of a resurgence in 2009, rushing for 823 yards and four touchdowns, playing all 16 games for the first time. He would serve as the backup the following year though, and put up only 427 yards and two scores on the ground.
Williams played with the Rams in 2011, rushing for 361 yards on 87 carries and scored once. That was it. At 29 years of age, his career was already over. He peaked in year one.
If you didn’t know before that Tyreke Evans rookie stats were identical to those of LeBron James, you do now. Playing 37 minutes a night, the #4 pick of the 2009 draft went crazy. Evans averaged 20-5-6 with 1.5 steals per night, making 46% of his shots.
There was even a game where the Kings trailed the Bulls by 35 points in the third quarter and managed to win thanks to Evans heroics. And though his averages would still be solid over the next few seasons in Sacramento, Tyreke was never as dominant.
He put up 15-5-6 averages in four years with the Pelicans, but again, after his amazing rookie year, it was still a letdown. He averaged numbers basically identical to that of his first season in the league in his one year with the Grizzlies, showing that he might be back.
But in Indiana, Evans was pretty mediocre. He scored 10 ppg as the sixth man. Tyreke Evans clearly peaked as a rookie. And now, he’s suspended for another year for substance abuse. It carries a two-year ban.
Robert Griffin III
It didn’t take Robert Griffin III to set the league on fire in his first year. Washington began the year with a 3-6 record, but RG3 rallied them to seven straight wins to end the season and put the team into the playoffs. They would lose, and he would actually suffer a serious injury.
But, let’s take it back to the regular season. RG3 threw for 3200 yards and 20 touchdowns, tossing just five interceptions. He ran for 815 yards and scored seven touchdowns on the ground. He has run for just 900 yards and scored three TD’s on the ground since then.
RG3 was never the same after the first injury, and he has only won seven total starts since his rookie year. His career totals are very unimpressive on paper. 9,238 yards, 43 TD’s and 29 INT’s. A 16-25 record. He will get the chance to start for Baltimore this week against Pittsburgh though, so let’s see what he’s made of now.
RG3 beat out Andrew Luck for the Rookie of the Year award. Washington traded seven (!!) picks to acquire the one they used for Griffin. For one year, it was worth it. That amazing rookie season. Since then though, it has looked incredibly foolish.