With burgeoning superstars like Karl-Anthony Towns and Kristaps Porzingis, the 2015 NBA Draft boasted one of the better classes in recent years. Almost all of the first-round picks, and several second-rounders a swell, played significant minutes for their respective teams. Some played great in their rookie seasons, but who are the second-year players that will continue to develop and turn into an All-Star or even an excellent role NBA player?
Here are eight players that will have a breakout sophomore season:
If there was an award for Best Second-Year Player, Devin Booker would likely be battling Towns for the honor.
After playing a limited role at the beginning of his rookie year, Booker saw his role increase after Brandon Knight and Eric Bledsoe went down with injuries. Taking full advantage of the opportunity, Booker began scoring in bunches, showing a deft shooting touch that helped Phoenix stretch the floor. In the final two months of the season, Booker topped the 30-point mark four times and he finished his season with a scoring average of 13.8 points and shot 42.3 percent and 34.3 percent from three. And because of this strong finish, Booker parlayed his mid-to-late-season surge into an All-Rookie First Team selection.
Booker should only continue to further develop in his second year as now he will be the Phoenix’s starting shooting guard from Day One. Plus Suns coach Earl Watson will keep allowing him to play through his mistakes while maintaining a green light to shoot at will. Booker has superstar potential and could be one of the few bright spots in Phoenix this upcoming season.
D’Angelo Russell showed flashes of brilliance last season, and we expect him to especially shine in 2016-17. Two things are going for him: The Lakers have freed him from the shackles of Bryon Scott, and new coach Luke Walton has already cemented Russell’s status as the team’s starting point guard, a role he briefly flirted with last season.
What exactly Walton will put in place on the offensive end still remains to be seen, but with his Golden State pedigree, the Lakers will likely be play an uptempo, fast-paced offense. Given Russell’s quickness and versatility, he should be an ideal fit for both he and the Lakers. Plus Russell not only showed improvement this offseason in the Las Vegas Summer League, but that he’s more than capable of running the Lakers’ new offense.
In Vegas, Russell averaged 21.8 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists but more importantly, he shot 47.7 percent and shot 40.0 percent from three. His improvement from 3-point range is key as he only shot 35.1 percent from long range as a rookie. Of course this took place in summer league, so that caveat still exists. However, if Russell can carry over his strong shooting and overall performance to next season, he could quickly emerge as one of the better point guards in the league.
Already one of the better wing defenders in the entire NBA, Justise Winslow will be stepping into an even larger role in Miami now that Dwyane Wade has joined the Chicago Bulls and Luol Deng is now on the Lakers. Winslow will definitely be ready to shoulder the additional burden as he earned starter minutes last season and was frequently assigned to defend opponent’s top scorers. The only question is whether or not he can take the next step offensively, where he downright struggled at times in his rookie year.
In 28.6 minutes a game, Winslow averaged 6.4 points on 42.2 percent shooting along with a dismal 27.6 percent from three. Winslow wasn’t exactly a big-time scorer at Duke Blue Devils but he did shoot 48.6 percent and 41.8 percent from the shorter three-point line, so he has shown that he can make shots in the past. Clearly, college ball is much different than the NBA and Winslow hasn’t shown that he could be a reliable scorer for the Heat so he still has a lot to prove in his second season as a pro.
The Heat will need Winslow to improve on the offensive end as Chris Bosh ‘s return is still up-in-the-air, and the team is desperately in need of some scoring options. But if Winslow puts in the work over the summer on his shot and he is still a beast defensively, than he should help the Heat quickly move on from a franchise icon in Wade.
With Ian Mahinmi gone, the Pacers’ starting center position solely belongs to Myles Turner now, allowing him to continue to build off a solid rookie year.
Turner’s rookie year was derailed for a bit due to injury but he ended up starting 30 games and finished with averages of 10.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 blocks. He also played well in the postseason, emerging as an effective rim protector and averaged 3.3 blocks in Indiana Hoosiers ‘s seven-game, first-round exit.
Turner is a versatile big man, able to play the four or five and can even knock down elbow jumpers while also showing a nice touch around the rim. His offensive game may even be helped by the addition of Al Jefferson , who will surely use his veteran guile to tutor Turner and help him improve his post game. Turner, just 20 years old, was just beginning to scratch the surface last season as to how good he truly can be as a player. Expect Turner to continue blossoming in an expanded role next season.
This may be an obvious inclusion as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was injured for the majority of last season. But in the 29 games he did play, Hollis-Jefferson showed a ton of talent.
An active and versatile player, Hollis-Jefferson averaged 5.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 1.3 steals in 21.2 minutes a game for the Nets. His acumen when it comes to rebounding is perhaps his biggest asset as Hollis-Jefferson was tied for seventh among rookies in rebounding despite, again, missing so much time.
Fully healthy and with Thaddeus Young getting traded to Indiana, Hollis-Jefferson’s role should only increase next season. The Nets don’t have a lot of things going for them at this juncture but they have a solid promising player in Hollis-Jefferson.
The Magic may have a glut of players in the frontcourt but their backcourt is relatively thin, which should mean that Mario Hezonja will get more regular playing time compared to his rookie season.
Hezonja was a brilliant scorer overseas in Spain before joining the Magic last season, but his scoring didn’t carry over to the NBA right away. It didn’t help that his minutes were inconsistent under Scott Skiles, mainly because the former Magic coach was not too tolerable with Hezonja’s effort on the defensive end. But he did show flashes of his ability as a rookie, averaging 6.1 points on 43.3 percent shooting and 34.9 percent shooting from three.
But even though Skiles is out and Frank Vogel is now the coach, Hezonja will have to show that he won’t be a liability on defense. However, with the Magic trading Victor Oladipo and with really only Evan Fournier ahead of him in the rotation, Hezonja should get plenty of opportunities to prove himself next season.
Cameron Payne was largely inconsistent as a rookie, which prompted the Thunder to acquire Randy Foye at the trade deadline. Now with Foye signing with Brooklyn this offseason, the door has opened for Payne to be the Thunder’s No. 1 backup for Russell Westbrook . Victor Oladipo may eat into some of Payne’s minutes but the Thunder’s only other option at point guard is Ronnie Price, who is mainly there as a last resort and for a veteran locker room voice.
As a rookie, Payne averaged 5.0 points and 1.9 assists in 12.2 minutes. Not gaudy numbers but he showed glimpses of promise, especially when he got extended minutes. He is a solid floor general and played well alongside Westbrook. Payne likely won’t become a star but he should continue to develop in his second season and could become one of the better backup guards in league.
Another second-year Lakers player that should thrive under the guidance of Luke Walton is Larry Nance Jr. The versatile big man was a late first-round pick last June and entered the league without much fanfare besides for being the son of former Cleveland Cavaliers high flying dunker Larry Nance. But Nance Jr. quickly established a role for himself on the Lakers with his workman-like game and aerial assaults on the rim.
Every team needs a rugged player that will do the dirty work, like rebounding and playing strong defense and Nance Jr. fills that role on the Lakers. In his rookie season, he averaged 5.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in 20 minutes a game. He even started 22 games. And while Nance Jr. won’t be a starter, he is an excellent energy role player off the bench for L.A. and should continue to do so in his second season, albeit in perhaps a more expanded role with more minutes since the Lakers don’t have that many quality bigs off the bench.
Nance Jr.’s leap next season perhaps won’t be as noticeable as some of the bigger names, yet expect him to be a reliable player for the Lakers, and that reliability will be a key part of his development as a player.
Source: CBS Sports / Russell, Booker headline list of NBA sophomores primed for breakout season