2022 NBA Midseason All-Sophomore Teams | The Morning Dunk
Inspired by the 2022 Rising Stars event, here's a look at how some of the top sophomores in the NBA are performing with a unique exercise showing "All-Sophomore" First and Second teams.
Happy Monday No Ceilings subscribers, and welcome back to another Morning Dunk!
If you missed my column last week, I mixed it up and took a look at some of the top-performing rookies from the 2021 draft. Essentially, those rankings reflect how I would vote on the All-Rookie First and Second teams. Some honorable mentions were also included, and yes I could’ve written about plenty more guys as that class is LOADED.
This week, I figured I would run a similar exercise with the NBA sophomores. Even though there aren’t “All-Sophomore” teams, it’s still exciting to think about how I would rank and formulate groupings based on performance up to this point. Matter of fact, I had The Overstated’s Brett Usher on the Draft Deeper Podcast to get his take on how he would value the sophomores! Listen to the pod below if you prefer your takes via audio.
With that being said, let’s dive in with a few honorable mentions just as I did with the rookies, and then I’ll rank the sophomores from back to front in terms of a Top 10! Let’s roll!
*All statistics used are from 2/6 and do not include games played that day*
Honorable Mention: Isaiah Stewart, Detroit Pistons
44 GP, 44 GS, 25.7 MPG
7.9 PPG, 8.3 RPG, 1.1 APG, 51.9/13.0/67.2 Shooting Splits, 1.1 BPG, 1.3 TOV, 13.0 PER, 54.4 TS%
“Beef Stew” is the first honorable mention here, as he did get selected to the Rising Stars event. However, he hasn’t done anything in particular statistically to stand out from last season.
Matter of fact, Isaiah Stewart has regressed in terms of efficiency, and his scoring output per game is identical. At this point, we know what we’re getting from him on a nightly basis: a rim-running presence on the block who can block shots, rebound effectively, and bring a hot motor at all times.
But the touch necessary to take his game a step forward hasn’t shown itself, at least not yet. If Stewart can become more of a threat as a stretch big, then his value would spike accordingly. Without such a development, which was the main appeal behind taking him in the first round let alone as high as he went, he may be best coming off the bench long term for the Detroit Pistons.
Honorable Mention: Jaden McDaniels, Minnesota Timberwolves
49 GP, 23 GS, 26 MPG
8.3 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.2 APG, 43.2/28.6/77.3 Shooting Splits, 1.1 TOV, 9.1 PER, 51.5 TS%
Jaden McDaniels, similar to Stewart, was a player I was very fond of last year and even before the draft. The 6’9” power forward showed real offensive promise dating back to high school but didn’t live up to some of those lofty expectations on that end while playing at Washington.
What he did show in college was defensive versatility and activity, both of which allowed him to remain in the first round of the 2020 draft. While teams likely believed the shooting would sort itself out at some point, having a defender like McDaniels is what NBA teams crave nowadays to allow for constant switching.
During his rookie year, McDaniels primarily came off the bench to provide a spark on that end. Playing passing lanes and blocking shots on weak side help are his two specialties, but even despite his thin frame McDaniels’ length has proven to be a problem for opponents trying to score over him in the league.
For all of the good that can be said about his defense though, he has to hit shots eventually. A big reason why I would’ve had McDaniels on an All-Rookie team last year was that he found a home offensively. McDaniels was able to score in transition and shot a great percentage from the corners. This year though, he’s regressed in terms of efficiency and isn’t shooting nearly as well from the same areas on the floor.
McDaniels looked primed to break out during his Summer League stint for the Minnesota Timberwolves, but that hasn’t been the case so far in 2021-22. He still has plenty of promise, but at this point, I wouldn’t rank him as one of the 10 best sophomores in the league. If he can shoot and score consistently, however, he could vault himself right back into that very conversation.
Honorable Mention: Isaac Okoro, Cleveland Cavaliers
38 GP, 32 GS, 28.8 MPG
9.2 PPG, 3.2 RPG, 1.9 APG, 46.8/30.5/75.3 Shooting Splits, 1.1 TOV, 10.4 PER, 56.8 TS%
This was a tougher scratch than the previous two, as Isaac Okoro has been better offensively than he was last year.
