NBA Sophomore Rankings
After just one season the NBA class of 2015 looks like one for the ages. The class has potential superstars at the top as well as a many potential NBA role players. Here is a look at the 2nd year players with the brightest future:
1. Karl-Anthony Towns:
Towns may have the brightest future of anyone in the league, let alone his draft class. Towns was the unanimous Rookie of the Year and is already one of the top players in the league. Towns was one of three players last season to average 18+ PPG and 10+ RPG (the other two were DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis). Towns can play either big man position, is an elite defender, runs the court well, is an above average passer, knocks down threes, is a top rebounder, and an excellent post scorer. Towns even has a clean bill of health, is just 20 years old, and appears to have no off the court issues. In other words, Towns is the complete package and the ideal player to build a franchise around. The Timberwolves are certainly lucky to have him.
2. Kristaps Porzingis:
In many classes Porzingis would be at the top of the rankings, but most classes don’t have a player of KAT’s caliber. Some of the knocks on Porzinigs during his rookie year include his tendency to commit fouls, his ability to deal with 48 minute games over a 82 game schedule, and his slight frame. Porzingis had an incredible rookie year, but he wasn’t as impressive in the latter parts of the season. Porzingis often seemed out of breath anytime he was on the floor for long stretches. In addition, some bigger opponents challenged Kristaps in the post on both ends of the floor. As Porzingis gains more experience and adds some muscle, these issues should fade away. Porzingis seems to want to put in the work, so there is no reason to think he won’t develop into a perennial All-Star. After all, 7’3” players with the ability to score inside and out, rebound, and defend don’t grow on trees.
3. D’Angelo Russell:
Russell had a lot of attention on him with off the court matters in his rookie season, which prevented many from realizing his talent on the floor. Russell should have fewer distractions with more time passing since the Nick Young incident (and Young’s likely trade/release), the end of the Kobe Bryant retirement tour, and the hiring of new head coach Luke Walton (former head coach Byron Scott wasn’t exactly the biggest Russell advocate). Despite the chaos off the floor, Russell showed a lot of promise, especially towards the end of the year. In the last 30 or so games Russell was consistently putting up around 15 PPG, 3 RPG and 3 APG. Russell has the ability to excel at either guard position and I believe that he will end up satisfying Laker fans that feel their team whiffed with the 2nd pick in the draft.
4. Myles Turner:
As the 11th pick in the draft, Myles Turner already looks like a steal for the Pacers. Along with Towns and Porzingis, Turner fits the mold of the new wave of big men: the stretch center. Turner can space the floor from the center position while not costing his team on the defensive end. With the departure of defensive minded players Ian Mahinmi and George Hill and the acquisition of more offensive oriented players Jeff Teague, Thad Young, and Al Jefferson, Turner will have a lot of responsibility on the defensive end for the Pacers this season. The fact that the Pacers let Mahinmi, the anchor of the defense last season, leave via free agency shows Indiana’s confidence in Turner filling that role. Along with Paul George, Turner presents both the present and the future of Pacers basketball.
Booker has been receiving a lot of praise from people in and out of the league. Media members selected him to the All-Rookie 1st team and players like LeBron James are already touting Booker as one of the league's future stars. The Suns had a disappointing and injury filled 2015-16 campaign, but the injuries did allow Booker to shine. By the end of the year Booker was in full rhythm, averaging 21 PPG over March and April. Booker is already one of the elite shooters in the NBA, and he should be able to improve other facets of his game this season. The return of players like Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and TJ Warren should allow Booker to flourish as a more efficient player in a role with less responsibility. Booker looks poised to be one of the top shooting guards in the game for years to come.
