When Jabari Parker returned to the Milwaukee Bucks lineup last week, his first game since tearing his ACL midway through his 2014-2015 rookie season, he gave an immediate boost to a team that had been struggling to score. Parker was the much-heralded No.2 pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Now fully healthy, he’s looking to build on the stellar foundation he established before his injury. But chances are, no one forgot Parker during his hiatus. In fact, his absence from the Bucks’ lineup probably kept both fans and coaches tossing and turning at night.
A few weeks into the 2015-2016 season, a handful of other second-year players, guys selected after Parker in that 2014 Draft, are starting to shine. Names that, after a minute of staring blankly into space, make you exclaim, “oh man, I remember that guy!” Here are five second-year players who have started to make their mark on this young NBA season.
Jordan Clarkson – Los Angeles Lakers
Drafted late in the second round by the Los Angeles Lakers, Jordan Clarkson has been a surprisingly bright spot on a team in the midst of rebuilding while reconciling with Kobe Bryant’s twilight years. Currently averaging 16.5 points per game, Clarkson has already boosted his statistics from what was already a stellar rookie season. His shooting percentage is up from 44 percent to 49.4 percent, and ditto for his effective field goal percentage (a stat calculated by assigning a higher value to 3-pointers). That has jumped 7 percentage points from 48 to 55.
Clarkson’s biggest improvement has come in his jump shot, which his trainer, Drew Hanlen, told us was his main focus during the off-season. Clarkson worked to improve his balance on the jumper, and it boosted his jump shot shooting percentage from 35 percent last season to 44.6 percent. Clarkson seems poised to become a mainstay as this young Lakers team continues to try and transition from its Kobe Bryant heyday.
Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic
After spending one season at the University of Arizona, Aaron Gordon was hailed as the next Blake Griffin: a physical big man with springs for legs who needed to hone his jumper and free throws at the next level. Gordon struggled in his first season with the Orlando Magic, shooting just 44 percent from the field. Worse, he shot only 60 percent from the restricted area. That’s essentially just inches away from the hoop, where a talented big man should be converting at rate of 70 percent or better. For comparison, Cleveland Cavaliers forward Tristan Thompson is shooting 76 percent from the restricted area.
Through seven games this year, Gordon has raised his field goal percentage to over 50 percent, including a robust 64 percent from the restricted area. He suffered a broken foot during his rookie season, limiting him to 47 games and forcing him to spend much of his off-season rehabbing. But prior to training camp with the Magic this year, Gordon said he was in the best shape of his life. It’s certainly showing on the court.
Nik Stauskas – Philadelphia 76ers
Oh, you forgot about Sauce Caustillo? How could you!
Drafted by the Sacramento Kings as the result of a crowdsourcing experiment, Nik Stauskas, once a dead-eye shooter at Michigan, struggled mightily, shooting just 36 percent, including a measley 35 percent from long range, his bread and butter. The previous year, while playing at Michigan, Stauskas had bombed away from deep at a 44-percent clip.
Traded to the perpetually rebuilding Philadelphia 76ers in the off-season, Stauskas has had something of a rebirth. His field goal percentage is up to a respectable 40 percent, though he’s still struggling from 3-point land, shooting just 30 percent from beyond that arc. Playing starter’s minutes now (31.7 per game after coming off the bench as a King), he’s averaging 14.8 points per game; and though he continues to have trouble with 3’s, he hasn’t been shy about shooting them. Over 50 percent of those 14.8 points come from long balls. He’s also picking up about 3 assists per game this season. He barely averaged 1 per game as a rookie.
Stauskas spent his off-season back at Michigan, hitting the weight room four times a week and playing pickup ball with other former Wolverines who are now in the NBA, like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Jordan Morgan. He also worked hard on his dribbling, pull-up jumper and floater from the lane, as you can see in this video.
Picked as the floor general of a forever young 76ers team, Stauskas is sure that his best days are ahead of him.
Julius Randle – Los Angeles Lakers
In one of the saddest developments last year, a broken leg wiped out Julius Randle’s rookie season with the Lakers. After a furious rehab, in which Randle turned to Kobe Bryant and Paul George for support, the former Kentucky Wildcat has returned to the Lakers’ lineup in 2015 to average almost 13 points a game while grabbing 9 boards.
A bit of a tweener, the 6-foot-9, 250-pound Randle still needs to perfect his shot. He’s shooting just over 50 percent in the restricted area, where over 52 percent of his are taken. That number needs to greatly improve if Randle wants other teams to respect him as a low post threat, which will allow his midrange game to blossom.
Randle and Clarkson give the Lakers a couple of nice, young building blocks to help bring this storied franchise back to glory.
Rodney Hood – Utah Jazz
Overshadowed by his former Duke teammate Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood flew under the radar when he was taken by the Utah Jazz with the 23rd pick. After coming off the bench as a rookie, Hood has blossomed as a sophomore. He’s not only made the starting lineup, he’s solidified himself as the team’s No. 2 option on offense behind Derrick Favors.
Through six games, Hood is averaging 11.8 points per game and shooting 45.3 percent from the field, including a blazing 70 percent on midrange field goals. He’s shooting only 25 percent from deep, but almost 60 percent of his shots are 2-pointers. Last year, Hood took a higher percentage of his shots from downtown (45 percent), so he’s become a much more efficient player in year two.
Jahlil Okafor and Jabari Parker are both seeing immense success on the court, but don’t count out this under-the-radar former Blue Devil.