Hoop Diary Leap Award – The Introduction

As the 2011/12 NBA season gets underway we see 30 teams eager to improve and either defend or chase down their title dream. Of those 30 teams, each has their own specific goals for the season ahead. Similarly, there are multiple players scattered throughout the league who are looking to achieve personal goals of their own. In this series we join forces with a number of your favourite writers from the Australian Basketball Twitter-verse to bring you the Hoop Diary “Leap Award”.

Each writer has chosen a player who they feel will make a measurable “leap” this season. This leap can be defined in a number of ways and can apply to anyone from a league MVP to a 12th man for the Bobcats. It could involve lifting their productivity or simply removing minor glitches from their otherwise outstanding game. As we get started, let’s introduce you to the writers and their chosen “leapers”.

Let’s get this rolling…

Writer: Ryan Baker (@HD_RyanB)

I’ve been in love with the game of basketball since the age of six and involved in the appreciation and study of the pro game for the last 10 years, since my professional career gave me a deeper appreciation for looking for the “game beyond the game”. I’ve been writing about basketball for the last five years, currently proud to be part of Hoop Diary.

Leap Player: James Harden

James Harden has always been a guy with strong potential and to date he hasn’t really translated his production at Arizona State to on court performances for the Thunder. That said, he has a high basketball IQ and placed next to Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant often looks like a basketball Einstein. The major point that appears to have been holding Harden back in his two pro seasons is the fact that he defers to the teams established superstars, never quite willing to establish his own game on offense. He had a coming out of sorts in last year’s playoffs as he was a consistent threat and seemed to find his role.

I expect Harden to continue his mental evolution in regards to understanding what the Thunder needs him to harness in his skill set in order for them to take that next step to a truly elite team. His already reasonable defense is likely to ratchet up somewhat, but he will be much more active in looking for his own shot, both off the ball in the flow of the offense, and as a threat when one of Westbrook or Durant sits down.

I’d expect Harden’s statistics to improve to 16 ppg, 4 apg, 4 rpg and a more robust three point stroke in the range of 37%.

Writer: Brendan Edmistone (@Brendan_E)

Brendan is a die-hard Los Angeles Laker fan and a Co-Owner/Director of Hardwood Sports. He is always on Twitter and seemingly always keen to talk hoops, especially if the Lakers are involved.

Leap Player: Andrew Bynum

Andrew Bynum is at that stage in his career that, not only is he ready to make the leap, he has to. He’s shown more than a few glimpses at what his numbers could look like if he can stay on the court consistently as well as get the touches in what has previously been an offensively loaded LA Lakers team. 

Last season, Bynum averaged 11.3 ppg, 9.4 rpg and 2 bpg. this was achieved with Andrew playing just shy of 28 minutes per game and with about 7 shots a game. For someone shooting at 57% from the field, he definitely deserved more touches and this season, he will get them. The Lakers have controversially traded the reigning Sixth Man of the Year and arguably the NBA’s most versatile player in Lamar Odom for nothing more than a trade exemption. Lamar was the Lakers safety net with Bynum proving to be fragile in the past few seasons.

In the Lakers first pre-season game Bynum was noticeably rusty, yet still managed to notch up 15 points, 12 rebounds and 2 blocks in 33 minutes of action. With an ageing Kobe Bryant and less depth up front, the Lakers will be relying on Bynum to come to the party by stepping up his minutes to about 33-35 per game. As a result, 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- obviously health dependent – but he is said to be in the best shape of his career and ready to take the leap.

Writer: Mitchell Hamilton (@rangaMITCH)

My name is Mitch Hamilton and as my Twitter name points out, I am a man blessed with the incredible gift of red hair. I am a 20 year old basketball fanatic who lives in Melbourne and therefore follows the Melbourne Tigers. In the NBA I am a Houston Rockets fan, bred from my admiration of ex-Rocket Tracy McGrady. You can always track me down on Twitter for a chat about hoops and you can find some of my work here at Hoop Diary also.

Leap Player: Kemba Walker

The NBA 2011/12 season is finally upon us and although a little later than we all hoped, we finally get to see the best league basketball league in the world back in action. With a limited pre-season under the belts of the players, it has made it an incredibly difficult task to do some personal scouting into emerging trends and possible emerging talents this year.