6. Nikola Jokic:
Jokic is technically part of the 2014 NBA draft class, but last season was his rookie year with the Nuggets. With fellow Nuggets center Jusuf Nurkic out for much of the season, Jokic seized the opportunity and wound up making the All-Rookie 1st team. Jokic is no longer a hidden gem after many watched him put up 25 points for Serbia against the USA in the Olympics and nearly lead his country to a huge upset. Serbia was throttled in the gold medal game, but Jokic was still the best player on a team that won the silver medal. Jokic has the chance to go down as one of the best passing big men to ever play, and he put up very impressive averages his rookie year: 10 PPG, 7 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.0 SPG. Jokic is one of many young and talented players to watch out for in Denver.
Mudiay may have had the toughest transition to make of all of last seasons rookies. After being selected 7th overall, Mudiay stepped right into the Nuggets starting point guard gig. Of all the positions, point guard is the hardest to transition to as a rookie, especially when you are entrenched as a starter. Considering Mudiay missed much of his lone season in China (he opted to skip college) with injury, Mudiay transitioned rather well to the NBA game. Perhaps the biggest knock on Mudiay’s game is his lack of outside shooting, but Mudiay showed incredible improvement as the season went on. From October to March, Mudiay hit just 36 out of 132 (27.3%) of his three point shots. In the months of March and April, Mudiay hit 38 out of 100 (38 %) of his shots beyond the arc. With his size and athleticism Mudiay is already a good defender and penetrator. If he can consistently shoot like he did towards the end of the year, he should have no problem becoming one of the league's better starting point guards.
8. Jahlil OKafor:
Okafor is probably the most difficult player to rank in the class. It wasn’t long ago that Okafor was the consensus top player of the class and a national champion in his lone season at Duke. Okafor had many issues in his rookie season that had nothing to do with his game. Okafor was suspended by the team for two games for an incident that wound up with a gun pointed at him, was fined for driving over 100 MPH on the highway, and missed all of March and April after undergoing surgery on his right knee. To top it off the 76ers look eager to trade Okafor to get rid of the glut of big men on the roster. Nonetheless, it’s hard to ignore Okafor’s numbers of 17.5 PPG, 7.0 RPG, and 1.2 BPG. The fact that Okafor put up those numbers with easily the worst supporting cast in the NBA as a 20 year old rookie is an impressive feat. Okafor could easily be argued as the best low post scorer to enter the league since the turn of the century. However, when you add up the fact his team wants to get rid of him, his off the court distractions, and his below average defense, its difficult to rank him higher on this list.
9. Justise Winslow:
The Heat got extremely lucky to get Winslow. Before the 2015 draft, the 76ers owned the Heat’s top-10 protected 1st round selection. Fortunately for the Heat they ended up with the 10th pick, meaning they were allowed to keep their pick. Come draft night Winslow fell farther than expected and landed in Miami’s laps with the 10th pick. Instead of giving up a much higher selection, the Heat sent the 76ers the 24th pick in this year’s draft. Winslow needs a lot of work on his game offensively, but he is already an excellent rebounder and defender. The Heat already seem confident having Winslow matchup against opponents like LeBron James and Kevin Durant. It’ll be interesting to see how Winslow fares with more minutes and a larger role this season following the departures of Dwyane Wade, Luol Deng, and Joe Johnson.
10. Josh Richardson:
Richardson is the early favorite for the biggest steal of the 2nd round. Miami selected Richardson with the 40th pick in 2015, and he more than proved his worth. Following the trade of Mario Chalmers and the injuries to Tyler Johnson and Beno Udrih, Richardson took on a much bigger role towards the end of the regular season and in the playoffs. Richardson shot an incredible 53 of 115 (46.1%) from three and is already an outstanding defender. Richardson’s athleticism, two-way play, and elite shooting as a rookie make it a mystery how he managed to fall to the 40th pick in the draft. Richardson is stuck as the backup point guard to Goran Dragic for the next few seasons if he sticks in Miami, but Richardson has the ability to be a solid starter.
Honorable Mentions: Frank Kaminsky, Stanley Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Justin Anderson, Bobby Portis, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson