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Sophomore Of The Year Watch – 11/8/17

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

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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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