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NBA - US Sports: Second-year players set to shine

The 2021 NBA draft is one of the deepest in recent memory, earning comparisons already with the class of 2003.

While there's a long way to go before any of last summer's newcomers match the achievements of Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James, there are some real talents in the 2021 batch.

As the top prospects from last year prepare for their sophomore campaign in the NBA, many of them look ready to step up to the next level. It's not out of the question for them to make an All-Star push, while many will feature in Play-off chases this term.

Here's a selection of five players from the class of 2021 who could really stand out in the 2022/23 season.

Scottie Barnes

The reigning rookie of the year had a real test last season, slotting straight into a Toronto Raptors side that went on to finish fifth in the Eastern Conference.

Barnes didn't have the most traditional time playing for the Raptors, who operate with a position-less approach and a lot of switch defending.

That left Barnes going one-on-one with many of the league's top talents, but he was rarely shown up. While he came out of the draft with questions over his shooting, he averaged over 15 points a game in his debut season, shooting at 49% from the field.

Barnes has been working on his shooting all summer and he's set to make a big impact with the Raptors. The Florida State product is 25/1 to win Most Improved Player this year off the back of taking Rookie of the Year, so clearly, he's expected to take a major step forward.

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Evan Mobley

Mobley narrowly lost out on Rookie of the Year, with Cleveland's disappointing finish hurting his chances of winning the award. The Cavs slipped into the Play-in tournament in Jarrett Allen’s absence, but they'll rely on Mobley more moving forward.

The third pick stands out for his physical attributes and his defensive presence and he's not out of the picture in the Defensive Player of the Year stakes, coming into the season priced at 28/1 to take that award. 

Mobley has been referred to as a unicorn due to his combination of physical, mental and technical skills, so expect him to take another leap forward with the Cavs this season.

Cade Cunningham

The 2021 number one pick will expect to kick on in his second season, with his team out to do the same. The Detroit Pistons have been in the bottom three in the East in each of the last three seasons, but their talented, young side should improve this time around.

Cunningham's Rookie of the Year hopes were dealt a blow by the Pistons' struggles. However, he finished the regular season averaging over 20 points per game, shooting at an impressive 46%.

Unlike Barnes and Mobley, Cunningham remains stuck on a side who aren’t likely to make the postseason. However, if he can continue his impressive form from late last term, the young Pistons should show shoots of recovery.

Jonathan Kuminga

He's only been in the league for a year, but Kuminga has already reached the top in the NBA. He was on the title-winning Golden State Warriors roster last term. While Kuminga still has room to grow, he is set to pick up a ring on the opening night of the new season.

The Warriors have sacrificed some depth this summer, but that move allows Kuminga and 14th pick, Moses Moody, to feature more. The Warriors have drafted their way to the top, so big things are expected of the pair, with Kuminga, in particular, looking promising. 

Kuminga only started 12 times last season, but he featured in 70 games for the Warriors. He managed a solid 9.3 points per game despite getting just 16 minutes per night, so there's clear potential for the former G League Ignite forward to make a big impact.

Herb Jones

While there are more top talents in the first round of the draft, the Pelicans look to have gotten a steal with 35th pick Herb Jones. The forward was a breakout in the playoffs, building on a strong finish to last season by helping to shut down the Phoenix Suns. Causing problems for the side who had the league’s best regular season record certainly gains attention.

Jones should be in the mix for the All-Defensive team if he picks up where he left off. The guard isn't limited at the other end of the court, averaging over 10 points per game in his first postseason series.

With the Pelicans set to improve this year, back Jones to really kick on and improve in his sophomore season.

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