The 2017-2018 Rookie Class was a nice breath of fresh air after the previous year’s class.
With Ben Simmons out for his rookie season and Brandon Ingram/Jaylen Brown being long-term prospects with a lot to work on, the class was devoid of talent in terms of depth. Malcolm Brogdon, a 2nd round pick who is a very solid role player to be fair, won the rookie of the year award. A talented player, but Brogdon quite simply wouldn’t have finished even in the top 3 for most years.
So what transpired last year’s rookie class was a nice relief for NBA fans. Ben Simmons was healthy, and many other rookies made a big name for themselves early. The final rookie showdown vs. Ben Simmons/Donovan Mitchell was, to say the least, more hyped than the Malcolm Brogdon/Dario Saric slobber knocker that occurred the year before. Not to mention many other young rookies making a name for themselves and the wave of young players entering the league had NBA fans excited.
That has continued this year so far. From extensively covering both this year’s rookie class so far and last year’s, I can say with 100% certainty that the depth of each class is about equal. Doncic/Ayton might not have the immediate star power of Ben Simmons/Donovan Mitchell, but by comparison, they are younger and arguably have more long-term star power.
So how have the sophomores done so far this year? About as expected with some nice surprises. Although the two stud muffins who headlined last year’s class have slowed down a bit, they are still stellar overall to combine with improvements all around with the other players.
So in this article, we will be ranking the top 25 sophomores in the NBA currently.
To be clear, I am ranking these players on how they are right now and not including a potential for the future.
Let’s get right to it:
Frank Ntilikina, Semi Ojeleye, Frank Mason III, Milos Teodosic, Derrick White, Terrance Ferguson
25. Justin Jackson - Sacramento Kings
Coming in at number 25 is Justin Jackson of the Sacramento Kings. The number 15 pick in the 2017 draft and a star in college for North Carolina, the Kings spent no time throwing Jackson to the wolves in his rookie season as he started 41 games. There were absolutely some rookie struggles, and it didn’t help matters that the Kings were struggling as well. Known as a shooter coming out of college, Jackson only shot 31% from 3 point land in his inaugural season while averaging 6.7 PPG.
Now in his sophomore season, there hasn’t been any dramatic changes and he’s actually playing a tiny bit less than he did his rookie year. So how did he crack the top 25 on this list? With the Kings a little bit more balanced as a team, although Jackson hasn’t made a dramatic sophomore leap he has at least shown progression which is a good sign. Although his PPG is still about the same, his shooting efficiency has increased a tiny bit and his playmaking has improved while turning the ball over less.
Jackson still has a long way to go, and he will never likely be a star. But with the continued progression he absolutely can be a solid role player for a long time.
24. Jordan Bell - Golden State Warriors
Bell made a name for himself early last season. Being the lone draft pick for a Golden State team fresh off winning their first championship with Kevin Durant, Bell was obviously walking into a positive situation for a 2nd round pick who had time to develop.
And Bell made a name for himself quicker than expected. A 6’9 player with the hustle and defensive instincts who actually started 13 games his rookie season. I noticed at the time and loved the way he was playing.
There were some injury issues, but the season ended with Bell getting his 1st NBA ring.
So at the start of this season, with Zaza Pachulia gone and newly added DeMarcus Cousins injured, it would seem that Bell might have every opportunity in the world to prove himself.
Well, the starting spot at C went to Damian Jones and Bell’s minutes were actually cut. That being said, he has been getting somewhat consistent minutes lately and now Damian Jones is out for the season. With quite literally no other healthy big men on the roster right now, Bell is going to get his chance and we’ll see if he can make a sophomore leap.
23. Damyean Dotson - New York Knicks
To say Dotson’s sophomore season has been a roller coaster is an understatement. Let’s recap:
- Started the season with 2 healthy DNP’s
- Entered the rotation and scored in double figures his 1st 9 games.
- Got in a shooting slump and then was again cut from the rotation with 4 straight healthy DNP’s
- Put back in the rotation and has scored at least 16 points each of the last 3 games.
Dotson is overshadowed by bigger names on the team but statistically has been solid on the year averaging 11 PPG. We’ll see if he can stay in the rotation: The Knicks are considering the future as much as who is more talented right now when deciding who to play. And Dotson has to be consistent. But, a 6’7 SG with the scoring skills he has can potentially have a spot in the NBA for a long time.
22. Luke Kennard - Detroit Pistons
A tough player to rank, lottery pick last year who showed some serious promise as a shooter. Unfortunately, he got injured after 3 games this year and has missed more than a month.
The good news is that he’s about to return, and looked great in a G-League rehab stint. I am very interested to see where he fits in Detroit’s rotation upon return. The team is experiencing more success than they have in a while and we’ll see where Kennard fits in this conundrum.
