Cheap Seats: Super Sophomores
In the latest edition of Cheap Seats Basketball Insiders’ interns debate over who is the best sophomore from the 2013 NBA Draft Class.
Every season, we welcome in a new group of interns and typically their work is done primarily behind the scenes. But now that the current group has been around for awhile, we’re giving them a platform to voice their thoughts on the NBA. Each week, Basketball Insiders’ interns Jesse Blancarte, Cody Taylor and John Zitzler will discuss a topic related to the league in Cheap Seats.
This week, the interns discuss who is the best sophomore from the 2013 NBA Draft class.
In a league that features LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony, Kobe Bryant among other big names, a guy like Anthony Davis, in just his second season, may get overlooked on the basketball court. A prime example of Davis getting overlooked happened back in February when he was left off of the All-Star roster by fans and even coaches. He was eventually selected to replace Bryant. Off of the court, Davis may be more noticeable due to “The Brow,” but that may soon change. Davis is playing himself into the elite tier of the league, at a position only few have.
Davis has made improvements in a few key statistical areas, improvements that have Pelicans fans believing he should be the Most Improved Player in the league. The Pelicans took notice and have launched the “Bigger. Better. Brower” campaign highlighting Davis’ improved season and are encouraging fans to post pictures donning a unibrow to social media. The improvements Davis has made are an additional 7.3 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in over six extra minutes of playing time. Davis improved his blocks per game from 1.8 to 2.8, and just missed out on being the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in the 1999-2000 season to average at least 20 points, 10 rebounds and three blocks per game. Davis is seeing the results of an improved overall game as his player efficiency currently ranks fourth in the league only behind Durant, James and Kevin Love.
Davis brings speed to the big man position that it hasn’t seen since Dwight Howard, and even Davis is quicker. His ability to handle the ball gives him the chance to face up on slower defenders and blow right by them with his first step, which often results in a foul. Davis is sixth among power forwards in free throw percentage and would rank third among centers at 79 percent, miles ahead of Howard’s 55 percent. The Pelicans want to institute the in-and-out type of offense, similar to what Howard had in Orlando, but the Pelicans just don’t have the shooters capable of that. The scary part is Davis still has more skills on the offensive side of the ball to refine. While he can catch some of the bigger guys off with his speed, adding more dribble moves would really solidify his presence in the middle of the floor.
What makes Davis such a dynamic player is his ability to hurt NBA teams on both sides of the ball. Davis can run the floor with the best of them, which is no easy feat for someone 6’10” and 220 pounds. Davis’ 7’4” wingspan has the paint on lockdown at times, but teams are figuring out how to work around that.
They will often run pick-and-rolls to move Davis out of the paint. His lack of size will hurt in the post and the back-to-the-basket plays, but the Pelicans seem to have been able to figure out how to work around that. Davis’ ability to time shots one-on-one in post-up plays has bailed him out numerous times. Once the defense really slows down for Davis, he will become a force for the Pelicans.
– Cody Taylor
Damian Lillard burst onto the NBA scene in a big way. In his debut, Lillard scored 23 points, and dished out 11 assists against the Los Angeles Lakers. It was a good start for the young point guard from Weber State University who was selected by the Portland Trailblazers with the sixth pick in the 2012 draft. He hasn’t slowed down since. Lillard swept the Western Conference Rookie of the Month award last season, and was unanimously named Rookie of the Year, becoming only the fourth player to do so, along with Blake Griffin, David Robinson and Ralph Sampson.
Last season Lillard set a Portland franchise record by making 185 three pointers, surpassing former Trailblazer Damon Stoudamire, who made 181 three pointers in 2005-2006. Lillard has taken it even further this season. As of today, Lillard is tied for second with Klay Thompson for most three point field goals made this season with 213.
Looking into Lillard’s background, it becomes clear why Lillard has become an elite point guard, and why the Blazers took a chance on him with the sixth pick.
