As NBA teams navigate their way through January, the Hoop Diary “Leap Award” starts to take shape. As seen earlier in our introduction, we have asked nine of your favourite writers to pick an NBA player destined to make a “leap” this year by way of productivity and role development. With almost a month of games in the books, it’s time to take a look at each player’s progress towards taking home most coveted web-inspired prize in hoops! Be sure to hit up the writers on Twitter and give them your thoughts.
The first leaderboard is in! Check out the current “Leap Award” standings after a near-month of NBA action.
Writer: Ryan Baker (@HD_RyanB)
Leap Player: James Harden
In our last instalment of The Leap Award I predicted some big things for James Harden in the realm of solid team defense and that he’d be more active in looking for his own offense. I expected his output to improve from 2010/11 to be around 16 ppg, 4 apg, 4 rpg and 37% from deep. Well Harden is basically bang on those numbers with 17.4ppg, 4rpg and 3.5apg with .387% from distance. Furthermore, I invite you to suggest two shooting guards who are playing better than James Harden. You cannot. Amazingly Harden is the second best shooting guard in the League and he doesn’t start yet.
Before I pat myself on the back too much for predicting this, let’s discuss some amazing things he’s doing that I didn’t predict (Can Harden come first and second in The Leap Award?). Let’s talk new-fangled statistics which show Harden is 13th in the League in Player Efficiency Rating (PER) (second among active SGs behind Kobe) and more impressively he is twelfth overall in Estimated Wins Added (EWA). Most amazing is the subjective analysis which shows that Harden is playing better defense and providing exactly what his team requires from him each and every night even while Russell Westbrook takes a backwards step in his scoring and assists and Durant has been a bit wayward.
These numbers are nothing extreme and it’s something he can easily continue. He won’t continue to be the second best shooting guard over the full course of the season as Wade returns to full health of course but he is the most impressive young shooting guard in the league (he’s only 22 years old!). James Harden, you’ve made a hell of a leap.
Writer: Brendan Edmistone (@Brendan_E)
Leap Player: Andrew Bynum
Andrew Bynum sat out the Lakers first four games of the season for suspension due to a hard hit on J.J. Barea in last season’s playoffs and he wasted no time in putting another hard hit on someone, however this time it was legal. Bynum smacked Nene upside the head on both ends of the floor to the tune of 29 points (on 13/18 shots), 13 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. The play of the game coming with 1:59 remaining and the game tied at 89 a piece. Bynum blocked Nene and then ran straight down and put in the go-ahead bucket – over Nene – just 7 seconds later.
In his 11 games so far this season, Bynum is averaging 16.5 points @ 54%, 13.9 rebounds & 1.9 blocks – with 8 double doubles, one of which being his first career 20-20 game. In his first four games, he was averaging 61% from the field with a double double in each game, but then Kobe Bryant decided it was time to remind the world about who he was and what he can do. Kobe shot and shot and shot – during the next 6 games, Bynum didn’t get the same looks he got in the first 4. He was noticeably frustrated at times and ended up forcing a lot of shots when he did get touches. He also only racked up 3 double doubles and shot a disappointing 45% from the field during this stretch.
The thing is, we’ve always known Bynum could be this good, but his body hasn’t allowed him to show it for any great period of time. But, from what we’re seeing so far, he’s looking rock solid. I definitely think we’ll see Kobe take it down a notch now that his 40+ streak is over and we’ll get back to seeing Bynum with some touches in the post and seeing that % rise up closer to the 20 points per game mark I predicted pre-season. Also, his first All-Star game is looking very good! As a starter! He is currently the highest “vote-getter” for Western Conference centers and currently has a 300,000 vote lead over 2nd place.
Writer: Nathaniel “Nat Where You At” (@andthefoulnet)
Leap Player: Thaddeus Young
Whilst Young hasn’t slipped this year, he hasn’t made improvement either… so far. This could be because he has now moved to PF from SF/SG.
Guarding post players does have its advantages, Young is long enough to contest shots & force turnovers, resulting in steals for Thaddeus, who is averaging over 1.5 steals per game this year.
