Sacramento Kings coach Paul Westphal was never one to believe in a sophomore slump. This season has forced him to think otherwise.
"I guess people talk about the sophomore jinx for a reason," Westphal said.
All three of the NBA's rookie of the year finalists from a season ago have slipped into that often-predictable pitfall in year two. Sacramento's Tyreke Evans, Golden State's Stephen Curry and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings are searching for a way to either get healthy or get going and show the progress and promise they did in their premieres.
Evans, the reigning rookie of the year, has been slowed by plantar fasciitis in his left foot for most of the season and is only now starting to get healthy. Curry missed time early with ankle injuries, and Jennings has been out since Dec. 18 after left foot surgery.
"It's real tough being hurt," Jennings said. "You can't do anything about an injury."
Encores always seem to have their hiccups.
Sure, the injuries that sidelined the budding young stars might be nothing more than coincidence. The adjustments teams have made on them, however, are no accident.
The highlights the trio produced as rookies put the focus on them every night. In almost every opposing locker room, the drawing board has their position highlighted. Coaches also place an asterisk on their names on team scouting reports.
"You're not a surprise anymore," Warriors coach Keith Smart said of the adjustments players face in their second season. "Especially a guard, very few of them have that great first year then a great second year. They may play consistent that second year, but not that great year. Some of them do. But a lot of them, they don't."
The changes can often seem subtle.
When he has been healthy this season, Evans believes the biggest difference from last season is that teams are trying to make him play off the ball. There are more double-teams and more nuances than before.
And they're coming even more quickly.
"Just on the break, they're getting back and taking away the paint," Evans said. "They try to get me to give the ball up early and get the ball out of my hands. Every chance I get, I try to attack. But I'm kicking out more often this year because the double teams are coming more quickly."
The adjustments have been compounded with all three on teams with losing records. The lack of talent and depth make it easier for opponents to concentrate on one player.
That's perhaps the biggest reason why Evans' production has slightly decreased. He's averaging 17.6 points and 5.5 assists per game on 40 percent shooting -- all down from last season.
Curry's numbers are slightly up overall at 18.7 points and 5.9 assists, but he hasn't had the dominant performances as he did over the final 50 games last season. New Warriors owner Joe Lacob has made it known that he has been less than satisfied with Curry's progress this season, publicly changing his stance that Curry is no longer untouchable in a trade.
Jennings (17.9 points, 5.5 assists) was showing improvement. But he has played only 25 games and hasn't been able to get on the floor to help the struggling Bucks (16-26) make a return trip to the playoffs.
Even they know they've set high standards for themselves.
"The more success you have in this league, the more people want to examine you night in and night out," Curry said. "You have to live up to your performance of last night or last year. If you don't live up to your performance from before, they're going to say you're slipping."
They can still live up to the hype as NBA sophomores.
The season has not even hit the All-Star break yet, and it was around this time a year ago that the trio began to really blossom. Jennings is expected back this week for the Bucks. Evans -- who began to break his skid with a career-high 35 points at Golden State last week -- said he is the healthiest he has been all season and Curry has started to regain his rhythm with the Warriors.
"All you can do now is come back stronger and better," Jennings said. "So, I've got my legs back, I'm stronger now and the second half of the season I'll be able to push through better than I did in the second half of last year."