21. Jonathan Isaac - Orlando Magic
If this ranking were based on future potential alone, Isaac would be a lot higher. After a rough rookie year, he has shown major progression in the 17 games he has played this year so far with 8/5 averages.
His defensive potential is through the roof. He’s guarded both LeBron and Kevin Durant this year and although he got worked at times this man can be a bonafide defensive stud going into the future.
Isaac needs to stay healthy, and his 3 point shot has a lot of room to improve. But the skills + work ethic are there for him to blossom over time, and I would not be surprised to see him as a top 100 overall player 2 years from now.
20. Dillon Brooks - Memphis Grizzlies
After a strong rookie season in which he got plenty of opportunities to score on the tanking Grizzlies, Brooks’ sophomore season has started a little bit slower. He averaged 7 PPG in 11 games before being sidelined with an MCL sprain that will likely keep him out until minimum close to 2019.
But he showed enough promise last season to leave me impressed, and he’s a very solid 3 point shooter already at 37% since the start of his career. He consistently helps his team on the floor, and when he’s on the man is scorching hot. He still has a long way to go but he is for sure a good long-term piece for Memphis to have next to Jaren Jackson Jr.
19. Markelle Fultz - Philadelphia 76ers
By far the toughest player to rank. As a former number 1 overall pick, the spotlight is wide and shining bright. To say his struggles have been well documented would be an understatement. Fultz’s case isn’t helped by him missing time with shoulder issues right now and rumor has it he wants to be traded.
So why is Fultz this high on this list?
-Although Fultz has a long way to go in becoming a respectable offensive scorer, there was at least progression from his rookie season when he saw the floor. Yes this progression was from awful to “kind of awful” but it’s still progression
- He is still only 20 years old
- The athleticism has always been there and we saw flashes of that this year
- He was the number 1 pick for a reason.
I’m going to be crystal clear: Markelle Fultz has a long way to go. But he absolutely does have value, I do agree he probably would be a better fit on another team, and other teams will absolutely give Philadelphia good value for him still in a trade.
18. Monte Morris - Denver Nuggets
By far the biggest sophomore riser. After only playing 3 games last season, Morris has become a force of nature off the bench for this Nuggets team that currently has the number 1 seed in the stacked West. With Isaiah Thomas out since the beginning of the season, Morris got his unexpected chance and took off running full speed.
He has an absurdly high basketball IQ rarely ever turning the ball over, is an efficient shooter, and is the X Factor behind the surprising success of the Nuggets’ 2nd unit. At only 23 years old, Morris has been a revelation and has shown traits to be a starting point guard in this league. Denver signed him to a 3 year, 4.8 million dollar contract this past offseason and that looks like an absolute steal right now. I am very excited to see how the former Iowa State Cyclone progresses.
17. Malik Monk - Charlotte Hornets
Malik Monk has star potential, but the problem is some games he looks like a star (26 points vs. Atlanta on November 25) and other games he is a nonfactor (5-18 shooting in the 4 games since he played Atlanta).
His teammates love him, John Calipari is on record saying he thinks Monk will be an NBA star, and Monk has shown flashes of this crazy potential this year. But it’s very clear 25% of the way through the season that it’s going to take some time. On the season his shooting efficiency has barely improved and that is not what Hornets’ fans were hoping for.
The good news is that he is still only 20 years old and he’s averaging 10 PPG this year before even turning legal drinking age. The talent is there and over time I’d put my odds on him reaching his potential. The question is how much time.
16. Josh Jackson - Phoenix Suns
Josh Jackson has star potential as well. There are a multitude of factors going on here to potentially affect that potential.
He looked incredible to finish his rookie season and finished with 13 PPG. But with Mikal Bridges being drafted, Trevor Ariza being signed, and the rise of TJ Warren there is now a sudden logjam on the wing. As a result of this + Jackson not progressing (to be fair he hasn’t really regressed either so far) his minutes are down from 25 MPG last season to 19 this year.
The good news: his minutes are up as of right now and he’s scored in double figures each of the last 3 games. The man has talent, Phoenix spent a top 4 pick on him, so let the dude do his thing. Phoenix, you are 4-19 there is nothing to lose by increasing Jackson’s minutes.
15. Zach Collins - Portland Trail Blazers
Collins started the season on an absolute tear, playing great defense and showing ridiculous potential for the future as an athletic 7 footer who can hit 3’s and play near-elite defense. Overall, he has progressed from his rookie season and is still only 21 years old.
He’s hit a tiny bump lately though (his last 2 games has played the least amount of minutes of any game this year) but still overall if you are a Portland fan there is a LOT to like here. Him + Nurkic in the starting frontcourt 2 years from now could be deadly.
