Rookies are often some of the NBA’s most electrifying players. However, it is not until they show that they can either sustain or elevate their level of play in their second year that they truly cement themselves as fixtures in the league. Here’s a look at the five best NBA sophomores who have done just that.
Point Guard, Philadelphia 76ers
Ben Simmons casual FILTHY dime pic.twitter.com/2APmh9gxyq
— Holiday Mickstape (@MickstapeShow) December 6, 2018
Although there was plenty of controversy surrounding Ben Simmons’s rookie classification, we’ll consider him a sophomore since he was named Rookie of the Year last season. Since he entered the league, Simmons has posted a Lebronish stat line of 15.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 8.1 assists per game.
The 6’10 point guard is far and away the best “sophomore” and is one of the league’s elite passers. He’s responsible for the most win shares of any second-year player this season and has the 18th most in the NBA with 9.2, according to basketball-reference.com. Most importantly, he is the key cog in the 76ers wheel and has helped propel them to an early rise to the top of the Eastern Conference.
Shooting Guard, Boston Celtics
Most WS by a 2nd year player this year:
1. Ben Simmons – 2.6
2. Jarrett Allen – 2.3
3. Jayson Tatum – 2.0
4. Monte Morris – 1.8https://t.co/DCkslaFKLW
— Basketball Reference (@bball_ref) December 5, 2018
The former Duke shooting guard is proving each game that the Boston Celtics made the right decision (at least in the short term) to take him instead of Markelle Fultz in the 2017 draft. He’s scoring 16.3 points a game, a noteworthy (2.4 ppg) improvement from last season. Tatum has shown that he can be deadly from midrange as well as attacking the basket, but he’s also had the best defensive player rating this season of all of the players on this list, according to NBA.com. His excellent playoff performance last summer solidified his image as a future NBA star.
Shooting Guard, Utah Jazz
Like Tatum, Donovan Mitchell’s shooting efficiency has gone down this season, particularly from deep (34% to 28%). Aside from that, Mitchell has been a dominant scorer and a leader for the Utah Jazz. He’s averaging a pair of swipes a game, and offensively he’s got more moves than a military family. At 6’3, he’s got the hops, strength, and finesse to make him one of the league’s most exciting finishers. The fact that Utah drafted Mitchell at pick 13 makes his quick ascendance to stardom especially impressive.
Dwyane Wade said he wishes he was as good as Donovan Mitchell when he was young
Let’s take a look 👀
◾️Donovan Mitchell this season
21.4 PPG | 3.0 RPG | 3.7 APG | 43% FG
◾️Dwyane Wade in his 2nd season
24.1 PPG | 5.2 RPG | 6.8 APG | 48% FG pic.twitter.com/6ZzUU9TYRZ
— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) December 3, 2018
Point Guard, Sacramento Kings
Oh my. De’Aaron Fox puts Josh Jackson in the spin cycle and then let’s him air dry. pic.twitter.com/OapIU3PQHM
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) December 5, 2018
While the rest of the guys on this list have been putting up pretty similar numbers from year one to year two, “Swipa” Fox has shown a drastic improvement from his rookie campaign in more ways than one. His 17 points per game are six more than he averaged in the 2017-2018 season. He’s seen an uptick in three-point efficiency, as he’s gone from shooting 30% from range last season to 37% now. His assist to turnover ratio has gone up, and he’s been getting to the free throw line more often.
As his name would suggest, he’s got quick hands (1.4 steals per game in 2018). Perhaps most impressively though, Fox has turned the Kings—the perennial laughing stock of the NBA—into a competitive team at 12-11. At the very least, Fox should be one of the league’s better point guards for years to come.
Power Forward, Los Angeles Lakers
Kyle Kuzma over the last 5 games:
— Lakers Fanclub UK (@lakersfanclubuk) December 6, 2018
There is a bit of a drop off from the fourth to the fifth spot on the list from an impact standpoint, but Kuzma has been everything the Lakers hoped he’d be when they acquired him in a trade with the Nets. He’s proven to be a skilled post scorer with the ability to knock down midrange and three-point jump shots as well. Kuzma’s offensive prowess has netted him around 16 points per game over the last two years, third most out of all second-year players.
The 6’9, 220-pound power forward is by no means a great rebounder, but his role doesn’t require him to be. Kuzma has been passing the ball better lately and has been more reliable on the defensive end since Luke Walton tasked him with guarding more guys who are outside scorers. He recently told the press that he and LeBron James are starting to feel more comfortable playing together, something that will inevitably translate into even more success.