Updated: Feb. 20, 2006, 11:10 AM ET

Missing the soph. touch

(Editor's note: This is an excerpt from a complete evaluation of the notable players in the NBA's sophomore class. See John Hollinger's full story. Insider)

Here's the tricky thing about the NBA draft: What matters isn't the player you have on draft day, but the player you have a couple of years down the road. Numerous players have bounced back from uninspiring performances as rookies to become superstars later on -- even four-year collegians like John Stockton, Steve Nash and Michael Redd.

Thus, one of the most important things teams want to see in a young player is progress. With the rare exception of a Tim Duncan or, this year, Chris Paul, most rookies struggle. More often than not, it's the ability to learn and adapt from their struggles that separates the Karl Malones from the Kwame Browns.

That's why this year's sophomore class has been such a disappointment. Yes, there are still plenty of talented players in the group, and it could still go down as the best crop of high-schoolers ever to enter the league. But the group hasn't done much to build on the promise of a year ago. Six rookies who started a year ago find themselves on the bench (Tony Allen, Sebastian Telfair, Chris Duhon, Shaun Livingston, Rafael Araujo and J.R. Smith), while several others have regressed after promising rookie seasons.

With the rookie-sophomore game kicking off All-Star weekend, now seems like a good time to evaluate how much progress the class has made from a year ago. With each player, I've included his PERs from last year and this year to help track his performance. As you'll see, a few players have made strides, but in general, the news isn't pretty. I'll start with the bad news:

TAKING A STEP BACK
Showed us tons of promise a year ago, but has broken our hearts a year later.
Josh Smith, Hawks (15.43 PER in 2004-05, down to 13.45 PER in 2005-06)
Smith electrified the NBA with his amazing leaping as a rookie, but has yet to develop other positives beyond "Man, can he jump." He can't handle the ball and isn't strong enough to post up, so developing a consistent mid-range jumper would go a long way to establish him as a long-term starter. He did rip the Lakers for 21 and 15 in the last game before the break, however.

SEE YOU IN YAKIMA
Didn't do anything last year to get our hopes up . . . and hasn't done anything this year either.
Rafael Araujo, Raptors (6.87 to 4.28)
Having proved to everyone's satisfaction that he was a wasted lottery pick, the Raptors finally abandoned the pretense of starting Araujo once Rob Babcock was fired. He has no chance of getting the job back and could even be bought out after the season.

CAREERS ON HOLD
We won't know much until he plays.
Beno Udrih, Spurs (14.24 to 17.25)
Udrih has hardly played this year as his job was given to veteran Nick Van Exel in the wake of Udrih's dreadful performance in the NBA Finals. This may be one of those rare times where the Spurs' wisdom deserves to be questioned, as Udrih has played extremely well in his limited chances and was better than Van Exel a year ago as well.

TREADING WATER
Rookies are supposed to get better in their second season. So when they give the same performance, we're inevitably disappointed.
Sebastian Telfair, Trail Blazers (9.59 to 11.22)
Telfair lost his job to Steve Blake, but he probably shouldn't have been starting in the first place. He was unready when the Blazers threw him into the fire a year ago, and it was na´ve to think he'd grow into the job in less than a year's time. Telfair has made some improvements -- he's really cut his turnovers, for instance -- but unless he gets a jumper he's just a quicker version of Kevin Ollie.

SHOWING SIGNS
Might not be setting hearts aflutter, but slow, steady progress could make him quite desirable in another year or two.
Viktor Khryapa, Trail Blazers (8.90 to 11.62)
The new Ryan Bowen, Khryapa is not the most gifted offensive player on the planet but earned a starting job in Portland with his defense and hustle. Unfortunately, the 6-9 forward is probably headed back to the bench now that Darius Miles is healthy.

LEAPING FORWARD
Now we get to the good stuff. While most of the rookies have shown halting progress, we still have a gem or two from this year's sophomore class.
Dwight Howard, Magic (17.23 to 19.26)
It's possible the Magic got the two best players from this draft. (And yet they still stink. That's what you get for trading T-Mac.) In Howard's case, it's no big surprise. At the ripe old age of 20, the top overall pick a year ago is leading the NBA in rebounding while shooting 51.2 percent from the floor. If he ever gets a post game, watch out.

You've seen a sampling of Hollinger's sophomore evaluations. Now see the full report. Insider

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Dimes Past: February 9 | 10 | 11-12 | 13 | 14 | 15 | 16


Good Gordon

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bulls guard Ben Gordon prepares to score two of 21 points in a 117-84 win over the 76ers. Last season's top sixth man is averaging 24.3 points over the last seven games.


New Chapter In Darko Tale
jo

Leonard (New Haven, CT): Will you take full responsibility for Darko's collapse?

Chad Ford: Sure. I wrote back before the draft that Darko had as much potential as LeBron James and that the Pistons made the right call passing on Carmelo, Bosh and Wade to draft him. Clearly I was wrong. However, contrary to public opinion, I didn't discover Darko (there were already a ton of scouts in Serbia before I arrived), I didn't draft him (Joe D doesn't consult me on his draft choices) and I didn't refuse to play him in Detroit (Larry Brown isn't taking my calls either). If my writing about him in glowing terms before the draft led to his collapse, then I'll take the blame.

