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Sophomore Of The Year Watch – 11/8/17

Shane Rhodes breaks down six impressive sophomores early in the season.

Shane Rhodes



The 2016 NBA Draft class has certainly had its ups and downs going into their second season. That being said, there are some truly game-changing talents in the sophomore class. Here’s a look at some of those top sophomores thus far into the 2017-2018 Regular Season.

6. Denzel Valentine, Chicago Bulls

Denzel Valentine has quietly had a solid second season. The former Michigan State Spartan has sported a line of 10.3 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists while shooting 37 percent from the floor for the Chicago Bulls this season and, while the percentage may look paltry, Valentine is shooting 41.3 percent on over five three-point attempts per game and has an effective field goal percentage of 48.8 percent. His counting stats have nearly doubled across the board in his second season, and the guard-forward combo is looking like a solid contributor off the bench for the Bulls as they enter the early stages of what looks to be a very long rebuild. He is still somewhat rough around the edges, but those edges should smooth as Valentine becomes more acclimated to the NBA game.

5. Taurean Prince, Atlanta Hawks

With a major minutes boost going his way via the departure of Paul Millsap and others established veterans, Taurean Prince has impressed for the Atlanta Hawks in the season’s early goings. Averaging 31.1 minutes across 11 starts, Prince has put up 13.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game. The second-year forward has shot 43.5 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from three on just over four three-point attempts. That being said, Prince’s offensive rating sits at a low 91 points per 100 possessions — that will need to change if the Hawks want to be competitive on any level in the future.

In order to be a true impact player, Prince is going to have to step up on the defensive end. His block and steal percentages are both down from a season ago while his defensive rating has gone from 105 points per 100 possessions to 110. Even still, Prince looks to be a mainstay in the Hawks lineup for years to come. Though he has some major improvements to make to his overall game, Prince, alongside veteran guard Dennis Schroder and rookie big man John Collins, already form a nice, young core in place for Atlanta to build around for the future.

4. Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers

As the Los Angeles Lakers continue their rebuild, Brandon Ingram has taken a step forward in his second season as a player. Lauded as a future scoring champion coming out of the draft, Ingram has looked the part — to an extent — in his second season. His shooting numbers — scoring, field goal attempts, field goal percentage, three-point percentage — have all gone up across the board as Ingram has averaged 15.3 points per game while shooting 45.7 percent from the field, 38.9 percent from three all while taking more than 12 shots per game. His defense is also much improved, coming in with a defensive rating of 103 points per 100 possessions after posting a mark of 115 a season ago.

If Ingram was more effective as an offensive playmaker — he currently is averaging just 2.4 assists — he would be higher on this list. He has the potential to be an offensive force — a la Kevin Durant, who Ingram was often compared to coming out of the draft — and once others start respecting his playmaking abilities the shots will come start to come even easier for the young forward. His steal and block numbers, although improved from last season, leave a little to be desired for someone of Ingram’s pedigree as well.

3. Malcolm Brogdon, Milwaukee Bucks

After winning Rookie of the Year a season ago, Malcolm Brogdon has picked up where he left off with the Milwaukee Bucks so far in 2017. Averaging 15.5 points, 1.9 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 1.1 steals per game, Brogdon has been a huge contributor for the Bucks, who find themselves in a prime position in an Eastern Conference that has seen LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers struggle out of the gate.

While he is older than most sophomores at the age of 24, Brogdon has the chance to be a special player and has been a great find for the Bucks as a second-round pick. With Jabari Parker sidelined for the foreseeable future, Brogdon’s importance on the offensive end — taking pressure off of superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo and taking a sizeable share of the playmaking duties — couldn’t be any greater, and he has taken on that added responsibility exceptionally. If the Bucks want to be truly great, they are going to need Brogdon to continue playing the way he is just every bit as much as they will need Antetokounmpo, Parker and Khris Middleton to dominate when they all are healthy and playing together.

2. Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers

Domantas Sabonis was often compared to his father, Hall-of-Famer Arvydas Sabonis, when coming out of the draft, but was expected to be a work in progress for the Oklahoma City Thunder as he adjusted to the NBA. But so far in his second season, first with the Indiana Pacers, Sabonis has looked more than impressive. On the young season, Sabonis has averaged a double-double of 13.5 points and 10.3 rebounds while chipping in three assists on just 26.9 minutes per game. While he was never one for shot blocking, Sabonis has held his own on the defensive end, sitting with a defensive rating of 108 points per 100 possessions.

