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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: Credit Ujiri And Raptors For Taking The Risk

Perhaps emboldened by OKC’s ability to retain Paul George, the Raptors are taking a gamble of their own.

Lang Greene



In any given NBA season, at the most, there are only five legitimate title contenders in play. The rest of the league could be considered as either on the rise, middle of the pack or in the hunt for a lottery pick.

There are far too many teams around the league that are content with solely making the playoffs while not seriously contending for a title. This is why the Toronto Raptors organization along with team president Masai Ujiri should be given credit for taking the ultimate gamble in acquiring a top-five player, even one who could amount to a one-year rental.

The Raptors shipped four-time All-Star DeMar DeRozan, center Jakob Poeltl and a protected first-round pick to the San Antonio Spurs in exchange for former NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and veteran wing Danny Green.

The move is the ultimate gamble for an organization that has turned itself into a perennial playoff presence with five consecutive postseason appearances and three straight 50-win campaigns. DeRozan, 28, was locked under contract the next three seasons and the organization could have theoretically decided to ride the DeRozan and fellow All-Star guard Kyle Lowry duo until the proverbial wheels fell off.

But instead, Ujiri unexpectedly shipped their star player, who wanted to be in Toronto long-term, to acquire Leonard who reportedly has his eyes dead set on joining one of the Los Angeles franchises once he hits free agency in 2019.

Think about this for a moment.

While Toronto has served as LeBron James’ playoff punching bag as of late, make no mistake, Raptors basketball is undoubtedly experiencing the peak of its golden era.

Sure, the team’s former stars such as Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady and Chris Bosh will likely go down in history considered better than DeRozan (and Lowry). But none of the aforementioned players led the franchise to a 50-win season while with the organization. None of those guys led the Raptors to a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. DeRozan was a vital cog in breaking new ground while with the team, defiantly re-signing with the Raptors despite overtures from his hometown Los Angeles Lakers in 2016.

Perhaps emboldened by the success the Oklahoma City Thunder recently had in taking a similar risk last summer, the Raptors took the gamble. The Thunder traded for All-Star forward Paul George, who also reportedly also had Los Angeles dreams, last summer, and were able to convince the wing to re-sign earlier this month to a long-term deal.

Toronto has never been a free agency hot spot and the aforementioned stars all forced their way out of town early in their careers. What if Leonard doesn’t buy the soup Ujiri is cooking? There are already some reports stating the forward has no desire to play with the Raptors at all.

Even if this is the case, Ujiri and company still have options. Leonard can still be dealt before next February’s trade deadline. Ujiri could theoretically create a bidding war between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers for Leonard’s services with an attractive.

At the bare minimum, the Raptors are all-in this season for a championship run in an Eastern Conference no longer facing the talents of LeBron James. If things don’t work out, DeRozan’s $54 million owed after this season is off the books. Lowry will be owed $33 million in 2020 but could potentially be an attractive expiring contract. All of this to say, the Raptors are simultaneously preparing for a title run and bracing for a rebuild of their current roster.

Far too many teams become content with just making the playoffs and not rocking the boat. Ujiri took his shot to boost the Raptors up the league’s hierarchy. The ultimate risk. Much respect for taking it.

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NBA Daily: Quality Free Agents Still Available

Many quality free agents are still available nearly three weeks into free agency, writes James Blancarte.

James Blancarte



With the NBA Summer League over and training camps a few months away, the NBA would normally be quiet this time of year. Apparently the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors didn’t get the memo as they agreed to a trade centered around Kawhi Leonard and DeMar DeRozan. Additionally, Carmelo Anthony has finally been traded to relieve the Oklahoma City Thunder from a tremendous tax burden.

As the dust settles from these trades, many free agents continue to wait in the wings. The list includes many talented players who will eventually make their way back onto an NBA team’s roster. Some will return to the team they played for last year, which is especially likely for restricted free agents (e.g., Marcus Smart). Some may, for a variety of reasons, not return to an NBA roster. Last year Rodney Stuckey sat the year out and used the time to improve his health in order to make a comeback this year. Former All-Star center Roy Hibbert just announced his retirement at age 31 after not being active last season.

