(Photo: NBC Sports)
The 2014-15 Warriors.
The 2011-2012 Thunder.
The 2007-08 Celtics.
Occasionally, some teams make The Leap. Some we see coming. Was anyone surprised the Celtics won the title after they added Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett? Some, however, we did not see coming. The Warriors before Steve Kerr were improving, but title aspirations were still far off. Everyone saw the talent on the Thunder, but did people legitimately expect them to dethrone the Spurs and advance to the Finals? In order to know which teams could make The Leap for the 2018-2019 season, we have to know how Golden State and OKC made their respective leaps.
The Warriors saw some significant changes heading into their first year without Mark Jackson, and with Steve Kerr. Obviously, coaches changed. Kerr kept Jackson’s defensive foundations but freed up the offense. Pace and space, my friends. Secondly, players changed. No, they did not change in personnel but, they changed in talent. Steph transformed from an All-Star to an MVP. Klay became a first-time All-Star and formed the other half of the Splash Brothers. For the first time, we saw a glimpse of Draymond becoming the set-up man, as his assist and usage percentages jumped for the first (and not last) time in his career. Shoot, just look at this drastic improvement in Harrison Barne’s shooting efficiency!
Now, what about The Thunder? Their coach stayed the same, however, their style of play altered a bit. This is evident when looking at assist percentage numbers. KD’s assist percentage and assists numbers jumped for the first time in his career. Harden’s assist numbers improved incredibly as well (picture). What’s more, Westbrook’s assist stats actually dropped, as he averaged 3 assists less per game! The ball was moving more, and it resulted in a Finals appearance. What about player development? Serge Ibaka led the League in blocks for the first time in his career. Durant had had efficient seasons as a scorer but, this was his first efficient season as both a scorer and passer. Westbrook played with a team structure, but it is Harden’s development that truly sticks out. His field goal percentage rose from 43 to 49 percent, his three-point percentage grew from 35 to 39 percent and his PER jumped from 16 to 21. Wow.
The theme? Teams need two things to make The Leap. Firstly, they need the talent. Between these two aforementioned teams, there are 4 (counting Harden now) MVPs and five total MVP awards. What’s more, Harden, Russ, KD, Steph, Klay, and Draymond are all on HOF trajectories. These guys are all top 15 players in the League today! To improve this much, the talent is needed. Secondly, a change of style is needed. Kerr brought offensive wizardry to The Bay Area and OKC began moving the rock more. Modern style wins out. So, will any teams make The Leap this year?
The Frontrunner Candidates
Do they have the talent? You betcha. Embiid and Simmons are destined for All-NBA teams. Would we be surprised is JoJo or Ben took home an MVP award at some point during their careers? Not me. What needs to change? Simmons needs to get that J under control. Embiid needs to improve his conditioning as well as consistency. Fultz needs to, um, play. What does Philly have going for them? All of these alterations are entirely possible. Plus, they will be adding a lottery pick and cap space. If the Sixers can bring back Redick, add an underrated signing like Tyreke Evans or Will Barton, or dare I say, Lebron, watch out.
Giannis may have more untapped potential than Embiid or Simmons. Scratch that, he does have more untapped potential. But, do they have more talent than him? Parker was picked number 2 overall for a reason. If healthy, he can fulfill the Paul Pierce comparisons. Thon Maker is also someone to watch. He displayed some awesome potential during his postseason run. If he can get stronger, solidify that three, and catch up to the speed of the game, the Bucks may have something special on their hands. Also, they have a new coach coming in soon. Does he (or she) finally install some form of halfcourt offense? If all of these dominoes fall for the Bucks, watch out for them to win 55 games and make the Eastern Conference Finals. A couple questions: Can Middleton level-up one more time and will Bledsoe ever return to peak Suns/Clippers form?
New Orleans Pelicans
Boy, did they work with the Trailblazers? Boy, did they get worked by the Warriors? The Pelicans have found something, however. Jrue Holiday is for real but, AD is the story here. This man has MVP talent. The question mark: Demarcus Cousins. How will he come back from his injury? Regardless, him and AD both have top 5 talent. Remember those early season rumblings about Boogie for MVP? Me too. A core of David, Boogie, Holiday, Rondo and Mirotic could see this team make a Western Conference Finals run. Plus, it seems that they have figured out a great offensive system, as Holiday plays off the ball to allow the Rondo/Davis connection to flourish. Adding in Boogie may mess things up at first, but it should smooth out. It is a BIG if but if at full health, could this team challenge for the second seed in the West next year? Not too far-fetched.
The Fringe Candidates
Los Angeles Lakers
Why are they only on the fringe? Too much of their improvement ride on free agency. Will Paul George and/or Lebron land there? If Lebron comes, a title is not out of the question. Ball, BI, Kuz, Lebron, and X can make a run. They have 61 million in practical cap space, wow. Plus, Lebron could easily request to bring in a new coach (although Walton looks the part so far.)
I sneakily like this one. The Jazz has a top three coach in the League. Donovan Mitchell looks like a legit All-NBA superstar. Rudy Gobert is the likely defensive player of the year. But, do they have enough talent in the well? Maybe so. Gobert improving his offensive game is a must. Dante Exum is intriguing. He showed wonderful flashes this offseason. Will they bring him back and if so, does he make a leap forward. Remember, this man was a high-lottery pick and for good reason. If they can bring in a veteran or two, it is not inconceivable to see this team win 55 games.
*Wherever Lebron goes, they will make The Leap………duh
Will any of these teams make the NBA Finals? Probably not. Boston is going to be even better next year in the East. Unless Lebron goes to Philly, I am not sure how they advance forward. Same goes for the Bucks. If Lebron remains in Cleveland, and they flip their Brooklyn pick into a good piece, then they could come out of the East too.
As for my friends in the West, same story. The Warriors and the Rockets are too stacked. Teams like LA, Utah, New Orleans, OKC have talent, but not enough. OR, the talent they have is not ready yet. Either way, next year should be even better than this year.
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