Top 5 NBA Sophomore Stars That Lottery Teams Passed on

Ross Bentley@@imrossbentleySenior Analyst IDecember 4, 2012

Top 5 NBA Sophomore Stars That Lottery Teams Passed on

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    Now that they have been in the league for over a year, we can safely assess the progress of the players drafted last year in 2011.

    Although many considered 2011 to be a down year in terms of the draft going in, several players from the class have already found key roles in the NBA and are in the process of becoming potential future All-Stars.

    Where the 2011 draft really seems to have excelled is in the amount of teams who were picked below the lottery (first 14 picks) that have turned out to become excellent players.

    Here are the top five of those players, picked below the lottery in 2011, who are having great starts to their NBA careers.

Honorable Mention: Iman Shumpert

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    If Iman Shumpert had not gotten hurt and was on the court for the Knicks this year, he would likely be an easy choice for this list.

    After all, Shumpert, picked 17th in the 2011 draft by the Knicks out of Georgia Tech, went on to average nearly 10 PPG for New York last season, while quickly becoming one of its best perimeter defenders and earning All-Rookie First-Team honors

    Many questioned Shumpert's scoring abilities when the Knicks drafted him, but he fit in perfectly with the Knicks' system and has an extremely bright future in the league.

    Once he returns to the team in the second half of the season, he should regain his place amongst the best sophomores in the NBA.

5. Nikola Vucevic

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    Replacing Dwight Howard in Orlando is no easy task for anyone, much less a second-year player out of USC who had a hard time finding minutes in his first NBA season.

    However, although he is no Superman, Nikola Vucevic is quietly turning into one of the best young big men in the NBA.

    Vucevic has started all 16 games he has played in for Orlando this year, after moving from Philadelphia in the offseason as a part of the Dwight Howard-Andrew Bynum trade.

    Vucevic is just .1 PPG away from averaging double figures, and also is pulling down a solid 8.2 rebounds per contest, while shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor.

    Last night, going against his predecessor Dwight Howard, Vucevic scored 17 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to outshine D12 in a Magic win.

    As Vucevic's game continues to develop he should get more and more touches inside for the Magic, and could end up being a top-five NBA center in the next few years. 

4. Isaiah Thomas

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    Isaiah Thomas was the last overall pick in the 2011 NBA draft, but the 5'9'' point guard from Washington has outshined the overwhelming majority of players who were drafted ahead of him.

    Thomas had an outstanding rookie campaign for Sacramento, earning All-Rookie Second Team while averaging 11.5 points, and 4.1 assists per game.

    Thomas showed a smart offensive approach and the ability to score in bunches despite his small frame.

    So far this year, Thomas's numbers are down, and so is his playing time. However, if Thomas is able to win the starting spot consistently over Aaron Brooks he should bounce back to where he was last season, and possibly even expand his game moving forward.

3. Kawhi Leonard

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    To say that the San Antonio Spurs front office knows what it's doing is an understatement, and they showed their prowess again in 2011 by picking up Kawhi Leonard out of San Diego State 15th overall.

    Leonard has fit perfectly with the Gregg Popovich style of play, and has earned consistent minutes by shooting the ball well and playing solid defense.

    This year he has become the permanent starter for San Antonio at small forward, starting all nine games he has played.

    Leonard had a nice rookie year last season, scoring 7.9 PPG and grabbing 5.1 RPG, but this year his numbers have jumped to 10.1 and 5.4, respectively, thus far.

    Leonard is becoming a bigger part of the offense as he matures as a player, and gives the Spurs yet another offensive weapon to complement Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

2. Kenneth Faried

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    It seems amazing in retrospect that no one in the top 20 picks of the NBA draft wanted to take a chance on a guy who was the all-time NCAA leader in rebounds, but such was the case for Kenneth Faried out of Morehead State.

    Faried dominated the college level, but pro scouts were skeptical of how his game would translate to the NBA level playing the power forward position at 6'8''.

    However, the Denver Nuggets took a flyer on Faried with the 22nd overall pick, and he has not disappointed.

    Faried landed on the All-Rookie First Team last year after averaging 10.1 PPG and 7.7 RPG for the Nuggets. 

    Faried was a sparkplug off the bench who could come in and ignite a run with his energy on both ends of the court.

    This year, Faried's game is only improving as he is now a starter for the Nuggets and is averaging a double-double at 12.9 PPG and 10.5 RPG, the latter of which is good for sixth in the NBA.

    As he continues to work on his offensive game, Faried has the ability to be a potential 20 and 10 a night player in the future. 

1. Chandler Parsons

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    While much of the attention is being payed to James Harden and Jeremy Lin, there is another Houston Rocket who is quietly having one of the top breakout seasons in the NBA: Chandler Parsons.

    Parsons was not drafted until the 38th overall pick in 2011 by the Rockets out of Florida, but he has proven that he is a more than capable scorer at the pro level.

    Parsons made All-Rookie Second Team last year averaging 9.5 PPG, but this year he has really broken out, and at just under an average of 16 points, Parsons ranks ninth in the league among small forwards.

    Outside of Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker, no one from the 2011 draft is scoring at a higher pace this season than Parsons.

    He also contributes nearly seven rebounds and four assists per game to go along with his scoring numbers.

    Looking into the future, it's hard to see Parsons not continuing to improve and becoming one of the top forwards in the NBA by the time he reaches his prime.