Ranking the top 20 sophomores
Old 11-20-2009, 01:13 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Old 11-20-2009, 01:19 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Welcome to the first edition of our sophomore rankings, in which we'll break down the top 20 second-year players every other week all season long.

We'll evaluate these players strictly on the merits of this season to date, including how they are impacting their teams (if two players are playing at about the same level, I'll rank the player on the more successful team higher). What these players did last season, or what I think they'll do over their careers, will have no bearing on this report. So a player like Derrick Rose, who obviously has a brilliant future but is currently struggling, will not score well here until his on-court production improves.

With these things in mind, here's our first look at the top 20 sophomores. And yes, it's all about the bigs this week.


1. Marc Gasol, Grizzlies
Lost in all of Memphis' early misery has been the play of Gasol. He finishes shots. He grabs defensive rebounds. He hits perimeter shots. And he's the Grizzlies' best team defender. If Memphis is to survive these tough times and ever returns to the playoffs, they will need someone steady like Gasol to do his thing every night.

2. Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Westbrook still has the upside we all saw last season: He's capable of carrying a team on offense while making play after play on defense. But like all young points trying to learn the position, it's been a roller-coaster ride. In a five-game stretch this season, he amassed a whopping 29 turnovers. Then on Tuesday he killed the Heat with 24 points on 13 shots, seven assists, a steal, a block and just two turnovers in a huge road win. That's the Westbrook we should be seeing more of in the near future.


3. Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Hibbert is on the early list for most improved player. For a guy with a nice perimeter shot, he's using his size to pound the paint instead -- he's getting 69 percent of his baskets in the paint. His rebounding numbers are way up, too. And more importantly, he's helping the Pacers win; they've won five of seven games this month with Hibbert scoring in double figures and shooting better than 50 percent shooting in each game. Earlier this week, he had 19 points (on 9-of-11 shooting), 10 rebounds and three blocks against fellow soph Brook Lopez.

4. Jason Thompson, Kings
Thompson has had some monster games for the resurgent Kings, showing his promise as both a power forward and a center. His activity inside, combined with his size and length, create many opportunities for him as both a scorer and a rebounder. Unfortunately, it also puts him in frequent foul trouble. As he learns to play smarter, the Kings will have a legit starting big man.


5. Greg Oden, Trail Blazers
This big guy's confidence is coming on strong. He's averaging 11 points, eight rebounds and two blocks a game in November, while hitting almost 62 percent of his shots. All in just 24 minutes a game. (It's not his fault the Blazers have the best rebounding center in the league playing behind him.)

He's often been dominant on the defensive end and on the backboards. If he begins to assert himself more on offense, we'll be talking about All-Star Game appearances soon.

6. Brook Lopez, Nets
Lopez has been solid, improving in a few areas since last season. Unfortunately, he is far from being able to carry a team on his own. At least this injury-plagued team. He's also not shooting well from the perimeter right now -- just 36 percent outside the paint. His shooting skill is what made him such a tough cover last season, when the floor was better spaced with scoring threats around him. As the Nets get healthier, Lopez's numbers should, too.


7. Ryan Anderson, Magic
What a difference a trade makes. Anderson now plays for a team that not only can contend for a title, but employs an offense that fits perfectly with his talents. His 3-point shooting (40 percent) and hustle in the paint allow him to serve as a Rashard Lewis clone. He has already had a big impact in many games, and his upside on this team is considerable.

8. Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Who would have guessed that Randolph, who looked the part of an immature teenager at times last season, would end up being more professional than many of the people around him on his team? Despite the turmoil in Golden State, Randolph has played some excellent basketball. He's third among all power forwards in the NBA in defensive rebound rate, he's hitting 85 percent of his free throws (40-for-47) and he's scoring 12 points a game in just 20 minutes per game. And he just turned 20 this past summer -- he's younger than DeJuan Blair by three months and a few months older than Tyreke Evans and Brandon Jennings.


9. Rudy Fernandez, Trail Blazers
Some guys take major and obvious steps forward in their second season. Others, such as Fernandez, take incremental but pivotal steps that significantly impact their team. Fernandez is still shooting and making a lot of 3s this season (19-for-47 -- 40 percent), but it's his defense that has people taking notice. Fernandez may well be the Blazers' best perimeter team defender. In other words, their defense may be at its best when he's in the game compared to any other guard or wing.

10. Chris Douglas-Roberts, Nets
Injuries have opened major minutes for CDR, and he's taken advantage of the opportunity. He's coming off back-to-back career highs (27 and then 31 points) and getting to the free throw line a good deal. More impressively, he pulled down 22 rebounds in those two games combined. Injuries or not, CDR looks to have earned a place in the Nets' rotation.


11. O.J. Mayo, Grizzlies
It's not his fault his team is crummy, although his overall defensive production hasn't been that good (but I'm not sure he's to blame). Mayo was projected as a guy who was ready to play when he entered the league, and that's been pretty on the mark. His production -- scoring, shooting, trips to the line -- has been pretty much the same as last season. On a better team, we'd hear about him more often.

12. Eric Gordon, Clippers
Gordon has not played since Nov. 7 due to a groin injury. But he was playing at a fairly high level before then, averaging 18 points and four assists per game, while shooting better than 40 percent from 3-point territory. He has outplayed every guard in this class so far, except maybe Westbrook.


