Bucking the Slumping Trend

People always like to talk about the “sophomore slump”. You know, the second year in a young man’s NBA career where he is no longer an unknown commodity, where teams scout for him rather than the players around him. If you star in your rookie season; teams will sure as hell try to stop you from starring in your second. People said of Derrick Rose this past season that he was suffering from this slump, especially when he failed to score more than 17 points in nine of his first ten games, as opposed to reaching that tally seven times in his first ten games during his rookie season. Teams adjust to you, they’ll double team you and make life hard – but the great ones always fight back. Rose fought back last year, and became a bonafide star in the process. Here are my top ten candidates for sophomores set to avoid the slump and continue their rise in the NBA.

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento Kings. Sure I took the easy one to start off with here using the reigning ROY, but he’s also a prime candidate to suffer the slump, if you think about it. Teams now know pretty much every facet of Evans’ game, and will adjust to stop him when playing the Kings over the season. Teams will sit off of him and force him to shoot the three – where he was a cool 36-141 (26%) last season – or teams will just double team the crap out of him and look for him to turn the ball over – which he did on average of three times a night last season – and maxed out at 8 TO’s against the Bucks. Now, here’s why he won’t slump. He’s 6-6, 220 pounds and is faster than 90% of the league; he’ll anticipate the double team coming and break through it. The three point shooting is an issue, but with incoming freshman DeMarcus Cousins he’ll have an option inside to use rather than having to score himself or rush a bad shot with the clock winding down. As for the turnovers, well that comes with maturity and experience. I’d rather have my (potential) superstar point-guard average three TO’s his rookie season and still be Tyreke Evans then have a so-so point guard average three TO’s and not be Tyreke Evans. In three years time, you’ll have a tough time picking between CP3/Williams/Rose/Rondo/Evans/Wall for best NBA point guard, and you’ll have to trust me when I say Evans will get a fair share of the votes in that poll. Oh, my favourite Evans stat? His 20-5-5 average, joining Oscar Robertson and that other guy as the only rookies EVER EVER EVER to put up those numbers in their first year. Dude’s gonna be good…

Darren Collison, Indian Pacers. The Pacers needed a point guard like you wouldn’t believe, and thanks to New Orleans wanting more star power to accompany Chris Paul, they now have the under-the-radar-rookie-of-the-year Darren Collison to fill that gap. Collison should instantly be handed the keys to the Pacers offense and let loose on NBA teams across the country, just as he was when Paul went down last year. In February, when averaging 42 minutes a game (which could yet happen with Indiana, but highly unlikely) he averaged 22 points and 8 assists. He had a 20-assist game against Golden State, plus 13 more games of 10 or more – including a four game run in March where his assists tallied 48. That was with Peja Stojakovic catching his passes, now he has Danny Granger. With Granger and potential starting shooting guard Brandon Rush by his side, the Pacers would be well suited to a high-tempo offense this season, exploiting Collison’s strong point which is his speed. The Pacers will also get a very capable defender at the point guard spot; Collison has a nose for a steal and should most definitely lead the team in that category. Collison’s acquisition also presents the potential backcourt solution for the Pacers for the next ten years – Darren Collison partnered by Lance Stephenson. Even if Stephenson doesn’t fulfil his potential, they’ll have no worries with the former UCLA Bruin.

Chase Budinger, Houston Rockets. Trevor Ariza leaving Houston is the best possible news for Budinger, who should now see his minutes rise significantly this season. Budinger was, to say the least, frustratingly brilliant last season. In November, during a five game stretch where the Rockets went W-L-W-L-W, Budinger’s points went 16-4-15-2-11. Notice a trend? When we lost to Houston in December, he was 0-5 in 8 minutes. As for the brilliance of Budinger, his 16 point 12 rebound game against Detroit was pretty good, but his biggest game last season came in April against the Celtics. Budinger dropped 24 on the Celtics, including 6-8 from three-point range in a Rockets OT win. Budinger’s freak athleticism is something the Rockets don’t have now that Ariza is out of town, and he has the tools to be a defensive specialist in the league if he wants it. If I were Rick Adelman, I’d make sure Budinger studies Shane Battier to a tee this off-season. Virtually the same size and weight as the experienced Battier, Budinger should aspire to achieve what Battier has; a reputation as the ultimate team player with a defensive side to him not many in the league can top or get the better of. Chase Budinger could be a real X Factor for Houston this season.

Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons. Considering he’s at his most confortable at the power forward spot, the same spot big-money acquisition Charlie Villanueva occupies, the kid done well to start 73 of the 80 games he played last year. He was also a major surprise to Detroit fans, who surely expected nothing from the 39th overall pick. What they got was a guy who worked hard from day one and left the Pistons no choice but to start the rebound-grabbing Swede. Jerebko’s versatility allows the Pistons to use him at the three or the four, where he has the length and athleticism to be a lock-down defender. Considering the fact his competition for minutes are Tayshaun Prince (constantly mentioned as a trade candidate) and Charlie V (who Tweets during games) expect Jerebko to be a starter for the Pistons this season, and expect a potential double-double machine to emerge in Detroit.

Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings. While Tyreke Evans production as a rookie wasn’t that big a shock to us, the other first year guy in Sacramento certainly surprised us all with his rookie season. Backing up Donte Greene at the small forward slot, his production outdid that of the former Syracuse standout. His toughness on the boards and scoring exploits excited the Kings fans and earned him a spot as a fan favourite, especially considering his efforts against the elite teams last season. He dropped 23 on LA, 22 on Dallas, 20 on the Spurs and was pretty impressive against us in his two outings. While he did have nights where he stunk – his 1-8 performance against Golden State springs to mind – his overall reliability and unquestioned effort set him apart. What’s the over/under on how many games it will take for Casspi to be the starting small forward next year for the Kings?

DeJuan Blair, San Antonio Spurs. Sure he’s got no ACL’s, sure he’s 6-7 and plays power forward and sure he is maybe carrying a little more weight than he should, but would you turn down DeJuan Blair if presented the opportunity? Is that me being bitter because we blew the chance to draft him? Well, if Christian Eyenga comes in and has as good a rookie season as Blair did I’ll let that one slide. I felt for him when he was ignored in the playoffs against Phoenix, I though that was pretty harsh on a guy who ended the season with a 27 point, 23 rebound game against Dallas. And that wasn’t his only 20/20 game; he did it against Oklahoma aswell. His ridiculous wingspan and incredible desire compensate for any disadvantage his height presents, ask any second unit forward who tried to get a rebound with him around.

Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors. People wondered about Steph Curry coming out of college, was he just the one-dimensional shooting sensation that delighted Davidson followers week in week out? Or could this baby-faced rookie step in and run an NBA team from day one? If his rookie season is anything to go by, he’ll do just fine in Golden State. Sharing a backcourt with Monta Ellis is never going to be easy, it’d be like sharing a bucket of fried chicken with Big Baby Davis – you might not get much, but you better make the most of what do you get. Curry did just that. While it took Curry a little time to adjust to the pro game, from the month of December onwards he was as good as it got, not just for rookies but also for the league as a whole. His numbers were off the charts – December 14ppg, 45% FG, January 19ppg, 48% FG, February 22ppg, 47% FG, March 20ppg, 46% FG and April was a fitting way to finish off a brilliant rookie season – 26 ppg, 8 assists, 6 rebounds, 2 steals, 47% from three-point range and 90% from the line. He also had a mind-blowingly good triple double against the Clippers of 36 points, 13 assists and 10 boards. He handled his point guard role admirably, tallying double-digit assists nine times while splitting time as being the teams’ most reliable scorer to boot. Players like Steph Curry don’t come along very often, the humble mannered, shy and quiet type, a guy who just wants to play ball and improve his game. One wonders what may have happened had he gotten picked by the Thunder rather Golden State, but that’s neither here nor there, just hope Golden State delivers a supporting cast worthy of this sharp shooting guard, because kids like Curry deserve success.

Taj Gibson, Chicago Bulls. For me, he’s in the perfect situation in Chicago. Gibson isn’t ready to be a starting power forward on a contending team, he might never reach that level in fact, but he’s the perfect guy to come off the bench when your starter gets his rest. Gibson actually had a very solid rookie season, and considering he was taken ten spots lower than fellow sophomore James Johnson gave real value as a late first round pick. Of the 18 double-doubles he accumulated over the season, perhaps none were as impressive as the 20 point, 13 rebound effort he put up against us at the Q in March. His overall numbers for the season – 9ppg, 8 rebs – aren’t awe inspiring, but when playing on a team where he was option five on offense and battling for boards with Joakim Noah every night, the former Trojan did well. He couldn’t ask for a better role model in Carlos Boozer, a player similar to Gibson in that he can mix it down low but has the ability to step out and knock down a shot or two also, so that should be of great use in Gibson’s progress, if he dedicates himself that is. Now, I was made look silly in my 10 to watch in 2010 because I picked Courtney Lee to shine in New Jersey, only for him to get traded that night. Taj Gibson has been mentioned in Rudy Fernandez trades all over the Internet, but when you think about it – same theory applies if he does end up in Portland. I’m not saying he will be traded – but I have to cover my back, and knowing my luck he’ll get traded within 48 hours of me posting this.

Wes Matthews, Portland Trailblazers. From undrafted rookie to monster-contract in 12 months, it’s the kind of stuff dream are made of right? He played a valuable part for Utah, who were then blown away by the Blazers massive offer, so now Matthews takes his talents to Brandon Roy-ville, where I’m sure they’ll too become admirers. Ousted CJ Miles and Ronnie Brewer to end the season as the starting shooting guard for the Jazz, Matthews hard nose, in your face defense was there for all to see in playoffs when matched up against Kobe. He can shoot the ball, but needs to be more assertive in his play and shouldn’t just settle for the open shot all the time. He’s pretty good slashing off the ball, and he can finish when presented the opportunity. His numbers went up in the playoffs, by almost a third in points scored, which is a good sign from any way you look at things. He’ll probably have to come off the bench in Portland, but if the Blazers choose to go small and use Roy at the three, Matthews is more than ready to step in and contribute. He also played in all 82 games last season, something not many Portland guys can say.

Hasheem Thabeet, Memphis Grizzlies. Surely, it can only get better? I need to see a lot more of this Hasheem Thabeet, and a lot loess of this one.

 Contact me for the Stepien Rules Mailbag on dol-17@hotmail.com, Twitter @DOL17 or Facebook.

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