The list of available restricted free agents has seriously dwindled now nearly three weeks into the free agency period. RFAs such as Marcus Smart (back to the Boston Celtics) and Jabari Parker (to the Chicago Bulls) have recently signed new contracts. These signings, among others, leaves Houston Rockets RFA center Clint Capela and Los Angeles Clippers RFA center Montrezl Harrell as two of the bigger names left on the board.

Available Restricted Free Agents:

Clint Capela

Clint Capela is coming off of his best and most efficient season averaging 13.9 points, 10.8 rebounds, 1.9 blocks in 27.5 minutes a game (all career highs) and he is only 24 years old. Capela also spearheaded a defense that, when combined with James Harden’s offensive mastery, pushed the Golden State Warriors to the brink in the Western Conference Finals. Reports are that Capela has turned down an initial offer to re-sign for well below his max. While the clock ticks on the Rockets and Capela, Capela finds himself in what remains a punitive free agent market. The Sacramento Kings is the only other team capable of immediately signing Capela to a competitive contract to lure him away from the Rockets. To make matters worse, the Kings have been committed to stocking their roster with as many big men as possible making them a less-than-ideal suitor for Capela’s services.

Montrezl Harrell

Montrezl Harrell won’t generate as many headlines as the other RFAs that have been in the news lately but don’t sleep on him. In a season that never went according to plan for the Clippers, Harrell was one of the bright spots for the team. Harrell, acquired by the Clippers in the Chris Paul trade, showed tenacity on offense as he served as a strong offensive rebounder, floor runner and helped the Clippers weather a five-game stretch where center DeAndre Jordan was unavailable. Harrell played especially well in place of Jordan. However, working against Harrell is the Clipper’s roster crunch. The team has 18 players on the roster, not counting Harrell. If the Clippers do ultimately decide to bring back Harrell, the Clippers will have to make several moves to clear roster spots.

Rodney Hood

Cleveland Cavaliers RFA wing Rodney Hood also remains available. Utah Jazz fans can relate to the ups and downs of cheering for Hood who has flashes of brilliant play but remains inconsistent. Hood was acquired during last season to help bolster the Cavaliers’ championship run. However, Hood’s scoring, three-point shooting, overall statistics and minutes went down significantly due to his uneven play. While Hood is still a capable player, his time with the Cavaliers did not end well, which has impacted his stock around the league. It didn’t help Hood’s cause when he was benched in the postseason and he subsequently refused to enter the game when instructed to. The Kings, in need of help on the wing, could be a suitor for Hood’s services. However, Cleveland could match any such offer as the franchise continues to build a new team after the loss of LeBron James.

Available Unrestricted Free Agents:

Dwyane Wade

The group of remaining unrestricted free agents is a mixed bag. As mentioned above, there is at least a chance that one of these players may not even make a roster when the dust settles this offseason. Dwyane Wade has bounced around the league the last few years with stints with the Bulls, Cavaliers and a most recent return to the Miami HEAT under his belt. Wade remains capable of spurts of offense and is a fan favorite in Miami. The most obvious result here is a return to Miami. However, Wade himself commented regarding a potential return or possibly retirement.

“When I get back from China, I’ll focus on that [decision],” Wade said while in China. “The basketball will take care of itself. I’ll sit down and figure that out once I get back from this tour at some point.”

Michael Beasley

Michael Beasley remains unsigned despite a strong outing last season for the New York Knicks. Beasley started 30 of 74 games played. His numbers don’t jump off the boxscore: 13.2 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists in 22.3 minutes. However, these are some of the best numbers he’s put up in years and the most consistent he has played since 2012-13. The Knicks may likely move on from Beasley but he remains a viable scorer who could come off the bench and start in a pinch for many teams if the price is right.

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young

Jamal Crawford and Nick Young remain unsigned veterans who offer potential teams a scoring punch off the bench. Young has the benefit of showing that he contributed in spurts to the Warrior’s championship season while not becoming a distraction. Both are known for knocking down difficult outside shots but can be inefficient scorers and potential liabilities on defense.

