Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
The fact that the top overall pick didn’t even make this list says a lot about the strength of this draft class. Nevertheless, some guys from this class are making big leaps in their second season and looking, at the very least, like NBA starters for years to come.
Here’s a quick look at who’s performing at the top of the class so far.
1. Giannis Antetokounmpo | Milwaukee Bucks
|26.9 MPG||12 PPG||5.8 RPG||2.0 APG||15.91 PER|
Yes, the wow factor is weighing in here but Giannis is also getting it done on the court. The Greek Freak is starting and playing a major role in Jason Kidd’s communal system. Among sophomores he’s third in scoring, fourth in rebounding and he’s posting a much higher PER than any of the sophomores ahead of him in the minutes category. His length, fluidity and massive strides are going to wreak havoc around the league for years to come. In terms of ceiling, there’s no one in this class who can match him.
2. Michael Carter-Williams | Philadelphia 76ers
|33.4 MPG||16.3 PPG||7.1 RPG||7.4 APG||1.4 SPG||4.5 TOV||38 FG%|
A guard who can’t shoot is less than ideal in today’s league and the turnovers are a big problem, nevertheless, the guy is leading the class in points, assists and steals, and is second in rebounds. That isn’t just a product of his Sixerness; the guy is talented.
3. Gorgui Dieng | Minnesota Timberwolves
|26.2 MPG||8.6 PPG||7.8 RPG||1.1 STL||1.2 BLK||83.9 FT%||18.70 PER|
Big Gorgui, AKA 2Diengz, does a lot of things well. He rebounds, he finishes at the rim, he passes well and he gets a lot of steals. He’s already 25 years old and right now he’s allowing opponents to shoot a smoky 66% within 6-feet of the rim. Nevertheless, given his length and agility there’s plenty of hope this number will go down with experience.
4. Dennis Schröder | Atlanta Hawks
|17.1 MPG||9.2 PPG||2.9 APG||60.7 TS%||21.04 PER|
Schröder has bounced back from a subpar rookie season in a big way. The lightning quick guard out of Germany has learned to use restraint on the turbo button and as such is getting major play in Budenholzer’s rotation. It seems a bit odd that a guy who doesn’t shoot well and holds onto the ball would thrive in that system but Schröder is just so good at getting to the rim and kicking out to Atlanta’s bevvy of snipers. He’s leading all sophomores in PER and shooting 63.3% in the restricted area this season. Don’t be fooled by his negative defensive rating. He’s still figuring things out but his Rondo-esque physic (long arms, huge hands) is already creating plenty of chaos on defense.
5. Victor Oladipo | Orlando Magic
|31.5 MPG||14.8 PPG||4 RPG||3.6 APG||1.4 STL||2.6 TOV||15.52 PER|
No one is ever going to complain about Oladipo’s motor. The point guard thing hasn’t worked out especially well but his defense and athleticism are special. Not to mention he’s second among sophomores in points per game and steals. The turnovers need to come down.
6. Rudy Gobert | Utah Jazz
|16.1 MPG||5.3 PPG||59.2 FG%||5.2 RPG||1.4 BLK||19.7 PER|
If you watched Gobert play at any point this summer you’ll understand the growing infatuation with him around the league. The freakishly long Frenchman’s added strength is paying dividends in spades. Gobert leads all sophomores in blocks and is third in PER, rebounding rate and true shooting percentage.
7. Shabazz Muhammad | Minnesota Timberwolves
|17.3 MPG||11 PPG||51.6 FG%||20.71 PER|
This summer’s #MuscleWatch champ is doing his thing. Simply put, don’t mess with this dude on the left block. The 6’6” small forward is shooting 63% from less than 5-feet so far this season. Muhammad is providing an efficient scoring punch that Minnesota’s bench has lacked for years and his PER is second among sophomores.
8. Ben McLemore | Sacramento Kings
|32.6 MPG||11 PPG||38.8 3P%||86.2 FT%||3.1 RPG|
Unlike many of his peers, McLemore is starting for a winning basketball team. His numbers have jumped across the board and he’s turning into the sweet shooting athlete Sacramento envisioned when they nabbed him seventh overall in the draft. He’s third among sophomores in minutes and made three-pointers.
9. Cody Zeller | Charlotte Hornets
|23.8 MPG||8.6 PPG||5.4 RPG||1.21 WAR|
This seems like a bit of an odd choice given his pedestrian numbers but Charlotte is actually a much better basketball team when Zeller is on the floor. He’s improved his mid-range shooting and done a better job of picking his moments in the post. According to ESPN’s recently updated NBA Real Plus-Minus system, Zeller leads all sophomores in Wins Above Replacement.
10. Kelly Olynyk | Boston Celtics
|24.7 MPG||10.4 PPG||5.6 RPG||2 APG||41.3 3P%||58.3 TS%|
His lack of athleticism gets him into foul trouble and limits his rebounding potential, but Olynyk gets the nod because he’s a damn good shooter. That’s especially vital on a team like Boston that sorely lacks floor spacers. Also, might as well get as many nationalities onto this sophomore ranking as possible, eh?
Honorable mention quick hits:
Robert Covington: Watch out for this guy to make an appearance in weeks to come. Injuries have landed him in Brett Brown’s rotation and he’s responded by lighting up the score board. The undrafted 6’9 forward from Tennessee State and last year’s D-League Rookie of the Year is known for his 3-and-D potential but he also has shown some ability to get to the bucket in recent games. He’s shooting an insane 53% from three-point range and he’s fifth among sophomores in PER.
Isaiah Canaan: He’s been sidelined with an ankle injury but this is another guy who can shoot the basketball. On the season he’s hitting two 3s per game while shooting at a 43% clip.
Steven Adams: Scappy as hell, good defender, quirky, rocks the occasional epic mustache. He probably deserves a place in the top ten. C’est la vie.
Mason Plumlee: He’s one of the better players in the class but his numbers are down across the board in a pretty big way. He’s about to see an uptick in minutes since Brook Lopez is out yet again so we’ll see how the cookie crumbles.