With the NBA’s regular season winding down, it’s time to acknowledge which promising second-year players stepped up in the 2015-16 campaign.
Just prior to the season, a panel of Basketball Insiders writers were asked to list the second-year player they were most intrigued by, which can be found here. ESPN.com’s Kevin Pelton and Chad Ford were also asked to chime in on the top sophomores about 20 games into the season and their rankings can be found here. Here’s a look at some of the top performing sophomores with the season coming to an end:
Andrew Wiggins, SG- Minnesota Timberwolves
20.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG, 2.1 APG, 45.9 percent FGs, 30.1 percent 3PT
After facing a great deal of criticism and scrutiny upon entering the league after a single season at Kansas and then being unceremoniously cast aside by the Cleveland Cavaliers in an effort to speed up their championship window, Wiggins finally appears to have settled into the speed, size and expectations of the game at this level.
While still far from a “great” shooter, the recently turned 21-year-old is up to a respectable range from the field, but must continue to improve from deep in order to keep defenses honest. His true shooting percentage -a statistic seen as more viable than others and features a combination of your two-point, three-point and free-throw attempts – is 54.3 percent, which is good for just 30th among shooting guards. He’s a solid on-ball defender on most nights and even above-average on others, but still appears to possess the ability to be one of the league’s premier perimeter defenders if he stays dedicated to being a force on that end.
Jabari Parker, PF- Milwaukee Bucks
13.9 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 1.8 APG, 49.5 percent FGs, 77.1 percent FTs
He’s simply not a stretch-four at this stage, although his jumper does appear more consistent. Parker literally averages less than half of a three-point attempt per contest (.4) and has made a total of just seven of his 29 attempts (24.1 percent). Contrary to some of the legitimate concerns about his athleticism (or lack thereof) when entering the league, Parker did appear to return this season with an added level of burst and an increased ability to finish at the rim and with traffic.
That added mobility and boost should eventually translate into Parker being a more consistent defender if he deems it important, which would certainly benefit him with so many of the league’s major scoring threats playing at both the forward positions.
Zach LaVine, PG- Minnesota Timberwolves
13.9 PPG, 3.1 APG, 2.8 RPG, 44.8 percent FG, 38.8 percent 3PT
After absolutely dazzling the basketball universe alongside fellow sophomore Aaron Gordon at the All-Star break, LaVine now finds himself at a place of needing to provide a “second act” aside from merely relying upon filling a wing and finishing in transition. He doesn’t shoot nearly enough free throws (78.8 percent on 2.5 attempts per contest) for someone with his athleticism and ability to get into the paint. You’d like to see him be able to create more off the dribble and get into the lane with the intention of scoring and attacking more consistently.
Similar to Jordan Clarkson, his best role might ultimately be from an attack position, but at the shooting guard rather than asking him to be the sole or main initiator. Also, like many of his peers, while he has all the physical attributes to be a quality defensive player, we’ll only see him reach his full potential on that end of the floor if he determines it is something that is vital to his overall progress.
Marcus Smart, PG- Boston Celtics
9.2 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 3.0 APG, 34.7 percent FG, 24.7 percent 3PT
To paraphrase an oft-used line from sports history, when it comes to Smart’s offensive game, he is who we thought he would be as a shooter. That isn’t to say he can’t still continue to develop and find at least a slightly more consistent shot, but that’s really not the area of his game we’re expecting to shine the brightest. Smart has battled injuries throughout his first couple campaigns, but remains a physical and athletic specimen as he attempts to adapt to playing perhaps the most competitive position in the game.
Smart is a disruptor on the defensive end as both an on-ball and weakside defender, as well as within the passing lanes. His strength permits him to compete with the bigger or stronger matchups, while his agility still allows him to make life difficult for the shiftier guards as well. While judging Smart’s effectiveness, consider the fact that unlike a majority of the players on this list, Smart is one of the leaders of a team that is currently battling for a playoff spot and could wind up as high as third in the Eastern Conference.
Gary Harris, SG- Denver Nuggets
12.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 1.9 APG, 47.1 percent FG, 35.7 percent 3PT
Harris is one of several members of the Nuggets who has really excelled within head coach Mike Malone’s system. After starting just six of the 55 games he saw action in as a rookie, Harris has certainly made the most of his increase in playing time (32.1 MPG, up from just 13.1 MPG in 2014-15) and expanded role under Malone.