Lillard was born and raised in the Oakland area, which has produced some of the best point guards to have ever played, including Jason Kidd and Gary Payton. Payton, nicknamed “The Glove” for his gritty defense, told SI.com that “He (Lillard) plays like the rest of us did, with that little swagger and that complete calm. He doesn’t get rattled. That quality comes from Oakland, from the neighborhoods, from going into other gyms and getting challenged.” It also comes from Lillard’s strong work ethic. His high school coach, Orlando Watkins, told Maxpres.com that Lillard “has always been very focused and very driven. When other kids were out partying, Damian was working on his dribbling or jump shot.”
That work ethic and composure has served Lillard well in his first two seasons. But his success has not changed the way he approaches the game. Earl Watson, a teammate of Lillard’s, told SI.com that Lillard “doesn’t want to think of himself that way. He still wants to think of himself as a two-star from Weber State. I played with GP and against J-Kidd, and those guys all have that Oak edge. Dame is afraid to lose it.”
This approach has paid off for Lillard. Recent reports indicate that Lillard is close to signing a new, lucrative deal with Adidas. For the last few years Derrick Rose has been the face of Adidas’ basketball brand. The similarities between Rose and Lillard go beyond their shoe endorsements however.
In Rose’s rookie season he averaged 16.8 points per game on 47.5 percent shooting from the field. He also contributed 6.3 assists, and 3.9 rebounds. In his second season, Rose averaged 20.8 points on 48.8 percent shooting, along with 6 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. In comparison, Lillard, in his rookie season, averaged 19 points on 42.9 percent shooting, along with 6.5 assists and 3.1 rebounds per game. This season he is averaging 20.9 points on 42.5 percent shooting from the field. Lillard is also contributing 5.6 assists, 3.6 rebounds, and is hitting on 39.2 percent of his three point attempts. Note that it was Rose’s third season where he really made the leap into the upper stratosphere of the NBA, and won Most Valuable Player of the Year. With this in mind, it’s not a stretch to believe Lillard’s best days are ahead of him and could make a leap similar to the one Rose made.
However, Lillard still has room to improve, mostly on defense. Gary Payton said that “He’s not where he needs to be defensively. But he calls to ask what he’s doing wrong.” Lillard is in that class of elite players that are willing to admit their weaknesses and work hard to turn those weaknesses into strengths. This perspective will help Lillard continue his climb to truly elite status. Dorell Wright recently had dinner with the young star and told The Oregonian that “He was saying stuff to me that I don’t hear from young guys. He was talkin’ ‘I can’t wait until the summer, because I’m going to be working on this and that.’ And I was like, you already have your head there? Just hearing him saying that, and him looking forward to doing that work, that’s big. When I was that age, I was looking forward to getting back to L.A. to hang out with my friends. That was my main goal. So to hear him say that let’s me know how much passion he has for the game, how much passion he has for winning, and how much of a competitor he is.’’
While Lillard’s future is bright, it is important to not lose sight of what he and the Blazers have accomplished so far this season. Entering this season the Blazers were expected to be at best a fringe playoff team. Instead, they started the season on fire, going 31-9 in their first 40 games. They then hit a rough patch where they were winning and losing games in bunches, and slipping in the standings. Things got especially tough for the Blazers when star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge hurt his back on March 12 against the San Antonio Spurs. The Blazers lost that game, their fourth in a row.
After the game Lillard addressed his teammates in the locker room. It is unclear what he told the team, but veteran players like Wesley Matthews said it was good to hear from their point guard. Matthews said “It showed he’s grown. He’s one of those guys who has always led by example, and he put it on himself. He was tired of losing so he voiced his opinion.’’ The team still had some missteps until finally getting Aldridge back from injury, but it was Lillard who kept things from completely imploding. Most recently, Lillard went off for 14 fourth quarter points to help the Blazers get by the Utah Jazz after the Jazz managed to stick with the Blazers through three quarters.
The Blazers will have a tough route to the NBA Finals and it will be up to Lillard and Aldridge to step up and lead the team against the best teams in the West, most likely starting with the Houston Rockets. Listening to Payton, Lillard’s teammates, and his high school coach, it seems clear that Lillard has the confidence, leadership and skill to rise up to the moment.
