1. #1
    Hman
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    Ranking Luka Doncic, Trae Young and NBA sophomores by star potential 🏀

    Ranking Luka Doncic, Trae Young and NBA sophomores by star potential

    ESPN PLUS ($ MATERIAL)


    Luka Doncic and Trae Young became NBA All-Stars in Year 2. But that doesn't make them the top two NBA sophomore on all cards.


    Which players from the 2018 draft class have the most potential? Does No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton rate higher? What about No. 2 pick Marvin Bagley III, Jaren Jackson Jr., Knicks big man Mitchell Robinson and up-and-coming OKC guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander?


    ESPN insiders Mike Schmitz and Kevin Pelton each rank the top-10 NBA sophomores by long-term outlook.


    Luka Doncic is in a class of his own

    Pelton: Well, there's not much debate at the top when it comes to sophomores, is there? The question isn't so much whether Luka Doncic tops this group as whether he's the best young player in the league, period. He was our consensus choice atop our 25 best players under 25 list back in March, with Bobby Marks rounding out that voting panel.


    The other question is where Doncic ranks among all the second-year prospects in the one-and-done era. Projecting wins above replacement player (WARP) by my metric to an 82-game regular season, his 14.4 WARP ranks third in that span behind Karl-Anthony Towns (18.3) and Anthony Davis (15.2). As compared to those two players, both on lottery teams, Doncic has carried a heavier load for a Dallas Mavericks team that ranked third in the West in point differential when play stopped.


    Mike, how far back do you think we have to go to find a second-year player as promising as Luka?


    Schmitz: The most recent name you could make a case for is Davis. He and Zion Williamson are arguably the best one-and-done prospects we've seen over the past decade, and the fact that Davis did it on both ends of the floor during his 21-point, 10-rebound, 2.8-block sophomore season is why you could make a strong argument for him ahead of Doncic, who is a below-average defender at this stage of his career.


    That said, I'd still give the slight edge to Doncic given his offensive brilliance, the importance of the role he plays in today's NBA as a do-it-all lead ball handler, and the fact that he already has the Mavericks at 40-27 and firmly in the playoff picture.


    The clear backstop here is LeBron James, but the three names that came between James and Davis that I'd have to think about are Blake Griffin, Derrick Rose and Kevin Durant.


    Although Griffin and Rose took the league by storm with their athletic prowess, Doncic's 3-point shooting, shot creation and winning impact at 6-8 puts him ahead of those two.


    Durant ranked sixth in the NBA in scoring as a sophomore and could go down as the most gifted scorer the game has ever seen. He was also a superior defender to Doncic. On the other hand, his ultra-productive Year 2 came on a 23-win Oklahoma City Thunder team. While it's hard for me to say that Doncic is better than Durant was at the same stage, I do think you could argue that Doncic is the most promising second-year player since James.


    KP, is that off base?


    Pelton: I think I might lean toward Davis as slightly more promising because he had more evident room to grow physically, but either way it's reasonable to argue Doncic is the best second-year prospect since LeBron James.


    The case for second place

    Schmitz: With Doncic as the clear leader on our current sophomore list, who do you rank second? I imagine it's Trae Young by a landslide? Anyone else who you think is a contender for that No. 2 spot?


    Pelton: I do have Young second for this season, but I don't think it's a landslide. If we were drafting players, my decision might depend on the teammates around them, as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is better equipped to play a complementary role on a good team -- what he's doing now with the Oklahoma City Thunder -- than Young is.


    In the parlance popularized by Ben Taylor, Young is a floor-raiser. But it's not yet clear that he's a ceiling-raiser. One does wonder how much his defensive shortcomings will be an issue if and when the Atlanta Hawks are ready to seriously contend.


    Still, let's be clear that this is nitpicking a 21-year-old All-Star who's already come further offensively than a lot of people expected early in his career, becoming an efficient, high-volume scorer this season. While some of Young's physical limitations can't be developed, he should become a better defender and decision-maker with additional experience, and taking some of the playmaking load off his shoulders could help in this regard too.


    Of the rhyming point guards, would you go Trae or Shai? Or are you going to the frontcourt?


    Schmitz: I still think Gilgeous-Alexander is the best non-Doncic point guard to come out of the 2018 draft, and I'd slot him just ahead of Young here because of his versatility and two-way potential.


    Young has far surpassed my expectations, becoming one of the most exciting young players in the NBA and an absolute nightmare for teams to defend. This is less an indictment of him and more an endorsement of SGA in terms of what he is now and what he can become in the future.


    At 6-6 with a 7-0 wingspan, Gilgeous-Alexander fits a variety of lineups, even alongside Chris Paul and Dennis Schroder for stretches. His offensive and defensive versatility has been a factor in a surprise season for Oklahoma City, with SGA as its leading scorer.