Sabonis’ biggest improvement is on offense, where his game has completely transformed during the sophomore campaign. Per 100 possessions, Sabonis has 24.1 points, 18.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists to go with an offensive rating of 128. With Myles Turner sidelined early on, Sabonis stepped up and has dominated, making the Pacers and much maligned General Manager Kevin Pritchard look likes geniuses for grabbing him in the deal that shipped Paul George off to Oklahoma City this summer. His defense is still a work in progress — his blocking numbers aren’t great for someone his size — but Sabonis looks like he’s on the up and up.

1. Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics

The 2016 Draft was considered by many to be a two-player draft, the prizes being either Ben Simmons or Ingram. Jaylen Brown has proved everyone wrong. While most players manage to take steps as the transition from their first to second season, Brown has taken the proverbial leap and become a dominant two-way force for Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics.

Moved into a starting role following the offseason trade of Avery Bradley to the Detroit Pistons and forced to become a major contributor on the offensive end after Gordon Hayward’s gruesome season-ending injury, Brown has responded with the best basketball of his young career. On the season, Brown is averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds while playing 31.5 minutes per game, nearly double the amount he saw a season ago. The athletic wing has an offensive rating of 106 points per 100 possessions and is eighth in the NBA in defensive rating among those averaging at least 30 minutes per game with a mark of 99 per 100 possessions.

Questions about his shot have persisted since his time at Cal, but Brown has seemingly quieted the doubters while shooting 46.2 percent from the field and, to much surprise, 40.4 percent from three-point range and is currently averaging more than 11 shots per game. While he still struggles to finish at the rim at times, improvement in that area will come as he continues to put on muscle and adjust. But, as a two-way threat, Brown looks like a star in the making and a major asset for the Celtics moving forward.

While these six have looked the best so far, enough talent has come out of the 2016 Draft that, further along, this list could consist of six completely different players. Here’s hoping that this sophomore class remains an exciting one to watch throughout this season and for many more seasons to come.


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NBA Daily: Nothing’s Promised, Not Even For The Warriors

The Warriors are wounded, and with Chris Paul, the Rockets may be equipped to take advantage.

Moke Hamilton



The Warriors are wounded, and for those that thought their waltzing into a four consecutive NBA Finals was a given, the Houston Rockets may have other ideas. Especially when one considers that the beloved Dubs are trying to buck history.

Steph Curry has ankle problems, Klay has a fractured thumb and Kevin Durant—the most recent of the team’s lynchpins to find himself on the disabled list—has a rib injury.

Sure, the Dubs might shake off their injuries and find themselves at or near 100 percent once the playoffs begin, but seldom do teams in the NBA get healthier as the year progresses.

Winning in the NBA is difficult. In order to take all the marbles, teams need a bunch of different ingredients, chief among them are good fortune and health. And in many ways, the two are entwined.

Simply put: the human body isn’t built to play as often and as hard as NBA players do. Those that we recognize as being among the greatest ever—Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James among them—had one thing in common. They were all exceptionally durable.

Over the years, we’ve seen attrition and fragility cost the likes of Anfernee Hardaway, Yao Ming and Derrick Rose what seemed to be careers full of accolades and accomplishments. And the simple truth is that you never know which player, players or teams will be next to be undercut by injuries and progressive fatigue.

Just to keep things in perspective, the Warriors are attempting to become just the fifth team since 1970 to win at least three NBA championships in a four-year span.

The Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA Finals in 1985, 1987 and 1988 before Michael Jordan and his Chicago Bulls completed their three-peat from 1991-93. The Bulls would again do the same between 1996 and 1998, and Shaquille O’Neal and his Los Angeles Lakers accomplished the same from 2000 to 2002.

There are reasons why so few teams have been able to win as frequently as the Lakers and Bulls have, and health is certainly one of them. That’s especially interesting to note considering the fact that the Warriors may have been champions in 2016 had they had their team at full strength. Mind you, both Stephen Curry and Andre Iguodala were severely limited in their abilities, while Andrew Bogut missed the fateful and decisive Game 6 and Game 7 of those Finals with injuries to his left leg.

