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NBA Sophomore Class: Players Due For a Jump Next Season

Denver Nuggets guard Evan Fournier
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Denver Nuggets guard Evan Fournier

pr 20, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Nuggets guard Evan Fournier (94) reacts during the first half of game one of the first round of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the Golden State Warriors at the Pepsi Center. Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Coming into this new season, a lot of the NBA’s attention will be on the incoming class, the Rooks, and the pandemonium will mostly drown out the laurels of the Sophomore Class (unless you’re Anthony Davis). But the second year in an NBA player’s career is an important juncture. Players are no longer the butt of team jokes or pranks, they understand better what physical demands will be required of them and they’ll be better at preparing accordingly—and they’ll feel more familiar with their coach’s system. Those players will see a jump in their stats.

Others hit a brick wall known as the Sophomore Slump which can be due to relaxed workout regiments, overly ambitious workout regiments, a deeper thirst for the party lifestyle, or, just a natural performance slump based on x-number of mental blocks. More on those later.

In preparation for the new year, and in a preview of possible low-radar Fantasy Basketball recruits, SJN has picked eight players it projects to reach new heights. You won’t find safe bets on here like Andre Drummond or Damian Lillard; this is all about the ones you won’t see coming.

Evan Fournier

Position: Shooting Guard / Team: Denver Nuggets

After a disappointing playoff loss to the Golden State Warriors, Denver is looking to tap into its young blood. Fournier will be a starter with Andre Iguodala gone and Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler taking over the small forward load. Fournier has good size (6-7), can pass well, and averaged 12.3 points in last nine games of last season. Can be a 13 PPG, five APG, four RPG, two STLPG guy this season.

John Henson

Position: Power Forward / Team: Milwaukee Bucks

Henson was a giant among men in the Summer League and that success will translate in the 2013-14 campaign. Henson has very good size for the 4 (6-11) and has the tools to be a stellar two-way forward. With Larry Sanders plugging up the middle, Henson is positioned to be something like a 14.5 PPG and 9.8 RPG sophomore. Mouthwatering for Bucks fans.

Scott Machado

Position: Point Guard / Team: Golden State Warriors

Machado is mostly a mystery man who has done some stints in the D-League and for the Houston Rockets. He’s no Jarrett Jack, but the Warriors will turn to him to keep Steph Curry off his ankles as much as possible during the regular season. Especially in garbage time. As a pure point guard, Machado might be ready for a breakout career move and it’ll help that he’ll be developing under the wisdom of one of the pest points to ever do it.

Donatas Motiejunas

Position: Power Forward / Team: Houston Rockets

Others are going with Terrence Jones, Greg Smith, Omer Asik, and even, Marcus Camby (if the Rockets can nab him) to be the new-look Rockets’ power forward, but my chips are on Motiejunas. He’s got the best basketball IQ of the bunch, is an adept passer who can help feed the ball to Dwight Howard or Houston’s swing men, and is a giant at his position. Getting used to the NBA’s speed and adding a few pounds of muscle will make Motiejunas a certified starter.

Kyle O’Quinn

Position: Center / Team: Orlando Magic

You have to love a guy who wins the local fans’ award for Hustle Player of the Year―and as a rookie, no less. It shows, as O’Quinn was in the top-20 for rookie player efficiency and can be a double-double machine if given more minutes. As a Vucevic backup, you can’t do much better. Really, look at his per-36 numbers.

Jeff Taylor

Position: Small Forward-Shooting Guard / Team: Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets are starting to look like a promising team and not just because of the name change. Taylor lit up the All-NBA Summer League and could be battling for Ben Gordon, Gerald Henderson, or Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s job, and he definitely gives them more versatility. I think this kid’s going to be special.

Marquis Teague

Position: Point Guard / Team: Chicago Bulls

He’ll have to fight Kirk Hinrich and the Derrick Rose for minutes but Teague is finally starting to come into his own. The sophomore might be just a lick slower than Rose but he’s shown a ton of upside. Nate Robinson aficionados should like this dude as Bulls management picked him over Nate-Rob, which might say more about Teague than it does for Robinson. If Hinrich breaks down this season, Rose is on limited minutes, or, Thibodeau puts either at the 2, Teague will be a nice Plan B on a stacked Bulls team.

Jonas Valanciunas

Position: Center / Team: Toronto Raptors

The MVP of the summer league is a sleeping giant. Scratch that: he’s a sleeping, hooping behemoth.

This might be the year that people come to learn of Valanciunas on a national level as he’s put on muscle and has post moves for days. The only thing that might hold him back is a team that tends to hold on to the ball too much (namely Rudy Gay and Kyle Lowry). But everything I expected him to be on this offseason he’s exceeded convincingly.

Sure, Raptors fans and NBA geeks already know the Lithuanian is basketball gold, but the jump from his rookie year to now will be so great heads will turn faster than on a LeBron James swing pass. We’re talking doubling of stats: from 8.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 1.3 BLKPG, and 0.7 APG last season to 16.5 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 2.1 BLKPG, and 2.1 APG in this one.

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