At the Break: Sophomores Making Strides

During the early stages of an NBA career, some extra time in the league can make a significant difference.  A check up on the Sixers’ four second-year players – the largest group the team has on its roster in terms of experience – bears this dynamic out. Heading into the All-Star Game break, the members of this quartet – Jerami Grant, Nerlens Noel, JaKarr Sampson, and Nik Stauskas – had all improved in several basic statistical categories when comparing their current output to that from their respective rookie seasons.  A snapshot of this progress is reflected via the charts below.  The listed stats were measured on a per-36 minute basis:

[[{“fid”:”47775″,”view_mode”:”default”,”fields”:{“format”:”default”,”field_file_image_alt_text[und][0][value]”:””,”field_file_image_title_text[und][0][value]”:””},”type”:”media”,”attributes”:{“height”:”530″,”width”:”730″,”style”:”display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;”,”class”:”media-element file-default”}}]]As the Sixers’ sophomores approached the club’s current lay-off, which ends Wednesday night with a practice at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, they each separately alluded to similar concepts – playing with energy, feeling more comfortable, striving for greater consistency, enjoying roster continuity – in giving assessments of their individual development.  A few of the second-year Sixers, in what at this point should be no surprise, also credited Ish Smith for being an essential catalyst.”I think I played my game,” Noel said earlier this month when talking about his performance leading up to the All-Star Game.  “I think I attacked, went to my shot when it was there, and I just played basketball.  Especially having Ish, playing that pick-and-roll, and guys finding each other. I think I’ve just steadily improved.” Noel’s offensive game did indeed undergo a substantial boost on the heels of Smith’s December 26th debut.  In 21 appearances since that date, the sixth pick in the 2013 draft has converted 64.4 percent of his field goals, good for second-best in the league.  He ranks eighth overall in accuracy when examining the entire season.  Additionally, with Smith manning point guard duties, Noel’s rim-rolling capabilities have been further exploited.  His 101 dunks are just 17 slams shy of his total from a year ago.”He’s playing with a high motor,” said Brett Brown last Wednesday, just before the Sixers took the floor for their final appearance before the break. “You don’t see the sort of the stats we take on offensive rebound pursuits.  When the shot you go up, you go get it.  That’s my goal for Nerlens.  Feature for opposition scout tapes.  Make ’em say, ‘You better hit Nerlens Noel, or he’s going to get offensive rebounds.'”  “I see a committed rebounder, a committed running the floor guy.  I think that his rolling is elite.  I just feel like he’s that further along  than when we all had him.”  In addition to Noel, Grant and Stauskas have made noteworthy strides in key statistical areas beyond just those reflected in the charts displayed earlier in this article.  Grant, for instance, has enjoyed a considerable spike in offensive rebounding and blocks this season.  As of Thursday, the 2014 second-round selection, who has aptly referred to himself as an “energy guy,” was tied for ninth in the NBA with 83 swats.83 @JeramiGrant Blocks In 2 Minutes.>>— Philadelphia 76ers (@Sixers) February 17, 2016  Stauskas, who spent his first season with the Kings in 2014-2015 before being traded to the Sixers in July, began to show signs of finding a smoother rhythm in his final eight-games before the All-Star hiatus.  Over the course of that stretch, he knocked down 51.0 percent of his total field goals (26-51 fg), while burying 44.8 percent of his three-point attempts (13-29 3fg).  That spurt helped push both his overall and three-point field goal shooting percentages above the marks he posted as a rookie in Sacramento.Stauskas believes he’s personally benefited from a turn in the Sixers’ collective fortunes, saying, “The energy here changed.  We started winning more games.  For myself, I started to feeling a little bit more comfortable out there shooting the ball, getting a little more consistency with my minutes. Knowing coming into a game when you’re going to get in and how much you’re going to play, that definitely helps with any player, so I feel like that’s helped me over the last month or two.”Also worth noting about Stauskas is that he’s raised his per-36 minute assist rate from 2.1 to 2.7 compared to the previous season.  Early on, Brown identified in Stauskas the potential for the Michigan product to assume a facilitating function similar to what  Manu Ginobili has done in his time with the San Antonio Spurs.  Stauskas has taken advantage getting the chance to distribute, all while aiming to evolve into a more well-rounded contributor.”Just continue to be more consistent,” Stauskas said in setting his post All-Star break goals. “Being a shooter, you’re not going to be hot every single game, but just continue to prove I can be a knockdown shooter in this league.  And then on the defensive end, continue to get stronger, continue to get more physical, continue to compete a little bit more, cause I know that’s what the coaches really want from me, and I know that’s what I need to do to help this team win more games.”JaKarr Sampson, despite seeing a slight drop in playing time in his second year with the Sixers, recognizes the importance of maintaining focus as the team starts an eight week push through its final 29 games. “I’m just working on things I can control, like getting in the weight room, trying to get my body right, continuing to get shots up, and improve my jump shot,” said the undrafted forward from St. John’s, who’s averaging 5.1 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14.7 minutes per game.  “Definitely just keep working on my shot, my offensive game. My defense is there.  Just keep becoming more of a two-way player.”While the Sixers’ sophomore contingent remains a work in progress, it’s already demonstrated the impact of having increased experience.  The task now is to continue that trend through the end of the season.

83 @JeramiGrant Blocks In 2 Minutes.>>

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