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The second year of an NBA player's career is often one that gets overlooked but is no less important in determining the trajectory of their young careers. The hype that comes with being a rookie has worn off by now, and unless you're breaking records or taking a massive leap, chances are the attention has moved off of you to focus on the next shiny thing. The term "sophomore slump" adds to the assumption that second-year players are going to come back to Earth after having an impressive rookie year. All of this before hopefully taking the "third-year leap," which is just industry speak for "Oh, this guy got really good while no one was watching." But in reality the building blocks of taking that "leap" were laid in the second year. 

Sure, there are always players that take a step back from their rookie to sophomore season, which is normal in development years, but this year's crop of sophomores have proven that the word "slump" isn't in their vocabulary. Many of these guys had standout rookie seasons and have only built upon that success, while some are taking advantage of increased roles after having a quieter first year in the league. So with that in mind, here are five players who have been having the best sophomore season.

1. Paolo Banchero, Orlando Magic

The bar was set pretty high for Banchero after a rookie season that saw him average 20 points en route to winning Rookie of the Year. He struggled with efficiency, but he had no issue getting great looks on offense from all three levels. He spent the summer playing with Team USA at the FIBA World Cup, which he credits for helping him to improve on the defensive side of the ball. But even with a high bar, Banchero has only outdone himself from his rookie year.

Paolo Banchero
ORL • PF • #5
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From his first year to now, Banchero's efficiency has been like night and day, which has been really important to his development and the Magic's success.












He's been scoring so well that he's drawing far more attention from the defense, which then translates to more assists for the former Duke product. Banchero's court vision was a strength when he entered the league, but we're seeing it on full display this season. His size is such a plus that when the defense sends two defenders, he can typically see over them or make a crafty, well-placed pass.

It's like what we see out of Luka Doncic or Nikola Jokic, especially when he's working with his back to the basket. He draws two defenders, then finds the open man, and while the Magic rank near the bottom of the league in 3-point percentage, they're still making them at a 35.1% clip. 

And unlike last season, Banchero's performance is starting to translate into wins for the Magic. After a year in which Orlando only won 34 games, they're on pace for 40+ wins and sit fifth in the Eastern Conference with an opportunity to move up to No. 4 if things fall their way. 

2. Jalen Williams, Oklahoma City Thunder

Williams entered the NBA a three-star prospect, relatively unknown, was drafted No. 12 overall but quickly showed everyone that he had star power bursting at the seams. He came in second for Rookie of the Year voting a season ago, and this year he's been the second option on an Oklahoma City Thunder team that is built to make a deep run in the playoffs. Williams is the perfect Swiss army knife to pair alongside MVP candidate Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, capable of knocking down long-range shots at a ridiculously high clip, putting the ball on the deck and driving toward the rim, or taking a defender one-on-one and pulling off a variety of mid-range jumpers, floaters or fadeaways. 

We're seeing buckets and moves reserved for All-Stars and All-NBA level guys, yet here's this 22-year-old forward in his second year in the league, leading a championship-contending team in fourth-quarter points. The way he absorbs contact and is able to finish completely balanced is already amongst the best in the league, and he's doing it while also being a stout defender on the other end.

Jalen Williams
OKC • SF • #8
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When he dropped a season-high 36 points against the Knicks in December, he had several possessions that make you question why this guy isn't an All-Star already. He was slicing and dicing New York's defense up, either by getting to the rim and getting a crafty finish through contact.

Or coming away with a steal and smoothly working around two defenders in transition for a layup.

He methodically gets to his spots, and when there, he can stop on a dime and pull up for a jumper, play off Gilgeous-Alexander, and be the catch-and-shoot threat when needed.  

3. Shaedon Sharpe, Portland Trail Blazers

Sharpe's been limited to just 32 games this season due to surgery to repair a core muscle, and while he could return with just a couple of games left in the regular season, it wouldn't be surprising if his sophomore season is over. That aside, though, when Sharpe was healthy, he took quite a leap this season and was looking like a future centerpiece for Portland before the surgery occurred. His efficiency did take a dip, but that could be chalked up to the increased role he was given after starting in just 15 games during his rookie season. He started in all but seven games this year and saw a bump in his stats across the board.

Shaedon Sharpe
POR • SG • #17
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Sharpe's rise really started at the tail end of last season, where in the final 10 games of the season, he averaged 22.5 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists. He picked up right where he left off from the end of last season in an increased role, and a perfect example of that came in a late November game against the Cleveland Cavaliers where he put up 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists while shooting 73.3% from the field and 57.1% from deep.

In that game, Sharpe became the youngest player in Trail Blazers history to post 25+ points, 10+ rebounds and 5+ assists in a game. He showed how much of an off-ball threat he can be, especially cutting to the rim, and despite his dip in efficiency this season, he is absolutely a threat from the 3-point line. The athleticism has always been the biggest thing that stands out about Sharpe's game, but his ballhandling, passing and decision-making improved significantly this season.

While Sharpe's season was cut short, he took strides in his development this season, and when he returns healthy next season, he'll hopefully be able to continue on the same trajectory.

4. Jalen Duren, Detroit Pistons

The Pistons have been an absolute mess this season, but one of the bright spots has been Duren's rise as a defensive anchor for Detroit. He put up his third 20+ point, 20+ rebound game Wednesday night, which leads the league this season. He ranks fourth in the league in offensive rebounds this season, and as soon as the Pistons can hone all their young talent into wins, Duren will be at the center of Detroit's defensive improvement. He has a tendency to get into foul trouble, especially when he's trying to block shots, but that will hopefully improve as he continues to develop. What's been really impressive is Duren's ability to recover to get a block, as well as his ability to cover a great amount of space to fly in and reject a shot.

Jalen Duren
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If you try to put him in a pick and roll to force him to defend in space, you may get past him, but he'll be right behind you for the block.

If you try to pull him away from the basket, you're better off dishing that pass out to the perimeter because Duren has great instincts and will be waiting for you at the rim.

Duren is Detroit's center of the future, and it's not just on the defensive end. He's incredibly efficient scoring around the rim, has great strength to finish through contact and is the perfect lob threat for someone of Cade Cunningham's passing abilities.

5. Keegan Murray, Sacramento Kings

When you break the rookie record for most 3s made in a season, expectations are going to be incredibly high going forward. And while Murray's 3-point efficiency has taken a dip – he's still shooting 35.5% – his efficiency from inside the arc has made him a more complete threat on offense. Murray's experienced an up-and-down season as far as his efficiency goes, where in October and November, he went a combined 27 of 94 from 3-point range. But then he began to get into a rhythm in December and January, shooting 41.5%, and now he's back to hitting a low point.

Keegan Murray
SAC • PF • #13
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You hope that he can find some more consistency with his shot and not experience such major highs and lows over a season. Still, the reason Murray gets so many minutes and is a mainstay in Sacramento's starting lineup is because he's also a versatile defender, is a great rebounder, and while he sometimes looks off shots he should be taking, he always tries to make the right play. And when Murray is cooking from 3-point range, the Kings are difficult to slow down. We've seen him go supernova already this season, dropping 47 points in December against the Jazz where he went 12 of 15 from deep. 

While he's not going to make 12 3-pointers every night, Sacramento is a far more dangerous threat when his shot is falling from deep. But his ability to still make an impact on the game in other ways is why he's still had a solid sophomore season. It may not be the year everyone expected from him given the rookie season he was coming off of, but Murray's shown that he can do more than just spot up from beyond the arc, and that's why he's been amongst the best sophomores in the league.

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