At the end of the day, injuries are a part of the game. The best teams are often able to overcome them, while the luckiest teams often don’t have to deal with them. To this point, the Warriors have been both the best and incredibly lucky, but at a certain point, the sheer volume of basketball games is likely to have an adverse effect on at least a few members of the team.

We may be seeing that now.

En route to winning the 2015 NBA Finals, the Warriors turned in a playoff record of 16-5. In 2016, they were 15-9 and in 2017, they were 16-1. In total, the 62 playoff games would have worn a bit of tread off of their collective tires, just as their 73-9 regular season record may have.  In becoming a historically great team, the Warriors have expending the energy necessary of a team wishing to remain a contender, and that’s not easy.

As an aside, those that understand the difficulty in competing at a high level every single night are the ones who rightfully give LeBron James the respect he’s due for even having the opportunity to play into June eight consecutive years. Win or lose, in terms of consistent effort and constant production, James has shown as things we’ve never seen before.

Today, it’s fair to wonder whether the Warriors have that same capability.

We’ll find out in short order.

* * * * * *

As the Houston Rockets appear headed toward ending the Warriors’ regular season reign atop the Western Conference, there’s something awfully coincidental about the fact that the team seems to have taken the next step after the addition of Chris Paul.

Paul knows a thing or two about attrition and how unlucky bouts with injuries at inopportune times can cost a team everything. As much as anything else, it probably has something to do with why Paul continues to believe in the ability of the Rockets to achieve immortality.

On the first night of the regular season, mind you, in one horrific moment, Gordon Hayward and the Boston Celtics reminded us that on any given play, the outlook of an entire season—and perhaps, even a career—can change.

A twisted knee here, a sprained ankle there, and who knows?

With just over three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Warriors—the team that everyone knew would win the Western Conference again this season—has some concerns. Their primary weapons are hurting, their chances of securing home court advantage throughout the Western Conference playoffs are all but nil and their road to the Finals may end up being more difficult than they could have possibly imagined.

If the season ended today and the seeds held, the Warriors would draw the San Antonio Spurs in the first round and the Portland Trail Blazers in the second round before squaring off against the Rockets in the Western Conference Finals.

Of all teams, the Spurs are probably the last team the Warriors would want to see in the playoffs, much less the first round. While the outcome of that series would be determined by the health of Kawhi Leonard, there’s no doubt that Gregg Popovich would at least be able to effectively game plan for Golden State.

While the Blazers might not provide incredible resistance to the Warriors, the Oklahoma City Thunder will enter play on March 18 just two games behind the Blazers for the third seed out West. With the two teams squaring off against one another on March 25, it’s possible for Russell Westbrook and his crew having the opportunity to square off against the Dubs in the playoffs.

For Golden State, their path to the Finals having to go through San Antonio, Oklahoma City and Houston would absolutely be a worst case scenario. The only thing that could make it even more terrible for Steve Kerr would be having to do it with a platoon that was less than 100 percent.

Funny. In yet another season where everyone thought that it was the Warriors and everyone else, there are quite a few questions facing the defending champs heading into the final few weeks of the regular season.

Indeed, the Warriors are wounded. And whether they can be nursed back up to full strength is perhaps the most interesting thing to watch as the calendar turns to April and playoff basketball draws nearer.

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NBA Daily: The Golden State Warriors Need to Enter Rest Mode

With a bevy of injuries to their stars, the Golden State Warriors should rest up the remainder of the regular season to avoid any playoff letdowns.

Dennis Chambers



After a three-year-long run of dominating the NBA, the Golden State Warriors are showing some cracks in their armor.

Granted, those cracks aren’t a result of a botched system or poor play, but rather the injury bug biting the team in full force as they come down the regular season stretch.

First, it was Steph Curry and the ankle that’s bothered him all season — and for most of his career — when he tweaked it yet again on March 8 against the San Antonio Spurs. Golden State announced he would miss at least four games. Then it was Klay Thompson, who fractured his thumb three days later against the Minnesota Timberwolves — he’ll miss at least two weeks.

