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NBA Sophomores Poised to Take the Biggest Leap After Their Rookie Season

Jonathan WassermanNBA Lead WriterOctober 13, 2016

NBA Sophomores Poised to Take the Biggest Leap After Their Rookie Season

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    Now with a year under their belts, a number of NBA sophomores are poised for breakout years. 

    A few of them are getting an opportunity thanks to team needs. Some teams lost players in free agency and need to promote in-house to save money. 

    Other sophomores should just be a little more comfortable now that they've had a year to get a grasp on the new speed and size of the game. 

    Either way, these are the second-year players who should be making a big leap toward their NBA ceilings in 2013-14. 

     

     

     

Thomas Robinson, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Minutes per game: 19.8

    Points per game: 9.2

    Rebounds per game: 5.6

    Field-goal percentage: .464

    Blocks per game: .5

    Now on his third NBA team in just his second season as a pro, Thomas Robinson can finally settle down and get a little comfortable in Portland. 

    He didn't have a shot in Sacramento and wasn't in Houston's long-term plans. Meanwhile, Robinson actually fills a need for the Blazers, a team that lacks frontcourt depth and athleticism. 

    T-Rob should get regular minutes in Portland's second unit. And I'd imagine all they'll ask him to do is give them an active body inside as a rebounder and finisher. 

    He averaged 12 boards per game during summer league. Robinson pressed a bit offensively and is still trying to find his spots on the floor. 

    But backing up LaMarcus Aldridge, T-Rob won't have to worry about being a featured scorer.

    Expect Robinson to make an impact for the Blazers after a quiet rookie season. 

Austin Rivers, New Orleans Pelicans

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    Minutes per game: 21.3

    Points per game: 9.0

    Assists per game: 2.1

    Field-goal percentage: .428

    Three-point percentage: .338

    Don't let one rough rookie season fool you into thinking Austin Rivers is a complete bust. He'll have to make some changes to his mindset and game, but the talent is undeniable. 

    He looked razor-sharp this summer, averaging 18 points per game on 48 percent shooting in Las Vegas. Rivers has one of the quickest first steps you'll ever see, which makes him a constant threat to make a play whenever he's handling the ball.

    Last season, Rivers struggled once he beat the first line of defense, doing a poor job of finishing around bigs at the rim. 

    As a sophomore, he should have a better feel for when to attack all the way or stop-and-pop before traffic. 

    Now that the point-guard experiment is over, Rivers can go back to focusing on what he does best—scoring. And the Pelicans can use him as that offensive spark off the bench. 

Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder

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    Minutes per game: 25.3

    Points per game: 11.8

    Rebounds per game: 3.8

    Field-goal percentage: .418

    Three-point percentage: .362

    After watching most of his rookie season from the bench, Jeremy Lamb will be going from 12th man to arguably one of the most important players in the Western Conference. 

    The Thunder will be in need of offense this season, with Kevin Martin now in Oklahoma City, who essentially was James Harden's replacement. Lamb's minutes should go up significantly, as he'll now be expected to make routine contributions off the bench.

    This summer, Lamb looked stronger and more physically mature than he did a year ago. 

    We already knew he could be lethal as a scorer on the perimeter, with the ability to create and make shots from all over the floor. But now he looks NBA-ready from a physical standpoint. 

    Offensively, Lamb has takeover potential, something the Thunder will hope he taps into from time to time.

    He could be a double-digit scorer in year No. 2 despite barely seeing the court as a rookie.  

     

     

Jeffery Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats

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    Minutes per game: 25.7

    Points per game: 11.5

    Rebounds per game: 3.0

    Field-goal percentage: .461

    Three-point percentage: .368

    Jeffery Taylor has gotten better every year since being a sophomore at Vanderbilt. He was terrific in the Orlando Summer League, where he averaged 20 points per game on 47 percent shooting. 

    He also shot nearly 37 percent from downtown. With textbook mechanics, Taylor has become a dangerous jump shooter in the mid or long-range. 

    As a 6'8'' face-up athlete, Taylor has always been a threat slashing to the hole. But now that he's improved his perimeter scoring, he's become a more effective offensive player.

    It's fairly significant, because Taylor's core strength is his defensive versatility. He can guard three positions on the floor and has shutdown potential on the wing. 

    If Taylor continues to gradually improve as a scorer, he's got starter potential down the road as a two-way gap filler in a lineup. 

Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons

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    Minutes per game: 31.2

    Points per game: 13.8

    Rebounds per game: 8.8

    Blocks per game: 2.1

    Field-goal percentage: .568

    Andre Drummond made it pretty clear that his NBA future would be bright. Well so should his present, as Drummond should be in line for a huge bump in minutes. And when you give Drummond minutes, he produces.

    He looked like a man amongst boys during summer league, making plays on nearly every possession as a scorer, rebounder or shot-blocker. Drummond was also invited to participate at Team USA's minicamp in Vegas, where he'd get to compete with some of the game's biggest stars. 

    While his physical tools are off the charts (athleticism, size, strength, leaping ability, mobility), Drummond also has a strong nose for the ball and live motor, which allows him to put those physical tools to good use. 

    He averaged 7.6 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in only 20 minutes as a rookie. Add 10-or-so minutes a night, and we could be talking about a double-double machine and two-block-per-game defender. 

     

     

John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Minutes per game: 26.7

    Points per game: 12.8

    Rebounds per game: 7.8

    Blocks per game: 1.8

    Field-goal percentage: 47.6

    John Henson wasn't given much of a chance as a rookie, though he did the most with each minute that came his way.

    Henson was given 30 minutes three times in Milwaukee's last five games of the regular season. In those three games he averaged 19.6 points, 18.6 rebounds and 3.6 blocks. 

    It wasn't the first breakout of his season, either. Henson was productive whenever he got the opportunity. 

    Outside of Larry Sanders, the Bucks aren't very talented up front. Ersan Ilyasova is more of a stretch or small forward, while Zaza Pachulia and Ekpe Udoh just aren't very skilled. 

    Henson has the size and length to control the glass and protect the rim, along with the touch to contribute offensively. 

    It would be a crime if Henson isn't getting at least 20-to-25 minutes a night this upcoming season. 

     

     

Moe Harkless, Orlando Magic

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    Minutes per game: 28.9

    Points per game: 12.0

    Rebounds per game: 5.6

    Steals per game: 1.5

    Field-goal percentage: .455

    Three-point percentage: .292

    Regardless of what the stats said, Moe Harkless flashed some serious potential as a rookie. And he did the same as a freshman at St. John's. 

    In year No. 2 as an NBA pro, Harkless should be able to tap into some of that potential. A smooth athlete who glides around the floor, he's a threat to attack and score from out to 20 feet away. Harkless struggles shooting anywhere beyond that, as his jumper is a work in progress.

    But he's an effective slasher, a dangerous face-up scorer and a weapon in transition. 

    With more confidence as a sophomore, Harkless should build on last year's numbers as both a scorer and a rebounder. 

John Jenkins, Atlanta Hawks

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    Minutes per game: 24.5

    Points per game: 10.2

    Field-goal percentage: .445

    Three-point percentage: .382

    Threes made per game: 2.0

    John Jenkins didn't get much burn as a rookie. But he did what he was drafted to do, and that's make open shots. 

    Jenkins shot it 38 percent from downtown last season with one of the quickest releases you'll see. Though he lacks the size and athleticism for your standard NBA 2-guard, he knows how to get himself open with off-ball movement and pump fakes. 

    Atlanta doesn't have many options at the off-guard slot. With Lou Williams slated for sixth-man duties, Jenkins should actually get the chance to start. 

    He should be an effective complementary player as a perimeter scorer and floor spacer off the ball. 

     

Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards

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    Minutes per game: 34.2

    Points per game: 17.3

    Rebounds per game: 4.4

    Assists per game: 3.0

    Field-goal percentage: .430

    Three-point percentage: .375

    Threes made per game: 1.8

    Bradley Beal put up impressive numbers as a rookie, except for in the games-played department. 

    Despite averaging 13.9 points, Beal's ankle held him out of 26 contests. But it didn't seem to affect his long-range rhythm, as he still knocked down 38 percent of his three-point attempts. 

    Beal should be good to go for the opener of his sophomore campaign. A lights-out shooter with sensational bounce and athleticism, Beal is an offensive threat in both the half court and transition. 

    He's also very mature for a kid his age, both physically and mentally. He's got the strength to go up against starting NBA-caliber 2-guards and the brains to make the appropriate adjustments. 

    There's huge potential with Beal, which is why the Wizards took him No. 3 overall despite a so-so year at Florida. If the Wizards make a run for the playoffs, chances are it's because Beal steps up as a sophomore. 

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