Jerry Sloan isn't the only NBA coach who has a hard time dealing with the inevitable rookie mistakes made by first-year players.
"I tell kids when they come into the team similar to a pledge, or something like that, that rookies are lower (in the pecking order) and they have to understand that," veteran Lakers coach Phil Jackson told the L.A. Times recently. "That's the lowest point in the world."
The Lakers, like the Jazz, have a couple of rookies on their roster who are seeing precious little, if any, playing time. But the good thing about NBA rookies for coaches like Sloan and Jackson is that they don't stay rookies forever.
Two weeks ago we looked at the top 10 rookies making an impact in the NBA so far this season. This time, it's the sophomores' turn. There are a bunch of second-year players like Utah's Ronnie Brewer who have come into their own now that they have a little experience under their belts.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers His teammate in Portland, Brandon Roy, walked away with Rookie of the Year honors last season. And he figured to be overshadowed again this season with the addition of can't-miss No. 1 overall pick Greg Oden taking up space in the low post.
Instead, Oden is out for the season after knee surgery and Aldridge is taking a backseat to no one on the Blazers including Roy.
Aldridge, a 6-11 forward/center, is averaging 19 points per game 10 more per game than his rookie year and shooting 53.6 percent from the field. He's also pulling down eight boards per game and blocking an average of 1.2 shots per game.
Now it's going to be interesting to see how Oden and Aldridge can play together next season.
Brandon Roy, Portland Trail Blazers While many players make huge strides between their rookie and second seasons, that hasn't been the case for Roy.
But Portland's combo guard has a good excuse. He was so good his rookie year that there isn't nearly as much improvement for him to make as there is for many sophomores.
Roy is averaging 17.3 points and 4.9 assists per game, just slightly better than his rookie stats of 16.8 points and 4.0 assists. His shooting percentage, meanwhile, is slightly worse for both field goals and free throws. Still, Roy has been very good and the Blazers are in good shape having both of the top two second-year players in the game.
Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies The 6-8 swingman from Connecticut is coming into his own as one of the Grizzlies' go-to guys. His 17.1 points per game average trails only the Blazers' super sophs. Gay can do a little bit of everything rebound, defend, force steals, block shots and has nice range on his jump shot all the way to the 3-point arc.
Kelenna Azubuike, Golden State Warriors Like Brewer, Azubuike had a quiet rookie year. And like Brewer, he was helped out when a starting player in front of him was involved in a transaction. Jason Richardson was traded to Charlotte, paving way for Azubuike to show what he can do.
The 6-5 swingman from Kentucky is averaging 13.3 points and making 36.8 percent of his 3-point attempts. Azubuike has a 33-point game and a 27-point game already this season, but he's had his playing time reduced in recent games, recently losing his starting job to Monta Ellis.
Ronnie Brewer, Utah Jazz Few Jazz fans could have expected the solid, consistent performances turned in by the 6-7 swingman so far this season based on his rookie year. Brewer had little chance to shine during his first year with the Jazz, playing limited minutes in only 56 games.
But when Utah let veteran guard Derek Fisher out of his contract, it left an opening at shooting guard and Brewer has made the most of it. He's still not a great outside shooter, but his ability to cut to the basket for layups and dunks has him shooting 52 percent from the field and scoring 13.7 points per game up nearly 10 points from his rookie season. Brewer also has fast hands on defense, averaging 2.6 steals per outing.
Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors The No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft had a solid rookie campaign. Frankly, the 7-foot Italian has yet to make the type of second-year improvement many of his fellow sophs have made. Bargnani averaged 11.6 points in 25 minutes per game last season. This year, his averages are similar, 12.4 points in 25.4 minutes. His shooting percentage, meanwhile, is down to 42.2 percent.
Daniel Gibson, Cleveland Cavaliers After a strong playoff run for the Cavs as a spark-plug off the bench, Gibson has moved into a starting role alongside LeBron James this season. The 6-2 guard from Texas is averaging 12.6 points eight better than his rookie season. He's a deadly shooter from outside, making 52.6 percent of his treys this season, second in the league for players who have attempted 40 or more so far this season.
Kyle Lowry, Memphis Grizzlies The point guard from Villanova has yet to crack the Grizzlies' starting lineup, but he has been seeing plenty of playing time off the bench. Lowry is averaging 10.3 points and 4.5 boards per game in 25.5 minutes while backing up Damon Stoudamire. Lowry's fine play in recent weeks makes it appear that it's just a matter of time before he gets put into the starting point guard role in Memphis.
Jordan Farmar, Los Angeles Lakers The former UCLA star has found a nice role for himself in the same city in which he went to college. After paying his dues as a seldom-used rookie last season, Farmar is averaging 10.1 points and 3.0 assists in 20.8 minutes per game off the bench for L.A. He showed Jazz fans his ability to score on Friday night with 21 points in just 26 minutes.Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz The only thing standing in Millsap's way from being a double-digit scorer in the NBA is lack of minutes behind a front line of Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur and Andrei Kirilenko. The 6-8 rebounding machine is averaging 8.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per game and has been a key reason the Jazz are off to another strong start. Despite playing only 20 minutes per game, Millsap is second among the sophomores in rebounding, trailing only Aldridge. He's first in rebounds per minute played.
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