He experienced major jumps in both field goal percentage (47.1, up from 30.4) and three-point percentage (35.7, up from 20.4). His true shooting percentage was actually 12th-best among shooting guards at 56.7 percent. Harris doesn’t get to the line all that much, but that’s partly due to 40 percent of his field goal attempts coming from beyond the arc. He’s an active defender who generally does a good job in the passing lanes, but could also take the next step as a player by dedicating even more time and effort to that end.
Rodney Hood, SG- Utah Jazz
14.8 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 42.8 percent FG, 36.5 percent 3PT
Put simply, Hood is every bit as good as most could have expected and better than some might have anticipated. While he showed signs of life when healthy as a rookie, Hood has quickly ascended into one of the league’s more promising, young swingmen. More than half of his field goal attempts (12.3 per game) come from beyond the arc (5.7 attempts per game), but Hood is also a fantastic free throw shooter (86.6 percent) on the occasions when he does draw the benefit of the whistle.
Hood can and likely will continue to improve on the defensive end, but the 23-year-old is far from a ‘sieve’ even at this point. Look for Hood to continue to excel within Coach Quin Snyder’s system and don’t be surprised to even hear his name mentioned in Most Improved conversations, if health permits, by this point next season.
Julius Randle, PF- Los Angeles Lakers
11.6 PPG, 10.2 RPG, 1.7 APG, 43.3 percent FG, 27.3 percent 3PT
Randle only played a total of 14 minutes during what would have been his rookie season (2014-15), but that didn’t stop him from showing clear signs of improvement for those who have watched his body transition and the early stages of his all-around progression over the past 18 months. For a 21-year-old who has already endured the disappointment of essentially losing his entire first year, multiple corrective surgeries (broken leg, screw removal from his foot), a lengthy rehabilitation schedule and the highs and lows of being removed and inserted into the starting lineup and general rotation several times this year, Randle still shows a tremendous amount of poise.
Randle continues to be a force on the boards and is already one of the better, young rebounders. His 34 double-doubles on the season are tied for 14th overall and while he leads the Lakers in boards, he’s also 10th in the league in rebounds per contest. A continued dedication to his jumpshot, right hand and countermoves within the paint are needed on the offensive end (and will likely come with time), but a dedication and focus on defensive principles both as an individual and team defender would actually place Randle comfortably within the discussion as one of the more promising young players.
Jordan Clarkson, PG/SG- Los Angeles Lakers
15.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 2.9 APG, 43.1 percent FG, 35.7 percent 3PT
After his First Team All-Rookie selection last season, it was a bit of a surprise to not see his name mentioned on very many of these lists or conversations heading into the year, but Clarkson has done a solid job of continuing to show his potential at this level as he enjoyed increases in most offensive statistical categories. The question moving forward will be whether he will continue to transition into a more efficient scorer rather than a volume-shooter who simply puts up points on a bad team.
The trouble with Clarkson is that it also remains a question as to which backcourt position will ultimately suit him best. Another legitimate concern is that he does not provide nearly the type of consistent and focused defensive effort you need to be effective as a backcourt player in this day and age. Like his teammate Randle, Clarkson shows a great work ethic and willingness to do what it takes to improve with the ball in his hands; but, like Randle and many other young players these days, Clarkson also needs to take as much pride in learning how to slow opposing players down as he does in scoring over them.
Clint Capela, PF- Houston Rockets
7.1 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 1.2 BPG, 57.9 percent FG, 38.6 percent FT
Look beyond the numbers – although, he’s actually quite impressive in that regard as well considering he only plays 19.3 minutes per contest – when judging Capela’s actual impact on this Rockets squad. He’s essentially the defensive catalyst off the bench and with their small-ball lineups. Capela not only contests well at and around the rim, he also manages to get deflections and almost a steal per game (.8) – which is impressive for a big man in very limited time on the court. His activity and defensive footwork also discourages opposing guards from attacking off the high screen-and-roll, which is absolutely vital for big men at this time.
