Second thoughts on NBA sophomores

After strong rookie campaigns, Blake Griffin and John Wall aim to rise the highest of the NBA sophs. Getty Images

With one full season under their respective belts, how will last season's leading rookies fare in their second campaigns?

Some players taken relatively late in the draft appear ready to rise up. Our 5-on-5 panel members pick who they think will finish the season in the top five in the 2011-12 sophomore class.

1. Who will be the fifth-best "NBA sophomore" in the 2011-12 season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: There was a moment after Patrick Patterson's very formidable summer league debut in 2010 when he became outwardly critical of his defense. That's because he's a born perfectionist. If coach Kevin McHale can find some meaningful minutes for Patterson, the Rockets' big man is likely to reward him.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Derrick Favors. Favors got lost in the shuffle of trying to figure out what was wrong with Brook Lopez's rebounding and trying to get Deron Williams out of Utah. But once Favors settled into the Jazz's new world, he started to blossom a bit. There is a logjam in the frontcourt, but his size and athleticism should give him plenty of chances to earn minutes.

Rob Mahoney, Two Man Game: Paul George. Pacers coach Frank Vogel still needs to figure out how to actually use George as a functioning part of the offense, but his potential is blatant and impressive. George is already a skilled perimeter defender, and with a bit more offensive focus and a better defined role, he should do great things for the Pacers this season.

Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: Bubble picks are usually the hardest and this one's no different. I'd probably go with Ed Davis. Toronto doesn't get as much pub as many of the other teams, but I was pleasantly surprised by Davis in the second half.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Ed Davis. Hampered by a knee injury to start his rookie campaign, Davis slowly turned on the jets from December 'til the end of the season -- notably tallying six double-doubles in his final 11 games. He is well on his way with his rebounding and defending. But the key to unlocking Davis' potential is his offensive repertoire. That'll determine if the Raptors have a viable Chris Bosh replacement or just a good player.

2. Who will be the fourth-best "NBA sophomore" in the 2011-12 season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: Through all the mishegas, DeMarcus Cousins might still be the most talented member of the 2010 draft class. When Cousins is on his game, there's a tantalizing combo of power and finesse. When he wants to, Cousins can screen, attack, deliver passes and bully weaker big man -- "want" being the operative word.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Greg Monroe. Once the Pistons realized Jason Maxiell and the ghost of Ben Wallace shouldn't be starting over Monroe, he found his groove in the new year and became one of the most productive rookies in the league. His free throw stroke improved, and he scored efficiently and rebounded the ball very well.

Rob Mahoney, Two-Man Game: DeMarcus Cousins. He's got the talent to make this list his own, but it could take Cousins another season or two to tame his game. Once he curbs the turnovers and ill-advised shots, he'll be an absolute monster. That could very well be next season, but I'm betting on a slightly more conservative evolution.

Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: DeMarcus Cousins. He'll still cause problems, but I'd guess fewer than last season. Regardless, he's one of the most skilled centers in the league.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Derrick Favors. If there were a dart board representing Favors' potential, there's no telling where that dart would land. That speaks more to Favors' immense ceiling as a player than anything else. But if Favors' numbers after being traded to the Jazz in the Deron Williams deal are any indication, he's well on his way to becoming an impact player in the NBA.

3. Who will be the third-best "NBA sophomore" in the 2011-12 season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: We always fall in love with skills-to-size big men, but too often reality falls short of expectation. Detroit's Greg Monroe started to turn heads toward the end of last season with his polish. In his sophomore campaign, the southpaw needs to improve his defensive awareness and learn to drain a 12-footer on occasion.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: DeMarcus Cousins. Cousins should already be one of the most dominant big men in the NBA. However, coach Paul Westphal doesn't know how to use him and DeMarcus doesn't know how to turn down a midrange jumper that he shouldn't be taking. If the Kings can find a way to quiet his game and his mouth, he'll be a force outside of the locker room.

Rob Mahoney, Two Man Game: John Wall. In his second year, we should expect Wall to grow along the Russell Westbrook progression: modest gains in overall field goal percentage, assist rate and field goal percentage at the rim, all while prepping Wall for an earth-shattering third season. It's hard not to swoon over Wall's two-way potential, and his sophomore growth should make for appointment television.

Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: Greg Monroe. Completely overshadowed in his rookie year by Blake's, well, everything -- but Monroe had his own double-double binge in the second half ... 12 and 10 in his first year? More, please.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Greg Monroe. This may be a surprise to some but it shouldn't be, because Monroe is that good. He may lack the pomp and circumstance because his last name isn't Griffin or Wall, but Monroe produced (ranked second among rookies in PER, WARP, etc.) for the Pistons and is already a double-double threat. The next logical step for Monroe is to carry a bigger load offensively.

4. Who will be the second-best "NBA sophomore" in the 2011-12 season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: You can't teach speed -- nor can you defend it. That makes John Wall one the NBA's most dangerous players when he has the ball in his hands. Once Wall stretches out his range and learns to work off the ball, he'll be both blur and beast.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: Blake Griffin. I guess Griffin is technically a sophomore even though this will be his third season in the league. He puts up sexy stats that will make bedroom eyes at your fantasy team all offseason long. And his highlights will flood your YouTube senses. I'm just still concerned about his defense and hesitant to say he'll solve that issue right away.

Rob Mahoney, Two Man Game: Greg Monroe. One of the best kept secrets of the 2010-11 season will finally get the recognition he deserves in a yearlong role as the Pistons' on-court leader. At 20, Monroe was a clever scorer, a strong rebounder and a natural defender. At 21, he's poised to bring even more to the table, all while maintaining his trademark efficiency. Just a terrific -- if understated -- player.

Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: John Wall. After watching the bounce pass alley-oopto Blake in the rookie-sophomore game, I was dreaming of them playing on the same team.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: John Wall. Among all the players in the sophomore class, Wall has the potential to make the biggest leap forward. There's a lot that Wall needs to improve on, such as cutting down on turnovers, developing a consistent jumper, getting to the free throw line more, and knowing when to play at different speeds. Wall's defense needs work, too. But the work ethic and desire is there.

5. Who will be the best "NBA sophomore" in the 2011-12 season?

Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN.com: You won't find grouchier lockout-afflicted fans than those holding tickets to watch Blake Griffin annihilate the rim at Staples Center. Griffin's arsenal of destruction is already impressive. If he can add a face-up jumper and anchor the Clippers' defense, Griffin will be not only the NBA's most watchable power forward, but its best.

Zach Harper, Daily Dime Live: John Wall. I realize how dumb it is to put someone from this class over Blake Griffin. But the way Wall runs his team impresses me to no end. A fixed jumper turns him into one of the most dangerous point guards in the NBA. His speed and athleticism turn every long carom into a nightmare for the opponent. And if I'm wrong about picking Wall, nobody will remember. They don't archive these, right?

Rob Mahoney, Two Man Game: Blake Griffin. There's little room here for an uprising; Griffin has already climbed to superstar status and is a few laps ahead of his peers. The question isn't if he'll be the best sophomore, but if, after just two seasons in the NBA, Griffin could make a legitimate claim as the league's top power forward. It's a bit of a long shot, but it speaks volumes that Griffin could even initiate such a conversation.

Breene Murphy, ClipperBlog: Easy choice: Blake Griffin. I think that if Wall were on a less dysfunctional team, he could make the leap to the top spot, but Blake is in such a good position with the Clippers. Wow. That was weird to write.

Eddy Rivera, Magic Basketball: Blake Griffin. While being ranked No. 10 on ESPN's #NBArank list seems rash -- due to the simple fact that Griffin has a ways to go on defense (and on offense) before he becomes a complete two-way player -- it's a testament to his talent that he's already in the discussion. If Griffin can fully dedicate himself defensively, while refining his jumper and perfecting his low-post game, the sky's the limit.

ESPN.com and the TrueHoop Network
Kevin Arnovitz covers the NBA for ESPN.com. Zach Harper hosts the Daily Dime Live chat. Rob Mahoney, Eddy Rivera and Breene Murphy contribute to the TrueHoop Network.

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