NBA Sophomores: The performances during the NBA’s annual rookie introduction and large-scale tryouts for young players hoping to break into the league don’t always transition neatly to the games that matter, but history has taught us a few things about previous first-round choices entering their NBA sophomores seasons.
If a player in his or her second season suffers in Summer League following a poor rookie season, it’s a significant warning signal. While second-year players who seem considerably improved in Summer League cannot be named All-Stars, it is a positive indicator for their future.
In an ideal world, clubs would want to release their second-year players after only one or two games in Las Vegas since it’s evident they’re much too talented for the level of competition at the Summer League. Here are seven players that reached that mark in 2023. Note that rookies are not included in this ranking, but we will have more coverage of how first-year players did in Vegas at the end of the season.
Here are NBA Sophomores who are much more talented for Summer League
Jabari Smith Jr., F, Houston Rockets
Jabari Smith Jr. was supposedly going to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft until the Orlando Magic changed their minds at the last second and made the correct choice in Paolo Banchero. Smith was selected third overall by the Houston Rockets, where he had a difficult rookie season. Smith was projected to be an outstanding three-point shooter at 6’10, but he only nailed 30 per cent of his deep efforts. The Rockets’ lack of a point guard who could put him up for easy shots didn’t help.
Smith stated that he chose to participate in Summer League this year because his first season was less than stellar. If his performance in Las Vegas is any indicator, he’ll make a significant leap in year two. Smith scored 35.5 points per game with seven rebounds, four assists, and one block while shooting 48.8 per cent from the field until the Rockets determined he was too talented to keep playing. He only hit 6-of-18 from three-point range, but he showed that he can be successful even when his shots aren’t dropping at a high rate. Smith finished his Summer League season with one of the most incredible buzzer-beaters you’ll ever witness.
In Houston, things are looking up. Outside of San Antonio, the Rockets had the finest draught in the league, adding Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore. They signed free agents Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks for large salaries in order to bring seasoned skills and knowledge. Ime Udoka, the team’s new head coach, should be able to get the most out of Smith defensively. Smith is poised to make the NBA sophomores leap after an up-and-down rookie season.
You might also be interested in reading this: NBA summer league: Winners and Losers of the League
Tari Eason, F, Houston Rockets
Tari Eason was one of the best NBA Sophomores who performed really well in the summer league. Eason snuck in at No. 17 overall in the 2022 draught and instantly appeared to be a steal for the Rockets as an athletic forward with a motor that never stops running at full throttle. Eason travelled to Las Vegas with Smith and spent two games physically dominating opponents on both ends of the floor. Before retiring, he averaged 23 points, 9.5 rebounds, four assists, three blocks, and one steal a game on 48.7 percent shooting from the field.
Eason is a powerful and lengthy attacker who never stops attacking either end of the pitch. In the video above, his recovery and block against Jaden Ivey show off his closing speed and agility. While his potential lockdown defence is his main selling point, Eason’s offence is also fascinating. He’s a good ball handler and driver for someone his height, and when he gets to the basket, he can finish over or past opponents. In Vegas, he only hit 36% of his three-point attempts.
With Smith, Brooks, and Whitmore now on the wing, the Rockets are now a touch crowded, but Eason’s skill set and determination just cannot be contained. Udoka should be smitten with him.
Jalen Duren, C, Detroit Pistons
Duren was a top-five talent in the 2022 class because to his great combination of physicality and youth, but he fell to No. 13 on draught night. Duren improved his skill level in his two games in Las Vegas after a strong rookie season full of monster dunks, attacking opposition defences off the bounce and taking pull-up jumpers. During his two-game winning streak, he averaged 20 points and nine rebounds per game while shooting 68.2 per cent from the floor.
Duren’s man-child strength and 7’5 wingspan translate easily to the NBA as a power finisher near the hoop. What we witnessed in Summer League were glimpses of perimeter skill that littered his video as a top prospect in high school. Duren is still learning the defensive intricacies of rim protection, but he possesses every physical tool a centre requires to excel in that job. With Duren, Javier Ivey, and Ausar Thompson all on the floor, I’m concerned about a spacing issue in Detroit, but if he finds room inside, you can trust on the young centre to knock it home for two points.
Jalen Williams, G, Oklahoma City Thunder
Jalen Williams only needed one game in the Salt Lake City Summer League to establish he didn’t belong at this level. Williams, the former No. 12 selection out of Santa Clara, was one of the league’s top rookies last year and seems ready for even better things in year two. Williams scored 21 points on 8-of-14 shooting in his debut, taking over the offence in the absence of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and displaying his driving skills and one-and-one scoring prowess.
Williams has everything you want in a secondary creator: he can run pick-and-roll, shoot spot-up threes, and attack slanted defences by pressing the basket with his long arms. Chet Holmgren looked well as well, despite the fact that he is still shaking off the cobwebs from missing last season due to injury. OKC is set for a significant climb up the standings this year provided Holmgren can remain healthy, with SGA and Williams spearheading the offence on the perimeter.
MarJon Beauchamp, F, Milwaukee Bucks
Beauchamp didn’t get much action as a rookie for a Bucks club with championship ambitions (whoops), but the No. 24 overall choice in the 2022 lottery appears to be prepared for more this year. Beauchamp, a former G League Ignite player, is a 6’6 forward who can make plays in transition, defend taller players, and is only beginning to develop his shot-making ability. In two games in Las Vegas, he averaged 21.5 points and seven rebounds while shooting 51.6 percent from the field.
Beauchamp may require improved jump shooting to compete for a spot in the Bucks’ rotation with Giannis Antetokounmpo. In Vegas, he was a willing shooter, taking five three-pointers a game but only hitting 30% of them. Beauchamp’s ability to play with force and two-way explosiveness would be a nice addition to the Bucks’ ageing core even if he isn’t shooting. We’ll see whether Adrian Gryphon, the new coach, can get him some playing time.
Keegan Murray, F, Sacramento Kings
Murray appeared to be the better player on the court in both of his games in the California Classic. That shouldn’t come as a surprise for a guy who was one of the league’s top rookies last season — and played significant playoff minutes for the Western Conference’s No. 3 seed — but it’s precisely what the Kings want to see.
Murray is a lethal shooter with exceptional flexibility. He can dash past screens and square himself up to the hoop fast for a decent look. With a step back, he may generate further separation. He’s not afraid to let them fly throughout the transition. The Kings forward also displayed the transition scoring punch that has been obvious in his game since his college days at Iowa, as well as his rim-protecting abilities. The Kings are also aware that they have a terrific player in Murray. They’re now curious to see if he can level up again.
Jaden Ivey, G, Detroit Pistons
Ivey’s offensive efficiency stats during Summer League left something to be desired, but he earns the last slot on our list for his glimpses of brilliance above equally inefficient scoring guards like Bennedict Mathurin, Jared Hardy, and Ochai Agbaji.
Ivey bounced back from a bad first game to have a fantastic second game for the Pistons, ending with 22 points, 10 assists, and two steals on 9-of-15 shooting. Houston. It’s over when he gets a runway to the basket.
Ivey is an explosive leaper and one of the league’s fastest guards. Even though his body is now faster than his mind, he does some things with the ball that cannot be taught. He’s a walking paint touch when he has a sliver of room, with a ferocious first stride and a sharp finisher around the rim. The game must slow down for Ivey, but the return of Cade Cunningham to the Detroit lineup may help. On his tape, there are still sparks of greatness that catapulted him to the top five.
So these are the NBA sophomores who are much more talented for Summer League. Let us know your views on this.