Now it’s Kevin Durant. Last year’s Finals MVP suffered an incomplete rib cartilage fracture and was ruled out of Friday’s game against the Sacramento Kings. Durant is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks. The Warriors would go on to lose that contest 95-93.

In about two weeks time, the Warriors went from having one of the most formidable offenses and scoring trios in the entire league, to having  Quinn Cook and Nick Young logging starter minutes.

Luckily for the Warriors, they’ve built up a big enough lead in the standings to achieve a 52-17 record, good for second place in the Western Conference. But the issue for the remainder of the season now becomes how healthy will the Warriors be come playoff time?

Curry and Durant have injury histories. Curry particularly has been bothered by this ankle since he entered the league. Without either of them, the Warriors — while still incredibly talented — will be on a completely even playing field with the Houston Rockets, and possibly other teams in the gauntlet that will be the Western Conference playoffs.

The bigger issue on top of the pending injury concerns becomes whether the Warriors should just pack it in for the rest of the regular season, and regroup for another expected title run.

Steve Kerr doesn’t seem to be thinking that way, however.

“All these injuries seem to be temporary,” Kerr told reporters. “A couple weeks, a week, two weeks – whatever. We’re in good shape. We’ve just got to survive this next slate of games and hopefully, start getting guys back and get rolling again for the playoffs.”

That’s true. None of the aforementioned injuries seem to be anything more serious than a few weeks of rest and relaxation. But that’s assuming the best case scenario for these players.

Should we assume that the Warriors are without their scoring trio for the next couple of weeks as their health updates have indicated, that would put their return roughly around April 1. At that time, Golden State would have six games remaining on their schedule. Four coming against playoff teams (Oklahoma City, Indiana, New Orleans, and Utah) with the other two games against Phoenix.

After missing the last few weeks on the court, with injuries that most likely won’t be at 100 percent, tossing their most valuable contributors back into the fray against a slate of playoff teams probably isn’t the smartest idea.

At this point, the Warriors postseason position is locked up. They likely won’t take the top seed away from Houston, and their lead is big enough to keep their second seed intact regardless of who’s on the court. The only thing left now is the determining who Golden State will play in the first round. With the revolving carousel that is the playoff standings out West, that’s anybody’s guess right now.

The only thing that’s certain is whichever team coming into Oracle Arena for that first round will be battle tested and talented based off of the dogfight they had to survive just to make the playoffs. The last thing the Warriors need to be is a banged up in a postseason with their first opponent smelling blood in the water.

In all likelihood, the Warriors — should everything go according to plan — will play the Houston Rockets for a chance to return to their fourth straight NBA Finals. Only this time, a potential Game 7 won’t be at Oracle Arena. It will be in downtown Houston, at the Toyota Center.

An advantage as big as the Warriors’ homecourt can never be understated. Operating in a do-or-die situation away from home will be newfound territory for this bunch. Regardless of talent or team success, at that point, it’s anybody’s game.

It won’t be easy for the Golden State Warriors as they try to extend their dynasty’s reign. This might be their most difficult year yet.

Durant, in his own words, can’t even laugh right now without feeling pain. The league’s only unanimous MVP is operating on one and a half ankles, and the team’s second Splash Brother has an injury on his shooting hand.

Resting up the team’s stars should be the team’s top priority right now, at risk of entering the postseason hobbled. Track record means nothing if the Warriors don’t have their full arsenal at disposal when the games matter most.

Hey, a 16-seed finally won a first-round game in the NCAA Tournament. Anything is possible on a basketball court, and the Warriors should do everything possible to ensure they’re not the next major upset candidate in line.

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Fixing The Detroit Pistons

David Yapkowitz looks at how the fading Pistons can turn things around moving forward.

David Yapkowitz



We wrap this week up with another installment of our “Fixing” series here at Basketball Insiders. The next team up is the Detroit Pistons.

The Pistons came into this season with playoff aspirations after a disappointing 2016-17 campaign that saw them regress instead of building on their playoff appearance the season before. To begin the season, they looked like they were on their way to accomplishing that objective. Then Reggie Jackson got hurt and the season began spiraling out of control.