His free throw shooting is abysmal, but it hardly becomes an overall issue for the team at merely 2.8 attempts per game. If Capela can continue to work on simple post and countermoves on the offensive end, then he could be a true force at the position for Houston. Especially in the event that Dwight Howard decides to move on via free agency this summer.
Elfrid Payton, PG- Orlando Magic
10.7 PPG, 6.3 APG, 3.6 RPG, 43.8 percent FG, 34.1 percent 3PT
Payton continues to be a ‘jack of many trades,’ but still remains a master of none as his second year comes to a close. That isn’t to imply that he hasn’t made somewhat significant strides as player, rather an honest assessment of where his game is currently. Whether Payton ever develops into even a serviceable scoring threat out of the backcourt, he can still impact the game in multiple other ways.
Although the numbers may look relatively identical, Payton does appear to be growing more and more comfortable as both a scorer and a playmaker at this level. Similar to Smart, Payton can also be a disruptor on the defensive end as he, too, has the size and length to battle against slightly bigger offensive players and the speed to stay with the quicker guards. He’s reportedly put in hundreds of hours working on his shot and form over the past year, so it will be interesting to see if he starts to enjoy some of the results moving forward.
Works in Progress:
Nikola Mirotic, PF- Chicago Bulls: He can certainly score and rebound fairly well for a big man who spends a lot of his time along the perimeter, but the Bulls need him to take another step forward heading into season three.
Jusuf Nurkic, C- Denver Nuggets: Nurkic has a ton of potential as a defensive presence with promising footwork and touch with the ball, but time will tell whether his body permits him to fulfill it.
Nerlens Noel, PF- Philadelphia 76ers: Noel may not provide much beyond put-backs and clean-up duty around the rim, but he still shows the signs of defensive brilliance that had scouts so excited a few years back when he’s healthy.
Aaron Gordon, PF- Orlando Magic: Appears ready to step beyond the mere showmanship and highlights – which are totally fine – and could continue to develop into a real player for the Magic quicker than you might anticipate.
Dante Exum, PG- Utah Jazz: By all accounts of those close to the team, Exum has transformed his body and should return with plenty to prove on both ends of the court once his surgically-repaired ACL is back at full strength.
With several of the NBA’s formerly great players of the past 15-20 years set to walk away from the game and so many of the current star players either exiting or on the back half of their individual primes, it will be nice to watch some of the younger, up-and-coming players develop into the league’s future stars.
NBA Daily: The Losers of the NBA Draft
Shane Rhodes breaks down the losers of the 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2018 NBA Draft season has come to a close. And, while the actual draft wasn’t the fireworks show that it could have been, there was still plenty of surprises, both good and bad.
While Basketball Insiders’ Simon Hannig discussed the winners of the draft, not everyone was so fortunate. And, while the draft can come down to chance, some teams were worse off than others.
Let’s take a look at some of the bigger losers from draft night
Talk about heartbreak.
Mikal Bridges was going home. The Philadelphia 76ers selected the Villanova standout with the No. 10 pick. Bridges did an entire press conference, talking about what it was like to be staying in Philadelphia. His mother, Tyneeha Rivers, is even the Global VP of Human Resources for Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the team. It was perfect.
And then it wasn’t.
Mikal Bridges just did an entire press conference talking about staying in Philly. He was traded as it ended. He had no idea.
— Dan Wetzel (@DanWetzel) June 22, 2018
It’s hard to not feel bad for Bridges, who was dropped into a dream scenario and then had it all ripped away. Going to the Phoenix Suns, an organization heading in a new direction, to play alongside plenty of young, high upside talent, including No. 1 pick Deandre Ayton as well as former lottery picks Josh Jackson and Devin Booker, isn’t the worst thing in the world for the rookie forward. Bridges could even flourish in Phoenix.
But it certainly won’t compare to playing under the bright lights in Philadelphia alongside Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid come next April and for years to come.
Michael Porter Jr.
One year ago, Michael Porter Jr. was a top three draft prospect projected to go as high as No. 1 overall. However, with rumors of questionable medicals swirling throughout the draft process, he dropped all the way to the Denver Nuggets at No. 14 overall.