So this year with little to no research into players, I propose my selection as Hoop Diary Leap candidate…

Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Bobcats

Yes, he is a rookie and has no previous NBA stats to compare his production too. But I believe that Kemba will be the player that makes ‘the leap’ this season. From the UCONN point guard that averaged 23.5 ppg in his junior year and hitting that famous buzzer beater against Pittsburgh to starting point guard for the Charlotte Bobcats and Rookie of the Year candidate.

On a Bobcats roster that is barren of any significant talent, (Sorry Corey Magette, you’re not really LeBron James) Kemba will have the most opportunity to be the leader of this team and given the most freedom. There will be little to no expectation of the 2010/11 NCAA Basketball Tournament Most Outstanding Player and runner up College Basketball Player of the Year. 

A blessing which I hope delivers Kemba and myself glory in the Hoop Diary Leap Award of 2011/12!

Writer: Paul Henderson (@HD_Paul)

You’ve seen my musings on hoopdiary.com and perhaps a few other places over the past five years. I live, eat, breathe and sleep hoops and really can’t get enough of the sport I’ve loved since the age of seven. I’m really looking forward to this being the first of many collaborations between some or all of this group as I think everyone brings a little something different (and entertaining) to the table.

Leap Player: Mario Chalmers

“Not so Super” Mario has probably one of the easiest jobs in the NBA when it comes to playing the Point Guard position. His main role is to stay out the way for the most part, play solid defense at one end and hit open three’s at the other. Simple right? Well, not so much of late. Chalmers’ numbers have declined over the past two seasons since his rookie campaign in 2009. He has posted successively worse numbers in points, assists, steals and field goal percentage year-on-year.

The time is definitely now for Mr Chalmers if the Heat are going to make a move on the “not 3, not 4, not 5” championships previously discussed. They have most of the pieces to do it and while the Centre position isn’t exactly solid, they need consistency from the point guard position and have drafted Norris Cole to keep Mario honest. 

While he arguably gives me no reason to believe this will happen, a new season and a fresh start may just give young Mario Chalmers the motivation required to be an x-factor in a championship run for the Heat. If his numbers continue to dwindle, he’ll find himself on the bench or perhaps in Minnesota where T-Wolves GM David Kahn will keep him in his cage of little people that he hoards so well.

Writer: Mookie Schiralli (@asternwarning)

Mookie Schiralli has polluted the internet with his basketball prose since 2006. His focus is not only on the purist fundamentals of the game itself, but also on the aesthetics that surround it. Being a big appreciator of art and design, his website A Stern Warning occasionally features bartsketball pieces, which combine basketball and art.

Leap Player: LaMarcus Aldridge

It has been a slow, but steady path, however it finally appears to have reached a critical tipping point: it is time for LaMarcus Aldridge to make the leap to superstar, franchise player. Entering the league as an NBA All-Rookie First Team member in 2007 and now having five seasons under his belt, the versatile big man has shown a constant progression in most aspects of his game.

Last season, as it became apparent that Brandon Roy was no longer going to be the persistent franchise-player presence that he has been, Aldridge reached career highs of 21.8ppg and 8.8rpg as well as an equal-high of 1.2bpg. More importantly, he became the guy that the Blazers turned to when times were tough and felt that they could rely upon.

The calm, cool character is ready to make that next step to perennial NBA All-Star. He has the physical tools to make that type of impact and now he just has to prove that he has the confidence and consistency to demand that play of himself on a nightly basis.

Writer: Steve Smith (@smittys07)

I’m a journalist with Fairfax Media, presently located in Albury-Wodonga. Covered the SEABL, NBL and WNBL for the past 6 years. Also served as Senior Writer for handle magazine and both Contributing Editor and NBA Editor for buckets magazine. I’m on twitter as @smittys07 and most of my articles end up on bordermail.com.au.

Leap Player: Patrick Patterson

My original submission for this was the Polish Hammer, Marcin Gortat, but he apparently broke his thumb in a preseason game last week. I still think he’ll be good this year but given I don’t know how long he was going to be out for, I thought maybe I should submit a Plan B. 

So come on down, Mr Patrick Patterson, Houston Rockets forward.

Patterson has shown flashes already that he could be an effective player at the 4-spot and, given the packed schedule and Houston’s relative dearth of quality pivots, the fomer Kentucky forward could see increased time in his sophomore NBA campaign.

The 6’9″ Patterson already shoots at a high clip, has good range on his shot and his defensive work and rebound rate will definitely hold him in good stead. While missing out on Nene or either of the elder Gasol brothers (yes, there’s another sibling, Adria) will hurt, the Rockets may just get an unexpected bonus from Patterson, proving once again that old sports adage about the best trades being the ones you don’t make.