14. Bogdan Bogdanovic - Sacramento Kings
Bogdanovic is a player that is rising fast, and my bet is on by this time next month he will be a lot higher on this list. He missed the 1st month of the season, but this man has now scored 20 points in 3 straight games and is looking like a for real future piece for this Kings team. A good compliment to go along with Fox/Bagley long term, Bogdanovic has professional experience from playing overseas, and his teammates see this experience and look up to him (weird saying this for a 26-year-old player but such is life on a young + up and coming team).
But with how he’s playing Bogdanovic has shown no reason for Dave Joerger to back off from giving him an expanded role. I’m very excited to see how this young stud muffin progresses the rest of the season.
13. Bam Adebayo - Miami Heat
Bam Bam is overshadowed on a rotation filled with many top 150 overall type talent players that blend in together in an interesting mix, but Adebayo had made low key progress in his sophomore season.
Averaging 8/7 in just 19 minutes a game, his shooting efficiency has increased, his athleticism is impressive, and he has underrated defense + basketball IQ. Hassan Whiteside is the man at the center position in the 305 for now, but Adebayo is making an impressive name for himself at just 21 years old.
12. OG Anunoby - Toronto Raptors
At just 21 years old, Anunoby is averaging 9 PPG for the best team in the NBA currently. He’s in a situation where he gets to learn from a superstar in Kawhi Leonard (a player with a similar personality + style of game) and there isn’t a ton of pressure on the sophomore.
There is some low key star potential here long term. He’s barely legal drinking age and couldn’t be in a more perfect situation where he can learn while not having a ton of pressure on him (at least by NBA standards). We’ve seen the Raptors’ history of developing players over time (see Pascal Siakam) and I’m interested to see how the franchise handles Anunoby.
11. Josh Hart - LA Lakers
Hart is overshadowed on this Lakers team by bigger names, and he’s been a bit inconsistent at times. But overall, the results for year 2 are solid. Averaging 9 PPG with a high basketball IQ (a tendency for Villanova players) Hart is making a name for himself as a solid role player in the city of angels.
Overall on the year, his efficiency has seen a tiny spike in improvement and although he needs to be a bit more consistent, he’s been able to stay in the Lakers rotation and his impact on this team should not be understated.
10. John Collins - Atlanta Hawks
Cracking our first spot on the top 10 is John Collins. Not as big of a name as Trae Young, and he missed the 1st month of the season with an injury. But in the 8 games, he’s been healthy the dude is making major strides. With 15/7 averages, improved playmaking, good athleticism, and shooting a ridiculous 69% from inside the 3 point line Collins is making a big-time sophomore leap.
He’s going to be overlooked being on a tanking Hawks team with Trae Young being in the spotlight, but the early results has shown progression for Collins.
9. Lauri Markkanen - Chicago Bulls
Like Collins, Markkanen missed the first portion of the season but he just returned from injury and recorded 10 points in his 1st game back.
The long-term potential with The Finisher is scary. A legitimate 7-foot threat with 15/7 averages in his rookie season and underrated defense. He’s on a struggling Bulls team, but he is the most crucial long-term centerpiece for Chicago and I’m excited to see how he does now that he’s returned from injury.
8. Dennis Smith Jr. - Dallas Mavericks
DSJ isn’t averaging as many points as he was a year ago, but he’s been a way more efficient scorer and clearly looks more comfortable next to Luka Doncic in the backcourt. He’s been able to make clutch plays, including a game-winning block on Tobias Harris in a win over the LA Clippers.
The pressure on him has turned down a notch and he’s responded well. Dallas is currently has a stranglehold on the 8 seed as of this writing and DSJ’s impact should not be understated. Just 21 years old still, his progression has been a great sign.
7. Jarrett Allen - Brooklyn Nets
With continued improvement in year number 2, Jarrett Allen is showing some serious long-term potential at the center position. Still not even legal drinking age, he’s become more comfortable scoring in the paint and his rebounding is up to 9 a game. His defense is also stellar with 1.5 BPG.
Allen’s a unique personality for sure, frequently browsing Reddit and refuses to play NBA 2K. He needs to develop his 3 point shot a little more, but there has been a sophomore surge from the bro with the fro.
6. Lonzo Ball - LA Lakers
It’s for sure a change of motion for Lonzo. Instead of the usual having an increased role in the offense as a sophomore, being next to LeBron his scoring role has declined. The good news is, although he still has a long way to go in becoming a dangerous scorer, his efficiency has increased to at least not atrocious levels.