    Gilgeous-Alexander was a beanpole (171 pounds) when I first saw him play in 2016. He wasn't even a starter at Kentucky until 13 games into his freshman season, after which he became the team's most valuable player.


    The jump Gilgeous-Alexander made in his second NBA season is in line with what we've seen at every stage, and I'd expect yet another leap next season as he takes on more offensive responsibility. Given his length and crafty nature, his 57.4% shooting in the restricted area (via NBA.com/stats) should improve as he fills out. Gilgeous-Alexander is already a very efficient pick-and-roll scorer, and as his on-ball reps climb, Gilgeous-Alexander's playmaking should start to elevate. He's shown us his ability to facilitate with either hand in tight spaces.


    Defensively, he's still evolving into a lockdown guy. But as his frame matures, Gilgeous-Alexander will become more physical.


    My ranking of SGA over Trae has been criticized over the years, and that's likely to continue given Young's incredible highlights and video-game numbers. But we should know at some point over the next few years which player can have more impact deep into the playoffs, and I'd side with SGA's two-way potential and ability to fit in with other elite players.



    Assessing the big men

    Schmitz: KP, would you rank Shai third overall? If so, who comes after that?


    Pelton: I would, yeah. Admittedly, I didn't see it with Gilgeous-Alexander at the college level, and wasn't completely sold on him as an elite prospect even after a rookie season that beat expectations, but his growth in Year 2 has been enormous and shown major star potential. The Thunder have to be thrilled with getting Gilgeous-Alexander as a down payment in the Paul George trade, with multiple draft picks still to come.


    I think the choice gets a bit more difficult when we move to the fourth spot on the list. There's a legitimate case in my mind to be made for Devonte' Graham, my pick for Most Improved Player, but this probably comes down to the top frontcourt player between 2018 No. 1 overall pick Deandre Ayton and 2018 No. 4 selection Jaren Jackson Jr.


    Despite the progress Ayton made in improving his weaknesses during Year 2, I'm still inclined to go with Jackson because of his rare skill set. After showing promise as a 3-point shooter as a rookie, Jackson has become a legit threat, making 40% of his 6.3 attempts per game.


    Among other players listed at 6-foot-11 and taller, only Karl-Anthony Towns has ever had a season like that. I've been pleasantly surprised by Jackson's ability to ramp up his usage rate in the NBA, and though he's not as stout a rebounder as Ayton, he's likely to become the more versatile defender.


    Where do you go fourth, Mike?


    Schmitz: I would still give Ayton the edge over Jackson, which is how I saw it on draft night in 2018. Although there's still work to be done, Ayton has started to turn the corner defensively, particularly as a rim-protector, while posting almost unprecedented box score stats for his age. He almost doubled his block percentage from his rookie (2.6) to sophomore seasons (4.5), has the foot speed to step out and guard the perimeter when he's fully engaged, and is still a force on the glass, even if he's not yet an elite box-out big. So, if Ayton is able to eventually become the same caliber rim-protector as Jackson and is already a far superior rebounder with more natural size, then Jackson's only real advantage is as a floor-spacer.


    In addition to his superior shooting, Jackson's ball handling is much more fluid. He's also more than a year younger. I definitely understand the argument for JJJ given his age, shooting, agility, switchability and glimpses as a shot-blocker. But I worry about him becoming a bit one-dimensional offensively, as there were questions about his toughness on the interior prior to college. I think becoming a more reliable playmaker could help him take his game to the next level.


    Ayton also has a lot of room to improve offensively. His efficiency took a hit this season in the 30 games he played. He also finished with more turnovers than assists at Arizona and during his first two seasons, and he has yet to tap into the floor-spacing potential he showed at the NCAA level (0-for-7 career 3s in NBA).


    Jackson's game is a bit flashier and easier for basketball Twitter to get excited about, so I do think there was an overreaction early on in their respective NBA careers that JJJ was clearly a superior prospect to Ayton, and I don't see that being the case.



    Who else makes the cut?

    Pelton: All right, let's go lightning round to wrap up our top 10:


    Top-10 Rankings

    RANK PELTON SCHMITZ
    1 Luka Doncic Luka Doncic
    2 Trae Young Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
    3 Shai Gilgeous-Alexander Trae Young
    4 Jaren Jackson Jr. Deandre Ayton
    5 Deandre Ayton Jaren Jackson Jr.
    6 Devonte' Graham Mitchell Robinson
    7 Mitchell Robinson Collin Sexton
    8 Donte DiVincenzo Devonte' Graham
    9 Duncan Robinson Donte DiVincenzo
    10 Mikal Bridges Marvin Bagley III
    At some point, the margins become miniscule. I could just as easily have gone with Memphis Grizzlies SG De'Anthony Melton, Hawks SG Kevin Huerter or Miami Heat PG Kendrick Nunn at the bottom of the top 10, but I think Heat SG Duncan Robinson and Phoenix Suns SF Mikal Bridges have slightly better chances to remain contributors on good teams. (Nunn, like Robinson, already is -- but I wonder about his ability to maintain 36% 3-point shooting.)


