By Jack Drapkin
With the season starting this upcoming week, I figured it was time to take a look at the rising sophomores from the 2016 NBA Draft Class. A class that by most measures disappointed across the board. Think about this, the three best rookies of last season were two rookies from Philly in Dario Saric and Joel Embiid who were both part of the 2014 draft and the 36th overall pick Malcolm Brogdon. It’s safe to say that the top of the 2016 NBA Draft failed to live up to the expectations that were frankly already set fairly low. So who changes this narrative and steps up as we head into a new season? I attempt to put on ‘Genie’ hat and predict which players are going to take a step forward this season.
Look, the beginning of his career was not pretty. As a skinny nineteen-year-old in the NBA maybe as a collective, our expectations should have been lower. However, they were not and he struggled immensely through early January. Then, something funny started to happen, things began to click for Ingram. His shot started falling a bit more frequently as he became more assertive on the court increasing his scoring from eight ppg before the All-star break to 13 ppg after the break. Many of the same doubters from last season are pointing to a weak pre-season showing from Ingram as a sign that his performance at the end of last season was a fluke. I’d be careful of following that advice, with pre-season games more accurately reflecting that of pick-up quality, expect Ingram to slowly grow into his role this season and be a 15 ppg scorer on a better than expected Lakers team.
After spending one season at Marquette, Ellenson spent much of last season in the G-League with just 19 appearances to his name. So why is Ellenson poised for a bigger sophomore campaign. Two reasons, first he is much more confident with his skills as was apparent with his summer league dominance. If you’re highly drafted 2nd-year player doesn’t dominate in the summer league its a cause for concern. Ellenson, tore it up to the tune of 17 points and seven boards a game. And, I know it’s just summer league but it is still important for his confidence. Second, the Pistons lost Marcus Morris and Aron Baynes this offseason. Two players who combined were playing 50 frontcourt minutes a game. Besides journeyman Anthony Tolliver the only other frontcourt player Detroit brought in was Eric Moreland, Ellenson is due for minutes this season.
Taurean Prince/DeAndre’ Bembry
The Atlanta Hawks are not going to be a good basketball team this year. That’s the bad news, the good news they have a number of intriguing young players including this pair of sophomore wings. Prince, in particular, was able to move into the rotation last season after the trade of Kyle Korver and performed admirably, especially in the playoffs. If I had to pick one or the other it would be Prince who will have the better season. Bembry however, has a unique game, not a great shooter but does everything else well, and is a deceptively explosive athlete who will look to take advantage of the minutes departed by Tim Hardaway Jr. The Hawks are hopeful they have a couple of wings for the future in today’s switch happy NBA.