Culture of Hoops

Top 10 NBA sophomores to watch during the 2012-13 season

You’re probably reading a lot of articles on the rookies of the 2012 NBA Draft right about now. What to expect, who’s going to do well, and who’s in the running for winning the NBA Rookie of the Year award this season. It’s exciting to speculate what the new blood being infused into the league can deliver.

In this post, I’d like to talk about a different group of youngsters – the top 10 NBA sophomores. Here’s a list of the top 10 second-year players to watch in the 2012-13 NBA season. They’ve already hit the proverbial “rookie wall,” gone through the growing pains of adjusting to life as a pro, and on the other side of the coin, now have clearer and better defined roles on their respective teams.

10. Bismack Biyombo, F/C, Charlotte Bobcats (2011 NBA Draft’s 7th pick)

When Biyombo was drafted, it was understood that he was a long-term project. He was a raw, athletic forward who had the potential to really shine on the defensive end. The Bobcats opted last season to accelerate his development and started him in 41 of 66 games. It was clear from the get go that Biyombo had a lot to learn, but he also showed off his defensive chops, averaging 1.82 blocks per game (9th in the NBA). It’s too soon to expect him to develop offensively this year, but he should be a more noticeable presence on the defensive end of the court.

9. Derrick Williams, F, Minnesota Timberwolves (2nd)

Williams ended up with a somewhat underwhelming rookie season playing off Minny’s bench. He was able to average 21 minutes on the floor, but could not seem to get any consistency going. However, this coming season might end up being Williams’ delayed break out party as he’s already more focused and showing signs of improvement according to early reports from training camp.

8. Brandon Knight, PG, Detroit Pistons (8th)

Knight was an example of a rookie tasked to jump into a team’s starting lineup, shake things up, and instantly have an impact. Averaging 32 minutes per game for the Pistons, Knight did just that. From the beginning, he was given the keys to the team and made to quarterback Detroit’s offense. His rookie year lit a fire within him, and now he’s committed to leading the team this season. He’s bulked up, adding 15 pounds of muscle in preparation for a more grueling, full second season. This kid means serious business and is not afraid to demand the same from his teammates.

7. Kemba Walker, PG, Charlotte Bobcats (9th)

The Bobcats are in the throes of a rebuilding phase and Walker and rookie Michael Kidd-Gildchrist are expected to comprise the face of the franchise’s future. The team is so committed to Walker, they let D.J. Augustin go and sign with the Indiana Pacers. While the Bobcats did sign veteran Ramon Sessions, the starting point guard job is really Walker’s to lose. He needs to improve his shot selection and balance his effort on both ends of the court. We should see Walker improve a lot this season as he leads this very young team.

6. Klay Thompson, G/F, Golden State Warriors (11th)

Thompson was initially used sparingly off the bench when the season started, but opportunities opened up for him when the Warriors traded Monta Ellis to the Milwaukee Bucks for Aussie center Andrew Bogut. Thompson, son of former first overall pick Mychal Thompson, slid into the team’s starting shooting guard role and immediately caught fire. In 29 games as a starter, Klay averaged 18 points, three assists, and two treys per game. He should make for an interesting backcourt partner for the now healthy Stephen Curry.

5. Isaiah Thomas, PG, Sacramento Kings (60th)

Thomas’ is somewhat of a Cinderella story. After being drafted by the Kings with the last pick of the 2011 NBA draft, Thomas became the beneficiary of coach Keith Smart’s decision to shake things up in the Kings’ starting lineup. Thomas is a small guard at 5’9”, but that didn’t hinder him in raising eyebrows and impressing onlookers as he acclimated almost seamlessly to his new and bigger role. Thomas is currently penciled in as the team’s starting point guard and should easily be able to improve on last season’s averages of 14.8 points, 5.4 assists, and 1.6 threes made per game as a starter for Sacramento.

4. Kenneth Faried, PF, Denver Nuggets (22nd)

Faried has a lot of potential to make a quantum leap in terms of impact this season. He’s Denver’s starting power forward and poised to play big minutes for them this year and both he and center JaVale McGee spent time this summer working out with NBA Hall of Famer, Hakeem Olajuwon. Faried is an athletic beast, aptly nicknamed “Manimal,” who brings bulk, hops, and hustle to the Nuggets’ frontcourt. He averaged 10 points, seven rebounds and a block a night last season. Look for Faried to potentially average a double-double this season as he flourishes under George Karl’s running offense.

3. Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Antonio Spurs (15th)

The aging Spurs are in the midst of a transition period. While they will still be both relevant and dangerous in the western conference, they’re also looking to develop their younger players for the team’s future. Leonard is one of those players. He’s already been hailed by coach Popovich as the future “Face of the Spurs.” Both Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are in the twilight of their professional careers and it’s time to see Leonard play a bigger role this season.

2. Ricky Rubio, PG, Minnesota Timberwolves (2009 NBA Draft’s 5th pick)

It had been a long wait for Ricky Rubio to grace NBA fans with his presence on the T-Wolves’ roster. After seeing what he did last season, it was all apparently worth the wait. He impressed everyone, especially teammate Kevin Love, with his passing and uncanny ability to make amazing plays. Rubio finished sixth in the league in assists per game at 8.2 and was second in the league in steals at 2.2 per game. He did shoot poorly from the field at 35.7%, but we should see him improve on that this season. He is starting off this season injured, after tearing his ACL in March, but is currently on track to make his debut sometime in December or early January. Once he’s back, Rubio will definitely be exciting to watch.

1. Kyrie Irving, PG, Cleveland Cavaliers (1st)

While Clevelanders aren’t saying “LeBron who?” just yet, Kyrie Irving’s presence is definitely doing a lot to uplift their morale. He was indisputably a worthwhile first overall pick, winning last season’s NBA Rookie of the Year award. He’s already an elite point guard in the league and does not lack for anything in the confidence department. Heck, he even challenged Kobe Bryant to a game of one-on-one believing that he could beat the five-time NBA champ. It won’t be a surprise to see Irving make the All-Star team in his second year. Yes, he’s that good.

Honorable mentions: Nikola Vucevic, C, Orlando Magic (16th), Tristan Thompson, PF, Cleveland Cavaliers (4th), Tobias Harris, G/F, Milwaukee Bucks (19th).

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