    At 25, Graham is older, but his high-volume 3-point shooting has made him an effective starting point guard in his second season. I think only the top three guys on the list have been better this season. New York Knicks C Mitchell Robinson might have more upside if he can improve his defensive instincts and cut down on fouling. SG Donte DiVincenzo has had an excellent season for the Milwaukee Bucks after barely playing as a rookie, and I think could have a breakout postseason.


    Notably absent from this group that includes a pair of second-round picks and the undrafted Duncan Robinson is No. 2 overall pick Marvin Bagley III, who was unable to make any progress during an injury-plagued season to date.


    Would you have Bagley in your top 10, Mike?


    Schmitz: I tend to hold onto my pre-draft rankings a little longer than I probably should, likely a product of my job covering these prospects more prior to the draft than after.


    On that note, I went with Bagley at No. 10. I wasn't all that high on him as an elite prospect heading into the draft, as bigs who don't make 3s consistently, create for others or defend at a high level aren't what teams tend to look for. Still, I think Bagley has a bright future as a mismatch, scoring center given his rare fluidity and ability to handle at 6-foot-11. Although not always efficient, he's still averaging 21.0 points (49.7% FGs), 10.8 rebounds (3.1 fouls), and 1.3 blocks per 36 minutes through 75 NBA games. Watching him push off the break and spin past Rudy Gobert for a finish makes me wonder what he could look like in a year or two once he improves as a shooter and decision-maker.


    We're on the same page with Robinson, Graham and DiVincenzo. Robinson continues to outplay his draft slot (36th overall in 2018), even if he still has room to improve his discipline on both ends. I wrote about DiVincenzo being a star in his role for the Bucks back in February after the Paris game, and I agree he's poised for a breakout postseason in Florida. Graham's success looks sustainable given his ability to shoot it off the bounce from deep and make others around him better.





    I still believe in Cleveland Cavaliers guard Collin Sexton. I was high on Sexton coming out of college because of his relentless nature and rate of improvement leading up to his NBA career. He still has a lot of room to improve as a facilitator and defender, but he was quietly playing the best basketball of his young career prior to the hiatus.


    Over his last 10 games, Sexton averaged 25.5 points, 4.4 assists and 3.8 turnovers in 37.1 minutes while shooting 57% from 2 and 44% from 3 on 5.2 attempts per game. Only four under-22 players in the league are averaging 20 points per game this season -- Doncic, Young, Sexton and Jayson Tatum. Points per game isn't the best indicator of value, but Sexton is four years younger than Graham, and I'll bet on him continuing to improve.


    It's hard to argue against including Duncan Robinson or Mikal Bridges, though. I considered Huerter and also think Detroit Pistons guard Bruce Brown deserves a little love for how he's played so far in his NBA career, starting 101 of 136 games and adding value defensively and as a facilitator.

  2. #2
    Bcatswin
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    Nice read, thanks H

  3. #3
    Roscoe_Word
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    The two you just mentioned are, as Judge Smails would say, "top notch...top notch.

    I think the allowance of the "Euro Two Step" helped Luca "Brasi" Doncic a lot.

  4. #4
    IBetYou
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    Doncic & Tatum are big time. The rest aren't fit to lace their boots.

  5. #5
    Goat Milk
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    Ayton very underrated. Will be a beast in no time.

  6. #6
    IBetYou
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    They have Divincenzo in their chart but no Tatum/ Ingram... It's a sophomore chart but why ignore players that are younger and better? Shoddy work
    Last edited by IBetYou; 07-01-20 at 12:48 AM.

  7. #7
    RedApples
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    Quote Originally Posted by Goat Milk View Post
    Ayton very underrated. Will be a beast in no time.
    ayton is horrendous. i'd take most every player that made the top 10 list over him, and ones who didn't like wendell carter jr... all day. wendell carter jr not making the list sorta renders this list idiotic.

  8. #8
    Goat Milk
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    Quote Originally Posted by RedApples View Post
    ayton is horrendous. i'd take most every player that made the top 10 list over him, and ones who didn't like wendell carter jr... all day. wendell carter jr not making the list sorta renders this list idiotic.
    Wendell Carter JR is a shrimp who tries to play C. Ayton is 7 feet tall, 250+ pounds. Ayton will be 22 and 10 for the next 10 years of his career. What will Carter be? A bench player.

  9. #9
    shadymcgrady
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    Trae Young is trash, guy loses every game by thirty while padding his own stats and waiving a white flag on defense. He is the epitome of the coach's son. Plus he's shot to the gills with roids and HGH. Can't wait to see the bottom fall out for that fraud.

    Divencenzo is a good player, undersized but he has excellent basketball instincts. He could be a great winning player in the future
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  10. #10
    rm18
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    Donte is a beast they dont call him the Michael Jordan of Delaware for nothing.
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