He has solid perimeter defense and a very high basketball IQ. Being next to LeBron, he gets to learn from one of the greatest players in NBA history. At still just 21 years old, he still has time to grow but the pressure will ramp up just a bit when the Lakers are in the playoffs.
Lonzo in a postseason role will be interesting.
5. Kyle Kuzma - LA Lakers
Kuzma cracks our top 5 with an increased scoring role being a solid fit next to LeBron. This Lakers team lacks deadly long-range shooters and Kuzma could potentially fit that role going forward this season. The problem is his 3 point efficiency has decreased from 37% to 30%.
The good news is that the other areas of his game have progressed and he seems to be in more of a groove the last couple of games. He’s become more of a scoring threat in the paint and is a frequent target of LeBron’s futuristic passes. He’s one of the older sophomores but he looks to be a top 75 talent for years to come.
4. De’Aaron Fox - Sacramento Kings
No sophomore has increased the title on his resume to “potential superstar” like Fox has this season so far. I expected improvement but not at this level. With an increased scoring role + more pressure Fox has proved he is up to the task. His shot looks much more comfortable and with more pieces around him than last season that gives him more options to pass too.
With 17/8/4 averages so far and continued clutch play, Fox gives the Kings a potential franchise key that could open up the door to future success. I’m 25 years old and the Kings have been mediocre since I was in middle school, so the fact that this team has the potential for great success going into the next decade is exciting.
3. Donovan Mitchell - Utah Jazz
It’s been a slow-ish start to the season for Mitchell. That being said, I really like how he’s looked the last couple of games and I think he will bounce back. Dwyane Wade recently gave him praise and there are bigger problems with this Jazz team than Mitchell.
As for his play, the 28% 3 PT PCT absolutely has to improve, but I’ve seen enough from Spida to recognize that he has a mindset we’ve seen from few other players at the SG position in the last few seasons. He’ll be fine.
2. Jayson Tatum - Boston Celtics
Tatum barely cracks the number 2 spot, deciding between him/Mitchell was the hardest debate for me on this whole list. I gave the edge to Tatum because he’s been healthy the whole season, has improved his scoring, and although his shooting efficiency has taken a tiny dip he’s still solid in that area. The Celtics have had some struggles but I don’t believe Tatum is the core of these issues and he’s become even underrated.
This is a 20-year-old who boomed the King and is putting up big scoring numbers for the most storied franchise in NBA history. He’s responded to his increased scoring role to low key positive results and although he’s not a flashy name right now he has the potential to be a top 10-15 overall player in a few seasons.
1. Ben Simmons - Philadelphia 76ers
The fresh prince of Melbourne is the number 1 sophomore. With Jimmy Butler in the picture now, Simmons looks more comfortable and he’s making sure to be on his A game with Kendall Jenner sitting courtside every game!
Here are 10 other miscellaneous notes/superlatives among this sophomore class:
1. My favorite player:
2. Best long-term potential:
In terms of stats, Ben Simmons. In terms of winning rings, Jayson Tatum.
3. De’Aaron Fox is the most exciting Kings player since:
Rookie Tyreke Evans.
4. Is it too early to call Markelle Fultz a bust?
5. Is it too early to call Frank Ntilikina a bust?
You have to remember he’s the youngest rookie in the sophomore class, YES. But, his offensive issues are low key a bigger red flag than Markelle’s. Let me tell you though, I just saw a rumor of the Knicks potentially moving him to Orlando and that would be very, very intriguing.
6. Josh Jackson or Malik Monk long term?
7. Player who I low key think has top 50 overall player potential in the future
8. Is it too early to call anyone a bust?
Well, Justin Patton + DJ Wilson have hardly played. TJ Leaf has a very, very long way to go for his talent to reach his draft value. The obvious Fultz/Ntilikina narrative.
But yes, it’s too early. Ask me again next year.
9. Most intrigued to see how the next 3 years play out:
Lonzo and not even close.
10. If I had to redraft the 2017 lottery:
1. Philadelphia 76ers: Jayson Tatum
2. LA Lakers: Lonzo Ball
3. Boston Celtics: Donovan Mitchell
4. Phoenix Suns: De’Aaron Fox
5. Sacramento Kings: Lauri Markkanen
6. Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac
7. Chicago Bulls: Jarrett Allen
8. New York Knicks: John Collins
9. Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr
10. Portland Trail Blazers: Kyle Kuzma
11. Charlotte Hornets: Bam Adebayo
12. Detroit Pistons: Josh Jackson
13. Denver Nuggets: Monte Morris
14. Miami Heat: Zach Collins
Where would Fultz go in this scenario?
15th to Sacramento. In this theoretical draft, the Kings get Markkanen instead of Fox so they take a chance on Fultz the pick after the lottery.