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Does the sophomore slump really exist?

The sophomore slump.

Shouldn’t it be called the Year 2 Yips or the Second Year Struggle?

I mean, after all, these NBA guys aren’t in school any longer. They’re professionals. They’ve finally done what so many of their moms and dads begged them to do throughout their youth — they got a job.

And, as with any job, there’s a certain expectation by their bosses (read: coach or GM) for these guys to perform well.

For at least one former Jayhawk, this idea has been somewhat of a struggle during his soph..., er, second season in the NBA.

His name is Mario Chalmers and in a little less than a calendar year he’s gone from serving as the Miami Heat’s starting point guard and being called “the steal of the 2008 Draft” to a guy who comes off of the bench and averages just 24 minutes per game, including a career-low of 15 mpg in January.

To make matters worse, he’s missed time recently with a partially torn ligament in his thumb.

Slump, yips, struggle or nightmare. Call it what you like, but Mario’s definitely going through it. And with the way things are going for the Heat as a whole this season, it doesn’t look like the end is anywhere in sight.

That brings me to the following question: Do you guys buy this notion of the sophomore slump?

It’s not like I’m asking if you believe in the S.I. cover jinx or if you think the moon is made of cheese. It’s a legitimate question about a seemingly real ordeal. Its premise? Success during one’s rookie season in the NBA — no matter how large or small — does not necessarily mean that more success will follow during that player’s second season.

Personally, I have mixed emotions on the topic. I’m not sure you can say that a sophomore slump is inevitable for all players. Look at the LeBron James and Kobe Bryants of the world. But I also don’t think that all stars are immune. Carmelo Anthony had a largely successful rookie season but endured some serious growing pains in a couple of key aspects of his game during Year 2.

The list goes on. But I do think the sophomore slump is real and I do think it impacts a large percentage of professional players.

The reason? Your guess is as good as mine. But my hunch is that, after making it through their grueling rookie seasons, many players gain a false sense of security about their place, their status and their belonging in the NBA. The league is a grown man’s game. And most often it takes a grown man to excel at the peak of one’s abilities in the NBA.

In short, it’s mental and only those athletes with a unique, finely-tuned mind can make the leap from Year 1 to Year 2 without some sort of a hiccup.

Before you share your thoughts, consider the following statistical data concerning the first and second seasons of a few recent former Jayhawks in the NBA.

It should be noted that, outside of using Chalmers as the example to set up this blog entry, the most recent Jayhawks who made the leap to the NBA — i.e. Brandon Rush, Darrell Arthur and Darnell Jackson — were excluded from the list below because their second seasons are not yet complete.

JACQUE VAUGHN
1997-98 statistics: 45 GP, 0 GS, 9 MPG, 36% FG, 71% FT, 3.1 PPG, 1.9 APG
1998-99 statistics: 19 GP, 0 GS, 5 MPG, 37% FG, 83% FT, 2.3 PPG, 0.6 APG

Analysis: Vaughn played 26 fewer games during his second NBA season and saw his minutes, scoring and assists averages all drop. In both cases, Vaughn’s numbers were so small that it’s hard to say his second year in the NBA was a major slump. But the fact that he played in half of Utah’s games as a rookie but less than a quarter of the team’s games in Year No. 2 is a slump in itself.

PAUL PIERCE
1998-99 statistics: 48 GP, 47 GS, 34 MPG, 44% FG, 71% FT, 16.5 PPG, 6.4 RPG
1999-00 statistics: 73 GP, 72 GS, 35 MPG, 44% FG, 80% FT, 19.5 PPG, 5.4 RPG

Analysis: On the surface, it appeared that Pierce had anything but a slump during his second season. He started 25 more games during Year 2, and saw his points-per-game average rise to nearly 20 a game. What’s even more telling here, is that Pierce’s free throw percentage spiked from 71 percent to 80 percent. That indicates that not only was he shooting the ball better from the line, but that, even then, he was beginning to understand that he could make a living by getting to the line. While the numbers and overall maturity seem to reveal a better second season, some could argue that Pierce endured some growing pains as a defensive player until midway through his career.

DREW GOODEN
2002-03 statistics: 19 GP, 18 GS, 29 MPG, 50% FG, 74% FT, 13.6 PPG, 8.4 RPG
2003-04 statistics: 51 GP, 29 GS, 26 MPG, 44% FG, 70% FT, 12.1 PPG, 5.8 RPG

Analysis: Gooden seemed to have some kind of a slump during his second year in the league, despite the fact that he played in 30 more games and started 11 more. Although I mentioned above that one reason for the sophomore slump could be a false sense of belonging, it’s unlikely that that was the problem in Gooden’s case. The guy’s played for seven franchises in his nine-year career. I doubt he’s felt as if he’s really belonged anywhere. In Gooden’s case, the second-year slump was not dramatic but it did exist. His numbers went down across the board, including an alarming 6% dip in field goal percentage.