Young is sitting steady with over 12 ppg and 4.7 rpg. Almost the same as last season, only thing is, this year the 76ers are getting wins, currently sitting second in the East. For that reason, I don’t think they will make any drastic changes this year barring injury. But the 76ers are stacked at the three and four spot with Young, Iggy, Nocioni, Brackins & Turner also playing the three. They are sitting in no mans land, getting the wins but won’t be able to contend for a title. If they are to do this I think they must make a big time trade, trading Iggy + Nocioni (maybe a pick as well) makes the most sense. However there are no rumors saying this will happen anytime in the near future.
For the meantime Young is on his way to having another solid year, but the next month should set the tone for the rest of the team not only for him, but also for the 76ers. They face the Heat (twice), Nuggets, Magic, Hawks, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs & Clippers. They also have four back-to-backs over the next month.. Injuries and fatigue will likely factor Youngs playing time, thus production.
Writer: Paul Henderson (@HD_Paul)
Leap Player: Mario Chalmers
Mr Chalmers has flown out the gates to re-capture some of the form he experienced in his rookie campaign. This season he is shooting at a much higher percentage from the field (.546 up from .399 last season) and has also increased his potency from downtown, connecting on 1.9 triples per game at just over 43%.
To be fair, his turnovers are at a career high at 2.6 per contest but he is playing nearly seven more minutes per game this season compared to last. It seems the addition of the much-hyped rookie point guard Norris Cole has spurred Chalmers on to compete for his role.
For Mr Chalmers to take out the Leap Award this season he will need to do most/all of the following:
- Keep his starting role for the season
- Reduce turnovers to a number below 2.0 per game regardless of increased minutes
- Maintain a scoring average above 12.0 points per game when the Miami line-up is returned to normal
- Maintain a field goal percentage above .500 for the season
- Increase his three-point percentage to a number above .450
- Increase his assists per game to a number above 7.0
It’s a challenging list but far from impossible playing with the Miami Heat for approximately 30 minutes per game.
While the Miami Heat’s form has been patchy of late, Mario has been enjoying some of his best games statistically. His stand-out performance was in a thrilling triple-overtime win at Atlanta where he posted a near triple-double of 28 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
No one is expecting Chalmers to be an All-Star but if he can continue to improve and provide the Miami Heat with solid play from the point guard position, he’ll be in with a chance for the Hoop Diary Leap Award.
Writer: Mookie Schiralli (@asternwarning)
Leap Player: LaMarcus Aldridge
Statistically, there is no doubting that LaMarcus Aldridge has embraced his role as “the man” in Portland. It is now clear that Brandon Roy is gone; and he’s not coming back. Aldridge is shooting 1.5 more shots per game, in two 2.25 minutes less per game. The offence is more frequently going through him and there is an overriding sense within the club that Aldridge is the last bastion of hope in what is a shattered Blazers’ dream for success.
The big fella has had two double-doubles so far in 12 games. He has scored 28 points or more four times. Am I satisfied with those numbers from a “franchise player” perspective? Yes, but they can be improved still. The primary issues as I see them are:
- LaMarcus could do with improving his rebounding, on a team that is sorely lacking in that area; and
- He needs to improve on his career-low 48.3% from the field, which may well be a result of the increased attention he is now receiving from keyed in defensive strategies.
Stepping away from the numbers game, the Blazers as a team have been quite successful, beyond many expectations. They had a strong start at 7-2 before losing their last three games. Aldridge has been a big part of that. Gerald Wallace, Jamal Crawford, Wesley Matthews and at times Nicolas Batum have been sharing the scoring load around, with Aldridge the clear alpha-dog.
In a recent high-scoring performance by Batum, where the Frenchman did not see the ball at the end of the game, Aldridge was seemingly unapologetic about the situation, saying:
“I can’t speak for why he didn’t get a shot,” Aldridge said. “But I just know … when it’s crunch time, it’s going to be me and Ray in the pick and roll, me and Crawford in the pick and roll. It’s going to be (Wallace) on the block or me on the block.”
Those are the words of a guy who has made the “Leap” to franchise player.
Writer: Samuel Findlay (@courtsidebunker)
Leap Player: John Wall
The NBA season is rapidly progressing and unfortunately for John Wall the Washington Wizards are at 2-12.
Like his team, John Wall hasn’t had the greatest start the season either. His numbers have dropped and he just hasn’t seemed to be in the same mode that he was last season.
