No two players have the same experience in their rookie seasons in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague. And how different players grow into their second season can also vary. The hope is always that with one year of experience under a player’s belt, he will blossom in the sophomore season and that was the case for a handful of key contributors in 2022-23. Here’s a look at some of the best seasons by second-year players in the campaign that just came to a close.
The sophomore success stories from 2022-23
Keenan Evans, Zalgiris Kaunas
One of the breakout players in the first half of the season, Keenan Evans was on pace to rank third in the league in both scoring and performance index rating when he suffered a torn Achilles tendon in Zalgiris’s Round 17 game against Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul. Evans averaged 16.8 points and 3.9 assists for a PIR of 18.6 through 16 rounds, although his end-of-season numbers were lower since he only played 57 seconds in that final game of the season.
Evans made his EuroLeague debut with Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv during the 2021-22 campaign, but played a largely complimentary role. With Zalgiris, he became a go-to guy and did not miss a beat. His scoring on a per-minute basis rose from season to season by 53.8% and his PIR per minute went up by 61.2%. A healthy Evans should be a difference-maker again in 2023-24.
Dante Exum, Partizan Mozzart Bet Belgrade
The 2022-23 season was Dante Exum’s first full season in the competition after he joined FC Barcelona in December of the previous campaign and had to adjust on the fly. With Partizan, Exum stepped into a key role to help the team reach the playoffs as a force off the bench. He played more than twice as many minutes with Partizan (873:55) as he did with Barça (424:16), yet Exum more than tripled his scoring output and saw his total PIR rise by 269%.
Exum averaged 13.2 points and 2.7 assists for a PIR of 14.3 with Partizan with excellent shooting numbers. He connected on 59.3% of his two-point attempts, 39.3% of his shots from downtown and 85.8% of his free throws. The EuroLeague is now on notice that Exum is a true star.
Kevarrius Hayes, Zalgiris Kaunas
Unlike the other players on this list, Kevarrius Hayes played a season in the EuroCup between his first two EuroLeague campaigns. He debuted in the EuroLeague with LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne in 2020-21 and averaged 3.0 points, 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 blocks over 10:50 minutes in 20 games. Hayes joined Frutti Extra Bursaspor the next year and emerged as a force in the paint to help the team reach the EuroCup Finals. That led to his return to the EuroLeague with Zalgiris and a key role on a playoff team.
Hayes started more than three-quarters of his games with Zalgiris and posted 5.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. His scoring rose 12% on a per-minute basis between his two EuroLeague seasons to an average of 12.1 points per 40 minutes this past season. Add in his rim protection and intimidation inside and Hayes is well on his way to becoming a top-tier EuroLeague center.
Paris Lee, Panathinaikos Athens
After helping AS Monaco reach the 2022 playoffs, Paris Lee joined the Greens and took on a larger role. Lee averaged 11.2 points, 3.8 assists and 1.4 steals as a part-time starter with Panathinaikos. He proved to be a much more aggressive player with the Greens, as his scoring, free throw attempts and assists all rose considerably between the two seasons. The bump in scoring was 11% to 16.4 points per 40 minutes, in assists he improved by 16% to 5.7 assists per 40 minutes and in free throws attempted he went to 4.2 per game, which was a rise of nearly 45%.
When Lee was at his best, so was Panathinaikos. The Greens were 4-0 this season when he scored at least 20 points and he set single-game personal bests in nearly every major statistical category. As he enters his third EuroLeague campaign, Lee has established himself as a very dangerous weapon.
Andreas Obst, FC Bayern Munich
Andreas Obst came into the EuroLeague with a reputation as an elite three-point shooter and justified that in his rookie season with Bayern by ranking second in the league in threes per minute with 4.6 prorated over 40 minutes. Last season, not only did he increase that rate to lead the league with 5.3 triples per 40 minutes, but Obst saw a significant rise in nearly all his major numbers and he did so with more playing time, too.
Obst went from less than 7 minutes per game to 20 minutes in 2022-23. He more than tripled his PIR per 40 minutes to 13.8 last season and doubled his assists to 2.6 per 40 minutes. His scoring rose to 19.8 and his rebounds to 3.7. Obst proved himself to be a capable all-around player while reminding all that he is a deadeye shooter by making at least 4 triples in eight of his 25 appearances.
Jaleen Smith, ALBA Berlin
Very little changed in Jaleen Smith’s role in his first two seasons in the EuroLeague, but his production clearly jumped forward in Year 2. The ALBA guard started more than half of his games in 2021-22 and averaged 21:02 minutes per game. Last season he started most of the games and played 24:37 on average. The big difference was improved three-point shooting and fewer turnovers. Smith made 2.6 threes per 40 minutes at a 31.7% success rate as a EuroLeague rookie. He knocked down 3.7 threes while shooting at a 37.4% clip in 2022-23.
His scoring increased 18% to 18.7 points per 40 minutes last season, much of which can be explained by those triples. While shooting better, Smith also cut his turnover rate to 2.3 per 40 minutes, down from 2.9 the year before. Altogether that led to a 38% spike in his PIR per 40 minutes to 17.4 and showed that Smith is a player to keep an eye on.
Roman Sorkin, Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv
A bit of a late bloomer, Roman Sorkin was already 25 when he debuted with Maccabi, but he continued to improve and left his mark through a few strong efforts late in the 2021-22 season. This past season, Sorkin was already an important part of Coach Oded Kattash’s rotation and his numbers made the case for him. He ranked 30th in the league last season in per-minute PIR with 21.8 per 40 minutes. That is a significant jump considering that he played more than three times as many total minutes as the year before, while nearly doubling his per-game average to 16:18 minutes.
Sorkin also posted significant jumps in scoring (16.8 per 40) and two-point accuracy 69.6% and his block rate of 1.9 per 40 minutes was eighth best in the league. As he prepares to enter his prime, the unanswered question is: just how good is the best Sorkin has to offer?