Honorable Mentions

A few notable big men remain available as well. Phoenix Center Alex Len never became the elite big man the Suns had hoped for when they used the fifth pick in the 2013 draft to acquire him. However he remains a serviceable player. For his career, Len averages 7.2 points and 6.2 rebounds in 19.9 minutes. He is somewhat mobile and could be a strong option for a team looking for a backup center. Centers Al Jefferson and Jahill Okafor can both score the basketball but have to directly combat the notion that they have become antiquated. The modern game calls for mobile centers that shoot reliably from the outside to stretch the floor, are efficient on offense, can guard the rim as well as being at least somewhat capale of covering ball handlers on switches. Okafar and Jefferson don’t fit that profile and will have to convince potential suitors that despite their meager contributions over the last few seasons that they can sufficiently adapt to the modern game and make a positive impact.

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NBA: Kawhi Leonard for DeMar DeRozan Makes Sense

In an unexpected move, DeMar DeRozan and Kawhi Leonard swapped teams, and it makes complete sense.

Dennis Chambers



The Kawhi Leonard saga in San Antonio is finally over.

In the wee hours of the morning on Wednesday, news broke via Twitter that Leonard was about to be shipped across the Canadian border to the Toronto Raptors for — get this — DeMar DeRozan.

Leonard, and his deteriorated relationship with the San Antonio Spurs, dominated the offseason headlines, and while reports constantly whizzed around about where the All-Star small forward would wind up — maybe Los Angeles, maybe Philadelphia, maybe Boston — his final destination is one that came completely out of left field (despite the current odds).

While many people viewed the situation with Leonard as a chance for San Antonio to start fresh and plan for the future, the Spurs appeared to have no interest in that avenue. The entirety of the deal, Leonard and Danny Green for DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a top-20 protected 2019 first-round pick displays a win-now outcome for each party.

After winning 59 games and obtaining the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference, the Raptors eventually were bounced by the Cleveland Cavaliers in a sweeping fashion. Dwane Casey, the 2017-18 Coach of the Year, was fired after not being able to extend the franchises’ best season to an NBA Finals appearance. It appeared, with LeBron moving West, that the Raptors were going to run it back one more time to see if they could finally break through to the game’s biggest stage.

On the other side, the Spurs were coming off of a season in which they won 47 games and were two games out of the Western Conference’s third seed — all of which they achieved without Leonard. In the waning years of Gregg Popovich’s career, it appeared his team was still talented enough, and system still effective enough, to make relevant noise in the playoffs without a superstar player.

At its core, this deal comes down to each team swapping their best player for the other’s. Leonard gets out of San Antonio, to a team whose core won 59 games in the East. DeRozan gets the benefit of fitting into a system with the best head coach in the league, on a very competitive roster.

Now, it remains to be seen how happy each player will be in their situations. Reports surfaced early Wednesday morning that both players were dissatisfied with the trade outcome. But, as we all know, winning cures everything.

On the Spurs’ front, it’s interesting how little they considered trade packages for future picks and quality role players. ESPN’s Zach Lowe reported San Antonio rebuffed offers from the Sixers and Celtics that were centered around future assets, in turn focusing their trade efforts on the likes of Ben Simmons, and the Celtics’ young core. Instead of landing a handful of assets or players that may not materialize until Popovich is gone, the Spurs reeled in a player who is a year removed from averaging 27 points per game. Oh, by the way, he’s also under contract for the next three seasons.

DeRozan keeps the Spurs relevant. Maybe he doesn’t help them beat the Golden State Warriors (in fact, he most certainly doesn’t), but he allows his new team the chance to win meaningful games in the postseason over the next three years.

From everything that’s been reported, there was no way Popovich was going to commit the final few years of his NBA life to a rebuild. With a man like that at the helm, and a star player like DeRozan under contract, who knows what other tricks San Antonio might have up its sleeve.

Up in Toronto, if the Raptors can convince Leonard to play this season, their core plus an upgrade on the wing might finally be enough to break through to the Finals. New head coach Nick Nurse suddenly has a player widely regarded as a top-five talent in the league on his roster to accompany a deep and talented core. Although, just like in San Antonio, Leonard might not add enough to the Raptors to dethrone the Warriors. However, he suddenly has a better supporting cast to try and give Golden State a run for its money.

Plus, given Toronto’s inability to get out of the East, a Finals appearance in its own right would be considered a success next season.

All around, maybe this wasn’t the deal we expected to get Leonard out of San Antonio, but digesting the move from all angles, it appears to be the most sensible.

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