With that said, John Wall is however, starting to play much better. The other day he managed to bust out for 38 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 4 steals against Rockets. The Wizards did lose, but then a game later he put up 25 points, 8 assists and 7 steals in a win against the Thunder. Yes, that’s right, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
To conclude, John Wall has a slow start, but his game is clearly starting to pick up. I’m confident he will only continue to improve as the season progresses. I still believe John Wall can be a 20 and 10 guy, and he still has the chance to do be that guy this season if he plays to his full potential.
Anyway, stay tuned for more.
Writer: Mitchell Hamilton (@rangaMITCH)
Leap Player: Kemba Walker
As I justified picking Kemba Walker as my Hoop Diary Leap Award candidate, I pointed out the Charlotte Bobcats roster and it’s barrenness of any real talent which would inevitably give Walker every opportunity to shine. In this assessment I misjudged somewhat of a roadblock to success. It was the fourth year point guard out of Texas, DJ Augustin.
DJ Augustin was given the starting role ahead of Kemba Walker at the beginning of the season and didn’t take a backward step averaging career highs in points (15.4) assists (7.4) and rebounds (3.4).
Anyway this isn’t an article about Augustin, it’s about my main man Kemba!
Walker bounced out of the blocks in his first NBA regular season game putting up numbers of 13 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists in just over 20 minutes in a one point victory against the Milwaukee Bucks. He sealed the game with some clutch free throws at the games death to give hope to Charlotte fans that they may have drafted themselves a winner.
While his assist numbers haven’t been overly high, recording five assists on two occasions, his scoring output and energy he brings off the bench has been impressive although often sporadic. Walker has scored in double figures seven times, however has scored below seven points on five occasions.
After scoring 16 points at a 75% clip in a loss against the Detroit Pistons on January 14, Walker was given the starting shooting guard position to pay alongside Augustin. Problem solved! He rewarded the faith from the coaching staff by dropping a career high 23 points and five assists against the Golden State Warriors.
While Kemba’s entry into the NBA hasn’t been as smooth as I envisaged, the flashes of brilliance and energy he brings to a sometimes forgotten franchise has given me encouragement that he can be the Hoop Diary Leap player of the year. Sure, he only averages a humble 11.1 points, 3 assists and 2.8 rebounds. But he has entered the pro’s ranking 4th in scoring and 5th in assists within his rookie class. He is no means ‘there’ yet, but the Bobcats and I see the potential that this young man can be.
His excitement brings a new dimension to his team. It’s what I like to see from my rookie Hoop Diary Lead Award candidate after a month in the league!
Writer: Steve Smith (@smittys07)
Leap Player: Patrick Patterson
OK, so I could be really clever-slash-dodgy with this and go back to my original pick Marcin Gortat, who has been Polish Hammering people lately to the tune of 17.6 points and 12.4 boards in his past five games.
But seeing as how I’m a man of my word, I’ll go with my replacement pick (Gortat didn’t even miss ONE game dammit), Houston’s Patrick Patterson.
The second-year forward out of Kentucky is averaging just 5.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per night, numbers that are down on his promising rookie season. The 6-9 Patterson started the season hampered by an ankle injury and is yet to establish any kind of playing rhythm, as evidenced by failing to score in double digits in 75% of his games so far this season.
However, he did show a small sign of life in Houston’s comfortable 97-80 win over the lowly Pistons this week, tabling a season-high 12 points off the bench,
Hopefully this is a precursor of better things to come!
Writer: Nick Metallinos (@nickmetallinos)
Leap Player: JR Smith
Deep down this was to be expected but unfortunately J.R. Smith is yet to take the leap into the NBA, just yet. As the Chinese Basketball Association reaches it’s final rounds be sure that Smith will find his way onto an NBA roster for the latter stages of the season. He will help a contending team as the final piece of a (potential) Championship winning side.
In the meantime, Smith has been tearing up the CBA (as I predicted he would continue doing). He is the League’s leading scorer averaging a ridiculous 33.8 ppg.
While his high-flying acrobatic dunks continue to astound the local faithful, Smith has also displayed his amazing handle in this week’s game with the Beijing Ducks, and their former NBA standout, Stephon Marbury.
Smith broke the ankles of 3 defenders, including ‘Starbury’ en-route to a 39 -point game on 14-for-25 shooting.
Judging by the player’s Twitter account he is eager to get back to the NBA ASAP to make the next leap forward in his game back on home soil.
There you have it folks, the second installment of the Hoop Diary Leap Award!
Thanks for reading.
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