The main issue with Okoro this season is he hasn’t been as available as the majority of players in front of him. If I were voting him on an award team, health would be something I would take into account and that hasn’t quite been there for him.
But when Okoro has been on the court, he’s been an effective scorer in transition, sneaky decent passer in halfcourt situations and he has shown some of the mid-range shot-making that intrigued scouts during his college stint at Auburn.
Defensively he’s that type of rugged defender on the wing the Cleveland Cavaliers need to take the next step as a team. Darius Garland, Lauri Markkanen, Evan Mobley, and Jarrett Allen provide plenty of size and/or scoring, but having Okoro in the mix only makes the team that much more menacing on the defensive end.
The offense still has to keep coming along, as he’s been “Poor” scoring out of pick-and-roll and isolation per Synergy, but there’s still plenty of time for him to continue developing as an on-ball scorer and more consistent catch-and-shoot player.
For now, Cleveland has other contributors to fill the gaps. Patience is key for bringing any young talent along, and the good news for Okoro is that the Cavs can afford to exercise just that.
10. Devin Vassell, San Antonio Spurs
46 GP, 8 GS, 25.4 MPG
11.2 PPG, 4.3 RPG, 1.5 APG, 43.0/34.6/79.2 Shooting Splits, 1.0 SPG, 0.8 TOV, 13.2 PER, 53.6 TS%
To an extent, I understand why Devin Vassell was left out of the Rising Stars competition. The San Antonio Spurs are LOADED in the backcourt and on the wings. There’s only so much playing time and opportunity to go around, and with vets in front of Vassell, it hasn’t been easy for him to stand out on a consistent basis.
But flip on the tape of when Vassell is on the floor, and you start to see why he was valued by many as a lottery-level talent in the 2020 draft. The smooth mid-range scoring, finishing ability off runners, and point of attack defense combine to form a fairly complete package for a second-year player. All are reasons why Vassell shouldn’t be overlooked despite the limited starts in comparison to some of his peers.
Vassell ranks in the 63rd and 67th percentiles respectively in terms of total offense and defense. Not many guys in their sophomore campaigns can lay claim to such balanced metrics. I fully expect Vassell to have a breakout year soon so long as the Spurs can clear out some of the clutter on their roster.
9. Deni Avdija, Washington Wizards
52 GP, 6 GS, 22.7 MPG
7.3 PPG, 4.8 RPG, 1.6 APG, 44.4/30.3/74.0 Shooting Splits, 0.8 TOV, 11.7 PER, 54.1 TS%
ESPN’s Mike Schmitz raved about how good Avdija could become on that end in time, but I’m not sure even he saw this coming so quickly in terms of on-ball effectiveness.
Avdija is rated as “Excellent” in spot-up defense as well as guarding against either matchup out of PnR. He contests jumpers and defends around the basket, and he has been better this year at communicating and remaining heads-up at defending off the ball as well.
Standing at 6’9”, there aren’t many positions that Avdija can’t guard one-on-one. Where the development needs to happen sooner rather than later is on offense, particularly in terms of shooting.
The 30.3% mark from three-point range isn’t enticing, and scouts questioned his shooting mechanics coming into the draft. He finishes over 65% of his looks around the basket, but anything 10 feet and out has been a bit of a struggle in the league.
As long as Avdija continues to work on his jumper and passing out of quick actions, he’ll have enough in his bag to start for good teams long term. For now, though, his defense remains his calling card and earns him a spot in these rankings.
8. Jae’Sean Tate, Houston Rockets
50 GP, 49 GS, 27.1 MPG
12.3 PPG, 5.6 RPG, 3.1 APG, 50.2/30.0/69.7 Shooting Splits, 1.0 SPG, 1.8 TOV, 15.3 PER, 56.9 TS%
Fewer players bring me as much joy to watch as Jae’Sean Tate. The former Ohio State forward didn’t have the most “traditional” path to the league, but he put in the work and has continued to play his part as an effective starter for the Houston Rockets because of his tenacity on both ends of the floor.
Tate’s motor runs as hot as any of his other peers, Stewart included. While watching a game you’ll see Tate do everything from making plays on the ball to helping his teammates rotate and contest with the proper call-outs, to making shots and finishing thunderous dunks.
