NBA Sophomore Report Cards: Grading 2012-13 Season for 2nd-Year Players

Daniel O'Brien@@DanielO_BRFeatured ColumnistMarch 5, 2013

NBA Sophomore Report Cards: Grading 2012-13 Season for 2nd-Year Players

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    It's time to check on the best second-year players in the NBA and grade their 2012-13 performances thus far.

    The 2011 draft class has supplied a handful of electrifying pros, and some of them have emerged as sophomore stars.

    Gunslingers Kyrie Irving and Klay Thompson are generating a ton of attention, but a few of these young ballers received high marks due to stingy defense.

    When assessing these second-year standouts, we take into account how much they improved since 2011-12, their team value and their overall production on both ends of the floor.

    Who's having a banner year, and who's getting harshly graded?

    Stats up to date through games on March 3.

Best of the Rest

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    MarShon Brooks, Brooklyn Nets: C-

    Alec Burks, Utah Jazz: C

    Norris Cole, Miami Heat: C

    Jimmer Fredette, Sacramento Kings: B-

    Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic: B

    E'Twaun Moore, Orlando Magic: B

    Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns: B-

    Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns: B+

    Chris Singleton, Washington Wizards: C

    Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks: Incomplete

Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 34.4 MPG, 17.4 PPG, 5.5 APG, 1.9 SPG, 43% FG, 36% 3PT

    It's difficult to grade Kemba Walker's second-year performance because the Charlotte Bobcats have struggled so much.

    He went from being a third option as a rookie to the best player on the squad as a sophomore. Walker's shooting is now respectable, and his perimeter defense is noticeably upgraded.

    Consistency is still somewhat of an issue, however, as he occasionally mixes in underwhelming performances.

    Fortunately, he's made a habit of limiting turnovers, with just 2.4 per game. That's a solid mark considering how much he handles the ball (and his limited supporting cast).

    Walker's ceiling isn't outlandishly high, but he may turn out to be a better pro than many thought.

    Grade: A-

Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 Stats: 28.0 MPG, 8.5 PPG, 7.1 APG, 2.2 SPG, 34% FG, 14% 3PT

    When Ricky Rubio returned from his ACL rehab, it took him a while to get back to full speed and in sync with his Minnesota Timberwolves teammates.

    Once he did, he started piling up the assists, averaging 9.5 per contest in February. 

    The wheeling and dealing is phenomenal, and his court vision and accuracy are some of the best this generation has to offer.

    But he can't shoot, and that will hurt his grade.

    Grade: C+

Chandler Parsons, Houston Rockets

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    2012-13 Stats: 36.3 MPG, 15.1 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 48% FG, 38% 3PT

    Two years into his NBA career, Houston Rockets forward Chandler Parsons has exceeded almost everyone's expectations.

    The 2011 second-round pick established himself as a key contributor in the rotation as a rookie, and his second year has been even more impressive. His outside shooting has dramatically improved from Year 1 to Year 2, and he's also a markedly better passer.

    Chandler's stock is currently sky-high as he lit up the Dallas Mavericks for a career-best 32 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting on Sunday.

    He's only getting better as a defender, slasher and finisher, and he'll likely be one of the key role players in the Western Conference for years.

    Grade: A-

Brandon Knight, Detroit Pistons

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    2012-13 Stats: 31.6 MPG, 13.9 PPG, 4.3 APG, 41% FG, 37% 3PT

    As a creator of offense, point guard Brandon Knight didn't develop in his second year like the Detroit Pistons hoped.

    In fact, according to, the Pistons score more points per 100 possessions without him (106.6) than they do with him (103.4). The ball skills and the athleticism are there, but the diagnosis and decision-making are mediocre.

    Knight doesn't force a ton of turnovers defensively, but he does a good job of slowing down opponents' backcourts, as the Pistons surrender fewer points with him on the floor (via

    If the Pistons want to compete for a playoff spot in 2013-14, his third year needs to be substantially better than his second.

    Grade: B-

Nikola Vucevic, Orlando Magic

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    2012-13 Stats: 32.3 MPG, 12.1 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 52% FG

    As a rookie, Nikola Vucevic showed glimpses of rebounding prowess, but he didn't get much playing time in the Philadelphia 76ers rotation.

    Now that he's a starter for the Orlando Magic, the league and fans are beginning to notice his skills.

    He's one of only eight players in the NBA who average a double-double, and in a couple games he's exhibited freakishly effective glasswork.

    Vucevic is adept at tipping the ball to himself or batting it to teammates. It's those kind of finesse plays that give Orlando extra possessions.

    His offensive game isn't expansive, but he does almost everything Magic fans could expect of him. Don't be surprised if he's a crucial piece to future playoff runs.

    Grade: A-

Tristan Thompson, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 31.3 MPG, 11.3 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 49% FG

    Former top-five draft choice Tristan Thompson didn't take a gigantic leap from his first to second year in the league.

    That's okay, because he still took steps in the right direction and impacts the game positively for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

    The lefty can do more than just rebound and dunk, as he uses his hook shot with either hand to collect mid-range points.

    He's more efficient, as evidenced by his true shooting percentage increase and free throw improvement. According to, Thompson's true shooting is at .519 percent this season, up from .469 in 2011-12.

    Grade: B

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

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    2012-13 Stats: 35.5 MPG, 16.3 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 42% FG, 38% 3PT

    One of the best young shooters in the game, Golden State Warriors guard Klay Thompson is living up to the expectations set for him as a 2011 lottery pick.

    As a sophomore, he's become a huge piece to the Warriors' explosive offensive attack and a terrific sidekick to Stephen Curry in the backcourt.

