Last year’s sophomore class produced 11 draftees, 8 of whom were taken in the first round. As usual, a number of the top freshman prospects from the college class of 2017 headed to the pros, with no returnee really creating much of shock with their decision to return to school. There are certainly some players with lottery potential and a few who have a chance to blow up with increased responsibility, along with an additional year of off-season training. This is the 15 sophomores we feel show the most NBA promise.
1. Wayne Selden 6-5 230 SG Kansas
It was an up-and-down year for Selden as a freshman, though he certainly had a few games where he flashed his capabilities as a scorer. With a very strong frame and long arms, he certainly understands how to use his size, power and agility to his advantage. Selden is a streaky shooter who can at times scores in bunches, possessing both length and agility to be a solid defender. His long range shot selection needs work, as he sometimes settles, which significantly lowers his shooting percentages. He also does not get to the line as much as a person with his physique and athletic ability should. In his defense, it’s been reported that he played through knee injuries last season which may have limited his mobility. After off-season knee surgery he is said to be showing more speed and explosiveness. Hopefully his blow-by speed improves and he’s bile to develop more creativity off the bounce. Selden’s focus this upcoming season will be interesting to watch, as the team will expect much more from him as a sophomore.
2. Terry Rozier 6-2 190 PG/SG Louisville
Playing behind an All-American as a freshman kept Rozier under-the-radar, though this summer, in the important showcase events, he flashed an ability that should turn him into a household name for Louisville. He has good dimensions for a PG with good length and shows an ability to score from all three levels effectively. As far as playmaking ability, Rozier had a 3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, with speed that should lead to him being dangerous penetrating defenses. He’ll need to continue that type of efficiency with increased touches. He is also athletic enough to provide above average impact on the glass, which should only be helped by the muscle he appears to have added since last season. There is a distinct possibility that Rozier ends up as one of the top PG’s selected next year and is in the running to be the first sophomore off the board in 2015.
3. Bobby Portis 6-10 235 PF Arkansas
One of the biggest recruiting gets that Arkansas has landed in years, Portis had a solid freshman season which should lead to even more production as a sophomore. He has near prototype PF dimensions, runs the floor well and has a very nice mid-range shot. With added strength, he should provide more help on the boards, though he was a plus on the offensive glass last year. He also was a factor as a shot blocker, though a lack of lateral quickness at times gives him issues defending quicker 4’s. Portis is not an elite athlete, though his speed and skill set makes him a valued PF prospect. If he can develop more of a back-to-the-basket game, this would help ease the transition and would add to his value while he plays a good deal of center for the Razorbacks.
4. Isaiah Taylor 6-1 170 PG Texas
As probably the least ballyhooed of Texas’ incoming freshmen last season, Taylor turned out to be an absolute gem for the overachieving 2014 Longhorns. Taylor is a blur with the basketball and dangerous once he gets to the basket. He got to the FT stripe at a fantastic rate as a freshman, with the next step being shooting a higher percentage near the basket. Right now, penetrating the defense is his greatest strength, as he is not much of a threat from the outside. He needs to work on his body, plus changing speeds and overall decision making as a PG. What he is able to do right now with his tremendous speed and natural instincts make him a prospect that firmly holds NBA scouts attention.
5. Sindarius Thornwell 6-5 215 SG South Carolina
Thornwell was another surprising big time recruit that stayed close to home in SEC country and was asked to do more than just about any player on this list last season. Asked to have the ball in his hands often, Thornwell still projects much more as a SG, though his skills as a passer should only benefit him. His ability as a scoring guard is evident, even with his less than stellar first year percentages from the field. He has shooting ability from mid and long range that should translate, while he also earned his fair share of trips to the FT stripe. His size and athleticism also give him potential as a defender, though his awareness on both ends will be under close watch. With the possibility of a bit more talent around him, it could lead to him flourishing as a sophomore.
6. Marcus Lee 6-9 220 PF Kentucky
Buried deep on Kentucky’s bench as a freshman, it was uncertain whether Lee would get much of an opportunity to play in the NCAA tournament. When foul trouble hit Kentucky’s big men, Lee displayed the supreme, above-the-rim athleticism, which translates to rebounds and big time shot blocking instincts. His run and jump athleticism for his size is absolutely NBA level; his ball skills, strength and post game just need to catch-up for him to put it all together. His shot is not broken, just in need of refinement and his potential as a 4-man that does the dirty work will land him in the league eventually. He may not get the amount of minutes one with his talent should garner at the college level on another deep Kentucky team, though his productivity should be much better. The new analytics hire at UK should display Lee’s value down the line, even in limited playing time.
7. EC Matthews 6-4 185 PG/SG Rhode Island
Young for his class, this athletic combo guard had a surprising freshman season that put him firmly on the radar of NBA scouts. He has a lefty stroke that has to be accounted for, along with some ability as a slasher that led to him averaging 18.9 ppg from February on. He still needs to work on his in-between game, although he really did spread his shooting over every level. He also has a lot of potential as a defender and some solid lateral quickness. His playmaking and ball handling still needs work, though even if he is not a PG at the next level, he has tools that still make him quite valuable at the other guard spot. Mathews is one of the biggest sleepers in the country.
8. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson 6-7 215 SF Arizona
Hollis-Jefferson was a known commodity as a perimeter defensive specialist, while his energy on the offensive side of the ball was an added plus. He is very aggressive on the glass, a decent passer and a willing slasher who is not afraid of contact. He was decent from the FT stripe, though the lefty still is not much of a factor shooting from outside the paint. Offensive awareness with the ball is still something that needs a lot of work, however his versatility as a defender and his contagious energy should make him a sought after wing. Why isn’t he higher on this list? He seemed to add unnecessary weight during the summer which slowed him, plus his attitude was questioned by scouts.
9. Chris Walker 6-10 220 PF Florida
It took Walker a while to get his eligibility sorted out and he never was as much of a factor as one might expect such a highly touted recruit to be, even on a strong Florida team. Walker is a great athlete with a decent frame, who can run and is tough to stop close to the basket. However, he is incredibly raw and his ball skills left a great deal to be desired. He showed almost nothing of the face-up game that had some claiming he could possibly play on the perimeter. Still, he has seemed to hit the rigorous Florida weight program and with a full off-season under his belt, there is a chance that he makes people remember why he was considered one of the top incoming players in his class.
10. Troy Williams 6-7 205 SF Indiana
Spent a majority of his freshman season playing to his strength, which is as a strong, explosive athlete. Williams can finish above the rim with authority and is tough to stop with a head of steam towards the basket. With added strength, he should be stronger on the boards and it should also help his on-ball defense. He should flourish with a greater role in the offense, though he will need work on his outside shooting and it would help to show more awareness as a playmaker. Entering the draft this season does not seem to be a guarantee for Williams, but he at least showed enough promise to be a possibility for the 2015 draft.
11. Rodney Purvis 6-3 200 SG/PG UConn
An explosive player who showed creativity off of the dribble and potential as a slasher, Purvis spent last season practicing with the defending champion Huskies. A repeat is certainly not a guarantee and it is too much too expect him to replace Shabazz Napier, however Purvis should be an exciting replacement in the backcourt. During his time at NC State he showed a dangerous jumper, though one might hope he tightens things up around the basket. It still seems uncertain as to whether he can translate to the point and he does not have ideal size for the next level as a 2-guard. Purvis still has tools that will have folks tuning into UConn games to see how he looks in a different environment.
12. Andrew Harrison 6-5 210 PG/SG Kentucky
His brother Aaron was the NCAA tourney hero, though it’s apparent that Andrew is the better NBA prospect thanks to his playmaking ability. There is no insuring that Andrew translates into an NBA point guard, but his size and versatility as a guard are still highly valued attributes. It is true that he was not overly efficient, partly due to injury and mainly due to growing pains in developing to the college game. He still got to the line a great deal, and is at least close to his brother as a shooter and his ability off of the dribble is what still makes him a potential late first rounder.
13. Isaac Hamilton 6-4 185 SG UCLA
Hamilton had to sit out last season after a tumultuous exit from UTEP, which seems to have cost him a year of eligibility. The brother of former Texas Longhorn and current Toronto Raptor, Jordan Hamilton, is a dangerous scorer with range along with ability off of the dribble. He might be asked to handle the ball quite a bit for the Bruins, though his decision making more than likely relegates him to the wing as far as his pro future is concerned. Hamilton also was not exactly known for his defensive intensity, though he has the tools to hold his own. For UCLA to do well this season, Hamilton will need to be a big factor and he has flashed the ability to make an impact.
14. Amida Brimah 7-0 230 C UConn
Gaining playing time for a championship team is no small feat for a big man and while Brimah was incredibly raw, his defensive ability allowed him to a crucial role for a title team. The 7-footer from Ghana led the nation in blocks per minute as a freshman and showed major upside as a post defender. He also had ability to finish above the rim on offense, with some belief that he could develop offensively with more reps. His game off of the dribble is still very limited, with his post game almost completely under development. Foul trouble was also something he was plagued with on a regular basis. His physicality and athletic tools made Brimah one of the most pleasant freshman surprises last season. “Upside” is a word that gets thrown around a lot, though Brimah has it in spades.
15. Jordan Mickey 6-8 235 PF LSU
Mickey was one of the most prolific freshmen that decided to return to school and there is already some speculation that he will try to leave after his sophomore year. He’s a high energy forward with a nose for the basket and rebounding. He’s also a bigtime shot blocker utilizing his immense 7-3 wingspan and leaping ability to the tune of 3.1 blocks per as a freshman. He lacks height and strength and really has very little post game to speak of. So a team looking to develop a raw specimen type of prospect will have to be patient with him. Mickey’s shot is decent, although he’ll need to look to increase his range and consistency.
Dakari Johnson 7-0 250 C Kentucky
The young big man was too effective to keep off of the floor and he was crucial during Kentucky’s run to the NCAA Championship game last season. He is a traditional back-to-the-basket style big man, big and strong enough to establish post position with decent hands. Johnson has really worked on his body and conditioning, though he has limited lateral mobility and does not get a lot of lift off of the floor. He struggled shooting outside of 8 feet, shot just 44.7% from the charity stripe and does not have the length or elevation to make him a big time shot blocker. He still is a strong 7-footer who plays hard and has some instincts for the game. Even with Kentucky having a couple of other legitimate NBA prospects at the center spot, Johnson should get enough time to get NBA consideration this season.