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July 7, 2011
Sophomore Projections
Room for Growth?

by Kevin Pelton


A day after considering possible stat lines for some of this year's top draft picks, it's time to put the sophomores-to-be under the spotlight. Specifically, we'll focus on the room last season's most promising rookies have for growth in their second seasons.

This time, the projections are generated by Basketball Prospectus' SCHOENE Projection System, which uses players' stats to match them with similar talents at the same age, then uses the development of those peers to generate a projection. In this case, we've assumed each player will have the same role as last year so statistics can easily be compared on a level playing field. Numbers in parentheses are from the 2010-11 season.

Blake Griffin, PF, Los Angeles Clippers
24.2 ppg, 12.4 rpg, 4.3 apg (22.5, 12.1, 3.6)

Even after an outstanding rookie season, Griffin can still get better in year two. The big difference could be in Griffin's scoring. Improving to 24.2 points per game would take him from 12th in the league in scoring to eighth. Among post players, only Amar'e Stoudemire (25.3 ppg) averaged more points last season than Griffin's projection.

Similar players--a group headlined by Griffin's Clippers predecessor Elton Brand--increased their involvement in their teams' offense by 7.4 percent the following season. Griffin already used 27.5 percent of the Clippers' plays last season but has the potential to improve that by creating more of his own offense while facing up defenders. The biggest obstacle to doing that might be a healthy Chris Kaman, because Kaman's post-up game makes him a far bigger part of the offense than DeAndre Jordan.

John Wall, PG, Washington Wizards
17.6 ppg, 8.5 apg, 4.6 rpg (16.4, 8.3, 4.6)

For Wall, a breakthrough season seems to be another year away. In fact, of the five players in this group, Wall's comparables saw the least average improvement the following season--just 4.5 percent. Although Wall is frequently compared to Derrick Rose, who also played for John Calipari in college and was taken No. 1 overall, SCHOENE matches him with Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder because both players made a relatively low percentage of their two-point attempts. (Rose is fifth on the list.) Rose was an All-Star as a sophomore, but his big improvement came last season, when he won the MVP award. Westbrook also broke out in his third season, making the All-Star team for the first time.

That's not to say Wall won't improve in year two. A big difference could be seen in his turnover rate. Similar players cut their turnovers by 6.4 percent the following season, which explains why Wall's assists-to-turnover rate is projected to go from 2.20 to 2.31.

DeMarcus Cousins, F/C, Sacramento Kings
15.5 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 3.2 apg (14.1, 8.6, 2.5)

When you think of Cousins, you probably don't think of passing, but statistically his assist rate was one of the strongest aspects of his game as a rookie. Similar players (led, amusingly, by fellow Kentucky product Antoine Walker) handed out nearly a third more assists the next season, which would take Cousins over three assists a night. Just six big men in the league, including Griffin, averaged more than Cousins' projection of 3.2 apg. As important to Sacramento might be a decline in Cousins' foul rate, projected at more than six percent. Cousins led the NBA last season with 4.1 fouls per game. In fact, he fouled 58 more times than anyone else in the league.

SCHOENE cannot account for the possibility that Cousins plays a different role next season. Because center Samuel Dalembert is a free agent and the Kings dealt for power forward J.J. Hickson, Cousins could end up logging far more minutes in the middle.

Greg Monroe, F/C, Detroit Pistons
10.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 apg (9.4, 7.5, 1.3)

Monroe was passed over for the All-Rookie First Team, but few rookies did more to help their teams win. Only Griffin surpassed him in WARP. What might limit Monroe's upside is that he has what Bill James has termed in baseball as "old player skills." Other than rebounding, the areas in which Monroe excelled--taking care of the ball and finishing at a high rate--tend to be associated with grizzled veterans rather than promising rookies. Indeed, players similar to Monroe made relatively modest strides the next season, improving on average by 5.5 percent.

It might seem surprising that Monroe would regress on the glass next season, but this is actually relatively common. Players tend to peak on the offensive boards as rookies and decline from there, while defensive rebounding is generally steady from year to year. If Monroe is to beat last season's rebound average, it will come thanks to more minutes after he came off the bench early in his rookie campaign.

Derrick Favors, F/C, Utah Jazz
7.3 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 0.6 apg (6.8, 5.3, 0.5)

Favors, who will turn 20 next week, was the NBA's youngest player a season ago, so rapid improvement is to be expected. The average player similar to him did in fact improve by 13.1 percent the following season, barely edging out Cousins for the most projected development heading into year two. Favors' numbers are likely to trend upward across the board, though the extent of his development may not be evident unless he's able to carve out additional minutes in a frontcourt that has become crowded with the addition of No. 3 pick Enes Kanter. Favors does have a unique claim to playing time in that he's the best defender of the Jazz's options up front.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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Premium Article Calipari, Calhoun, Etc... (07/07)
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