Ranking The Sophomores
Rookies in the NBA often have the pressure of carrying the hopes of an entire franchise on their shoulders. Last season was no different as players such as Blake Griffin and John Wall were charged with turning their franchises around.
Those expectations are usually unfair and impossible to live up to. Some players fold under the immense pressure, while others use it as motivation to be the best player they can be. Heading into a player’s second season in the league, expectations have either grown out of control or they’ve fallen so far fans and teams hardly expect anything out of a once highly touted draft pick.
With that in mind, here is a ranking of the sophomores and where they stand heading into next season.
Blake Griffin: After injuring his left knee before the start of the 2009-2010 season, Blake Griffin entered his rookie year a little under the radar. Players like John Wall and Evan Turner were receiving more media attention throughout the preseason, but once the regular season started that all changed.
Griffin’s rookie year was nothing short of spectacular. In his first game in the NBA he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. In January he set a career high and set a Clippers rookie record by scoring 47 points against the Indiana Pacers. Griffin also set a franchise record by recording 27 consecutive double-doubles.
Griffin’s legend grew throughout the season; his ‘have to see it to believe it’ dunks made highlight reels worldwide. For the year Griffin averaged 22.5 points per game, 12.1 rebounds and shot over 50% from the field. Amazingly, there is still room for him to grow, mostly on the defensive end.
Griffin averaged just over half a block and less than a steal per game. A player with his athleticism should be able to improve on those numbers as long as he dedicates himself to defense during the offseason. Also, on offense Griffin shot only 64% from the free throw line. If he improves to a 75% shooter, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, he will add another point per game to his scoring total.
Griffin did everything you could ask for as a rookie. He won the Sprite Slam Dunk contest during All-Star weekend, the Western Conference coaches voted him into the All-Star game, he won all six T-Mobile Rookie of the Month Awards, he was a unanimous selection to the All-Rookie First Team and he was named NBA Rookie of the Year.
Griffin has barely tapped into his potential, yet is already considered a superstar. If he can avoid injury and doesn’t let the burden of carrying a franchise get to him, Griffin has a chance to be the best power forward in basketball for the next 10-12 years.
John Wall: The top pick in the 2010 NBA Draft arguably had more pressure on him then Blake Griffin. John Wall was being compared to all-stars Derrick Rose and Chris Paul before he played a single minute for the Washington Wizards.
Wall’s rookie season was a disappointment when compared to Griffin’s, but when compared to other rookie point guards of the past, his numbers matchup very well. Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8 assists and almost 2 steals per game while playing 37.8 minutes a night. In comparison, Rose averaged 16.8 points, 6.3 assists and less than one steal per game during his rookie of the year season.
Wall has all the tools to be an all-star point guard. He’s one of the fastest players in the league, he has great vision and he makes everyone around him better. The next big test for Wall will be leading his team to the playoffs. It’s difficult to consider someone an all-star player when their team has one of the worst records in the NBA.
For Wall to make the next leap, he has to get his team close to a winning record. That may not happen this upcoming season, but with rookie Jan Vesely on board, the Wizards appear to be moving in the right direction and it’s up to Wall to lead them out of the lottery and into the playoffs over the next couple of seasons.
Starters with All-Star Potential
Greg Monroe: The lone bright spot for the Detroit Pistons last season was the play of rookie Greg Monroe. The year didn’t start off looking as promising though, as Monroe began his rookie year coming off the bench and was playing less than 20 minutes a night. As a bench player, Monroe averaged a mere 5.4 points while shooting only 44% from the field, and just over 5 rebounds per game.
On January 12th, Monroe was put in the starting lineup where he would stay for the remainder of the season. As a starter Monroe scored 12 points a night on over 59% shooting from the floor while grabbing more than 9 boards a game. His numbers over the final 45 games of the season earned Monroe a place on the second team of the NBA’s All-Rookie Team.
Monroe is tasked; along with 2011 lottery pick Brandon Knight, with bringing the Pistons back to prominence. The Pistons have missed the playoffs the last two seasons and haven’t had a winning record since 2007-08. Monroe has the potential to help lead this team out of the lottery, but he’ll need to continue developing on the offensive end. If Monroe wants to reach his potential and be competing for all-star spots with other big man in the Eastern Conference, he will have to be a two-way player. He can’t be just a defensive and rebounding force.
DeMarcus Cousins: No player had as many questions heading into last season as DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins’ size, 6’11” and 270 pounds, and athleticism are rare even in the NBA. His numbers during his only season at the University of Kentucky were stellar; he averaged 15.1 points, 9.8 rebounds and almost 2 blocks per game. These are numbers that often land a true center the number 1 pick in the draft.
Cousins’ reputation as having a bad attitude dropped him to the 5th pick. Last season started off with Cousins getting into foul trouble in five of the Sacramento Kings first six games. He was sent to the bench for the seventh. Cousins had some dustups throughout the season with head coach Paul Westphal, but he managed to keep his temper under wraps enough to start 62 of the 81 games he played during his rookie season.
