Sophomore slump? These 10 should soar instead
1. Kevin Durant, ThunderI'm not expecting Durant's scoring numbers to jump nearly as much as his overall efficiency and productivity. Yes, he could average close to 25 points per game -- which would be impressive -- but doing so while rebounding better, defending with more purpose and getting more buckets inside the paint will establish Durant as a true future star. Building on this past April's play would be a good start.
2. Al Horford, HawksAs a basketball player, Horford looks like he's 22 going on 30. Showing polish and poise, he shocked nobody when he averaged a double-double against the Celtics in the playoffs. And he still can improve a great deal as a scorer. Late touches in the shot clock could be in store for him this season, and an improved jumper means he can space the floor better for Atlanta's slashers.
3. Luis Scola, RocketsNo team showed more heart and grit than Houston did in its six-game series against Utah. And Scola was a big factor in that effort. His numbers never tell the whole story; he truly is one of the game's best "team guys" -- his spirit infects those around him. However, his playing time could be affected if Houston goes small and plays Ron Artest inside.
4. Al Thornton, ClippersWith the Clippers' roster changes and injuries, Thornton might give Durant a run for the sophomore scoring title. He progressed nicely last season and has the three tools I love to see in players -- shooting skill, terrific athleticism and a huge motor that he uses every night. However, he does need to drive more and take fewer jump shots.
5. Rodney Stuckey, PistonsThis might be too high on the list for a non-starter, but Stuckey performed so well in the playoffs and summer league that he should see major minutes on a team that needs young legs. He can help the Pistons on both sides of the court but needs to add consistency to his perimeter jumper to reach the next level of his development.
6. Thaddeus Young, 76ersYoung's athleticism and feel for the game are so much fun to watch; he's truly a natural out on the court. Moving to the small-forward spot full time will force him to be more focused on what made him so good last season -- mixing his inside game alongside his perimeter one. He took 54 percent of his shots near the rim and should aim for a 50-50 balance again this season.
7. Mike Conley, GrizzliesGoing into the offseason, Conley knew he had to improve his jumper to be a more balanced offensive player. Indications are that he indeed has gotten better as a shooter, although there is little doubt he will have to prove it over and over again as the season begins. Conley's overall effectiveness should be greatly enhanced this season as a full-time starter. He teams with O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay to form an incredibly active perimeter trio.
8. Carl Landry, RocketsLandry likely would be higher on this list were it not for the glut of talent around him in the Rockets' frontcourt. He's a do-it-all type of scorer, and despite being labeled as "undersized" for his position, he attempted to dunk on 26 percent of his field goal attempts. (Dwight Howard was at 30 percent.) Landry also personifies -- alongside fellow soph Scola -- a unique brand of incredible toughness within 6 feet of the rim on both sides of the ball.
9. Jeff Green, ThunderThe Thunder might see improvement only if Green makes a big jump in production. He settled for far too many outside shots last season with too few makes (similar to Durant). But he finished the season strong and occasionally dominated Orlando's summer league in July. The talent is there. He'd be better served by focusing on defense and rebounding, though, where he has the ability and agility to be excellent.
10. Julian Wright, HornetsAs I stated at the end of last season, no rookie improved more during the season than Wright. He's not someone who is going to put up huge numbers, maybe ever, but his presence is felt nonetheless. And if Wright somehow can provide more production as a scorer/rebounder and on defense, he could be the catalyst (along with James Posey) the Hornets need to push through into the Finals.
David Thorpe is an NBA analyst for ESPN.com and the executive director of the Pro Training Center at the IMG Academies in Bradenton, Fla., where he oversees the player development program for NBA and college players. To e-mail him, click here.
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NBA Season Preview: 2008-09
We kick off the season in style: previews, forecasts and more for all 30 NBA teams. Preview Index
Celtics | Nets | Knicks | 76ers | Raptors
Bulls | Cavs | Pistons | Pacers | Bucks
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Columnists• Thorpe: 10 sophomores who should soar
• Thorpe: Top rookies | Rookie 50
• Insider: All-Breakout sophomores
• Hollinger: All-Breakout Team
• Jackson: This is the Rockets' season
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Mag PreviewThe Mag unleashes its NBA preview filled with everything a fan needs and wants to know.
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• 30 hot topics: East outlook | West outlook
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