– Jesse Blancarte
The Pistons season wasn’t great. In fact it was pretty disappointing. The team went out and brought in some big names (Brandon Jennings and Josh Smith) with the intent of being a playoff team and unfortunately never came close. However, there was one silver lining, one big reason to give pistons fans hope for the future and that of course is Andre Drummond.
Drummond, the ninth pick in the 2012 draft has been a monster in paint. When you watch him play it’s hard not to be in awe of his physical attributes. It is rare to see a man of his size (6’ 10” 270lbs) and strength to also be such an explosive athlete. Granted he may not have set the world on fire in his one season at the University of Connecticut but it’s still hard to believe eight teams passed on him before Drummond landed in the Pistons lap.
Following a strong rookie campaign, where he averaged 7.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks per game playing just over 20 minutes a night, Drummond has been even better in his sophomore season. He has started in every game he has played in this season (79) playing over 32 minutes a night. You would expect an increase in production when a player is given a more significant role but the numbers Drummond have been able to put up with increased minutes this season have more than just a small jump.
The most impressive aspect of Drummond’s game this year has to be his relentless effort on the glass. He has been a rebounding machine all season long, hauling in 13.2 per night. To just give his rebound per game numbers would be selling Drummond short, he leads the league the in total rebound percentage at 22.2, offensive rebounding percentage 17.3, total offensive rebounds with 426 and is second in total rebounding with 1041 on the year to date. To put in perspective just how dominant Drummond has been rebounding let’s compare Drummond’s offensive rebound totals historically with the offensive rebound totals of players in their second season, he is the best, EVER. That’s right no player has ever recorded more offensive rebounds in their second season than Drummond. His 426 offensive rebounds ranks ahead guys like Shaquille O’neal, Charles Barkley, David Robinson and Dennis Rodman to name few. When you expand the query to include not just players in their second season but any single season, Drummond only ranks behind the great Moses Malone who somehow managed to haul in 587 offensive boards in the 1978-79 season, as well Malone had two other seasons with over 445 offensive rebounds. His numbers on the defensive glass may not be as historically great but they certainly aren’t bad either. He ranks third in the league in total defensive rebounds (615) and ninth defensive rebound percentage (27.7). In just his second season in the league Drummond has already proven that he is without a doubt one of the best rebounders in the league and is in a class of his own when it comes to the offensive glass.
Rebounding may be his strongest attribute but it definitely is his only strength. He isn’t a great scorer in the sense that he is not likely to drop 40 plus on a given night, but in terms on efficiency he is one of the best in the league. Second best to be exact, scoring on a 62.5 percent on his attempts. Sure many of those attempts are dunks or lay-ups but you could say the same about a lot of big men in the NBA and they aren’t nearly as efficient scoring the ball. His incredible work on the offensive glass allows him to create many scoring chances for himself. As well he does a nice job camping out around the rim waiting for lob opportunities when penetration draws his man to help. If Drummond can manage to improve his low post moves watch out, he may quickly develop into one of the best big men in the league.
One major weakness that he must improve on is his free throw shooting; Drummond is shooting only 41.3 percent from the stripe which is shockingly better than the 37.1 percent he shot his rookie season. He isn’t the first center to struggle at the line, Shaq of course was a notoriously bad free throw shooter, but 41.3 percent is absolutely terrible. The position he plays and the way he plays will afford him plenty of chances at the line so it will be important for him try and get his percentage up to atleast over 50 and preferably near 60.
Defensively Drummond is very solid. He can use his massive physique to handle almost any opposing big on the block. He does a nice job staying out of foul trouble and is decent rim protector blocking almost two shots per game.
The Pistons have look like they have struck gold in Drummond. If he can manage to stay healthy there is no reason he shouldn’t be one of the top big men in the league for the next decade. If he continues to rebounding at the rate he did the season he may in the conversation with some of the best rebounders of all-time. This is just projection based off one season so a lot could certainly change but he has already shown that when healthy he can be one of the most productive rebounding bigs in the league. Amazingly Drummond is still very young, just 20 years old. If he can become a consistent scoring threat on the low block it’s hard to imagine any scenario where he isn’t a perennial all-star. Drummond’s future will only be limited by his commitment to the game, if he is willing to put in the work he will be a star for years to come.
– John Zitzler
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