While Tate isn’t a dynamic shooter from the perimeter, he does finish a high percentage of his looks, and his knack for making plays on the offensive glass also helps him pad his scoring totals. Not to mention he’s an intelligent passer and is happy to set up his teammates for easy looks both in transition as well as in halfcourt situations.
Nothing about his game screams “sexy” but give me the guy who grabs his lunch pail and shows up to work every night ready to get down and dirty. Whether it’s defending one-on-one, scrambling off the ball, forcing steals, or getting out on the break, Tate is a one-man wrecking crew and will stick in the league for a long time.
7. Saddiq Bey, Detroit Pistons
52 GP, 52 GS, 33.5 MPG
15.6 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 2.7 APG, 38.5/33.5/82.8 Shooting Splits, 1.3 TOV, 13.0 PER, 51.1 TS%
Saddiq Bey crashed onto the scene last year as one of the deadliest outside shooters in his draft class.
While his percentages haven’t exactly trended upward this year, he’s also on a team without much other support from a spot-up shooting perspective. Teams are able to load up on him in ways they wouldn’t be able to against other shooting specialists because of it.
That being said, he’s still Cade Cunningham’s most consistent pass target, and when Bey has gotten chances to operate out of the post or in the mid-range he’s made the most of them.
He still takes far too many of his shots from behind the line, however. I for one like when he looks to mix it up in other spots on the floor. Those times aren’t often though because without the threat of his shooting from the corners, the Pistons would have virtually no spacing to speak of, and Cunningham’s life as a lead guard is hard enough as it is.
Defensively Bey hasn’t quite been as good as he was at Villanova, but he hasn’t been “bad” on that end either. Even if he’s not the quickest guy on the floor, he still has the size and length to hold his own and guard multiple positions to varying degrees of success.
The fact that he’s able to step up and be the second-best scoring option for Detroit and quite frankly has been for most of the season is reason enough to give him a spot in these rankings.
6. Cole Anthony, Orlando Magic
40 GP, 40 GS, 33.2 MPG
17.9 PPG, 6.0 RPG, 6.1 APG, 39.0/32.2/84.8 Shooting Splits, 2.8 TOV, 14.9 PER, 51.5 TS%
I was ready to do the Cole Anthony victory lap after the first month and a half of the season.
Coming into the 2020 draft I was higher on him than virtually anyone else who made their rankings publicly known. Going back to high school, Anthony has been comfortable scoring from all three levels and is as deadly of a shooter as anyone when he’s on.
The biggest problems regarding his draft stock going back to his days at North Carolina were in regards to the fact that he was far too streaky to give teams confidence in his offensive output on a night-to-night basis in the NBA. Couple that with his average at best passing ability, and it wasn’t an “easy” decision to draft an undersized guard who has to be awesome offensively given what he gives up defensively.
But I believed he was going to be awesome on the offensive end. Anthony had ZERO spacing around him in Chapel Hill, and I thought the level of spacing he’d get in the pros would free up the rest of his game and allow him to thrive. Plus, I bought into him as the type of mature leader teams need at the point guard position.
Well, he sort of took a step forward after a rollercoaster first year in the NBA. Looking the part of a potential All-Star, Anthony’s percentages have come crashing back down to reality since a recent hit by the injury bug. The good news is that he’s been a much better playmaker for others in the league than he was in college, and has really developed some nice PnR chemistry with Wendell Carter and Mo Bamba.
However, if he’s not scoring 20-plus points on effective shooting while dishing the rock and limiting turnovers, it’s hard to justify him as a starter long term when Jalen Suggs is on the team (who has looked better over recent weeks) and Markelle Fultz is still on the roster. Not to mention RJ Hampton has waited patiently for more opportunities.
Call me crazy, but I still think Anthony has plenty of star potential as a clutch shot maker and overall leader. Hopefully, he can right the ship and get back to the level of play he was at in November and December; otherwise, he’d be higher in these rankings.
5. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia 76ers
45 GP, 44 GS, 35.8 MPG
16.9 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 4.8 APG, 47.2/39.9/86.6 Shooting Splits, 1.2 TOV, 16.1 PER, 56.7 TS%
I’ve never felt so down in the dumps about getting a player evaluation wrong.