Joe (Detroit): Why did the Pistons settle for a 2007 draft pick? Does Joe D know something we don't? I thought for sure we'd insist on a pick this year.

Chad Ford: Yes. The 2006 draft isn't particularly strong. The Pistons need to use that pick to replace Darko with another young big. Given the protections Orlando wanted on the pick, the Pistons didn't think they'd find a guy they wanted. The 2007 draft is projecting to be much stronger. While there's a risk that Orlando gets better and the pick isn't as good, I think the talent crop will be much higher.

Read Chad Ford's full chat



News And Notes
maggette

Clippers G Corey Maggette was cleared for light shooting drills on Tuesday. There's no timetable for his return. He's been out since Dec. 7 with a separated ligament in his left foot.

Memphis F Hakim Warrick, who is in the dunk contest in this weekend's All-Star break, may use G Dahntay Jones as his partner for some of the slams. Jones will be in Houston with Warrick for the contest. "That's a questionable call," Battier said of Warrick relying on Jones.

The Bulls allowed F James Thomas' second 10-day contract to expire. He averaged 0.9 points and 1.1 rebounds in seven appearances with Chicago.

-- The Associated Press


Motion: The Leading Vote-Getter
Yao Ming's ready for an All-Star game on his home court. Interestingly, his interview with Chris Broussard is completely in English.

Yo, Yao



No Liftoff For Houston

Paul Connors/AP Photo
Yao Ming, battling with Suns center Kurt Thomas, had his shortest night of the season, posting six points in 19 minutes as his team lost by 34 in Phoenix.


Extreme Behavior
okur

Thursday's Best
Steve Nash, Suns guard: He wins the award alone for playfully mussing Craig Sager's hair in the postgame interview. Suns toy with Rockets, 109-75. The defending MVP made 9-of-10 FGs. Suns rise to 35-17.

jo

Thursday's Worst
David Wesley, Rockets guard: The 35-year-old is normally good for 11.1 ppg. However, DW hoisting five 3-pointers to no avail did not help the Rockets, whose blowout loss was a true team effort.

jo

Quote of the Day
"After a loss like this, the break comes at a really bad time. You just want to get right back on the court."

-- Sixers guard Allen Iverson, whose team lost to Chicago, 117-84. Next for the Sixers: LeBron visits on Feb. 22.

-- Andrew Ayres

See how all 43 who played stacked up



Lots Of Leaving Left To Do
francis

Insider has been in constant touch with general managers and player personnel officials throughout the NBA, allowing for a handicapping of who might be wearing a new uniform by next weekend. So without further ado, we present The 10 Players Most Likely To Be Traded by Feb. 23:

1. Steve Francis. It now appears to be a matter of when, not if, the Magic will trade him. New York and Denver are the leading candidates as of now, but Minnesota is trying to engineer a three-team deal that would put Francis alongside Kevin Garnett and Ricky Davis. A long-shot possibility is Francis returning to Houston. Wednesday night's Orlando-Detroit trade removed the possibility of Kelvin Cato going to New York in a Francis trade, but the Knicks can still do a Hardaway-Francis deal by removing Jamal Crawford from the equation and substituting Trevor Ariza and rookies David Lee and/or Nate Robinson

See the full Chris Sheridan story Insider



Elias Says
sas

The Spurs stumbled to the All-Star break with an overtime loss in Philadelphia, following Monday's defeat in Cleveland that snapped San Antonio's nine-game winning streak. Just for the record, only two teams in the last 25 years have won the championship after heading into the All-Star break with consecutive losses. The Bulls lost their last two before the break in 1992, and the Pistons lost five straight prior to the All-Star Game in 2004.

• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias Insider



Oath Of Officer
okur

Bill Simmons: So were you watching when the Artest melee happened?

David Stern: I actually was.

CS: What was your first reaction? Pick up the phone or just stare in shock?

DS: I said, "Holy [mouths a swear word]." And then I called [assistant commissioner] Russ [Granik] and said, "Are you watching our 'blank' game?" He said no, I said, "Well turn our blank game on, you're not gonna believe it." It was Friday night, 10:45 or thereabouts [sighs] . . .

BS: What time did you go to bed that night?

DS: I went to bed relatively early. Like 12:30, 1. The tape was at my door at 6 o'clock [the following morning].

BS: Was that the biggest thing that happened since you became commissioner? Or would you say Magic?

DS: In retrospect, [Artest] was big because it showed some fundamental flaws in fans, and the risks that are attached to a game. But it was pretty cut and dry, I think, in what we had to do. Magic was a situation in which our league was put at risk in a big way. This one [Artest] was like, how many thousands of times can you watch the same footage? In some ways, it was like the perfect storm. The hassling wasn't broken up fast enough, the players were misbehaving, there was a player lying on the scorer's table getting a tummy rub, there's a fan who may or may not have belonged there tossing a beer and just happened to hit the guy, and then he goes there and wasn't stopped by anybody.

Full David Stern interview

 

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