Besides star-players, NBA rookies generally get the most pub. But in reality, a lot of times the success of a team is the continued development of their second-year players.
There are several candidates for this top-10 list as several rookies struggled during their rookie campaign. In fact, four of the top-6 players taken in last year’s draft and seven of the top-20 selections overall are on the list. While the majority of the players on the list had a disappointing rookie campaign, they are in the conversation of players who could breakout in 2017-18 because of their high upside.
There are a few players who are not on the list that may be surprising. And there are a few reasons why. I’ll start with Joel Embiid and Dario Saric as both players are entering their second seasons. Embiid is not on the list because let’s face it, he was dominant in the 31 games he played this past season. Embiid does have areas to improve in, mainly staying healthy, but anything he does will be seen as a continuation of the 2016-17 season.
Saric is kind of in a similar situation as Embiid. But for entirely different reasons. Saric was very good last year, although far from dominant. He also has areas to improve, such as being more efficient and improving his three-point percentage. I do see Saric improving this upcoming season, I’m not sure how much his statistics will increase as the 76ers have added several weapons this offseason. The same can be said about Embiid, I just don’t see a tremendous amount of upside for him.
2017 NBA rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon also is not on the list. Brogdon had a fine season last year, I just don’t see him improving that much this upcoming season. Milwaukee is frontcourt heavy and projected starting shooting guard Tony Snell and Brogdon are similar players. Plus, Matthew Dellavedova could earn the starting point guard job during training camp.
So, without further adieu here is my list of the top-10 sophomores primed for a breakout season.
10. Caris LeVert, Nets
LeVert had an up-and-down rookie season for Brooklyn though he closed the season in style. The 6-7 wing scored in double-figures in each of his final four games, including a season-high 20 points against Orlando on April 6. Overall, he averaged 8.2 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 45.0% from the field in 57 games.
LeVert is an excellent finisher at the rim and has a solid midrange game. He is a decent shooter overall though he needs to improve his three-point shooting and get to the free throw line on a more consistent basis.
LeVert will likely see time at both the 2 and 3 this season. However, his minutes could fluctuate as he will likely be behind D’Angelo Russell at shooting guard and Allen Crabbe at small forward. DeMarre Carroll and Sean Kilpatrick could also see time at both spots, which could complicate matters. LeVert produced 16.0 points on 47.5% shooting in five 2017
summer league games.
9. Ivica Zubac, Lakers
Zubac had a solid rookie season though there is plenty of room for growth. The 7-1, 20-year-old got better as the season progressed. He registered four double-doubles and averaged 7.5 points along with 4.2 rebounds in 16.0 minutes over 38 games.
Zubac is very good at scoring around the bucket as he possesses excellent footwork. Zubac really got in good shape this offseason, adding much-needed strength. He runs the floor well for a guy his size and has shown the ability to hit jumpers out to 16-feet. He also is a good rim protector.
Zubac had an uneven summer league campaign, averaging 10.8 points and 5.3 boards in eight games. He is expected to backup Brook Lopez at center.
8. Kris Dunn, Bulls
Dunn, who was a surprise pick at No.5 in the 2016 draft, struggled mightily as the backup point guard in Minnesota. And he did not show much in one game for Chicago during the summer league action.
Dunn is expected to have the edge in the battle for the Bulls starting point guard over Jerian Grant and Cameron Payne. But will have to see how training camp plays out. Either way, Dunn should see a lot of playing time for the rebuilding Bulls.
Dunn is good at getting to the hoop and finishes well, is a good playmaker and has the tools to be excellent on the defensive end. His biggest issue is perimeter shooting.
7. Deyonta Davis, Grizzlies
Davis was limited to just 36 games NBA last season due to a foot injury. The 6-11, 20-year-old power forward-center is very athletic and a big-time shot-blocker. He is also a high-percentage finisher around the rim and a good rebounder.
While Davis saw limited action for the Grizzlies, he was relatively productive in the G-League — posting 10.6 points along with 8.6 rebounds (3.0 offensive) and 2.4 blocks a game in 11 games. He shot 55.0% from the field.
Davis showed relatively the same production in summer league games in Las Vegas this summer, compiling 7.3 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in 24 minutes of action. The former second round draft selection will likely backup Marc Gasol this season.
6. Henry Ellenson, Pistons
Ellenson did not play very much last season, averaging 7.7 minutes in just 19 games. He got more time during the last four games of the season and produced one double-double and scored in double-figures twice in an average of 22 minutes of game.
Ellenson is a highly skilled big man who can score in the post and from the perimeter. He is equally efficient shooting off the catch or bounce. He will likely struggle on the defensive end, however.
Ellenson was terrific during summer league action in Orlando. Ellenson averaged 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 44.0%. He also made 2.2 three-pointers a game at a 33.3% clip.
