Everyone knows about the likes of Donovan Mitchell, Jayson Tatum, and Lauri Markkanen, all of whom burst onto the scene in 2017-18 and showed themselves to be among the cream of the crop in their draft class. But not all rookies leave their mark right away. Some take more time to develop or are not afforded the opportunity to step in and contribute immediately. The second season is often when players begin to show their true value. Here are four NBA sophomore players who could put their mediocre rookie seasons behind them and enjoy breakout second campaigns: De’Aaron Fox of the Sacramento Kings, Cedi Osman of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Luke Kennard of the Detroit Pistons, and Bam Adebayo of the Miami Heat.
NBA Sophomore Breakout Candidates for 2018-19
De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento
Fox was a classic case of a 19-year-old one-and-done who was perhaps caught in the middle between being NBA ready and needing another year of development at Kentucky when he declared for the draft in 2017. But while the Kings knew at the time they drafted him fifth overall that he would need a grace period to adjust to the pro game, they also knew that Fox’s talent and potential were off the charts. With a year of experience underneath him and a much more talented young core now in place around him, Fox is primed to break out in a big way in 2018-19.
His speed and explosiveness are really what set Fox apart, and a year to learn how to process the game at that same speed should allow Fox to really use those two strengths to his advantage. Fox also has a bit more help this year to take some of the pressure off, including second overall pick Marvin Bagley. Meanwhile, Buddy Hield, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Justin Jackson all have gone through another year of growth. When Vlade Divac and the Kings front office passed on Luka Doncic in the 2018 NBA Draft, it was a strong vote of confidence that they still believe Fox can be their guy running the point. Fox is in a great position to repay that belief in him this season.
Cedi Osman, Cleveland
As a general rule, anybody LeBron James invites to scrimmage with him in the summer is a player we should probably take note of. James likes Osman’s game for a reason, and he saw it develop on the practice court over the course of last season. Now with James out of the picture in Cleveland, Osman looks primed to step into the canyon left behind at the small forward spot for the Cavs.
Of course, Osman won’t take over the same point forward role James had, but with the Cavs focused on the future, he should receive regular minutes on the wing. Osman is a capable scorer and uses his great instincts and high basketball IQ to affect the game positively at both ends. He is also coming off a summer where he averaged 19.3 points and 8 rebounds per game while leading Turkey to the next round of the FIBA Basketball World Cup European Qualifiers. The prevailing belief across the NBA community is that, without LeBron, the Cavs will revert back to their futile state of 2010-2014. But there is more potential here than what one may be led to believe, with Kevin Love still in his prime and an ultra-explosive budding superstar in Collin Sexton. Osman is very much a part of the young nucleus looking to the future in Cleveland.
Luke Kennard, Detroit
Kennard can really shoot it, and with the state of the Pistons backcourt, the second-year man out of Duke should have the chance to take the next step in his development. Despite a relatively quiet rookie campaign where he only saw 20 minutes of floor time per game, Kennard shot 42% from distance and better than 44% overall. And under first-year Head Coach Dwane Casey, Kennard will have a blank slate to prove that he is ready for an uptick in minutes.
The Pistons also have reason to look for Kennard to take charge of a starting spot. Detroit added a number of bodies to their backcourt and on the wing in the off-season, but there still remains a great deal of uncertainty as to how the minutes will be allocated. Reggie Bullock is expected to start at the two to begin the season, while a pair of 2018 second round picks (Bruce Brown out of Miami (FL) and Khyri Thomas out of Creighton) also possess some upside. But Kennard is a year ahead of both rookies and has a much higher ceiling than Bullock. The Pistons invested a lottery pick on Kennard a year ago, and he has the smooth shooting stroke to eventually rise to the top and claim a starting wing spot in the Motor City.
Bam Adebayo, Miami
Adebayo showed flashes of what he can bring to the table in spurts last season. He is exciting to watch on both ends thanks to his high-energy attitude and incredible athleticism, and Eric Spoelstra and the Heat Coaching Staff began to harness those traits towards the tail end of the campaign. The only thing that will hold Adebayo back is the presence of Hassan Whiteside in front of him on the depth chart.
Based on the skillsets of the two players, it can be difficult for both he and Whiteside to co-exist simultaneously on the court. But Whiteside has dealt with a range of injuries in the past and has also struggled to deliver high-level production on a consistent basis. Adebayo is fresh off a monster pre-season effort against New Orleans last Wednesday, posting 26 points, 12 rebounds, 5 steals, and 3 blocks in just 27 minutes. It was just a pre-season game, but that type of stat-stuffing performance will surely catch Spoelstra’s attention. Even with Whiteside in the fold, Adebayo has proven he is deserving of an expanded role in his second season.
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