It’s not that I thought Tyrese Maxey WOULD’NT be a good player in the NBA, but I didn’t ultimately buy him as a starter. I didn’t love the shot or his passing, and I didn’t buy into him impacting the game defensively.
Man, I could not have been more wrong. And honestly, it’s not just that I had underestimated how his quickness and competitive fire would translate in the league.
The fact that I pride myself on factoring in maturity, work ethic, and leadership into an evaluation (see Anthony above) and didn’t bet on the leader of Kentucky’s Breakfast Club will continue to haunt me for the rest of my life.
Maxey hasn’t just been good on offense, he’s been borderline great. His transition scoring, halfcourt finishing, and newfound confidence pulling the trigger on a triple at any given moment have given the Sixers everything they’ve been missing for years when Simmons hasn’t been on the floor.
To put it lightly, this is one of the most unathletic teams in the league. Philly has positional size, don’t get me wrong. But how many run-and-jump guys do the 76ers ACTUALLY have?
Maxey isn’t a vertical athlete, but his explosiveness in the open court and shiftiness navigating and weaving through defenders just feels different in relation to the other guards on the roster.
And while he hasn’t set the world on fire with lofty assist totals, his playmaking overall has taken a step forward this year. He’s developed excellent chemistry with Joel Embiid on hand-offs, and he works well with his other teammates in terms of spotting up and filling the lane on the break.
It also helps that Maxey doesn’t kill the Sixers on the defensive end either. He rates out as “Average” and looks the part on tape. He’s not the biggest guard, but he competes and can occasionally pick the pocket of even the best ball handlers.
At this point, I wouldn’t trade Maxey if I were Philly. He still has so much room to grow on both ends, and as he continues to fill out physically I truly believe the sky may be the limit for his kid.
Hats off to you Tyrese, I couldn’t be happier you’re a starter for my hometown team.
4. Desmond Bane, Memphis Grizzlies
51 GP, 51 GS, 30.2 MPG
17.8 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 2.4 APG, 46.2/41.4/89.5 Shooting Splits, 1.1 SPG, 1.5 TOV, 17.0 PER, 58.2 TS%
I honestly can’t recall many people on social media having Bane ranked outside their top 20 on draft boards. Even The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor found ways to sing Bane’s praises every time he was asked about the 2020 draft class.
That being said, Bane slipped likely because of his lack of plus size for the shooting guard position as well as his age. He wasn’t a PROLIFIC offensive player at TCU even in his senior season, but he was a damn good one who showed off some intriguing skills as he got more opportunities to run the offense in his last year at school.
Flash forward to where he’s at now with the Memphis Grizzlies, and he’s arguably been the team’s third-best player.
Actually, wait, that statement doesn’t do him enough justice. Let me amend that.
Bane has been the third-best player for a team currently ranked third in the Western Conference with plenty of cushion to remain there for the rest of the year.
Considering he went 30th overall, that’s quite an accomplishment for Bane.
Offensively, the dude is a flamethrower. There’s a reason why he ranks in the 82nd percentile in terms of total offense. His lowest rating is “Average” scoring off screens, and he’s “Very Good” to “Excellent” everywhere else offensively. From jump shooting to finishing around the basket, Bane has proven he can do a little bit of everything.
Still developing better passing craft out of PnR sets, there’s room for him to continue growing as an overall offensive threat. Given his developmental arc already, I won’t put it past him excelling there either.
Defensively, Bane isn’t long but he’s built like a brick shit house. It’s hard for other guards to physically abuse him on the perimeter, and even big men can’t always push him off spots in the paint. He plays his ass off at all times, and perfectly fits the “grit-n-grind” mentality of the Grizzlies.
Likely viewed as a potential sixth man when he was drafted, at worst a rotational guard, Bane has catapulted into long-term starter territory. I’d expect him to get a very nice pay raise in time from Memphis, and they should do everything they can to hold onto him unless an offer comes by that they can’t refuse for a third star in the realm of Jaylen Brown or Bradley Beal.
Even if an offer for one of those two is on the table, it’s hard to put Bane in a trade. He’s on the most reasonable contract in the league given his production, and he is still getting better by the game.
