I first made a list of the top second-year NBA players a little more than a month ago. At the time I thought I might check in weekly. I thought there might even be some back-and-forth between Luka Doncic and The Dreaded Trae Young. But, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, with every day that passes our boy king looks less and less like a 7/11 cashier and more and more like a graffiti-clad orb of white-hot energy. The idea of continuing the list got boring. But really, it just needed a little more time to marinate. We’re essentially at the quarter mark of the NBA season (“How? The NBA doesn’t even start until Christmas.” -a Cowboys fan) and we should have a pretty good idea of what these players look like at this point. Though we’re still missing out on some probable sophomore standouts due to injuries and suspensions, the class looks strong.
Feel free to fight with me in the comments, you cretins.
And now for the rankings:
*all per-game statistics are current through 12/9/19*
1. LUKA DONCIC – Dallas Mavericks
30 points – 9.8 rebounds – 9.2 assists – 1.3 steals - .1 blocks
Luka is 2nd in the League in PER (and currently 9th best EVER), 4th in Win Shares, 1st in Box Plus/Minus and 1st in Value Over Replacement Player. The Mavericks are 16-7 and Luka Doncic is a legitimate MVP candidate.
That’s the best Sophomore.
2. THE DREADED TRAE YOUNG- Atlanta Hawks
28.8 points – 4.1 rebounds – 8.4 assists – 0.9 steal – 0.2 blocks
Firstly, Trae Young is good as hell. This is dumb that Mavericks fans are going to have to attach qualifiers to any discussion about Trae for the next decade and a half, but it is what it is. Young is shooting almost 39 percent from three on almost nine attempts per game. He’s in the Top 10 in the League in 3FG, free throws, assists per game, points per game, PER, Offensive Box Plus/Minus, and is just outside the Top 10 in several other categories. This is a damn good basketball player.
3. DEVONTE’ GRAHAM- Charlotte Hornets
18.8 points – 3.8 rebounds – 7.8 assists – 0.7 steals – 0.2 blocks
Devonte’ Graham played four years in the Big 12. I attended Big 12 schools for a few (like…seven-and-a-half?) years, including Graham’s freshman year at Kansas. I watched Big 12 basketball then, and I still watch it now. What’s my most vivid memory of Graham at Kansas? I don’t have one. He was just a normal-good Kansas point guard, like several before him. I never thought he would become what he is. He’s essentially single-handedly saved the Hornets from being just...so so so boring. He’s made himself a leading contender for Most Improved Player. Graham is currently 6th in the League in assists per game, 14th in Offensive Box Plus/Minus, and 2nd in made threes. The Hornets were widely projected to be the worst team in the league. Graham had other ideas.
4. SHAI GILGEOUS-ALEXANDER- Oklahoma City Thunder
18.8 points – 5.2 rebounds – 3.0 assists – 1.0 steals – 0.4 block
SGA is running the court for almost 35 minutes per game this season, an increase of more than 8 minutes per game over last season. Though he’s seen a dip in his shooting percentages, it’s nothing terribly worrying yet. SGA has played nearly two-thirds his minutes this season with Chris Paul on the floor. But what we can’t quantify through statistics is how much time SGA is spending with Paul in total—on and off the floor. Chris Paul is a basketball genius, and also an asshole. I don’t necessarily even mean that in a bad way. Paul can help Shai become a two-way star, but he has some less than desirable traits that could wear off on SGA as well.
5. WENDELL CARTER- Chicago Bulls
12.2 points – 9.8 rebounds – 1 assist - 0.7 steals – 0.8 blocks
The Bulls are still bad. Jim Boylen is still a dork. But Wendell Carter is good! 12 and 10 with good defensive numbers is a solid player. A month ago I wrote that Carter needed to improve his dismal three-point shooting to help open up space for the all-world guards around him. Through 25 games, Carter is now shooting 13.3 percent from three. He’s not chucking up a ton of shots, but therein lies one of his other problems. WENDELL: SHOOT MORE. Carter is shooting 60.2 percent on two-point shots this season. Yet in his 30 minutes per game he is only taking about 8 shots per game. He shouldn’t be shootng less than a dozen times per game. You’re good, Wendell! Tell Zach to give you the ball, Wendell!
Also receiving votes (the votes are fake, this just a bunch of make-em-ups):
JAREN JACKSON, JR.- Memphis Grizzlies
16.2 points – 4.8 rebounds – 1.4 assists – 0.5 steals – 1.2 blocks
MITCHELL ROBINSON- New York Knicks
9.2 points – 6.7 rebounds – 0.6 assists – 0.7 steals – 1.9 blocks
MO WAGNER- Washington Wizards
11.8 points – 6.1 rebounds – 1.3 assists – 0.8 steals – 0.6 blocks
DUNCAN ROBINSON- Miami Heat
10.9 points – 3 rebounds – 0.7 assists – 0.8 steals – 0.3 blocks
COLLIN SEXTON- Cleveland Cavaliers
17.3 points – 3.1 rebounds – 2.4 assists – 0.9 steals – 0 blocks