• Greg Alcala

NBA Sophomores: Slump or Surge?

Last year’s draft yielded one of the deepest draft classes in quite some time. From the first pick to the last pick, there are a few potential stars, future starters and solid contributors who can make an impact in the NBA for years to come. Heading in the 2015 campaign, there are plenty of sophomores who seem ready to make a significant leap in their respective NBA careers.

1. Minnesota Timberwolves, Andrew Wiggins

*Photo via ESPN

It would be difficult to craft a top sophomores list without the no.1 overall pick, Andrew Wiggins. As a native Canadian, Wiggins, like Drake, has the same responsibility in the states to, “Do Right And Kill Everything….” and he’s already started. For the Minnesota Timberwolves, the reigning ‘Rookie of the Year’, who has drawn comparisons to LeBron James, averaged 16.9 ppg, 4.6 rebs and 2.1 assists, exhibiting his potential as the NBA’s next big thing.

With an all-around game that features room to grow on both sides of the floor, Wiggins finished the year strong after a sub-par start. After averaging 11.3 ppg during the first three months of the season, he averaged 19 ppg to finish it. Wiggins became more aggressive last year and used his athleticism to attack as opposed to settling for jumpers.

Expect Wiggins to build upon an impressive finish to his rookie year and gain some All-Star votes out West.

2. Boston Celtics, Marcus Smart

Marcus Smart has a chance to be one of the better two-way players in the league and it’s these two plays against the Memphis Grizzlies that illustrate Smart’s strongest asset: his defense. As a defender, Smart will always have a place in this league by getting into passing lanes, irritating the opposition and coming up with big blocks.

But the former Oklahoma State Cowboy’s rise to fame will have to come on the offensive end and that means becoming a better shooter from mid-range and from three. Last season Smart shot 33 percent from deep, and that simply won’t be good enough in the modern NBA.

If Smart continues to improve his jumper, and construct a better all-around game to go along with a tenacious defensive mentality and playmaking abilities, expect him to increase his ppg rookie average of 7.8.

3. Orlando Magic, Elfrid Payton

*Photo Fox Sports

The hair is entertaining in itself but Elfrid Payton definitely has game, which involves a lot of sharing. Payton distributed the ball generously in his first year in the association, averaging 6.5 assists per game which led all rookies, according to ESPN.com. And in his sharing, Payton also averaged nearly 10 points a game and five rebounds, all numbers that should increase this season. Beyond all that, in 82 games, Payton recorded 12 double-doubles, two triple-doubles and led all rookies in assists, which is a great sign.

As a scorer, Payton has no trouble getting to the rim to make plays, but the former Ragin Cajun (University of Louisiana at Lafayette) is dealing with the same problem that haunted Rajon Rondo, John Wall and Derrick Rose when they decided to make the jump, and that’s his inaccurate jump shot. During his first year, from 3-10 feet, Payton shot 37 percent, and from 10-16 feet, he shot 32 percent. As far as shots taken, Payton took 30 percent of his shots from 3-10 feet, and just 10 percent from 10-16 feet.

A consistent mid-range and a not-so-horrible long-range game will solidify Payton’s place in the league as one of the best young PG’s in the NBA and will help propel this young Orlando Magic squad towards the playoffs.

4. Minnesota Timberwolves, Zach LaVine

*Photo via USA Today

I really think Zach LaVine is the next Vince Carter. He jumps out the gym and although he wowed the world in this past dunk contest like VC did in 2000, the 19 year-old who will be 20 in March, has a lot of game to offer. The athleticism is a key asset for LaVine when finishing at the rim, but he has showed a tendency to settle for jumpers. LaVine shot 44 percent on two-point field goals, 63 percent near the rim and shot 33, 35 and 34 from mid-range, long-two’s and three, respectively.

The potential is there for LaVine to be a better three-point shooter, as he shot 38 and 42 percent from deep in January and March. There’s also room for LaVine to grow as an all-around player by doing more on the defensive end, rebounding, getting steals, and on offense, averaging more than 3.6 assists.

With the season all but over during the last two months of the regular season, LaVine gave a sneak peak of the player he could be, averaging, 13.3 and 21.1 points per game in March and April, respectively. A 37-point explosion against the Golden State Warriors in April highlighted this. Like his dunks, there’s nowhere for LaVine to go but up.

5. Utah Jazz, Rodney Hood

*Photo via USA Today

When Rodney Hood ended up at Duke University with Jabari Parker, they were projected to win it all and with good reason. Hood is a versatile forward with a scorer’s mentality and despite starting off the season slow, Hood picked it up late in the season. In March and April, Hood averaged 11.2 and 16.7 points, respectively, which is not out of character for the former Blue Devil.

Hood can score, but what about the rest of his game? In his first year, Hood only averaged 1.7 assists a game and at 6’8”, only 2.3 rebounds a game, is a little disappointing even if you’re playing with the twin towers (Rudy Gobert & Derrick Favors). Hood needs to expand his game and become more of an all-around player because he has too much talent not to be an NBA caliber starting forward.

6. Brooklyn Nets, Bojan Bogdanovic

*Photo via NBA.com

Bojan Bogdanovic did a lot of good things for the Nets last season. The Croatian native showed a great touch from outside and good scoring instincts but Bojan’s only problem is being consistent. For example, Bojan would go from scoring 21 points in a win against the Indiana Pacers to going 3-14 in a loss against the Boston Celtics (March 21st & 23rd).

Bogdanovic isn’t much besides a shooter, but on a Nets team devoid of scoring to go along with losing Deron Williams to free agency, Bogdan will have every opportunity to shoot and provide the scoring the Nets will need to stay afloat in the East.

Obvious names like Jabari Parker and Aaron Gordon or even Julius Randle can all have a great season but these selections are all based on their rookie season and these three missed significant time due to injuries. There is a lot of intrigue aimed at these players and what they can accomplish in their first official season in the association and it will be interesting to see what reality becomes. Keep an eye out for other sophomores likes Noah Vonleh, Doug McDermott, T.J. Warren, Kyle Anderson and Markel Brown too.

*Stats and info via NBA.com, ESPN, Basketball Reference

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