By Robert Jeffrey
With the NBA’s All-Star break only weeks away, let’s take a moment to highlight which rookies and sophomores have been performing up to and exceeding expectations that were placed on these fresh-faced NBA players in their young careers:
2015 Draft Class
Jahlil Okafor- This talented member of the 2015 draft class is topping his rookie opposition in points per game this season, averaging 17.4 points per contest. This talented young man is currently ranked third among rookies this season in blocks per game with 1.14. While he may not be an amazing shot-blocker compared to fellow rookies Porzingis and Towns, Okafor’s ability to score is one of the many reasons he was drafted by the 76ers with the 3rd pick overall.
Kristaps Porzingis- One of the most underrated players in this draft class has suddenly become one of the overwhelmingly impressive rookies this season. With 14 Double-Doubles on the year and ranked 3rd among rookies in points per game he is on pace to be one of the finalists for rookie of the year. This has to be great news for the Knicks fans that voiced their disapproval for the front office selecting him on draft-day. Look out New York, Porzingis is taking over.
Karl-Anthony Towns- The number one pick by the Minnesota Timberwolves has been having a very nice season so far and expect to see him only improve in the second half. Learning from an all-time great in Kevin Garnett in Minnesota has only helped his defensive and offensive skill-set. Averaging 15.9 PPG and 9.2 RPG this kid is the second coming of a young KG. Minnesota is full of young talent, just give them a few years and they’ll be great.
D’Angelo Russell- With Kobe’s retirement, the Lakers are focused more on number 24 rather than the rest of their young squad. However Russell hasn’t underperformed horribly, he is currently 4th in scoring among rookies and 3rd among all rookies in assists per game with 3.4. Despite these statistics, Russell was drafted to be a true point guard on a team with shooters, so the Lakers are going to need more assists and better work as a floor general.
Emmanuel Mudiay- Ranking 5th among rookies in scoring on a Denver Nuggets team that isn’t built to win right now, it is certainly tough for any young point guard. While that is impressive in the given situation, Mudiay is averaging 6 assists per game over 24 games played with Denver while only playing 30 minutes per game. It’ll be interesting to see what he brings to the table moving forward with a rebuilding Nuggets team.
2014 Draft Class
Andrew Wiggins- No surprise with this one folks, he is performing superbly in his second year out of Kansas. Wiggins is ranking 6th among all shooting guard in scoring with 20.6 PPG on a very young Minnesota team that is loaded with major talent! However, his rebounding numbers could be improved immensely as he ranks 14th among eligible shooting guards.
Jabari Parker- After tearing his ACL only a season ago, it would appear that Parker isn’t fully the dynamic scoring that he once was. Averaging 10.9 points per game good enough to be tied for 17th among eligible small forwards, his physical health should be the most important aspect as the season moves forward. With the Bucks fighting for a second consecutive playoff berth, Parker’s health will be key.
Julius Randle- Another power forward who suffered a major injury last year is back and looking to make his mark. He has played in 38 games for the Lakers and averaging 26.4 minutes of playing time per contest. All good things for Randle as he looks to regain his dominance at the forward position.
Zach Lavine- Probably the most athletic player in the 2014 draft class is on his way to a successful year as a solid back up to point guard Ricky Rubio.
Doug McDermott- The ever quiet sharpshooter from Creighton is having a solid second year campaign with the Bulls averaging more than 20 minutes per game and close to 10 pts per game.