As the NBA All-Star Weekend passes us by, the Hoop Diary “Leap Award” continues to heat up. As seen earlier in our introduction as well as Part II, 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. We’ve now navigated our way through two months of this shortened season and once again it is time to take a look at each player’s progress. All eyes are on the prize as each writer goes in to bat for his chosen “leaper”. As always, hit up the respective writers on Twitter and share your views!

Here is the second installment, and leaderboard. Enjoy.

Rank: 1

Writer: Ryan Baker (@HD_RyanB)

Leap Player: James Harden

Last time on The Leap Award we spoke about how James Harden had taken such a big leap towards helping his team win effectively, with defense and creating offense for his team. In February he has upped his numbers slightly rather than let them tail off, speaking to an increased maturity and understanding of the game. He is no longer the second best shooting guard in the league, but it is no shame to be behind Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, and he is still the clear third best shooting guard in the league to my eyes.

It may be tempting to try to overlook Harden at this point of The Leap Award because he is basically doing what he did in the first month of the season, but we can’t lose sight of the fact that he is showing consistency and leadership in helping OKC to be a team which is not only taken seriously, but is in a three-way tie for most likely to win the Championship.

That’s taking a Leap anyway you look at it.


Rank: 2

Writer: Brendan Edmistone (@Brendan_E)

Leap Player: Andrew Bynum

As we approach the half way mark of the season, I figured it’s a good time to check my predictions for Andrew Bynum from the first Leap Award article.

I expect to see marked improvements in every category from Bynum. He should have his first of many 20/10 seasons and his first of many All-Star appearances

The first one we can tick off is his first All-Star appearance, as Bynum started for the West All-Star Team this past weekend. Now, on to the other two predictions. We know he’s had the best season of his short career health wise and he has been pretty consistent. But, has he met my marks? We’ll have to break it down…

A marked improvement in every category?

Minutes – Up 7 from last season to 34 per game.
Points – up 5 to a career high 16.3 per game.
Rebounds – Up 3.4 to 12.8 per game, third in the League.
Blocks and steals have stayed the same, however fouls have reduced.

Assists have gone down just 0.1 per game to 1.3 per game, this is something that you can see him adjusting to each game as he is seeing more and more doubles and learning how to find his guys either on dive cuts or shooters on the wings. I expect this to increase by the end of the season as he further learns Mike Brown’s system.

So, we have seen a marked improvement in MOST categories so far, and I still expect by the end of the season, all of the categories would of seen an improvement over the previous season. I believe this prediction is on track.

Is Andrew Bynum a 20/10 guy?

The answer is “not yet”. He is currently at 16.3 points and 12.8 rebounds. However, he has shown himself to be fully capable of being a 20/10 guy, he’s had threr 20/20 games, but with just 36 games left this season, he will need to average 24+ points the rest of the way to get himself up to 20 per game by the end of the year. With a team featuring Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol, there simply isn’t enough shots to go around to get him that many scoring opportunities. I’m happy with his improvements this year to date, but unfortunately, I can’t see this prediction being fulfilled by seasons end.

In summary, Andrew Bynum continues to impress, continues to improve and continues to make big plays in games as Mike Brown has trusted him in late game situations. He’s certainly taken the leap. The scary thing is, there’s still room for improvement!


Rank: 3

Writer: Mookie Schiralli (@asternwarning)

Leap Player: LaMarcus Aldridge

So, LaMarcus Aldridge finally got his just deserts, being named as an All-Star for the first time. Most astute observers would see this as a year too late, but he got there nonetheless.

Has Aldridge been playing like an All-Star? Indeed he has.

His stat line across the board is fantastic. Here’s a question for you: how many players in the NBA this season average more than 22ppg, 8rpg, 2apg and shoot at least 50% from the field?

The answer: just three. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and LaMarcus Aldridge. That is pretty elite company right there.

It’s not just numbers though. Aldridge has certainly taken up the reigns as team leader, absorbing a lot of pressure from opposing defences, whilst being more of a leader on the court. On the other hand though, Aldridge’s game has dipped a little since we last checked in. His statistics are down almost universally during the month of February, as the Blazers battle to stay above .500.