While Porter will certainly welcome the chip on his shoulder, the lost earnings will definitely hurt him and his pocket. Porter is missing out on millions on his first NBA contract. Plus, the sheer amount of teams that balked at his medicals doesn’t bode well for his long-term future in the NBA.
It isn’t all bad for Porter; Denver has a young, talented roster and was one win away from a postseason birth last year. They can afford to be patient with Porter’s back, should he need to miss some time, as well. Standing 6-foot-11, 211 pounds and with a smooth jumper, Porter still has a great chance to be a star in this league.
Still, it was an inauspicious beginning to what, hopefully, is a long NBA career.
This could apply to the Sacramento Kings roster as well as their fanbase.
The Kings got “their guy” in No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III. And, while Bagley is still an amazing talent, the pick just seems like more of the same for the Kings, who have a glut of bigs — Willie-Cauley Stein, Harry Giles III, Skal Labissiere, Kostas Koufos — on the roster and a distinct lack of high-quality guard or wing depth.
In steps Luka Dončić, the 19-year-old Slovenian phenom. With the Suns taking Ayton with the top pick, the Kings had their chance to shore up their backcourt for the foreseeable future alongside De’Aaron Fox and move another step closer to relevancy.
And they whiffed.
Dončić could very well end up as the best player in the class. While he isn’t the most athletic, Dončić is exactly where the NBA is going; he is a multipositional defender and playmaker that can shoot the three. Meanwhile, Bagley, who is a questionable fit in the modern game, will be hardpressed to find playing time early on in his Kings tenure. Even worse, with their hearts set on Bagley, the Kings likely could have traded down a la the Atlanta Hawks and picked up another asset for their troubles.
While it’s much too early to call it either way, this is a pick that could come back to haunt Sacramento down the line.
It was not a great night for the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The Cavaliers missed out on one point-guard prospect, Trae Young, and another, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, flat out said he didn’t want to play for the franchise. And, even though they got a guard they liked in Alabama’s Collin Sexton, the Cavaliers are still in the unenviable position of dealing with LeBron James’ third iteration of The Decision.
Sexton’s selection doesn’t exactly help them retain James’ services either.
Since acquiring the pick from the Boston Celtics in the Kyrie Irving trade last summer, it had been speculated as to whether Cleveland would use the pick or trade it to get James help. With the team opting for the former, it’s difficult to imagine the Cavaliers getting any significant help for James, in free agency or otherwise, which could push him closer to leaving than he already may be. Meanwhile, Sexton, who dominated the ball during his time at Alabama, isn’t exactly the best fit alongside James in the event that he stays.
Either way, there appears to be a bumpy road ahead for the Cavaliers.
Troy Brown Jr. is a great pickup for the Washington Wizards. That still doesn’t mean he wasn’t a reach.
Brown is a twitchy wing that can defend multiple positions. But there were multiple wings that Washington could have taken ahead of Brown (e.g., Lonnie Walker II) that would have made this a better pick. Brown struggled as a shooter during his lone season at Oregon — he shot just 29.1 percent from three and has some iffy mechanics — and is a strange fit on the Wizards roster that already has a surplus of wing depth in John Wall, Bradley Beal, Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre.
With the team looking to move Marcin Gortat, a big would have been a better fit for Washington at 15. Or, if management was deadset on Brown, dropping back a few spots would have made more sense.
Brown certainly has the talent to make an impact, but it’s hard to like a pick that may not crack the rotation in year one, according to the Wizards own General Manager.
The Toronto Raptors took a big step earlier this offseason, moving on from Dwane Casey and placing Nick Nurse at the helm in early June.
But, with zero picks in a loaded draft, the Raptors have to be considered losers.
There were plenty of difference makers available up-and-down the draft board, but the Raptors didn’t end up with any of them. While management could improve the team via trade or free agency come July, they still feature the same roster that got manhandled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals by James and the Cavaliers and that isn’t good.
Not everyone can come out a winner in a crapshoot like the NBA Draft. Still, some teams found themselves worse off than others when all was said and done. Luckily, those teams still have a chance to improve themselves with free agency right around the corner.
NBA Daily: The Winners Of The NBA Draft
Simon Hannig breaks down the winners from Thursday’s 2018 NBA Draft.
The 2018 NBA Draft has come and gone, and although many teams have improved coming out of this loaded draft, five teams seemed to have walked away as the biggest winners.
