NBA Sophomores: How Are They Doing So Far?
Last year's rookie class is widely considered one of the weakest in recent memory. The top pick, Anthony Bennett, is considered one of the worst number one picks of all time (based on his rookie season, at least), and there were several other "bust" candidates picked in the lottery and many more after that. It's obviously still far too early to say that there won't be many of these guys that stick on NBA rosters, but there simply aren't very many that have opened the season with large roles on their teams.
Last year's Rookie of the Year awardee, Michael Carter-Williams, had missed the entire 2014-15 season due to a shoulder injury until making his debut last night, and we still haven't seen from the runner-up, Victor Oladipo, who is still trying to make his way back from a facial fracture (although he's been practicing and might see some game action this weekend). Beyond that, not many of the other guys are household names quite yet. Trey Burke gets some love occasionally, and Mason Plumlee had an eventful summer with Team USA, but no one else is really going to have his picture grace a marquee anytime soon.
Last year, very few of the rookies finished with a nERD above 0.0 (our in-house metric that gives an idea of how many games a league-average team would finish over .500 for a season with the player as one of its starters, based on how he's played in a given year). In fact, four of the most well-known lottery picks from the 2013 Draft finished in the bottom six of the entire league (Oladipo -8.4, Ben McLemore -8.1, MCW -8.1, Burke -8.0). nERD, being an efficiency-based metric, is often not kind to rookies, but last year was particularly brutal.
Through a handful of games this season, some sophomores are doing markedly better. Let's look at a few of the best, ranked by nERD:
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timeberwolves
Gorgui Dieng was very productive down the stretch of his rookie season last year, filling in admirably as a starter for the Timberwolves while Nikola Pekovic was injured. In 15 starts, Dieng averaged an impressive 12.2 points, 12.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks per contest in 32.2 minutes. He had a great FIBA World Cup as well, and it's carrying over to a solid sophomore campaign, at least on a per-minute basis. He's still Pek's backup, but he is averaging 7.6 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in only 18.0 minutes per game, while shooting 54.1% from the floor and 86.7% from the line. If Pek ever suffers a major injury or gets traded, a Dieng breakout is all but certain.
Kelly Olynyk, Boston Celtics
Kelly Olynyk has started at center for the Celtics in all seven of their games played this season and is running away with the job. In a healthy 27.7 minutes per game, Olynyk is averaging 13.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.0 steal, and 0.6 blocks per contest, while shooting a ridiculous 60.7% from the field, 50.0% from deep (on 2.6 attempts), and 78.6% from the line. He currently leads all second-year players in win shares (0.7) and looks poised for a monster season in a well-defined roll for Boston.
Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks
Dennis Schroder was last among all rookies last season in win shares with -0.7 (worse than Anthony Bennett, for the record, although the slightly lower draft position of 17 got him less press for it). He's looking to right the ship this season, bringing his miserable shooting split from last year of 38.3% from the field and 67.4% from the line up to 63.0% and 83.3% respectively through six games in 2014-15. Sure, a regression to the mean is almost certainly coming, but the early returns on Schroder's sophomore campaign as Jeff Teague's backup are making him look like a more salvageable prospect for the Hawks.
Otto Porter Jr., Washington Wizards
Last year's number three overall pick, Otto Porter Jr., had a terrible rookie season, but he's made the most of his sophomore opportunity with Bradley Beal sidelined for the Wizards. Porter is averaging a healthy 24.0 minutes per game off the bench for Washington and is posting averages of 8.0 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.0 steal per contest, while shooting 51.1% from the field, 44.4% from deep, and 80.0% from the line. He's already got 0.5 win shares in 2014-15, which just so happens to be 0.5 more than his 2013-14. His player efficiency rating (PER) has also more than doubled this year at 13.7, compared to last year's 6.0. He looks to be well on his way to shaking the "bust" tag that he was saddled with last season.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Giannis Antetokounmpo is every basketball hipster's favorite player and is playing more like he deserves the tag this year than he did in his rookie season. He gets a pass for an inefficient opening act, of course, given that he's still only 19 years old, but he's already showing added maturity to go with the freakish raw athleticism and physical gifts early in year two. Through eight games, he's averaging 23.8 minutes off the bench for the Bucks, and he is putting up 10.9 points, 5.1 rebounds, and 0.8 blocks per game with it, while shooting 50.7% from the floor and 73.9% from the charity stripe. As the season goes on, look for him to get even more involved as a guy that can get it done on both ends of a basketball court. Of the 21 sophomores that have played over 100 minutes so far this year, Giannis' 100 defensive rating is second only to...
Mason Plumlee, Brooklyn Nets
That's right, Mason Plumlee is earning his commendable nERD rating on the defensive end this year, posting a 99 defensive rating through eight games. His field goal percentage of 45.2% from this year pales largely in comparison to last year's 65.9%, but that's bound to climb back up fast as the year progresses. He's averaging 6.6 points, 6.0 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game in 15.9 minutes so far, having started in two of his games played for an injured Brook Lopez. If anything happens to BroLo or an aging Kevin Garnett, look for Plumlee to jump back in and post bigger numbers.
Anthony Bennett, Minnesota Timberwolves
Yes, you read that correctly: Anthony Bennett is contributing positively to an NBA team. Having put his disastrous rookie season and the Cleveland Cavaliers behind, the Big Maple has been a decent big man off the bench for the Wolves so far this season. He's only averaging 11.5 minutes over six games and the 5.5 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 0.5 blocks per game are nothing to write up north about, but at least he's shooting 58.3% from the floor and has a PER of 18.6 (up from 35.6% and 6.9 last season). He's obviously not going to be a star right away, but he had a great Summer League and is in much better shape than last season. Those are steps in the right direction and it will be interesting to see how he develops once the Wolves fully commit to developing their youth.
Other Notable Starts
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (nERD: -7.2) for starting in all eight of the Pistons games and tying with Kelly Olynyk at 13.4 points per contest for the highest scoring average among second-year players and leading them all with 35.0 minutes. Solomon Hill (nERD: -0.8) for starting in all nine games for the decimated Pacers, averaging 33.4 minutes per game and 11.8 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.1 steals in the process. Steven Adams (nERD: -5.3) for wrestling away the starting center spot for the Thunder from Kendrick Perkins and averaging 8.2 points and 7.3 rebounds in it. Ben McLemore (nERD: -0.1) for starting all nine games for the Kings, scoring 10.0 points per contest, and shooting 45.6% from the floor, 43.6% from long range, and 84.6% from the line (for a true shooting percentage of 61.0%). Tim Hardaway Jr. (nERD: 0.1) for scoring in double digits (10.1 per game). Hollis Thompson (nERD: -10.5), Shane Larkin (nERD: -5.0), Isaiah Canaan (nERD: 0.7), Andre Roberson (nERD: -0.5), Brandon Davies (nERD: -4.0), and Allen Crabbe (nERD: -0.3) for all drawing starts for various reasons (injuries, playing on the Sixers) to mixed results.