Oft is made of the woes of a second season for young NBA stars. While still finding their legs, the ground becomes shakier under nubile feet as coaches and defenses adjust to what made some of these youths successful during their introductory seasons. As coaches and defenses figure out players tendencies and dislikes, past rookies are often met with less success during their second seasons. This is what is called the "sophomore slump" and typically some of the NBA’s soon-to-be-stars suffer mightily as teams expose shortcomings mined through the scrutinizing eyes of hours of video watched in the off-season.
This year’s crop of super sophs are still addled with their share of struggling counterparts: Austin Rivers is only averaging 1.7 points per game on a horrendous 23% from the field, number five overall pick Thomas Robinson is barely averaging more rebounds (3.4) than teams played for (3), and number 13 overall pick Kendell Marshall has already made his exit from the league. Meanwhile, some of the other sophomores have hung around the same level of productivity from last season: Dion Waiters, Harrison Barnes, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, and the already great play of Damian Lillard. These gentleman notwithstanding, this year the NBA has seen a bevy of super sophs who seem intent on making this the class of slump busters. Here are six sophomores who have no intention of suffering from the supposed second-year malaise. Forget adjusting, these guys are dictating what teams do to them rather than the other way around.
Some kids just have all the answers, here are six youths in revolt:
Andre Drummond – Just about anyone who watched Drummond during the second half of last season couldn’t help but salivate at the possibility that Drummond had finally put together his physical tools with the requisite maturity that he lacked in college and early on last season. Now as Drummond enters his sophomore season, fans should keep their bibs nearby. Drummond has become a full-time starter and his increase in minutes has paid immediate dividends for the new look Pistons. Drummond is averaging a double-double through his first eight games, and 1.4 blocks per; though it should be noted that Drummond still struggles with his footwork defensively, and needs to work on a consistent effort on that side, as his struggles against Steven Adams last week showed.
Drummond pairs well with the deft passing of Greg Monroe, and only expect these two to continue to grow together as they become more comfortable with their high-low game. Drummond has a rare combination of size and mobility that makes him a nightmare for stereotypically plodding big men to defend.
Expect Drummond to get some serious all-star consideration, though the Pistons’ surprisingly slow start could hinder that a bit. Drummond is still raw at times, but it’s the type of raw that can be coached. If he continues to learn and grow, he’s got the chance to be more than just a stellar soph, he could be one of the game’s best centers.
Bradley Beal – As the number three overall pick, big things were expected from the smooth shooting Florida Gator. In his first season, Beal didn’t disappoint, averaging 13.9 per contest and showing a tantalizing combination of shooting touch and athleticism. Now in his second season, Beal has been one the better perimeter scorers in the league. Beal’s points-per-game have shot-up to a robust 19.3 and Beal is nailing the long ball. With the lightning quick John Wall forcing teams to collapse on dribble penetration, Beal has been the beneficiary of more uncontested opportunities and has capitalized on better looks; Beal’s averaging one more made 3pt. field goal per game (up to 2.6 per game from 1.6 last season.)
Beal is the real deal and has proven it by making some major leaps in his second season; pairing with Wall to form one of the most complimentary and dangerous back courts in the league. If the Wizards can level out after a rocky start, people will begin to take notice that Beal is one of the more dangerous perimeter players in the NBA, sophomore or otherwise.
Jeremy Lamb – When Jeremy Lamb entered the league following an impressive display during UConn’s NCAA tournament run, the talk was that Lamb would be a steal for the Rockets at the number twelve pick. Lamb combines a nice outside touch with an innate fluidity on the floor that can’t be taught. Lamb’s one of those natural athletes that makes the difficult seem mundane. That combination had people unfairly anointing the 19 year-old as a star on the rise before he had played a single NBA game. Already over-hyped, Lamb was then involved in a trade for James Harden and the pressure only mounted as people assumed Lamb must have more value than was even initially speculated.
Lamb’s freshman season proved one thing, that adjusting to the NBA is harder than people give credence to. On a deep and talented Thunder in need of immediate efficiency, Lamb spent most of his freshman campaign in the D-League and though he played quite well, most viewed his rookie campaign as a bust. Now in his second season, Lamb is starting to show flashes of what made him such a prized prospect. With the departure of Kevin Martin, the Thunder are looking to Lamb to be their first scoring option off the bench, and Lamb has responded. Though unspectacular, Lamb’s jump in scoring (8.5 ppg up from 3.1 last year) has shown that Lamb is beginning to figure out what is required for him to be a consistently effective player at the NBA level. Who knows if Lamb will ever reach the star potential that was once forecast for him, but if he continues to improve and play with more confidence and aggression, Lamb could be a legitimate third scoring option for a perennial championship contender.
Anthony Davis – If Kevin Durant is the "Durantula" due to his long limbs and killer instinct, then "The Brow" should be re-monikered as "Mr. Fantastic". Davis uses his seemingly elastic limbs to disrupt offenses both with his shot blocking (he’s averaging an imposing 3.1 blocks per game) and his thievery (2.1 steals per.) That Davis is one of the early front-runners for defensive player of the year (along with Hibbert) is no surprise, as Davis was a defensive stalwart when healthy last year. What has been a pleasant surprise is the speed with which Davis’ offensive game has come to form. Though more comfortable at the elbow than with his back to the basket, Davis has shown versatility on the offensive end, and has some of the best hands for a big man in the league. Davis is currently averaging 21.8 ppg for a Pelicans’ team with playoff aspirations.
That the number one overall pick is playing at this level is to be expected, but it’s rare for a player to take such a lofty leap in play between his first and second seasons. As long as Davis can stay healthy, he is an all-star now. But if The Pelicans can begin to play up to expectations, and perhaps make a playoff push, Davis will get some serious M.V.P consideration. How’s that for a slump?
Tony Wroten – Michael Carter-who? The former Washington Huskie was all but left for dead when the Memphis Grizzlies traded the struggling guard to the Sixers for a pick that most likely will never come to fruition. But with the Sixers looking to see what they have in terms of youthful assets, Wroten has garnered some unexpected minutes and shown flashes of the versatility that made him the 25th selection last year, including a career-first triple-double in the Sixers overtime win over the Rockets this week.
Wroten will never be a star, but considering that he could barely get on the floor with the Grizzlies last year (Wroten averaged just 7 mins. per game in 35 games), Wroten deserves some serious credit for showing that he’s capable of playing at a high level in the league. So far, Wroten is averaging a surprising 11.9 ppg in 23.3 mins. per for the early-upstart Sixers.
John Henson – As the 14th overall pick, success for Henson was expected. But, after showing some early signs, Henson’s freshman campaign was somewhat underwhelming; he averaged 6 points and 4.7 rebs. per game. As his second season gets underway, it seems that Henson has begun to find his game while becoming a very productive reserve for a young Bucks team. This season Henson is averaging just under 12 points per contest, and more importantly, he’s shown the rim-protecting ability that made him such an attractive prospect. Through the Bucks first seven games, Henson is averaging 1.7 blocks per game in 26.4 minutes per contest. That puts Henson in the top fifteen in blocks per 48 minutes played. Henson has great length and activity, and has shown the ability to knock down the elbow jump shot.
Henson is in a rotation of bigs in Milwaukee that will keep his minutes a bit limited. But if Larry Sanders continues to struggle on and off the court, and if Ekpe Udoh continues – well to be Ekpe Udoh – expect more of the lithe length of Henson on the floor and an increase in action in what has already been a productive start to his sophomore campaign.