Sophomore Studs: The Eight Most Improved Second-Year NBA Players
The 2009-2010 NBA season officially ends tonight. It has been a great season with a lot of highs and lows. Many players and teams have impressed us, and many have let us down.
With that being said, we decided to take a look back at the 2008 NBA rookies to see who improved most in their sophomore season. Without further ado, here are our eight most improved NBA sophomores.
Roy Hibbert, Center - Indiana Pacers
Roy was the big man from Georgetown that followed the likes of Dikembe Mutombo, Patrick Ewing, and Alonzo Mourning. However, all the professional insight those three All-Stars gave Hibbert in college didn’t translate to the NBA at first.
Hibbert looked lost in the Pacers offense last season. He averaged just 14 minutes a game, and looked awkward as could be out on the court. No wonder he spent the off-season fine tuning his game. If nothing else, Hibbert certainly improved his comfort level this season with the pace of the NBA game.
In doing so, he managed to increase his scoring from seven points a night to 12, his rebounding from four to six, and his blocks to almost two per night. He has managed to have a season high of 27 points, a rebound high of 19 points, and has been the big force the Pacers have longed for, with three six-block games this season.
Robin Lopez, Center - Phoenix Suns
Robin Lopez was in his big brother's (Brook Lopez, Nets) shadow on draft night. His rookie season didn't do a whole lot to separate himself from his brother. The thought from some critics was that without his brother he was too uncomfortable on the court, and that he wasn't really that good to begin with.
In his second season, Robin has shown that while Brook still might be better, it isn't by nearly as much as we first thought.
For the season, Robin has averaged eight points and five rebounds, both substantial improvements from last year. His most notable improvement is in his minutes played, going from 10 mpg as a rookie to nearly 20 mpg this season. That shows a confidence in Lopez's abilities that make him a player to keep your eyes on during the post season.
Nicolas Batum, Forward - Portland Trailblazers
Nicolas was an intriguing, but raw prospect on draft night. He had played professionally in France, but some questioned how his game would translate to the NBA. In his rookie year, those questions remained in the forefront. He started for the Blazers and played substantial minutes, but his numbers were unimpressive.
After returning from a shoulder injury this year, Batum has improved in every statistical category. He's playing more minutes, scoring more points, rebounding better, and most notably shooting better from everywhere on the floor.
Batum has the length and skill to become a premier forward in the league, and at just 21, he still has plenty of time to get better.
Bill Walker, Guard/Forward - New York Knicks
Location, location, location. Bill Walker is the latest player to benefit from getting traded to the City that Never Sleeps.
In his time at Boston, Walker was one of the last players off the bench, appearing in just 29 games. Being looked over isn't unusual for Walker. In high school, he played second fiddle to O.J. Mayo. In college, he was behind Michael Beasley as a scoring option. So coming off the bench in the league wasn't surprising.
Walker, who acts as his own agent, found a way out of Boston in the Nate Robinson deal and hasn't looked back since.
In his 26 games with the Knicks, he's received 12 starts and averaged 11 points in over 27 minutes per game. He's shooting a high percentage from three and is one of the "under the radar" free agents for 2010.
Danilo Gallinari, Forward - New York Knicks
Danilo was not the fan favorite from the start. As usual, when David Stern stepped to the podium to announce the Knicks pick, the fans in Madison Square Garden were going crazy. And, as usual, when Stern announced the pick, the fans booed.
The Knicks, with new head coach Mike D’Antoni, were trying to build a running team like the Suns and thus, D’Antoni needed a big man that could run and shoot from deep.
Danilo didn’t do much his rookie season due to injury and he only managed to play in 28 games, averaging a measly six points. It is therefore understandable that such high expectations were placed on him during the 2009-2010 season.
Danilo has impressed many in his sophomore season. He has increased his scoring output to around 15 points per game and more than doubled his minutes played nightly.
We know the Knicks are a bad team, but with 2010 free agency looming around the corner, at least the Knicks now have a formidable threat to accompany any big name free agent they sign.
George Hill, Guard - San Antonio Spurs
Out of little known IUPUI, some questioned whether Hill really was the point guard of the future for the Spurs. Due to Tony Parker's injury, the future was now for Hill and he seized the opportunity. He has improved in every major statistical category.
The Spurs are a fixture in the playoffs year in and year out, but with Duncan, Ginobili, and Parker all getting older the Spurs may soon be rebuilding.
With a point guard like Hill already in place, it doesn't look like San Antonio will have to wait long to become true contenders once again.
Brook Lopez , Center - New Jersey Nets
Brook Lopez was a member of the NBA's First Team All-Rookie team in his first season. He put up respectable numbers and appeared comfortable playing at basketball's highest level. He averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on a struggling New Jersey team, operating as the third option offensively.
This year, the Nets continue to struggle, but Lopez has become their second option offensively. He's upped his scoring to nearly 19 points per game, while improving to nearly nine rebounds.
He takes smart shots and is one of the best young centers in the game. Lopez is the type of player that can anchor the paint for 10 years for an NBA franchise.
Russell Westbrook, Guard - Oklahoma City Thunder
Westbrook started off his career strong, and the bulk of his improvement isn't easily seen in the numbers. Yes, Westbrook has improved slightly in all statistical categories, most notably going from five assists per game to eight. The real growth has been in his ability to lead the team.
The Thunder are one of the best young teams in the NBA and while people are fast to say it's because of Kevin Durant, a lot of the praise should funnel to Westbrook. He's absolutely a physical force on both ends.
He has great size and speed for a point guard and has the ability to record a triple double on any given night. It will be interesting to see what he can do on the big stage, as the Thunder are playing the Lakers in the first round of this year's playoffs.