Last year’s rookie class was a bitter disappointment as injuries (surprise!) once again kept Joel Embiid off the court more often than he was on it. Also, several top draft choices — Kris Dunn, Brandon Ingram, Jaylen Brown and Jamal Murray — struggled in year one.
The good news is that several of those players have thrived in year two of their NBA careers. Embiid has been dominant when he has been on the court, while Dunn has bounced back nicely from a horrendous freshman campaign. In the meanwhile, Murray and Ingram have shown glimpses of their still promising futures.
Here is a list of my top-10 sophomore players. All Stats are accurate as of April 2.
Honorable Mention (no particular order): Buddy Hield, Yogi Ferrell, Skal Labissiere, Dejounte Murray, Fred VanVleet, Denzel Valentine, Jakob Poeltl
Top 10 Second-Year Players
10. Kris Dunn, Bulls
After a miserable rookie season, Dunn has shown that he is an NBA caliber point guard. He still needs to continue to work on his jump shot, particularly from long distance.
Dunn is excellent in the open court. He also has the speed and handles to get past defenders in half court settings though he doesn’t finish well at the rim. His best attribute, besides his athleticism, is his playmaking ability whether for himself or others.Defensively, Dunn has strong hands and great instincts.
Dunn leads all second-year players with 2.0 steals a game and is 10th in defensive rebounding (3.8).
9. Taurean Prince, Hawks
Prince has developed into a player who can put a lot of points on the board when he is stroking the ball well. The 6-8 small forward, who attempts over 40% of his shots from beyond the arc, has topped the 20-point plateau on 16 occasions which includes tallying 30 or more four times. He is currently knocking down 38.1% of his 3-point attempts and shoots 37.0% from long distance for his career.
Prince is also a good rebounder that has posted five double-doubles. He has increased his assists totals this year, but his turnovers also have gone up.
Prince, an average defender, needs to improve his ball-handling which includes passing.
8. Caris LeVert, Nets
LeVert is an excellent scoring wing who has developed into a good NBA playmaker. The athletic 23-year-old, who is an inconsistent shooter, has infrequently shown his full potential.
One game that the 6-7 guard did demonstrate his full potential was versus Miami (March 31), where he finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. He also made 7 of 12 shots from the field.
Since Feb. 27, LeVert is producing 14.3 points a game along with 4.6 assists and 3.8 rebounds while shooting 46.5% from the field and 38.3% from beyond the arc.
Besides being more consistent, LeVert needs to become a better passer. He has the physical skills to be better on the defensive end.
7. Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks
Brogdon has been hampered by injuries this year. Despite these injuries, the surprising 2017 NBA ROY has been productive especially as a starter.
Brogdon is an excellent shooter and a very good distributor as well as an excellent ball-handler. The 25-year-old point guard, who averages 14.6 points in games he starts, has scored in double figures in 36 of 46 contests.
Brogdon doesn’t get to the free throw line nearly enough and is a below average defender.
6. Domantas Sabonis, Pacers
Sabonis is probably one of the most underrated players from the 2016 NBA draft. If the 21-year-old is not already the second best big man in the sophomore class, behind Embiid — who was drafted the year before –, then he is definitely in the mix.
The 6-11 big can score inside and out and is a very good passer. He is also a fantastic rebounder, particularly on the defensive end. Sabonis ranks second among all second-year players in double-doubles, defensive rebounds, defensive rebounds percentage, rebounds and rebound percentage.
Sabonis, likely, doesn’t get the credit that he deserves because he generally comes off the bench. He averages 13.1 points along with 10.4 rebounds while shooting 54.0% from the field in 19 games as a starter.
Sabonis is an average defender (at best) who gets into foul trouble too often. And while he is not a shot blocker, he is a solid rim protector.
5. Jaylen Brown, Celtics
The uber-athletic Brown has always been good in transition and is an outstanding versatile defender. The biggest problem is that he is inconsistent.
Brown got off to a great start to the season, but his inability to take his game to the next level has been a little perplexing. Still, he is just 21 years old. Brown has failed to reach double figures in 19 of his 65 games.
Brown is an efficient shooter though he is not really a scorer. The good news is that he has developed into a reliable 3-point and mid-range shooter. However, he does not get to the line nearly enough. His rebounding also could be improved, although, 5.1 boards a game is not horrible for a shooting guard or small forward.
4. Dario Saric, 76ers
Saric has been solid in each of his first two years in the Association. The 6-10 power forward can score inside and out.
Saric’s biggest improvement this season has come in his ball-handling. He has cut down his turnovers, particularly in terms of bad passes and lost balls, and has increased his assists. The other areas the 23-year-old has shown significant improvement is in 3-point shooting, offensive rebounding and on the defensive end.
Saric still needs to work on his defensive rebounding and staying out of foul trouble.
3. Brandon Ingram, Lakers
Ingram is perhaps the purest scorer of all second-year players.
After struggling most of last season, Ingram came back with a better body and more confidence. And it has surely shown. The 6-9 small forward has topped double figures in 50 of 59 games, 16 of those games have ended with him pouring in 20 or more points. He also has posted six double-doubles.
Ingram loves to slash to the rim and is an excellent finisher around the hoop. While he is still not a true threat from beyond the arc, his mid-range game has grown by leaps and bounds.
Ingram has also improved as a distributor and, perhaps more importantly, as a defender. He does need to continue work on his perimeter shooting and playing under control.
2. Jamal Murray, Nuggets
Murray has improved in every area this season.
Murray picked up right where he left off last season. The 21-year-old is a scoring point guard who is very quick and is excellent at getting into the lane. He is also a very good shooter and has the ability to score from anywhere on the court. Murray has scored in double figures in 58 of 76 games, which includes 25 games of at least 20 points including seven of 30 or more.
The 2017 NBA Second Team All-Rookie selection came on strong late last season, scoring in double figures in four of his last six games which was a stretch where he also posted his lone double-double and tallied a season-high 30 points.
Murray currently leads all sophomores in free throw shooting percentage (91.1%) and is second in scoring (16.7). He ranks in the top-25 in several other categories.
A couple of areas that Murray needs to improve on is his passing and defense. Murray has slightly improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from last year. Both his assist and turnover ratio have gone up slightly.
Murray has never been good on the defensive end, and probably will never be. But he has been particularly atrocious defensively this year.
1. Joel Embiid, 76ers
Embiid has shown, in his two injury-plagued seasons, that he will be a force on both ends of the court for years to come. Other than having him be more selective with his shot selection and limiting turnovers, there are no real areas of concern. Yes, health is an issue and likely will always be.
Embiid’s biggest improvement from year one to year two has been as a passer and rebounder. The 7-0 center has grabbed 28.9% of all available defensive rebounds and 19.5% of all rebounds when he was on the floor. Those numbers are up from 24.7% and 17.3% respectively.
He has also upped his passing numbers, possessing an assist percentage of 18.7% along with an assist ratio of 11.7. His turnover ratio has dropped from 16.3 to 13.8 which has caused his assist-to-turnover ratio to improve from 0.58 to 0.85.
Embiid leads all sophomores is several different statistical categories.