13. Danilo Gallinari, Knicks
Since he was drafted, there has been a lot of buzz from Knicks personnel about what a great shooter Gallo is. He's proving them right. He has hit 34 of 72 3s (47 percent) and 22 of 25 free throws (88 percent). He can change a game with that kind of shooting, and already had a game in which he made 8 of 16 3s. However, he's doing little else of impact right now. He's not among the top 50 power forwards in defensive rebound rate. To be worthy of his draft slot, he needs to do more.

14. George Hill, Spurs
Hill is quietly becoming a very solid NBA player. He has nice range on his shot (10-of-24 from 3 -- 41.7 percent), rarely turns the ball over (just 11 turnovers after 10 games) and, most importantly, plays terrific defense on the ball. He is in San Antonio's regular rotation and is averaging more than 30 minutes a game in November due to Tony Parker's injury.


15. Ersan Ilyasova, Bucks
Drafted in 2005, this is only his second season playing in the NBA. His feel for the game and coordination at 6-foot-10 give him the ability to be a strong role player in this league. But his 19-point, 12-rebound game against Dallas and his excellent 3-point shooting suggest he may have the potential to be even more.

16. Donte Greene, Kings
No player has been a more pleasant surprise than Greene, who is playing extremely well in just 13 minutes a game. I've always loved the spirit he brings to games as a benchwarmer, but now he's doing it on the court with his play. He's scoring off the dribble and in transition, and he recently recorded a career-high 24 points on 19 shots against the Bulls. If he stops taking so many 3s and focuses on his game inside 16 feet, he might earn himself a starting spot in Sacramento.


17. Mario Chalmers, Heat
Chalmers is another guy who has improved slightly since last season, specifically as a shooter. This is great on a Miami team that needs its perimeter players to make shots, of course. Most of his other metrics, however, are down a tad at the moment, though they'll likely improve to last season's levels. Still, he's starting for a playoff contender, playing solid team defense and averaging almost two steals per game.

18. J.J. Hickson, Cavaliers
After barely playing at the start of the season, Hickson exploded last week with games of 18, 20 and 21 points on a combined 23-of-31 shooting. He's starting to figure out how to play next to LeBron and within the offense. By taking fewer perimeter shots, he's giving himself a chance to use his athletic talents and size around the paint. Watch out for him; he's capable of earning a top-10 spot in our rankings by April.


19. Derrick Rose, Bulls
Rose is almost unrecognizable right now. The 2008-09 rookie of the year is worse in almost every statistical category this season, and his ability to blow past defenders is nonexistent. It appears his ankle injury is the reason for the latter, but that doesn't explain his poor shooting mechanics currently on display. He has one of the lowest player efficiency ratings of our top 20.

He does, however, seem completely aware that he has to play better for the Bulls to win consistently. I suspect he will and, thus, will rise up our rankings. His second half against the Lakers on Thursday night was a step in the right direction.

20. Michael Beasley, Heat
Beasley has been even more disappointing than Rose this season. Like Rose, his numbers have dropped in almost every statistical category, and his perimeter shooting has been awful.

On the plus side, Beasley appears to be making some strides playing team defense. But too many of his classmates have outplayed him thus far, and he's fortunate to even make our top 20. If he pays more attention to the little things and shows more passion in the big things (such as rebounding), he's sure to zoom up this report.

Honorable mention: Marreese Speights, 76ers
No player in this class was playing at a higher level this season than Speights, who has quietly become one of the best finishing big men in the game. He is the PER leader for all sophs, and outperformed Elton Brand early on. Unfortunately, a knee injury (torn MCL) will sideline him for a couple of months.
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Old 11-20-2009, 01:26 PM   #3 (permalink)
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Gasol is good and I thought he would be ROTY last year
CDR, Thompson, Hickson, Speights were players I liked, its good to see them get court time
hopefully Speights recovers well
and Westbrook is bueno
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Old 11-23-2009, 09:07 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Gasol is one of the best centers of this year.
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Old 11-23-2009, 09:51 AM   #5 (permalink)
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3. Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Hibbert is on the early list for most improved player. For a guy with a nice perimeter shot, he's using his size to pound the paint instead -- he's getting 69 percent of his baskets in the paint. His rebounding numbers are way up, too. And more importantly, he's helping the Pacers win; they've won five of seven games this month with Hibbert scoring in double figures and shooting better than 50 percent shooting in each game. Earlier this week, he had 19 points (on 9-of-11 shooting), 10 rebounds and three blocks against fellow soph Brook Lopez.
Fuck.
Goddamit JO, this guy would've been our answer right now.
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Old 11-23-2009, 10:06 AM   #6 (permalink)
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review on derrick rose is surprising. 19th? Really? Worse than JJ Hickson who has Lebron throwing him alley oops?
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Old 11-23-2009, 12:35 PM   #7 (permalink)
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I guess theyre basing this off of expectations instead of performance.

Rose Beasley Mayo and Gordon should be a LOT higher if it was the actual top 20.

I hope Roses' ankle gets fixed up soon, its tough to watch him look average out there.
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