Has Aldridge entirely turned the corner as a franchise player? Right now, I’m going to reserve my judgement as the rest of this short season progresses, to see how he leads Portland toward the Playoffs.


Rank: 4

Writer: Paul Henderson (@HD_Paul)

Leap Player: Mario Chalmers

So let’s think about this for a second. You’re on the (second?) hottest team in the league, you’re the starting point guard, you have a rookie breathing down your neck wanting your job and you play with three All-Stars that take a combined 49.5 shots per game. Not an ideal setting for a young player but somehow Chalmers keeps improving.

Mario’s currently posting career highs in points per game and both field goal and three-point shooting. While you would imagine his assist numbers would be higher playing with Miami’s “Big Three”, there is no shame being third on the team behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.

Chalmers put up a decent showing at All-Star Weekend competing in the Footlocker Three Point Shootout. His score of 18 was good enough for a tie for third spot, however he froze up in the tie-breaker and was eliminated by eventual champion Kevin Love. While no doubt disappointed, the All-Star Weekend experience would no doubt be a good one for Chalmers and may encourage the young Heat point guard to make sure it wasn’t a “one off”.

As we move into the March/April period of the season, teams will begin to knuckle down in preparation for their respective playoff runs. With his steady improvement so far already in the bank, Chalmers will be looking to secure that starting position and help the Heat back to the NBA Finals.

Only time will tell if he can do enough to move to the top of the Leap Award standings but hey, if Jeremy Lin can fly in from nowhere, why can’t Mario Chalmers?


Rank: 5

Writer: Mitchell Hamilton (@rangaMITCH)

Leap Player: Kemba Walker

The lowly, league worst Charlotte Bobcats have a 4-28 record this season, however, Kemba Walker out of Connecticut has been finally starting to repay some of the faith that I have given him this season.

With offseason acquisition Corey Maggette and starting point guard DJ Augustin only just returning to the line-up, Walker attempted to fill the statistical output of these players. Throughout the month of February up to the All Star break, Walker has averaged 15.5 points per game 4.3 assists and 3.2 rebounds per game.

On January 28 against fellow cellar dwellers the Washington Wizards, Kemba achieved his first NBA triple double scoring 20 points, handing out 11 assists and pulled down 10 boards.

Walker has been excellent from the free throw line (80%) and has decreased his turnovers from 2.3 per game in January to 0.6 in February. All this while playing an increased number of minutes!

In his last 13 games Walker has scored double figures on 10 of these occasions however has diversified his game becoming more of a creator for his Bobcat teammates. This has come from taking his opportunity as starting point guard instead of his previous role as offensive sparkplug off the bench.

With the return from injury of Augustin and Maggette, Walker has seen a slight drop in minutes however has managed to continue to put up decent numbers. His selection to the rookie-sophomore game effectively ranks him in the top eight rookies in the NBA.

If Kemba Walker had been playing on a bigger team his numbers might have been able to garner more interest from the basketball public. However as long as he continues to ply his trade with the abysmal Charlotte Bobcats, the third highest rookie point producer won’t be as easily noticed however hopefully won’t slide any further down Hoop Diary’s Leap Award ladder!


Rank: 6

Writer: Nick Metallinos (@nickmetallinos)

Leap Player: JR Smith

Ladies and gentlemen, the Hoop Diary Leap Award has now become official. JR Smith is back in the NBA after dominating the Chinese Basketball Association. Smith exited the CBA with a 34.4 ppg average and is now on Broadway, trying to fit in with all new teammates.

Wearing Latrell Sprewell’s old number 8 with the Knicks (I’m guaranteeing Smith won’t choke Mike D’Antoni though), JR has come off the bench and provided the Knicks with some much needed scoring.

Averaging 11.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in four appearances so far, Smith’s intentions seem to be all about fitting into the D’Antoni system. His .395 shooting from the field and .261 from long-range prove that sometimes old habits are hard to break, but could also be attributed to a lack of practice time with new teammates, and a new offense.

As the Knicks become more accustomed to each other and get some more match-play under their belts, look for JR’s (often) streaky shooting to become a little more stable as the latest ‘Linsation’, Jeremy Lin will find him open on the perimeter.