The Phoenix Suns Got Their Guy
The Suns made a couple of splashes in the draft, selecting DeAndre Ayton with the first overall pick.
The Suns then drafted Zhaire Smith, but later traded his rights to the Philadelphia 76ers for Mikal Bridges.
In the second round of the draft, Phoenix selected Frenchman Elie Okobo and George King from Colorado, each of whom should be able to contribute right away. Ayton should be the starting center come opening night and Bridges could also start for the team immediately. If not, Bridges will be a valuable weapon coming off the bench for a team who is trying to win games and get back into the playoffs.
Does Mo Bamba Have The (Orlando) Magic?
The Orlando Magic got a stud in Mo Bamba, whom they surprisingly selected with the sixth overall pick in the draft. They later drafted Melvin Frazier in the second round. It was a bit surprising that the Tulane product lasted that long, but the Magic benefitted.
Orlando got a player who can contribute right away and could compete for a starting job. Frazier is a great rebounder and defender and could change the team’s defense all by himself. The club now has two young core pieces they can build around in Jonathan Isaac and Bamba and a young contributor in Frazier.
Although the team’s offense will likely be work in progress, they can be very scary on the defensive end.
Now, we’ll all wait to see if Bamba, the New York product, can carry the Magic back to respectability.
Atlanta Hawks Will Let It Fly
After drafting Luka Doncic with the third overall pick, the Hawks ended up sending him to Dallas in exchange for Trae Young and a future protected first round pick. The pick is top-five protected the next two years, top-three protected in 2021 and 2022 and unprotected in 2023, according to Mavs president of basketball operations Donnie Nelson.
With their second first round pick, the Hawks took sharpshooter Kevin Huerter from Maryland and, with the 30th overall pick, selected Omari Spellman from Villanova.
Atlanta appears to building themselves in the way of the Warriors, getting sharpshooters in Young and Huerter. It is no surprise they are doing this as their current general manager, Travis Schlenk, worked with Golden State before taking the job with the Hawks.
The Rich Got Richer In Boston
The Celtics once again got a steal in the draft, as they were the beneficiaries as it relates to Robert Williams from Texas A&M. He is an athletic big man who plays great defense and rebounds the ball very well. Williams has lottery talent but ended up falling to the Celtics, who selected him with the 27th pick of the draft.
Williams averaged 2.5 blocks per game at Texas and should also be able to provide second chance opportunities for the team. Williams, as he averaged three offensive rebounds per game in college.
Luka Doncic Found A Good Home
The Dallas Mavericks walked away from the 2018 NBA Draft with two foundational pieces in tow, Dennis Smith Jr. and Luka Doncic. Their other moves were also tremendous, as they drafted Jalen Brunson from Villanova, acquired Ray Spalding from Louisville in a trade with the Sixers and drafted Kostas Antetokounmpo (Giannis’ younger brother) with the last piece in the draft.
For Mark Cuban, it may take time to develop the pieces, but if things could go well, the Mavs might have some productive years ahead.
Doncic was thought to be one of, if not the best player available in the draft, so getting him at the expense of a protected future first round pick seems like a fair trade. Depending on how ready he is to contribute at the NBA level, the sky could be the limit.
Of course, every year, there are surprises. Some good, and some bad. However, walking away from the 2018 NBA Draft, these five teams all appear to have improved themselves immensely.
NBA Draft Night Trades
David Yapkowitz breaks down the trades that took place during the 2018 NBA Draft.
Another NBA Draft has come and gone. With rumors swirling all week about possible pick/player movement, the night remained relatively uneventful. There were a few trades that occurred, however. Here’s a quick breakdown of the movement that happened on draft night.
1. Atlanta Hawks/Dallas Mavericks
The Hawks and Mavericks completed the first trade of the night early on in the draft. Leading up to the draft, there were questions about how high Luka Doncic was going to be drafted. It was widely assumed that he wouldn’t slip past Dallas at No. 5. The Mavericks weren’t going to take that chance as the Hawks drafted Doncic with the intention of trading him to Dallas for Trae Young.