They tried to inject some life into the team by trading for Blake Griffin, but it hasn’t worked out as expected. The Pistons have gone 8-12 since acquiring Griffin and the postseason looks like a pipe dream at this point.

What Is Working

Not a whole lot. Despite trading for a superstar player, the Pistons have tumbled down to the point where playoffs are looking extremely unlikely.

If there’s one thing that’s a welcome sight, it’s the bounce back of Andre Drummond. After being named to his first All-Star team in 2015-16, Drummond had a bit of a let down the following season. This season, he was once again an All-Star while putting up career-highs in rebounds (15.7) and assists (3.2). Drummond is still only 24 years old and has his best basketball years ahead of him.

The Pistons have also received encouraging signs from rookie Luke Kennard. A lottery pick in last summer’s draft, Kennard he’s been one of the few bright spots at times for the Pistons. About a week ago, his playing time had diminished some and he racked up a few DNP’s, but Stan Van Gundy has since reinserted him into the rotation.

They’ve also gotten solid production out of Reggie Bullock. When Bullock came over to the Pistons in a trade with the Phoenix Suns almost three years ago, he was little more than a seldom-used wing with the potential to become a solid 3&D guy. This has been his year, however. He’s the best shooter on the team at 43.5 percent from the three-point line. His numbers, 10.8 points per game and 49.1 percent shooting from the field, are career-highs.

What Needs To Change

Quite a bit. Acquiring Griffin was a move the Pistons needed to make. On the verge of losing control of the season, they needed to make a move to try and turn things around. It’s been a disaster thus far, however. They are 2-8 in their last 10 games and although they’re in ninth place, they’re falling farther and farther away from eighth.

Who the Pistons are really missing is Reggie Jackson. Ish Smith, who has proven himself beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is an NBA player, just isn’t Jackson. They desperately need Jackson’s playmaking abilities to help take the pressure off everyone else. Even if he returns this season, it’s already too late. The Pistons need to focus on getting him healthy and ready for next season.

The Pistons also need to improve their offense. They’re in the bottom half of the league in both points per game (25th) and offensive rating (24th). A big part of that is Jackson’s absence, but they could also benefit from additional outside shooting. Right now they have one long-range threat on the roster and that’s Bullock.

Focus Area: The Draft

To make matters worse, the Pistons will likely give up their draft pick to the Los Angeles Clippers as part of the Griffin trade. The only way the Clippers wouldn’t acquire the Pistons’ pick this year is if it falls in the top four, and that’s not going to happen.

The Pistons will have a second-round pick though. The draft is never 100 percent guaranteed, and the second round is even more of a crapshoot, but talented players can definitely be found. That’s what the Pistons’ main objective in the draft should be. It sounds silly, but they truly need to buckle down and do their homework in hopes of finding that one overlooked guy in the second round. That’s pretty much all they have to look forward to come draft night.

Focus Area: Free Agency

The Pistons are going to have a couple of minor decisions to make this summer regarding their free agents. Jameer Nelson, James Ennis, and Anthony Tolliver are all unrestricted free agents. Out of the three, Ennis has given the team the best on-court production, but it isn’t necessary that any of them are brought back.

Bullock and Dwight Buycks have non-guaranteed contracts, and those are the two guys that the Pistons should work towards bringing back in the fold. Both should have their contracts guaranteed for the following season. Bullock is their only three-point threat. Buycks began the season as a two-way contract player splitting time between the Pistons and the Grand Rapids Drive of the G-League. He’s since been converted to a standard NBA contract and has done enough to earn his spot on the team next year.

In terms of adding new players to the roster, as mentioned before, the Pistons need outside shooting. Marco Belinelli and Wayne Ellington are possible options that the Pistons might be able to afford. Joe Harris is another option, but it will be interesting to see what the market is for him after the strong season he’s been having in Brooklyn.

It’s tough to gauge the Pistons’ true potential without Jackson. If he returns before the season ends, it will be too small a sample size to accurately assess the team. There are only 14 games left. Although things look pretty bleak right now, it can’t be argued that injuries haven’t played a big role in the Pistons disappointing season.

The team deserves a shot at seeing how a healthy Jackson, Griffin, and Drummond trio looks on the court together. If they start off next season the same way despite all three being healthy and in the lineup, then it would be time for serious changes.

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