As a starter Cousins averaged almost 9 rebounds and over 15 points a game; impressive numbers for a rookie. However, Cousins shot only 43. 8% from the field and turned the ball more than 3 times per game. For someone of his size and strength he was shooting far too many jump shots instead of banging his way to the basket on the post.
If Cousins is going to help turn around the Kings with former rookie of the year Tyreke Evans and this year’s draft pick Jimmer Freddette, he has to be willing to do the dirty work. Once Cousins learns to stay in the low post, he will become a physical force that few teams in the league will be able to match up against.
Evan Turner: The Philadelphia 76ers made Evan Turner the second pick of the 2010 NBA Draft expecting that he would be the do-it-all shooting guard the Sixers have lacked since Allen Iverson left town. What Philadelphia got was an inconsistent year that saw Turner play 35 minutes one night and six the next.
One night Turner would drop 20 points and grab 10 rebounds, the next night he’d shoot 37.5% from the field for 10 points and grab only 2 boards. Turner has the talent, and proved in last year’s playoffs that he can come through in big moments. In the 76ers only win against the Miami HEAT, Turner scored 17 points on 53.9% shooting and brought down six rebounds.
If Turner is going to be the future of the organization he has to get more consistent. The Sixers drafted him to be their starting shooting guard, and he has the talent to do it, but he can’t follow up a solid game by scoring zero points like he did nine times last year. A starting shooting guard cannot play nine games in a season without scoring a point; it’s too detrimental to the team. The potential is there, but this is the season for Turner to step up and prove he is a starter; otherwise Philadelphia may have to look elsewhere for their next franchise cornerstone.
Landry Fields: Could anyone have predicted that a second round draft pick out of Stanford University would have been selected to the first team of the NBA’s All-Rookie Team? That’s what Landry Fields did.
Fields is the perfect compliment to superstars Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudemire. He is a long, athletic defender who is often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. Fields is also a good outlet when Stoudemire or Anthony gets double-teamed. For the year, he shot almost 50% from the field and just under 40% from the three-point line.
Fields ceiling isn’t as high as players like Turner or Wall, but for a second round draft pick the Knicks have found themselves an unselfish starter that will help them compete in the playoffs for the next several years.
Wes Johnson: The Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Wes Johnson 4th overall thinking he would slide right into their starting lineup as a small forward. Unfortunately, for Johnson, the ‘Wolves traded for Michael Beasley who earned the small forward job in training camp.
Johnson wasn’t sent to the bench though; he was moved to shooting guard. Johnson started 52 games at guard averaging a respectable 9.2 points, but struggled from the field shooting only 41%. This upcoming season is going to be an interesting one for Johnson.
He will have a new coach and even during the lockout rumors are swirling that the ‘Wolves are looking to make a trade to free up more minutes for Johnson. The future in Minnesota seems to be tied to Kevin Love, Ricky Rubio, and rookie Derrick Williams, but Johnson has a chance to join that group if he can become more comfortable playing the two guard, or if he can beat out Beasley for the starting small forward spot.
Gordon Hayward: The Utah Jazz have cleared the way for Gordon Hayward to get the majority of minutes at small forward next season. Gone is long time Jazz small forward Andrei Kirilenko, leaving Hayward as the only true small forward on the roster.
Hayward struggled throughout his rookie season coming off the bench where he averaged only 4.3 points on less than 45% shooting. As a starter though, Hayward put together solid numbers averaging 9 points on 55.6% shooting from the field and almost 52% from behind the three point line.
Hayward is a scorer, and this season he is going to get the minutes to prove whether or not he can be the team’s small forward for the next decade. He’s proven in the past he can be a solid contributor, now he needs to prove it over an entire season.
Paul George: The regular season was solid but not spectacular for Paul George. He averaged 7.8 points on 45.3% shooting and started 19 of the 61 games he played during his rookie year.
Where George made a name for himself was during the playoffs. He was tasked with guarding league MVP Derrick Rose in the first round and he performed well beyond expectations. George forced Rose to work for every basket he scored. Rose averaged almost 4 turnovers per game in the first round of the playoffs and shot only 37% from the field, well below his season average of 44.5%.
The next step for George is to improve his three point shooting. He averaged over 2 attempts per game, but made less than 30%. The Pacers acquired combo guard George Hill during the draft, putting pressure on George to step up. He proved last year he could play; now he needs to prove he belongs in the starting lineup full time.
Ed Davis: The Toronto Raptors have been in need of a defensive big man since the day they drafted franchise cornerstone Andrea Bargnani first overall in the 2006 draft. Ed Davis could be that answer.
Last year Davis averaged over 7 rebounds and a block a game in just over 24 minutes a night. In the 17 games Davis started, he averaged over 8 rebounds and contributed 10.5 points. Davis is now the incumbent starter at center and should thrive under the Raptors new defensive minded head coach Lawrence Frank.
