Predicting 6 NBA Players Who Will Make the Leap Next Season
Every successful NBA player makes the leap at some point in their career.
The leap differs in size and comes at different times for everybody. For some, it happens quick. Others need three to four years before really breaking through as a reliable contributor.
We're not necessarily talking about a leap to All-Star status; rather, a leap from occasional flashes or pedestrian production to consistent high-level impact play—and of course, bigger numbers in the box scores.
These are the guys who'll be taking that next big step in their development based on larger projected roles or gradual signs of progress.
Otto Porter, Washington Wizards, SF
Entering the 2013 NBA draft, many scouts had considered Otto Porter one of the safer, more polished prospects following his second-year explosion at Georgetown.
But he never found a rhythm as a rookie after an injury forced him to miss the first 18 games of the season.
In 2014-15, he'll be heading into his sophomore campaign with a full head of steam and a rotation spot waiting for him to secure. Porter is coming off a terrific Las Vegas Summer League showing, having averaged 19 points per game and looking like a former top-three pick.
Porter should play a significant role this year in Washington, where the Wizards replaced Trevor Ariza with 36-year-old Paul Pierce.
Between his activity level, ball-handling skills and shot-making ability in the half court, expect Porter to make a leap and ultimately a case to emerge as Washington's long-term answer at the small forward position.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors, SF
I'm not giving up on Harrison Barnes, who just has too much talent, skill and brains not to figure it out.
At his best, he's a terrific scorer from the wing who can stretch the floor, generate offense on the perimeter or explode above the rim. But through two years, inconsistency has clouded the excitement attached to his occasional offensive outbursts.
Assuming he isn't involved in a Kevin Love trade, you'd like to think Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr will explore new ways to maximize Barnes' abilities.
“I think Harrison Barnes can improve a lot when the ball is swung, when there’s good spacing,” Kerr told Diamond Leung of ibabuzz.com.
A lot of Barnes' struggles have just been tied to erratic shot-making. He converted 32.6 percent of his jumpers in the mid-range and 34.7 percent from downtown.
He's too good of a shooter to sport numbers like that for three consecutive years.
I'm betting on more of those jumpers dropping in 2014-15, which should increase the threat he poses as a driver and raise his confidence as a scorer.
Year No. 3 will be a big one for Barnes and his career. Look for him to capitalize.
Ben McLemore, Sacramento Kings, SG
Ben McLemore might have some extra motivation as a sophomore after the Sacramento Kings went ahead and drafted another shooting guard in Nik Stauskas.
McLemore struggled during his rookie season, shooting just 37.6 percent from the floor and 32.0 percent from downtown. A lot of it had to do with shot selection—picking and choosing his spots as a driver and perimeter scorer.
However, he looked a lot smoother and more confident this July in his second summer league.
“He [McLemore] slowed down (today),” Kings head coach Michael Malone told Jason Jones of The Sacramento Bee following a 22-point game from McLemore. “He stopped trying to do too much, too quickly. He slowed down, attacked, shot the ball, he was under control and he played terrific. I was really proud and happy because he’s worked so hard this summer.”
McLemore is loaded with talent, from his elite-level athleticism (42" max vertical) to his dangerous outside stroke.
With a more defined role and a little extra confidence and comfort, expect McLemore to make a jump in 2014-15 and ultimately find his groove as a shooter and scorer.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic, SF/PF
An ankle injury kept Tobias Harris out of 19 of his first 20 games last year, and it took some time for him to regain his rhythm and confidence.
Harris averaged 12.2 points per game on 39.2 percent shooting in December of 2013. But then 2014 hit, and Harris took off.
His field-goal percentage and scoring average gradually rose in each of the next three months, leading up to March, when he shot 50.6 percent and averaged 16.9 points a game.
He's a strong combo forward with a frame and shoulders like Carmelo Anthony's. Harris will eventually need to raise that three-point percentage, but he's a capable shooter with off-the-dribble quickness that's tough for big men to keep up with laterally.
Now healthy entering his fourth season at just 22 years old, Harris should be locked in as a breakout candidate in 2014-15.
Terrence Jones, Houston Rockets, PF
Terrence Jones started 71 games for the Houston Rockets last year, finishing his sophomore season with averages of 12.1 points and 6.9 boards on an efficient 54.2 percent shooting.
But after losing Chandler Parsons in free agency, the Rockets downgraded offensively by replacing him with Trevor Ariza, meaning they'll will be looking at Jones to make up for some of that lost offensive production.
Jones was actually rock-solid last year in the paint, where he shot 68.5 percent right at the rim and 61.4 percent within eight feet. He's a crafty finisher with great agility and touch for a guy his size.
But he struggled as a shooter despite his clean stroke. From the free-throw line, Jones dropped from 76.5 percent in his rookie year to 60.5 percent last season. Jones shot just 34.4 percent in the mid-range and 30.7 percent from downtown.
But he did connect on 31 three-pointers, and there's no doubt his shooting potential is there.
With a bigger role and a full season under his belt, expect more of those mid- to long-range jumpers to start falling in 2014-15.
Tony Snell, Chicago Bulls, SF
We saw promising flashes from Tony Snell as a rookie—just little consistency.
But he really looked like a different guy out there this July in the Las Vegas Summer League, where he averaged 20 points in five games played.
Snell ended up draining 17 of 34 three-point attempts after shooting it just 32 percent from downtown as a rookie. He was even creating and separating into jumpers in the mid-range and scoring on the move in the lane.
Brian Schroeder of Hardwood Paroxysm detailed why Snell should be "ready to turn the corner."
Look for his shooting consistency to go up and his off-the-dribble game to grow with more reps and touches in 2014-15.
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