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NBA: Five sleeper sophomores who could significantly improve on their rookie seasons

It’s week two of the 2021/22 NBA season and the sophomores are already taking center stage. Reigning Rookie of The Year, LaMelo Ball has hit the ground running, helping the Charlotte Hornets start this season 4-1.

The other rookie-of-the-year nominees, Anthony Edwards and Tyrese Haliburton look good so far as well. But I’d like to focus on the guys who don’t get much love because they weren’t lottery picks.

Here are five players who could improve on their rookie seasons and have more impact in their sophomore year.


Saddiq Bey was drafted 19th overall by the Brooklyn Nets but ended up on the Detroit Pistons via the Clippers. Saddiq would go on to have an unprecedented level of impact in Detroit, he played 70 games and started 53.

Saddiq Bey is the first Pistons forward in his first two career seasons with minimums of 16 points and 16 rebounds in a game since Grant Hill (3/26/96 vs. Vancouver). #Pistons (via @bball_ref) — Pistons PR (@Pistons_PR) October 24, 2021

He averaged 12.2 points per game last season on a 40% field goal percentage on a poor Pistons team.

The Pistons are still bad, that hasn’t changed, but Saddiq Bey has gotten even better in his sophomore year.

He’s started all four games and has averaged 18 points and 9.5 rebounds in four losses for the Pistons. If he continues to develop like this, Saddiq Bey could go on to become the biggest sleeper of the 2020 NBA Draft.


22-year old power forward, Precious Achiuwa was drafted 20th overall by the Miami Heat but endured a quiet rookie season. The Nigerian featured mostly as a role player at the back of the Miami rotation.

He played 61 games for the Heat last season, started only four of those games, and was subsequently traded to the Raptors as part of the deal that brought Kyle Lowry to Miami.

Five games into his sophomore season, Precious Achiuwa is already making an impact in Toronto. He’s started all five games for the Raptors, playing as a center, and is averaging a double-double. 

Second year in the @NBA and first with @Raptors @PreciousAchiuwa is already doing big things 15pts, 15rebs and 2stls against @celtics #NBBF (@nbbfonline) October 23, 2021

After playing Olympic basketball for Nigeria in the summer and impressing in the NBA preseason, Precious Achiuwa has earned more responsibility. He is on course for a good sophomore season and becoming an important player for the Toronto Raptors. 


Philadelphia 76ers guard, Tyrese Maxey is the biggest beneficiary of the Ben Simmons situation.

Tyrese Maxey, Sixers new starting PG: 20 PTS 7 REB 5 AST 2 3PT 8-14 FG The Sixers were +23 with Maxey on the floor tonight, the highest on the team. — StatMuse (@statmuse) October 21, 2021

The 21st overall pick has gone from bench option last season to an undisputed starter for the 6ers this season. Maxey only started eight regular-season games out of 61 total appearances last season.

He played 15 minutes per game, which he’s now surpassed significantly as he now averages 33 minutes per game.

Some might even argue Maxey is more of an offensive threat than Ben Simmons with his 45% field goal and career 30% three-point shooting.


Memphis Grizzlies guard, Desmond Bane was the last pick of the first round in the 2020 draft when he was originally selected by the Celtics. 

Bane was a decent option off the bench for the Grizzlies last season, starting only 17 of his 68 games and averaged 9 points per game as they barely made the playoffs. 

This season Bane has started all five games for Memphis and is averaging 19 points per game. He’s also been one of the top two Memphis scorers in four of those five games, proving to be a solid sidekick for Ja Morant.

Desmond Bane this season: 19.2 PPG 48.6 FG% 41.5 3PG on 8.2 ATT He is 2nd on the Grizzlies in scoring. — StatMuse (@statmuse) October 29, 2021

While he may yet have a long way to go before reaching Morant’s level, the progress Bane has made is undeniable.


Coming into the Bucks as a 45th pick, Jordan Nwora of course struggled for playing time on a championship team. He played just 30 regular-season games and started two of those, averaging nine minutes per game.

However, after impressing on Olympic duty with Nigeria and for the Bucks in the preseason, Nwora appears to be earning coach Mike Budenholzer’s trust.

He’s played in all five games for the Bucks this season and although still yet to start, Nwora is averaging 23 minutes per game.

Injuries to key players like Donte DiVincenzo and Bobby Portis have contributed to Nwora moving up in the Milwaukee rotation. But his output is why he now has the trust of coach Bud.

He’s averaging 10 points per game but it’s his defensive improvement that has really done the trick. Nwora now grabs 4.6 defensive rebounds and makes one block per game.

Jordan Nwora hustling for a massive chase down block?!? I’m pretty sure that’s the type of play that Bud and the coaching staff will be absolutely loving. — Kane Pitman (@KanePitman) October 24, 2021

Nwora even rejected Kevin Durant at the rim in spectacular fashion on opening night.

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