For those that don’t follow JR on Twitter (@TheRealJRSmith), so far all the signs point to him accepting his role within the team. It’s time for the wins to follow.


Rank: 5

Writer: Samuel Findlay (@courtsidebunker)

Leap Player: John Wall

John Wall started off the season rather slow, as did his Washington Wizards who struggled to win games for their first 15 or so games. However, John Wall has since improved and is now averaging 16.8 points per game, which is .4 higher than his scoring average from last season.

Surprisingly, the Wizards have also won a few more games and now have a record of 7-26. Not to mention they had a huge 124-109 win over the now 18-16 Portland Trail Blazers. Wall was super impressive in that game, putting up 29 points, 9 assists while shooting 10-14 from the field. Not too bad if you ask me.

With the All-Star festivities happening this weekend, it’s probably a good time for me to talk a bit about Wall’s involvement, which includes him playing in Rising Stars Challenge and also the competing in the Skill Challenge.

First up the Rising Stars Challenge, which Wall was surprisingly selected 12th by Charles Barkley to play for Team Chuck. Yes, 12th… I couldn’t believe it either. Even John Wall found his late selection to be a shock, explaining to The Washington Post that he thought it was a joke. Perhaps he’ll win the Rookie Challenge MVP Award for the second straight year to prove to both Shaq and Chuck that he should have been a much earlier pick?

As for the Skills Challenge, I’ve got Wall winning. That is if he actually makes an effort to do so. I mean, surly he’s the fastest player in the competition? One thing is for sure, his speed will give him a massive advantage.

To be completely honest, I thought that John Wall would have made more of a leap thus far, but with plenty games still to go, Wall has the opportunity to do so, and I think he will. After the All-Star break, I’m expecting Wall to improve enough to move me up a few ranks. Maybe even enough to put me in a place to win this Award.

Stay tuned, y’all.


Rank: 8

Writer: Nathaniel “Nat Where You At” (@andthefoulnet)

Leap Player: Thaddeus Young

Well the past month hasn’t been the best for the 76ers. They went from being a top 3 team in the East to finishing the first half of the season on a five game losing streak, going 2-7 over the last nine games.

Thaddeus Young is still third on the 76ers in scoring and shooting the ball at 50%, pretty respectable considering his outside game has been MIA this year. His stat line is almost the same as last year & the Iguodala trade rumors have all but died this year, pushing Thaddeus’s break out back another season.

Young has had some big first half’s this year, often putting up 14 points & 4-5 rebounds in one half of play but because of Doug Collins’ style, Young’s second half of games are usually spent being the outside defensive stopper with Iguodala, whilst deferring to Holiday or Williams for the scoring.

If the 76ers are to make a serious run in the second half of the season, they will need Thad Young to be playing at the level he was earlier on in the season when he was putting up 20+ points and 7-8 rebounds off the bench.


Rank: 9

Writer: Steve Smith (@smittys07)

Leap Player: Patrick Patterson

Thank gawd for that.

After barely registering a stat for the opening few weeks of the season, Patterson has finally started to show some life.
Following on from a promising end to January, Patterson has been reasonably consistent for February, hitting double digits in six games, including an equal season-high 14 in a handy road win over the Suns on Feb 9.

He seems to like playing Phoenix, dropping 12, 7 and two blocks on the Suns just six days earlier. And while the stats certainly aren’t earth-shatteringly “Leap-ish”, it’s a vast improvement on his earlier, injury-affected output.

In a further good sign, the 6-9 forward has been hitting the boards as well, grabbing around 5-6 per game over the past few weeks. Again, nothing fan-tastic but solid nonetheless.

If there’s something I’d like to see him do more, it’s become more of a defensive presence. He can clearly do so when the mood takes him as seen here:

And no, I will not mention Marcin Gortat, who is just chugging along, good for 15.9 points and 10.4 boards per. Dammit.


There you have it folks, the third installment of the Hoop Diary Leap Award!

Thanks for reading.

 

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I am a life long Aussie fan of all things basketball. You can find all of my NBA ramblings here on hoopdiary.com or follow me on Twitter.

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