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Measuring The Upside: The Sophomores (Slump Or Sensation?)

As the 2023-24 season gets off to a entertaining start, the second year players from the 2022 NBA Draft class now have a year of experience under their belt. That experience is valuable as they develop their game to help their team win, and the "sophomores" will look to avoid that "slump" phase and instead aim to be "sophomore sensations". Let's measure the upside on the notable names to watch this season who are taking their game to the next level.

Paolo Banchero (BAN-CARE-OH) made a name for himself last year after being drafted #1 by the Orlando Magic following his college career at Duke. The reigning rookie of the year is currently averaging 18.8 points, 7.0 rebounds, while shooting 40% from three-point land. Even though it's a small sample size he has shown tremendous improvement from outside, and he doesn't necessarily need to be the star player this early in his career. He is the best player on Orlando, but this is a rebuilding team that annually struggles to stay healthy. The Magic have a young core with Franz Wagner (FRONZ VAG-NER) (22), Cole Anthony (23), Wendell Carter Jr. (24), and Jalen Suggs (22) surrounding the 21-year-old Banchero so as long as they remain relatively healthy, the playoff drought could end very soon.

Another name who came out with a vengeance was Shaedon Sharpe from Kentucky. The Portland Trailblazers drafted Sharpe 7th overall last season hoping to build a playoff team around Damian Lillard. Unfortunately that changed after the Blazers traded Lillard to the Milwaukee Bucks which sparked the rebuild around Sharpe and new rookie Scoot Henderson. Even with a 3-8 start to the season, Sharpe hasn't taken a step back. He is currently averaging 18.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Sharpe's scoring average has nearly doubled from last season, showing he's doing most with the opportunity early in the season. Typically in a rebuilding season the first and second year players are given the reigns early, and that's exactly what's going on in Portland. The Blazers have also been bitten by the injury bug early as Robert Williams is out for the season, Anfernee Simons is out for a couple more weeks, along with Henderson being out for at least another week. These injuries also provide Sharpe with more chances to show what he's got, and although it might not translate to wins, he will make Blazer fans excited for the future of their franchise.

Walker Kessler was just a piece in the biggest transitional deal in the previous off-season. He was the 22nd pick in the draft which was traded to the Utah Jazz in the Rudy Gobert (GOH-BEAR) trade that sent him to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Utah seemed to be in a rebuilding position after also losing Donovan Mitchell, but they are instead retooling faster than anticipated. Kessler is a big reason why, earning All-Rookie First Team honors unexpectedly last season. This year he was off to a similar start before he hurt his elbow. Kessler averaged 8.3 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks. While his injury has halted his second season, there is no doubt Kessler will be the shot blocker the Jazz defense needs to reach the playoffs once again.

Another star in the making from this class is Bennedict Mathurin from the Indiana Pacers. The 21-year-old guard put the world on notice last season joining Kessler and Banchero on the All-Rookie First Team. So far this year he is averaging 12.9 points, 2.3 assists, 4.1 rebounds, and currently shooting 32.6% from outside the arc. Mathurin is joined by Tyrese Haliburton, Buddy Hield, Obi Toppin and Myles Turner in Rick Carlisle's (CAR-LILE)

offensive system that should help the thrive. Their goal is to end their playoff drought and if they can remain healthy, Mathurin adds to their talent pool that can help them accomplish that goal.

A second year player that seemingly can't stop winning and will look to continue that trend this year is Christian Braun (BROWN) from Kansas. He played a role off the bench last year for the Denver Nuggets during their title run, but excelled in it especially in the postseason. His performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals was key to helping the Nuggets become champions. After winning the national championship in his final year at Kanas, Braun became one of four players in NBA history to win an NBA championship the year after winning a college championship. So far this year he is averaging 7.2 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.1 assists. Braun's stats don't do the tape justice however as he loves to showcase on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor. Denver lost Bruce Brown who was a key piece to their team, so that will give Braun to take that next step and come off the bench with more opportunity to keep his personal winning trend going.

There are so many more second year guys that are looking to take that next step, but these are just some of the notable ones to take notice of with the season gets underway. There are others in this class not on this list like Jalen Williams (OKC), Mark Williams (CHA), and Jaden Hardy (DAL), but these players above are looking to take their teams to the next level. The year is still early, and anything can happen in a given season. With that being said, could they be in for a sophomore slump, or turn into a sophomore sensation?

*Editor's Note: Although Chet Holmgren (OKC) was drafted in 2022, he does not qualify as he did not play an NBA game last year due to a Lisfranc fracture suffered in the off-season. He qualifies as a rookie.


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