    He knows where to be on the court, and he works hard to get open for catch-and-shoot chances. Thompson has already hoisted a truckload of spot-up triples this season (204 to be exact), and he's connected on 44 percent of them (via Synergy Sports).

    As a creator and a defender he still needs development, but he's doing a superb job filling an important role for the Dubs.

    Grade: B+

Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers

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    2012-13 Stats: 35.2 MPG, 23.3 PPG, 5.6 APG, 47% FG, 42% 3PT

    Injuries have interrupted Kyrie Irving's sophomore season on a couple occasions, but during his healthy stretches, he's put on a show for Cleveland.

    When it comes to one-on-one deadliness, few players in the league can match the Cavaliers star.

    In addition to his highlight-reel drives to the hoop, Irving shoots the ball efficiently and keeps his teammates involved.

    Irving's not invincible, though. His assist-per-minute production went down from his rookie to sophomore year, and his defense isn't special. Nevertheless, he gets high marks for being a lethal scorer and a clutch leader.

    Grade: A

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.9 MPG, 11.0 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.8 SPG, 49% FG, 38% 3PT

    Arguably the most valuable defensive player on this list, Kawhi Leonard is an integral part of the San Antonio Spurs attack.

    The 6'7" small forward matches up well against nearly every swingman in the league, and he's a superb positional defender as well as a turnover generator.

    Leonard's offense primarily consists of spot-up perimeter shooting and cuts to the hoop, but he's also a threat to connect from deep in transition.

    His youth and athleticism will be a critical aspect of San Antonio's title pursuit this spring.

    Grade: B+

Derrick Williams, Minnesota Timberwolves

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.6 MPG, 10.8 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 42% FG, 31% 3PT

    Although Derrick Williams of the Minnesota Timberwolves often gets labeled a "disappointment," he's actually not doing too bad compared to the rest of his fellow 2011 draftees.

    The No. 2 overall selection behind Kyrie Irving didn't turn out to be a star. But we shouldn't write him off, because his perimeter shooting, court awareness and defense are all improving.

    His per-minute numbers are encouraging for Rick Adelman: Williams scores 17.2 points and grabs 8.6 rebounds per 36 minutes.

    Once he becomes a better passer and contributor in the half-court offense, he'll be a highly effective all-around player.

    Grade: B

Bismack Biyombo, Charlotte Bobcats

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.9 MPG, 4.4 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 1.7 BPG, 44% FG

    When it comes to offense, Bismack Biyombo's game hasn't expanded much beyond putbacks and a couple of deliberate pivot moves.

    When it comes to rim protection and rebounding, he's your man.

    The Charlotte Bobcats power forward swats 2.4 shots per 36 minutes, and that's only part of the deal. He alters the shots of every post player he faces, including the likes of Dwight Howard and Blake Griffin.

    It might be tempting to dismiss him as a one-dimensional dud from the 2011 lottery, but when you remember he's only 20, it puts things in perspective. He'll be just 24 entering his fifth year in the league.

    Grade: C+

Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets

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    2012-13 Stats: 29.2 MPG, 12.0 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 55% FG

    This shot chart tells us two things about Denver Nuggets forward Kenneth Faried:

    1. The dude thrives in the paint.

    2. His game is still one-dimensional.

    That second part isn't necessarily a bad thing, because he executes that "one dimension" pretty darn well. Also, the Nuggets have several weapons outside the paint, so they don't need him to do much other than run the floor, dunk and gobble up boards.

    He's one of the best rebounders in the game at 23 years old and will be a nightmare to box out for the next decade.

    Grade: A-

Isaiah Thomas, Sacramento Kings

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    2012-13 Stats: 25.5 MPG, 12.6 PPG, 3.5 APG, 44% FG, 33% 3PT

    When it became clear that Isaiah Thomas was a more dynamic player and productive option moving forward, the Sacramento Kings finally favored him over Aaron Brooks.

    Even though Thomas hasn't improved much since 2011-12, it was a great move from a defensive standpoint. Thomas is physically and mentally more of a pest. According to, he allows 109.3 points per 100 possessions, while Brooks allows 116.2.

    The next step for Thomas is to improve his long-distance consistency, because it will open up more avenues for him in the scoring and passing departments.

    Grade: B

Lavoy Allen, Philadelphia 76ers

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    2012-13 Stats: 23.2 MPG, 6.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 47% FG

    Philadelphia 76ers center Lavoy Allen is playing well for a guy who was 10 draft spots from going undrafted in 2011.

    His involvement in the offense varies from game to game. One night, he'll toss up 10-plus shot attempts, and the next, he's liable to shoot three times.

    The inconsistency isn't discouraging because he's making strides in important areas like post defense and offensive rebounding.

    Allen's growth and playing time are positive side effects of the Andrew Bynum absence, and it could help the Sixers in their 2013-14 playoff quest.

    Grade: B-

Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls

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    2012-13 Stats: 22.3 MPG, 7.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 48% FG, 29% 3PT

    After a low-profile rookie season, Jimmy Butler has filled an expanded role as the Chicago Bulls' reserve swingman.

    His physical tools and tenacity have worked splendidly in Tom Thibodeau's defensive system, as wings across the league have been halted by him.

    Butler's three-point shooting isn't consistent yet, but his mid-range tosses keep defenses honest. As a slasher, Butler is more dangerous, using his bounce, strength and body control to finish in traffic.

    Since his development from rookie to sophomore was so striking, Bulls fans are holding out hope that he'll be a starter in future years.

    Grade: B+

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