Honourable mentions include James Harden, Arron Afflalo, Eric Gordon, Omri Casspi and Jared Dudley.

Writer: Nick Metallinos (@nickmetallinos)

Leap Player: JR Smith

Hello basketball world, I am Nick Metallinos. Curator of the starting5.com.au website, and a scholar of all things J.R. Smith in the NBA. I’m going to focus on the man now known as J.R ‘Shimisi’ for he is facing two crucial leaps this season. The first one is the most crucial of the two, for Mr Shimisi needs to somehow ‘leap’ across the North Pacific Ocean and back into the NBA as soon as possible. Without J.R, America is a poorer place. Tattoo parlors are shutting down and the random rap videos we watch are just plain boring without a cameo from J.R. 

The second leap can only be made once J.R. is back in his rightful place, in an NBA uniform. A mature, more level-headed Smith shall take his spot on a playing roster. Gone will be the hurried, long distance three-pointers with a mere 7 seconds gone off the shot-clock, no-more plays off defensively, following your coaches orders? A foreign concept for the old J.R, but the new Smith plays within the structures of the offense. 

Of course this is all highly presumptuous of me, I mean this is still J.R. Smith we are talking about – the man has ‘Swish’ tattooed under his chin – he doesn’t appear very stable. So if all avenues for a return to the NBA are blocked, the best we can do is watch him leap over every single Chinese defender in the CBA as he completes his nightly windmill dunks.

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

My name is Nathaniel, or ‘Nat Where You At’ on basketball forums. Like all the other fellas on here, I’m a die hard basketball fan and have been for coming on 18 years now. I run the ‘And The Foul‘ website, also in the middle of making an NBL Wiki site. These days I live in the ‘Gong. I’m a huge fan of the Pistons, 76ers & Warriors in the NBA, Hawks & Crocs in the NBL.

Leap Player: Thaddeus Young

The player I’ve chosen comes from one of my favorite teams, the 76ers, swingman Thaddeus Young.

Young is only 23 but this will be his 5th season in the NBA. So far he has had some solid stats during his time in the NBA, last year he even made a strong case for Sixth Man Of The Year but fell short to Lamar Odom. This year I think Young will make a drastic improvement… why? The 76ers have been trying to trade Iggy for the past two to three years and this year I think they will pull the trigger thus clearing up court time for Young.

Andre Iguodala is 28 this season and it’s become clear he will never be the first option the 76ers were hoping when they signed him to a long term contract. Young is in his early 20s and yet to hit his peak, whilst not as good as Iggy on the defensive end, he can still hold his own. Young is a better scoring option than Iggy and that’s where the 76ers have struggled in past seasons. This is why I think Iggy will soon be moved, perhaps for a big man/bigger man. Not sure who for (although I have a trade scenario in my head that could work) but I’m almost certain a trade will happen soon enough.

Young can play three positions on either end, can shoot the triple or slash to the basket. He can finish on the break or find the open man. This guy should be an All-Star if given more time on the floor.

Writer: Samuel Findlay (@courtsidebunker)

It’s your main man, Samuel Findlay. That’s right, the guy that runs Courtside Bunker. In case you didn’t already know, I also also write for Primo! Magazine and take care of their media co-ordination. My passion for basketball is extreme. I’m a fan of the Wollongong Hawks in the NBL and the New York Knicks in the NBA. Anyway, let’s get this ball rolling.

Leap Player: John Wall

In his rookie year, John Wall averaged 16.4 points, 8.3 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game. To make a “leap” from those numbers isn’t going to be easy, right?

The way I see it is that John Wall is a player that has the potential to be one of the NBA’s best, and I think he will be soon enough. However, It all starts with wins and reducing turnovers. Wall is the court general for the Washington Wizards, and must help his team enough to improve their poor 25-59 win/loss record from last season. If Wall can rally his troops in DC, have more control with the ball and can continue to improve, he will make a huge leap this season.

I think John Wall can be one of those 20 and 10 guys, and I think this is the season he can do so if he can manage to stay healthy.

So, there you have it. Get ready for John Wall to make the leap this season.

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

Thanks for reading.

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An irrationally addicted follower of all things NBA since 1986. A casual contributor on a website that only has one contributor. Will Photoshop for food and old basketball cards.