Can anyone believe the NBA season is almost at an end? The playoffs are almost upon us, which means some teams will be reaching for NBA championships while other teams will be at home reaching for the remote. Every season that passes by there are players that have taken their game to the next level. These players have made the “leap” essentially, star players finally asserting themselves as dominant, All-Star caliber talents.
Some of these are obvious and some of these players have made the jump without anyone noticing. Obviously Anthony Davis and Blake Griffin are the first two that come to mind, but let’s not forget about Isaiah Thomas, Kyle Lowry, Ty Lawson and a couple others. Without further adieu, let’s get into the ten NBA players who made the jump this season.
Honorable Mention: Lance Stephenson
Born Ready took a few years to launch, but he’s beginning to get ready for takeoff. Every season since his rookie season in 2010, Stephenson has been the beneficiary of more minutes and has responded with increased production year after year. He’s playing a career-high in minutes this season at 35.5 per game and his production is worthy of the minutes.
Stephenson might actually be on the same floor as LeBron James in the playoffs this season, instead of issuing choke signals at him from the end of the bench. Stephenson is putting up 14.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists this season on 49 percent shooting from the field. Who else was surprised to find out that Lance Stephenson is shooting 49 percent from the field? More surprising may be the fact that the Pacers are scoring 10.1 more points with Stephenson on the court this season (via 82games.com).
The reason Stephenson is only an honorable mention is because he can still be considered a role player on the Indiana Pacers. It could be argued that while Stephenson is important, the Pacers can thrive without him, which may explain the reason they brought in Evan Turner at the trade deadline. Both players are free agents at season’s end, so if a bidding war for Stephenson is too high, Evan Turner is a replaceable option.
Stephenson has began to take the “jump” but it’s nothing more than a simple hop at this moment. Depending on where Stephenson lands in the offseason could sway this opinion. His play next season could truly cement him as a player that has made the jump, if he proves to be a viable No. 1 option on a team. As of right now, the Pacers are potentially just as good with him, as they would be without him. That’s not discounting the amazing season Stephenson is having, however.
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10. Deandre Jordan
Just like his partner in the frontcourt, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan has suffered from being labeled as someone that isn’t capable of anything else besides dunking. While Griffin has taken his offensive game to another level this season, Jordan has done the same on the defensive side of the ball.
One of my biggest pet peeves in basketball is when legit 7-0 centers are incapable of grabbing 10-plus rebounds per game (COUGH, Roy Hibbert). For his first few years in the NBA, DeAndre Jordan was another person who could be entered into this category. Jordan averaged 6.5 rebounds per game for his first five years in the NBA, which is borderline pathetic. Only playing 24.5 MPG last season, it didn’t give Jordan much opportunity to excel and develop on the court. However, Doc Rivers has instilled faith in Jordan and he has responded by rewarding the Clippers and Rivers with his excellent play.
Playing 35.5 minutes per game this season, Jordan has career-highs in points, rebounds and blocks. Jordan is averaging 10.3 points, 13.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per game. The 13.7 rebounds per game leads the NBA and his 2.4 blocks per game are tied for third in the NBA with Roy Hibbert. Jordan has swatted 180 shots this season, which is tied with Anthony Davis and only four less than Serge Ibaka. Jordan is converting on 67 percent of his attempts this season, which leads the NBA for qualified players and is one of only two players shooting over 60 percent this season. This weekend, Jordan put up a monster statline, compiling 20 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks, while converting on 7-of-10 shots from the field.
Jordan has also been one of the best rim protectors in the NBA this season. Opponents are attempting 10.5 field goals per game on Jordan, compared to 6.6 for Anthony Davis, 9.3 for Serge Ibaka and 10.0 for Roy Hibbert (per SportVU). Opponents are converting on 49.7 percent of attempts at the rim on Jordan, which is exceptional when one considers how many more shots he is seeing per game when compared to the other elite rim protectors in the NBA. Jordan has career-highs in every major statistical category, while having one of the lowest usage ratings of his career at 12.1, which is down almost four points from his usage rate last season of 15.9. Averaging close to 14 rebounds is insane when you consider that Jordan has grabbed less than 10 boards per game only six games this season, with only one of those times being back-to-back games. Jordan also has six games of grabbing 20 boards this season.
DeAndre Jordan has been living in the paint this season, whether its swallowing boards or swallowing shots–this man is eating. It’s arguable the Clippers wouldn’t be in the position they are as the third seed in the West without the elite and improved play from DeAndre Jordan. Just imagine if Jordan gets some sort of reliable offensive game.
DeAndre Jordan has definitely made the jump this season as he continues to jump over opponents for bone-chilling alley-oops.
9. Isaiah Thomas
Has there ever been a “Mr. Irrelevant” that has actually had the opportunity to make the jump? Maybe from the end of the bench to a rotation player on occasion, but Isaiah Thomas is way past that. The former last pick of the draft in 2011, Isaiah Thomas has spent each of his first three seasons in the NBA fighting for the starting point guard spot with the Kings. Whether it was Aaron Brooks, Jimmer Fredette or Greivis Vasquez, there has always been competition for Thomas. Before Vasquez was shipped to the Raptors, he was still starting over Isaiah Thomas. Thomas has always performed with adversity, being drafted with the last pick comes with that territory. He’s performed every season in the NBA, even though he only stands at 5-11. Last season, Thomas averaged 13.9 points and 4.0 assists playing 26.9 minutes per game. This season, however, Thomas has made a quantum leap in his performance, proving he can be the point guard of the future for Sacramento.
Isaiah Thomas has increased his scoring by seven points and his assists by two and a half this season. He’s averaging 20.7 points and 6.4 assists this season, which are as close to elite as someone can come at his size. How elite is it? The only other players averaging those numbers are Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. That’s some good company to be mentioned with when you were one pick away from being undrafted.
Once the reigns of the Kings were handed over to Isaiah Thomas, he showed why he deserves to be solidified as the starting point guard. Thomas is having the best season of his young career and the sky’s the limit for the 5-11 cannonball.