NICK COLLISON (missed 2003-04 season due to injury)
2004-05 statistics: 82 GP, 4 GS, 17 MPG, 54% FG, 70% FT, 5.6 PPG, 4.6 RPG
2005-06 statistics: 66 GP, 27 GS, 22 MPG, 53% FG, 70% FT, 7.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG

Analysis: Collison played in fewer games overall but started 23 more times during his second season. His numbers went up slightly in most statistical categories and he recorded eight double-doubles — including one stretch of back-to-back double-doubles — compared with just four during his rookie season. Collison has yet to breakout as a pro player and probably never will. With that in mind, it’s hard to call his second season in the league a slump, as his averages of 8 points and 6 rebounds per game were solid for a reserve role player.

KIRK HINRICH
2003-04 statistics: 76 GP, 66 GS, 36 MPG, 39% FG, 80% FT, 12.0 PPG, 6.8 APG
2004-05 statistics: 77 GP, 77 GS, 36 MPG, 40% FG, 79% FT, 15.7 PPG, 6.4 APG

Analysis: Like he did with Kansas, Hinrich exploded onto the scene as a rookie with the Chicago Bulls in 2003 and kept improving from there. During his second season — in which he played in all but five regular season games — Hinrich started nearly every game, averaged 36 (of 48) minutes per contest and saw his points- and assists-per-game averages reach the brink of All-Star worthy. No slump here either.

JULIAN WRIGHT
2007-08 statistics: 57 GP, 1 GS, 11 MPG, 53% FG, 64% FT, 3.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG
2008-09 statistics: 54 GP, 19 GS, 14 MPG, 47% FG, 57% FT, 4.4 PPG, 2.8 RPG

Analysis: Although Wright’s minutes and point and rebound totals increased during his second season (however slightly), his field goal and free throw percentages actually went down. Call it a wash if you want, but I’d argue that the dip in shooting percentages hurt his team more than the minor rise in point and rebound totals helped it. The truth here, however, is that each of Wright’s three seasons has been somewhat of a slump.

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Comments

Omegatron 4 years, 8 months ago

"Shouldn’t it be called the Year 2 Yips or the Second Year Struggle?"

No. Cause not everyone has a slump their second year, and slumps aren't confined to just the second year...

dogsong 4 years, 8 months ago

Are you really using the amount of games played or started in the 98-99 season in relation to Vaughn and Pierce as evidence of whether they had slumps in their second year? Did you just start watching the NBA recently? Wow. I bet you still have no clue what I'm referencing.

Omegatron 4 years, 8 months ago

"dogsong (anonymous) says...

Are you really using the amount of games played or started in the 98-99 season in relation to Vaughn and Pierce as evidence of whether they had slumps in their second year?"

I was wondering that myself...

Shawn Van Ross 4 years, 8 months ago

Hey um...Matt Tait.....newsflash. There was a lockout in '98-'99. They were on a 50 game schedule. You need to brush up on your research before writing dude.

nnelson 4 years, 8 months ago

I think that's why he put up the averages and not the totals - so we can see what numbers they were likely to put up on any given night.

Omegatron 4 years, 8 months ago

In a lockout year there could be a number of reasons, both on and off the court, for a player to not play in as many games as the season before...

Matt Tait 4 years, 8 months ago

Sorry for the delayed response... I've been out of town.

Two things here.

  1. There was really no getting around using the 1998-99 season for this blog. It was the first year in the league for Pierce and the second for Vaughn, therefore it had to be used. In retrospect, I probably could have just left those guys off to avoid the mess or at least noted the lockout in some manner. My bad.

  2. The idea behind this blog was not to put an absolute blanket truth on the sophomore slump, rather to inspire some debate about it. Does it exist? Is it common? What are some of the reasons it does and doesn't happen? Perhaps linking the debate to former KU guys was a reach, but if I didn't do that then it would have had no place in a Hawks in the NBA blog.

Maybe I should have just hammered the Mario Chalmers angle a little harder... I'm still shocked that he's followed up last season with such a poor second year. Maybe we'll revisit that in the near future...

Anyway, thanks for the comments and sorry for the confusion. I love this blog and love coming up with new topics that might be of interest. Sometimes, it's a slam dunk and other times I fire up an airball. Kind of like my real game -- minus the slam dunk.

Please note that if you have any ideas you'd like to see me include in the coming weeks, shoot me an email — at: mtait@ljworld.com — and I'll see what I can do.

Until the next one.... - Matt

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