NBA Sophomores With The Most To Prove

Which second-year NBA players have the most to prove as they enter their sophomore season? Here are three top picks who must step up.

6 min read
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Undoubtedly, in every draft there will be players who fail to fulfill expectations. This is especially true for top picks, as expectations are exponentially raised the closer to the top of the draft a player is chosen. Each year we see lottery picks flame out and never reach the heights that were expected on draft day. The 2013 draft class is no different; these three players in particular, more than any other at the top of 2013 draft, still have work to do to prove that they deserved to be chosen so high.

Anthony Bennett

The Cleveland Cavaliers shocked many around the NBA when they made Anthony Bennett the first overall pick in the 2013 draft. Bennett had a strong freshmen campaign at UNLV but certainly wasn’t considered a sure-fire prospect. He was viewed as a bit of tweener, who needed to get better defensively and had questions surrounding his level of fitness. Despite those concerns, the Cavs pulled the trigger.

The concerns voiced by scouts throughout the league quickly came to fruition, almost from day one. Right away it became apparent that he lacked the stamina to play big minutes, and worse, in the minutes he was given, he was grossly inefficient and unproductive. Bennett played in just 52 games and averaged under 13 minutes per game in those contests. His field goal percentage in his rookie season was a woeful 35.6 percent. Although his career is still in the early stages, there are already some folks ready to label him bust.

Bennett doesn’t appear ready to accept that label quite yet. This summer, he impressed with the Cavs in the Las Vegas Summer League, particularly with his physique as he looked noticeably trimmer. It is evident he has worked tremendously hard to get his conditioning up, which should allow him to play longer and more consistent minutes. Last offseason, Bennett was injured for a long stretch and missed summer league, which may have contributed to his struggles. Now, Bennett is healthy, in shape and set to get a fresh start in Minnesota this upcoming season following the Kevin Love swap. As the young Timberwolves began to move on from Love, there will be plenty of opportunities for minutes and shots. This is an ideal situation for Bennett to step into and continue to grow as a player.

Otto Porter

Unlike Bennett, Otto Porter appeared to be a relatively safe pick when he was chosen by the Washington Wizards third overall in 2013 draft. He has prototypical size for a small forward, great length, is a solid passer and showed improvements in his shot. Not to mention he’s a Georgetown product, giving the Wizards the chance to snag a local guy right out of their backyard. With Trevor Ariza entering the final year of his contract prior to the start of the 2013-14 season, it appeared Porter may be poised to inherit the starting small forward position. It seemed like a perfect fit for both parties.

His rookie season got off to a rocky start before he ever played his first game. Porter was diagnosed with a hip flexor, which sidelined him until early December and put him even further behind the eight ball than the average rookie. When he was finally able to get on the court, he looked uncomfortable and wasn’t playing with the same confidence that had shot him up draft boards. Despite the improvements in his shot, it remained a concern. In his rookie season those questions about his shot quickly surfaced, as Porter made only 36.3 percent of his shots from the field and a dreadful 19 percent from three. As he continued to struggle, his role continued to diminish. With the Wizards in the middle of a playoff hunt, there were many nights were head coach Randy Wittman couldn’t risk putting Porter in, as the games were just too important.

Ariza did end up leaving through free agency, heading to the Houston Rockets, but Porter didn’t show nearly enough during his rookie year to warrant consideration for the starting gig. The Wizards went out and signed veteran Paul Pierce to fill the void left by Ariza. Porter, like Bennett, looked much better playing in the Las Vegas Summer League than he did during his first NBA season. Of course, that shouldn’t come as a surprise considering the disparity in talent in the Summer League compared to an average NBA roster. But nonetheless it’s still a positive sign. However, he wasn’t the only Wizards player to excel in Summer League. Glen Rice Jr. played outstanding, and it now appears that Rice and Porter will be locked up in a battle for minutes at the back-up three spot this upcoming season. The future at small forward for the Wizards is still very much up in the air. Pierce is 37 years old and signed to just a two-year deal, so a bounce back year from Porter would go a long way in restoring the Wizards’ faith in him as the best long-term option for the future.

Ben McLemore

McLemore, who was selected seventh overall by the Sacramento Kings last year, actually slipped slightly in 2013 draft. Going into draft night, he looked to be almost a surefire top-five pick.His incredible athleticism, great size for his position and ability to shoot the ball figured to make him one of the more tantalizing prospects in the rather weak draft class. His slide to the seventh pick even prompted a comment from LeBron James who tweeted: “They sleepin on Ben McLemore. Just watch…” After watching McLemore for a year, he has yet to fulfill James’ prophecy, and it certainly wasn’t due to a lack of time on the court.

Out of the three players listed, McLemore was given the most minutes by far, starting in 55 games. The Kings were eager to see what their young guard could do and didn’t hesitate to throw him right into the fire. McLemore got the chance to play extended minutes early on and the opportunity to put up his fair share of shots. The problem was that, for the most part, those shots weren’t falling. He had some games where he got hot and hit three or four three-pointers, but overall he shot just 32 percent from deep on the year. For comparisons sake, Bradley Beal, a guy who had a very similar reputation to that of McLemore out of college, shot 38.6 percent as a rookie.

McLemore surely isn’t the first player to struggle with his shot as a rookie but when your reputation is as a shooter, 32 percent from three isn’t going to cut it. McLemore won’t be the only shooter in Sacramento this season, as the Kings selected Nik Stauskas eighth overall in this year’s draft. That’s not exactly a vote of confidence for McLemore. McLemore now will have some competition for time at two-guard rather than being gifted minutes as before. If he can’t right the ship, he may find himself watching Stauskas from the bench.

Alan is an experienced writer of online betting and casino guides. He is one of the main editors of Basketballinsiders.

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