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NBA

Sophomore of the Year Watch

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With the 2016-17 season coming to a close, it’s time to show the sophomores a little love. No longer the greenhorns of the NBA, there are some talented guys in this group who are going to be playing for a very long time. The best among them? You decide.

HONORABLE MENTION

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns

The Suns have quite a bright future. A plethora of young talent, along with another lottery pick or two in the next few seasons, should go along way in terms of success down the road. However, the driving force behind that success is already on the roster.

Devin Booker is a budding superstar. Still just 20 years old, the shooting guard’s ceiling seems almost infinite. His numbers are up nearly across the board from his rookie season and he stands to join some pretty exclusive company. If Booker maintains his averages through the rest of the season, he’ll join Tyreke Evans and Kyrie Irving as the only guards to average at least 20 points, three rebounds and three assists at the age of 20 or younger.

Booker seems to have been born with the clutch gene as well. This season, with five minutes or fewer in the fourth quarter or overtime, Booker has made 17 game-tying or go-ahead field goals. That’s ahead of the likes of Kyrie Irving (15), Kyle Lowry (13) and Stephen Curry (10). Not bad for a kid who is just two years into his professional career.

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers

While Indiana’s future might not be as bright as Phoenix’s, the Pacers have quite the tandem in superstar Paul George and up-and-coming forward-center hybrid Myles Turner. Since being drafted in 2015, Turner has progressed along nicely and has quickly become one of the best starting centers in the league.

Turner joins Shaquille O’Neal, Chris Webber, Kevin Garnett, Josh Smith and Anthony Davis as the only players ever to average 2.1 blocks per game at age 20 or younger. Not a bad group of big men to be associated with.

When looking at per 36 minute numbers, Turner’s stats manage to look even better. Sporting a line of 17 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per 36, Turner looks like a franchise player in the making for the Pacers.

CONTENDERS

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks

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New York City has been faced with some of the most dreadful seasons in recent NBA history. Playing host to the Knicks, and with the Nets playing not too far away in Brooklyn, there’s been a severe lack of winning basketball in New York for quite some time. And while the Nets don’t appear to be going anywhere for a while, there is still one reason to watch basketball in the Big Apple: Kristaps Porzingis.

The Unicorn is the one silver lining in the dark cloud that has been the Knicks’ season. In between the Carmelo Anthony trade rumors, Phil Jackson desire for a triangle offense, James Dolan’s ineptitude and the overall lack of success the Knicks have experienced, Porzingis is the only thing Knicks fans really have to look forward to. And he hasn’t disappointed.

Porzingis is the only power forward to average 17 points and seven rebounds while also shooting 36 percent from three-point range and qualifying for the three-point percentage leaderboard. Not only does he grab boards and get it done in the post, but Porzingis can swish it from beyond the arc as well. At the time of this writing, he sits at 108 made threes and has a true shooting percentage of 54.4 percent. So while the here and now might not be so great for Knicks fans, the future in Porzingis looks plenty bright.

Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

Although Nikola Jokic was drafted in 2014, a year before everyone else on this list, the 2016-17 season is only his second accrued league year, making him a sophomore. In this second season, Jokic has completely shattered expectations. One of the best passing big men in the league, Jokic has put himself squarely in the conversation for the Most Improved Player award.

Jokic has five triple-doubles on the season, the most for a center in their age 22 or younger season ever. It’s also the most triple-doubles for a center since David Robinson also posted five in the 1993-94 season. His per-36 numbers jump off the page as well, with averages of 21.4 points, 12.4 rebounds and 6.2 assists per 36 minutes, almost unprecedented for a player his age.

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Jokic’s biggest strength is his passing. The big man has assisted on 28.4 percent of the Nuggets field goals while on the court, which leads the league among centers, and has a total of 294 assists, third among centers and 36th in the league overall.

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves

Remember before the 2014 draft, when there was a debate over whether number one pick should be Karl-Anthony Towns or Jahlil Okafor? No? Me neither. After a great first season that saw him win Rookie of the Year, Towns has managed to become even more of a monster on the court. An easy pick for this list, what else can you say about the game changing center?

Oh yeah, a lot.

Towns has the fourth most career double-doubles (105!!!) by any player aged 21 or younger since the 1983-84 season, placing him among Dwight Howard (169), Andre Drummond (114) and Shaquille O’Neal (110) as the only four players to have over 100 career double-doubles at that age. All done within two seasons! With his numbers up across the board from year one, Towns has emerged as a legit superstar and future perennial MVP candidate for the Timberwolves. His 24.6 points and 12.2 rebounds per game are enough to make any basketball fan feel giddy.

How high is his ceiling? Who knows. But the 21-year-old has cemented himself as one of the best in the class.

All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com

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About Shane Rhodes

Shane Rhodes