Eric Bledsoe: The Los Angeles Clippers thought they had their star point guard when they signed Baron Davis in the summer of 2008, unfortunately Davis struggled with the Clippers, missed games due to injury or a lack of conditioning and was eventually traded to the Cleveland Cavaliers for Mo Williams.
One positive that came out of this, was Eric Bledsoe earned playing time and proved he has the potential to be the Clippers’ starting point guard moving forward. In the 25 games Bledsoe started, he averaged almost 9 points and 6 assists per night. He also shot over 44% from the field and 86% from the free throw line.
This season, Bledsoe may not beat out Williams for the starting point guard spot, but at only 21 year’s old; Bledsoe has the chance to be the Clipper’s point guard of the future and backcourt running mate of USA Basketball team member Eric Gordon.
Derrick Favors: The Utah Jazz did the unthinkable when they traded superstar point guard Deron Williams for a package of players and picks headlined by power forward Derrick Favors. Favors showed he has potential averaging over 8 points and 5 rebounds in 22 games off the bench with the Jazz.
The big question is how many minutes will Favors see next season? The Jazz have a logjam of big men with Al Jefferson, Paul Milsap, Favors, rookie Enes Kanter, and Mehmet Okur. There is no question Favors has upside, but his biggest obstacle this season may be finding a way to get onto the floor.
Al-Farouq Aminu: The Clippers are set at every position except small forward. Ryan Gomes is currently penciled in as the starter, but Al-Farouq Aminu will be given the opportunity to unseat him in training camp. Aminu’s athleticism and height, 6’9”, make him the perfect running mate for stars Gordon and Griffin.
If Aminu does win the job, he’ll have to improve on his 39.4% shooting from the field to keep it. The Clippers are close to being a playoff team, and getting solid production out of their starting small forward is key to them taking the next step.
Jordan Crawford: When the Washington Wizards traded for Jordan Crawford at the deadline, they knew he could score. What the Wizards didn’t know is they would be relying on him to start the last 17 games of the season. Crawford can score in bunches, as evidenced by his 19.3 points per game as a Wizard, but he also shoots in bunches. He averaged 19 shots a game, while shooting only 39% from the field.
Crawford is better suited to coming off the bench as a sixth man and providing instant offense. His scoring can change games off the bench, but his shot selection can be a detriment if the Wizards have to rely on him for 30+ minutes a night. If Crawford wants to find his way back into the starting lineup next season, he will have to be more selective in his shot attempts and improve his field goal percentage.
Gary Neal: The San Antonio Spurs found another gem in 26-year-old Gary Neal. Neal went undrafted out of college and spent three years playing overseas. That experience helped Neal fit right in with the diverse Spurs who have players hailing from around the world, like Manu Ginobili from Argentina and Tony Parker from France.
Neal’s potential might not be as high some of the other players on this list because of his age, but he is the perfect bench player for the San Antonio Spurs. He plays defense, he’s unselfish and he proved he could knock down the open shot by shooting 45% from the field and almost 42% from behind the three-point line. Neal’s all around play earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie first team.
Xavier Henry: The Memphis Grizzlies surprised a lot of people when they moved Xavier Henry into the starting lineup in the middle of November. Unfortunately for Henry, an injury in December kept him out for most of the season.
This upcoming year Henry is unlikely to land in the starting lineup again, in fact with Tony Allen, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and Sam Young all returning to the Grizzlies, Henry is going to have a difficult time cracking the rotation. The Grizzlies are rumored to be interested in moving one of their perimeter players, which might be the only way Henry can earn some minutes. He proved he can play at this level, but often time’s opportunity is a deciding factor in whether or not a player reaches his potential.
Greivis Vasquez: Henry wasn’t the only rookie that stepped up last year for the Grizzlies. Greivis Vasquez played a pivotal role as Mike Conley’s back up at point guard. During the regular season, Vasquez averaged over 2 assists per game in only 12 minutes. That production off the bench was crucial to the Grizzlies earning their first trip to the playoffs since 2005-06.
The Grizzlies went into the first round as underdogs against the top seeded Spurs, but thanks to role players like Vasquez the Grizzlies beat San Antonio in six games. For the series Vasquez shot 62.5% from the field and 40% from the arc. Vasquez may not be able to unseat Conley as the team’s starting point guard, but head coach Lionel Hollins has to feel secure whenever he hands the reigns over to Vasquez.
Players such as Ekpe Udoh, Patrick Patterson, Larry Sanders, James Anderson, and Manny Harris had roles off the bench with their teams last season and will look to build upon the success they had during their rookie years. Others, such as Cole Aldrich, Kevin Seraphin, Avery Bradley, and Daniel Orton will look to earn their way into their team’s rotation.
The lockout is obviously affecting everything, including second year players that are attempting to take the next step in their careers. Once the season begins, it will be time for these players to step up and become superstars, all-stars or contributors off the bench.
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