Ellenson will likely see time at both the 4 and 5. He will be competing for time at power forward with Jon Leuer, Tobias Harris and Anthony Tolliver.
5. Marquese Chriss, Suns
Chriss is slated to once again start at power forward for Phoenix. Chriss, who turned 20 a couple months ago, continually showed improvement as the season progressed last year. Over the final month-and-half of the season, he registered all three of his double-doubles and topped the 20-point mark four times in 22 games. Chriss averaged 9.2 points and 4.2 rebounds overall while shooting 44.9% from the field and 32.1% from beyond the arc.
Chriss is an athletic big man who can play the 3, 4, and 5. Chriss has decent range but was not very good at the mid-range game. He only made 31.9% of his 72 mid-range attempts last season. Chriss struggled on the defensive last years, particularly with foul trouble.
Chriss struggled mightily during Las Vegas Summer League action this summer with his shooting, turnovers and foul trouble. He did get to the foul line a ton, making 31-of-40 attempts. His best game came against Houston where he tallied 24 points though he was just 6-of-14 from the field.
4. Jaylen Brown, Celtics
Brown had an up-and-down rookie season but the potential is definitely evident. The 20-year-old is very strong and athletic. He is at his best in transition but must improve on the defensive end.
Brown was much better following the all-star break last year, averaging 8.6 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting 49.4% from the floor and 37.9% from beyond the arc. Those numbers were up by nearly three points per game he averaged during the first half of the season. The reason being he increased his field goal percentage from 42.7% to 49.4% and his three-point shooting from 30.4% to 37.9% in the second half. Brown also had a couple of nice games against Cleveland in the Eastern Conference finals.
However, Brown — who is expected to start at shooting guard for the C’s — struggled with his shot during the summer league campaign though he did record a double-double as he was strong on the boards. Brown averaged 13.2 points and 7.4 boards while shooting 40.0% from the floor and just 30.0% from beyond the arc.
3. Willy Hernangomez, Knicks
Hernangomez was an absolute surprise last season after being selected by Philadelphia with the 35th overall selection. The 6-11, 23-year-old was then shipped to New York for two future second round choices.
Hernangomez was a monster on the boards and an efficient scorer around the basket. Hernangomez produced 11 double-doubles and topped the 20-point plateau twice. Overall, he averaged 8.2 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 53.1% from the field in 18.4 minutes a game over 72 contests — including 22 starts.
Hernangomez, who is expected to start at center for the Knicks, has been excellent for Spain during the early goings of the European Championships. Hernangomez opened the competition with a fantastic 18-point, on 6-of-7 shooting, and nine rebound effort in 19 minutes of action. He is currently averaging 13.5 points and 9.5 boards through the first two games of the Championships.
2. Buddy Hield, Kings
Hield was very impressive in his short stint with Sacramento after being dealt by New Orleans as part of the DeMarcus Cousins deal. Hield averaged 15.1 points and 4.2 rebounds while shooting 48.0% from the field and 42.8% from beyond the arc in 25 games with the Kings. Overall, he averaged 10.6 points and 3.3 rebounds while shooting 42.6% from the field and made 39.1% of his three-point attempts — 1.8 treys a game.
Sacramento has several young talented players so the Kings will likely rely heavily on Hield for perimeter shooting. Hield is not just a spot-up shooter as he is very good at shooting off the dribble, especially in the mid-range. He did struggle on long-two point shots (more than 16 feet) last year. Hield also has to improve his defense.
Hield spent most of his time at either shooting guard or small forward. Although he also saw some action at point guard and power forward. Sacramento is kind of loaded at point guard with the addition of George Hill and De’Aaron Fox. Garrett Temple and Serbian sensation Bogdan Bogdanovic are also capable of playing the 2. So, while Hield is slated to start he may not always get major minutes.
Hield did not have an overly impressive summer league campaign, averaging 16.7 points. He did make seven three-pointers (35.0%) in three games. He also was 11-of-13 from the charity stripe after averaging less than one free throw attempt in 2016-17.
1. Brandon Ingram, Lakers
Ingram was a huge disappointment for the Lakers last season. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft struggled with his shot and defense all season.However, he did so glimpses of his full potential over the final month-and-half of the season, reaching double-figures in 16 of the final 21 games. The 20-year-old shot 48.9% from the floor (97-198) and hauled in 3.2 boards and 2.2 assists a game during that stretch.
Then Ingram looked fabulous during his lone summer league game before being shut down because of leg cramps. Ingram looked stronger and demonstrated the ability to score on all three levels. He showed a better ability to finish through contact and a renewed commitment on the defensive end. Of course, he was great in transition.
Ingram and Lonzo Ball should be the face of the Lakers for years to come.