Bane’s story is one of the best we have in the NBA right now, and it’s only fitting he’s making the most of playing for a team with the ultimate underdog mentality. Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. have one hell of a running mate in the fold.
3. Tyrese Haliburton, Sacramento Kings
51 GP, 51 GS, 34.5 MPG
14.3 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 7.4 APG, 45.7/41.3/83.7 Shooting Splits, 1.7 SPG, 2.3 TOV, 17.5 PER, 57.5 TS%
Speaking of great stories, the brilliance of Tyrese Haliburton is a really fun wrinkle in the season over the last few months.
Since December 17th, Haliburton has been on one hell of a tear for the Sacramento Kings, as it seems he’s pouring in 20-plus points and dishing out 10-plus assists more often than not. I saw in person arguably his best game of the season where he went for 38 as it felt like he couldn’t miss.
Open spot-up threes, runners in the lane, step-back shots going right. It didn’t matter what he tried, he succeeded against the 76ers that night. It was honestly breathtaking to watch, especially when you factor in that his jumper was SUPPOSED to be the weakest part of his game coming into the league.
Since draft night, he’s had plenty of opportunities to take shots at the naysayers on Twitter, which he absolutely has. And good for him, as he maintained belief in himself and has clearly put in the work to get better and outperform his draft position.
Haliburton has been more of the same as last year in some regard. During his rookie campaign, he was as steady of a guard as you could find. A low-mistake, high feel lead guard who shot well from outside and found ways to creatively finish in the paint while keeping everyone else around him involved. Whether it’s hitting ahead in transition, taking his man one-on-one, or dropping a filthy dime in PnR, Haliburton has so much to like offensively.
Defensively he hasn’t been as good as he was in college, as his slight build doesn’t help play quite as effectively at the point of attack. But his overall awareness and length have still allowed him to play passing lanes and force deflections. More of a playmaker than ball stopper, Haliburton hasn’t hindered his team per say on that end any more than the other porous defenders the Kings have playing on any given night.
What Haliburton has done over the last few months is prove he’s ready to lead a team of his own. While maybe not the first or second-best player on a championship team, he’s still capable of starting as a really good team’s point guard and running an offense. However, I won’t put a cap on just how much he can continue to grow. His shot and overall approach are unorthodox at times, but he’s comfortable in his own skin and keeps getting better.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
2. LaMelo Ball, Charlotte Hornets
47 GP, 47 GS, 32.1 MPG
19.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 7.5 APG, 42.5/36.0/87.5 Shooting Splits, 1.5 SPG, 3.0 TOV, 20.1 PER, 54.3 TS%
Speaking of getting things wrong, I was hesitant to have LaMelo Ball as one of the top two prospects in the 2020 draft.
All of the film I had seen showed some spectacular highlights both passing and scoring. They also showed a level of showmanship that generally lends itself to that “box office appeal” that teams look for in future stars.
But there were also examples of cockiness as clear as day on the tape, not to mention the poor effort and attitude on the defensive end. And of course, who could forget the issues off the court with “Big Baller Brand” and LaVar Ball.
The flair and overall package were at times a little too much for scouts’ liking, so it made sense why he dropped some and ultimately didn’t go as high as he should’ve. In a re-draft scenario though, it’s hard to not want to take him first overall.
Standing at 6’8”, Ball always had the appeal of a jumbo playmaker NBA teams jump at the chance of drafting. The outside shooting has never been his most consistent weapon, nor has the finishing around the basket. But he has touch on his floater, which is as good a weapon as anyone else’s in the league. Ball is also a great free throw shooter, sitting at 87.5% on the year.
His ability to grab his own defensive board, push the ball himself, or hit ahead for anyone leaking out is exactly what the Charlotte Hornets have decided to build around as I previously wrote for No Ceilings. Head coach James Borrego has embraced the idea of playing up-tempo at all times, and it’s benefitted Ball as he’s continued to look more comfortable and now has a PER that sits over 20.
Ball’s willingness to share the rock and hunt for more efficient shots has helped him better adjust to the NBA game and get along with his teammates. He’s jacking up less and less circus-style shots, and he’s developed great chemistry with Miles Bridges, Gordon Hayward, and Kelly Oubre.