Both teams ultimately get what they need. It’s been reported that the Hawks might move on from Dennis Schroder this summer and they’ll need a point guard to replace him. Young is an explosive scorer who will fit in nicely with Atlanta’s rebuild. He can score from anywhere on the court and he’s a great playmaker as well.
For the Mavericks, they get a guy to add to their own young core with Dennis Smith Jr. and Harrison Barnes. Doncic has the size to play next to Smith in the backcourt. He’s quite possibly the best playmaker in the draft with a solid offensive game as well.
2. Charlotte Hornets/Los Angeles Clippers
The Hornets and Clippers consummated the second move the night by swapping their own draft picks. The Hornets took Shai Gilgeous-Alexander with the 11th pick and then immediately traded him to the Clippers for Miles Bridges, whom Los Angeles selected at No. 12.
For the Hornets, they get a guy who can play both forward positions. Bridges is more of a small forward but in small ball lineups, he can slide over to the four. Offensively he is at his best when he puts the ball on the floor and attacks the rim. He’s a decent shooter too.
The Clippers get a point guard who was rumored to climbing up many draft boards as the night approached. Gilgeous-Alexander is a solid pick for them provided both Patrick Beverly and Milos Teodosic’ injury history. He can also play off the ball if need be. He’s got the physical tools to be a very good defender at the NBA level. It’s not at all far-fetched to imagine him as the future long-term starting point guard for the Clippers.
The Hornets also got two future second-round picks from the Clippers.
3. Philadelphia 76ers/Phoenix Suns
The Sixers and the Suns had the next move of draft night, also swapping their picks. The Sixers selected hometown hero Mikal Bridges with the No. 10 pick and later traded him to the Suns for the No. 16 pick, Zhaire Smith.
Bridges made a lot of sense for the Sixers. Not only is he a local guy, but his mother works for the team as well. He was a talented player who fit their team. He gave a post-draft press conference raving about being a Sixer all the while he had been traded already. But such is life in the NBA. Instead, Phoenix gets a guy that’s ready to contribute in the NBA right away. He’s the prototypical 3&D type guy.
For the Sixers, Zhaire Smith is another guy who was steadily climbing the boards in the days leading up to the draft. He’s a very athletic prospect with good defensive instincts. He probably won’t play much right away, but he does have the potential to end up being one of the better rotation players in this draft.
The Sixers also get a 2021 first-round pick from the Suns via the Miami Heat. It’s highly likely this ends up being a lottery pick and thus giving the Sixers the chance to add a high-end talent to an already potent group.
4. Second-Round moves
There are a few second-round moves that were made as well.
For one, the Hawks selected Devonte Graham with the 34th pick and traded him to the Hornets for two future second-round picks. Graham is another NBA ready guy who can come in and immediately contend for backup point guard minutes behind Kemba Walker.
The Sixers were involved in another deal sending the No. 38 pick Khyri Thomas to the Detroit Pistons for two future second-round picks. Thomas is a player that many projected to go in the first round. For a team that didn’t have a first-round pick coming into the night, the Pistons essentially picked one up. It’s possible he turns out better than Detroit’s most recent first-rounders Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard.
The Sacramento Kings drafted Gary Trent Jr. with the 37th pick only to trade him to the Portland Trail Blazers for two future second-round picks. Trent was one of the better shooters in the draft and that’s what he projects to the be in the NBA. He’s probably a few years away from earning a spot in the rotation but he was also a possible first-round pick. He’s more NBA ready than Anfernee Simons who the Blazers took in the first-round.
The Orlando Magic and Denver Nuggets swapped second-round picks with the Magic sending the No. 41 pick Jarred Vanderbilt to the Nuggets for the No. 43 pick Justin Jackson and a future second-round pick. Vanderbilt is a project in every sense of the word. He’s extremely raw and probably needed more time in college. But he’s got long-term potential and could pay off in the future. Jackson, on the other hand, was possibly a first-round talent had he entered the draft last year. He’s going to have to make the roster but could be a 3&D guy.
In the final move of the night, the Hornets traded the No. 45 pick Hamidou Diallo to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Diallo is a guy that had he come out last year, probably would’ve been a first-round guy. In any case, he is also very raw and will need seasoning in the G-League. He’s got all the physical tools and skill to be a good rotation NBA player.