Words. Sean Sweeney, Andrew Greif
Every NBA season brings fresh blood and improved players, but only a select few make “The Leap.” It’s the moment we all dream about as kids – when you go from being just another name to the main attraction. This season, many players had a shot at the Most Improved Player award, but only a few have truly arrived. Only five made “The Leap.”
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A “leap” year in the NBA isn’t counted the way a regular calendar defines it. It happens every season and adds, for the lucky few, superstardom. New scenery or a new coach can fuel the leap. So can a new approach, more maturity. But don’t get it twisted. This isn’t the league’s Most Improved Player award. This is about jumping from one class to another. Leaps can take a player from anonymous to a known commodity (think Jeremy Lin), but the best jump from exemplary to elite (take Kyrie Irving).
Here are five who made “the Leap” this season.
5. BROOK LOPEZ
In the same season the NBA removed “center” from its All-Star vocabulary, it’s ironic Lopez turned in one of the best seasons at that position in years. When Shaquille O’Neal said before the season he would take Lopez over Dwight Howard, it seemed, frankly, insane. But Lopez put up statistics the likes of which haven’t been seen since … O’Neal did it in 1999-2000. The numbers are 23 points, 8.2 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per 36 minutes, numbers that got Lopez his first All-Star selection of his career. Just a year ago he was shooting 10 percentage points worse, averaged half as many boards and only 1.1 blocks per game. A self-professed super fan of comic books, Lopez isn’t Superman quite yet. He still shoots a fairly low percentage (52 percent) and can stand to be more of a presence rebounding. The critique is that he doesn’t have the aggressive attitude to fit his massive body, yet he’s changing there, too, by using his strength and massive proportions to shoot a career-high 69 percent at the rim and average the league’s fifth-best PER. Who’s better? Chris Paul, LeBron James, Kevin Durant. We’d take him over anyone down low now, too.