Winning over his coach last year while keeping his teammates well fed on the offensive end has allowed Ball to flourish and blossom into a legitimate star. I also think he’s taken some steps forward defensively.
The film I’ve seen of him this year has shown him gambling less on defense and making more timely plays on the ball. He’s always had quick hands, but eliminating the jumpiness and bigger risks on that end have helped keep him out of foul trouble. Ball’s size, length, and IQ were always going to allow him to fight defensively, but leaning into that last trait has helped him grow on that end at the point of attack.
There are few players in the league with a higher ceiling than LaMelo. In terms of who will be fighting for years to come for “face of the league” status, Ball is right in the thick of that race. The excitement he generates on a night-to-night basis is incredibly impressive, and as he becomes more efficient it drives his appeal through the roof.
I’m excited to continue watching him mature into the leader of the Hornets for years to come.
1. Anthony Edwards, Minnesota Timberwolves
46 GP, 46 GS, 35.0 MPG
22.3 PPG, 5.0 RPG, 3.6 APG, 44.2/36.0/81.3 Shooting Splits, 1.5 SPG, 2.9 TOV, 17.3 PER, 56.2 TS%
I just got done mentioning how there are few players with ceilings as high or higher than Ball.
Anthony Edwards just happens to be in that very small collective.
The 6’5” power wing has taken his game to new heights this year in terms of the confidence he’s playing with.
It’s not that Edwards has ever “lacked” the swagger necessary to operate as a star in the NBA. Going back to last year, Edwards has been one of the best quotes in the league. He’s as honest and unfiltered as I can remember a player being in my time watching and paying attention to the NBA.
But on the court this year is a different story.
Last year, you could tell he was still finding his way as a shot-maker and top offensive option. Edwards was trying to figure out how to balance operating on and off the ball while also trying to pass his teammates open and hold his own defensively.
Ultimately he proved he was ready for more responsibility after a fiery end to the season in terms of his production. Edwards was a different player after the All-Star break, as he came into his own and bought into his own lethality as a scorer.
Now, however, the look he has in his eyes at all times is different. One can tell he truly believes there’s no one who can stop him when he has the ball in his hands.
He’s become much more comfortable sizing up his man and operating out of isolation. Edwards’ ability to hit tough jumpers from deep range while also finishing OVER defenders gives him a package few can match, especially when you factor in how ridiculous of an athlete he is.
Going back to college, his coming-out party was a game against Michigan State in the Maui Invitational. In that matchup, the Georgia guard TORCHED the Spartans in the second half nailing jumper after jumper from the top of the key. It didn’t matter how MSU tried to defend him or throw at him. Edwards just kept rising, firing, and converting.
This year, we’re starting to see that Ant-Man on a nightly basis and it’s a scary proposition for the rest of the league. While he’s not exactly the most efficient shooter in the NBA, his scoring average is up overall and is unquestionably the team’s leader despite not being the “best” player on the team (that honor IMO still belongs to Karl-Anthony Towns).
But the Timberwolves respond to Edwards’ courage and attitude. When I watch Minnesota, there’s just something different about this squad and it always seems to come from Edwards making something spectacular happen on either end of the floor.
Speaking of his defense, Edwards is still learning how to rotate and contest off the ball. But he’s at least trying harder than he did last year, and he’ll always gamble to try and make a play to get his team out on the break. Edwards WANTS to play defense, that much I can tell from watching the tape. All young players go through the motions of figuring out how to read the game at a higher level. Given how much work he’s put into other parts of his game, I’m confident he’ll remain locked in on improving defensively.
The ceiling for Edwards is outrageously high. I buy into the numbers around the basket improving over time given how physically imposing he is at the guard position, and he’s shown some flashes this year passing out of PnR and overall doing a better job at finding his teammates in the halfcourt. He’ll never be a “great” passer, but I think he can at least be a good one which only further heightens his offensive game.
In terms of who’s been the best sophomore this year, it’s really close between Edwards and Ball. I’m going to give the edge to Edwards, as he’s emerged as a cold-blooded killer on the offensive end.
This kid loves the bright lights, and as he continues to help his team win and contend for a play-in spot, the stage will only get bigger for one Mr. Edwards. And I can’t wait to see him at the peak of his powers.