Ranking the Best Sophomore Starts of the NBA Season

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2012

Ranking the Best Sophomore Starts of the NBA Season

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    There's a common misconception that athletes go through a sort of dip in their second season in whatever league they're in. Most people know it as the "sophomore slump."

    Whether it be in college or at the pro level, in baseball, basketball and football, people seem to talk about the sophomore slump like it's an unavoidable nuisance in a player's career, but really it just sounds good.

    Sure, there are guys who go through a slump in their second year in the league, but an equal number of guys stand out in their freshman follow-up. Hell, some don't slump until their third or fourth year, and for others it never happens.

    So let's honor the guys going through their natural progression, becoming great young players and completely ignoring everything that relates to a slump in their second season.

10. Tristan Thompson

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 7.8 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steals

    Tristan Thompson isn't blowing down the doors with huge numbers this season, and he's not a guy who's ever going to do that. However, he is improving visibly on the floor.

    His shooting has been inefficient so far this season, but he tends to be a jittery guy early on, so that's not too surprising.

    Thompson is making strides in his rebounding, being more physical to pull down as many boards as he can while playing great defense on guys when they decide to venture into the post.

    He has more active hands and seems to be a lot more confident on defense.

9. Chandler Parsons

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 8.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.3 steals

    It's a bit surprising to see Chandler Parsons playing so well, but when you see who he's playing with it makes sense that his shots are falling.

    What's extremely surprising, however, is how well he's rebounding early on in the season. Parsons has pulled down rebounds left and right, becoming a do-it-all forward quicker than we're realizing.

    With how well the Rockets move the ball around the perimeter, it's also not surprising that he's dishing nearly five dimes per game so far this season.

    He's off to a hot start, but he only looks like he can get better from here.

8. Marcus Morris

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 9.8 points, 5 rebounds

    I'm extremely shocked to see Marcus Morris doing so well early on in the season, but it seems like this should have happened a lot sooner.

    The Morris twins have switched places at this point, presumably due to the fact that Markieff is now playing without Steve Nash and Marcus is benefiting from the ball movement between Jeremy Lin and James Harden.

    Marcus is knocking down shots at a pretty good rate, although he is struggling from the three-point line, and he's just one point away from surpassing his scoring total from a season ago, so there's that.

7. MarShon Brooks

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 10.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.7 steals

    MarShon Brooks isn't as hot as he was to start last season, but there are a lot more people in Brooklyn to take shots away from him than there were last season.

    Brooks is scoring modestly, but his game in general looks a lot cleaner than it did to start 2011. There are fewer turnovers (by a huge margin), and he's rebounding at a better rate, although his averages are down a bit.

    What's most impressive is that he doesn't seem to be wasting shots quite as much as he did last season. He's scoring at a 63 percent clip and not arbitrarily jacking up three-pointers.

6. Nikola Vucevic

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 10.5 points, 7.8 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 1 block

    There's a lot a quick big man can take away with more playing time and a fast-paced offense, as Nikola Vucevic has done so far this season in Orlando.

    Vucevic is scoring and rebounding a lot more, and he has been forcing turnovers at an extremely improved rate.

    Orlando showed that there's regression to the mean to be had with back-to-back losses to Chicago and Minnesota, but Vucevic is shooting well nonetheless.

5. Klay Thompson

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 15.8 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1 steal

    I'm surprised to put Klay Thompson so low at this point, but that's not really a knock on him. It's more of a nod to how well the guys in front of him are doing.

    Thompson is more or less picking up where he left off. He's shooting well from three, scoring more and pulling down a lot more rebounds while taking on a bit of an increased role in distributing the ball.

    Thompson's biggest improvement, however, has to be defensively, where he's been a little pest, even though he weighs as much as one of Shaq's thighs.

4. Kemba Walker

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 19 points, 3 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 1.7 steals

    Kemba Walker is exploding early on in this season, looking a bit like he's becoming a terrific scorer from the point guard spot.

    Walker is experiencing a near-10 percent increase in his field-goal percentage through his first four games, which is impressive in itself, but he's also taking more shots along the way.

    His rebounding is better, increased minutes have allowed him dish out more assists, and he's really a lot better defensively. Walker's playing a pesky role, rather than trying to stick his man hard like he did last season.

3. Kenneth Faried

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 12.2 points, 9.6 rebounds

    There's a lot of fun to be had in watching Kenneth Faried play basketball. I could watch him all day long if he was just rebounding.

    Few players in the league play at such an intense level, and it's showing on his stat sheet.

    Faried is experiencing an uptick in scoring, and he's bouncing around the court grabbing a block here and a steal there. All this while putting up a huge game from time to time, including his 16-point, 16-rebound game against Houston.

2. Kawhi Leonard

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 10.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 2.2 steals

    Kawhi Leonard is proving to be the most well-balanced player from the 2011 draft, and he's putting up an impressive stat line to reflect it.

    Leonard is shooting well, putting down a three-pointer every once in a while and grabbing rebounds, but what he's doing that's more impressive than anything else is playing defense.

    Leonard's 2.2 steals per game are quite impressive on their own, but what he's doing off the stat sheet is turning heads. Leonard is becoming one of the league's best on-ball perimeter defenders before our eyes, and he's also playing physically enough to keep guys from backing him down.

1. Kyrie Irving

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    Per-Game Stat Line: 24.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.2 assists, 0.8 steals

    Kyrie Irving is doing more than picking up where he left off; he's going above and beyond that, looking like an all-star just five games into the season.

    He's already shown off his late-game chops three times, scoring big buckets late against Washington, Milwaukee and Los Angeles, including a cold-blooded three-pointer against the Clippers.

    Not only is he continuing with the late-game heroics, he's also scoring just as well, controlling the game better and just looking like an even better basketball player than he was last season.