Culture of Hoops

NBA Expectations: Players making the leap to elite

The way to self-improvement is to always have goals that are unreachable, and that applies to life as well as basketball, especially if basketball is a big part of your life. If you’re close to the goals you’ve made for yourself, erase them and create goals higher up the ladder. There are plenty of players this year that have made improvements to their all-around game, but there are a few that have done so in a way that has made their unknown names familiar. Here are five players that have made a name for themselves in the NBA this year. For the record, Blake Griffin and Joakim Noah have made vast improvements to their games, but they’ve been consistently notable before this year.

1. DeAndre Jordan

Last year, DeAndre Jordan seemed like he was wasted potential on the Los Angeles Clippers. The seven-footer is athletic and long, but last season he only averaged 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game. Sure, he was on plenty of highlight reels, but being known as “that guy who dunks a lot on the Clips that isn’t Griffin” isn’t exactly ideal. This year, DJ’s got a brand new bag of game under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, and plenty of drive to meet and exceed his potential. Jordan leads the league in field-goal percentage, and is averaging 10.3 points, 2.5 blocks, and 13.9 rebounds per game, a category he’s leading the league in. DeAndre Jordan fits just right in his new role as defensive enforcer, and he’s making everyone that comes to the paint remember his name.

2. Ty Lawson

The Denver Nuggets roster has been riddled by injuries, but Ty Lawson has found his groove amongst the chaos. Lawson has made a name for himself on his own team, but once the Nuggets start revving up and getting on track, Lawson’s name has the potential to skyrocket. This year, the only player that’s dishing more assists than Chris Paul, who is number one in the league in that category, is Lawson with 8.8 dimes per game. Lawson’s a point guard just under six feet tall without solid and consistent big men, but he’s managing to shine regardless of his obstacles. Lawson’s an important name on his own team now, but if the pieces come together in Denver, he may join the conversation concerning the best point guard in the league.

3. DeMar DeRozan

Once Rudy Gay left the Toronto Raptors, DeRozan saw his opportunity to excel. This year, DeRozan is playing like one of the best shooting guards in the game. Right now, he’s averaging 22.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game. It can even be argued that DeRozan is the second or third best shooting guard in the league this year. The man has 15 30-point games this season, even dropping 40 points on the Dallas Mavericks and former Raptors star Vince Carter. He’s no slouch on the defensive end either, as he’s holding 2-guards to a PER of 12.6. DeRozan is having an All-Star worthy outing this season, and he’s making the Raptors relevant again by doing so. Not to mention, DeRozan is pretty exciting to watch, especially when he’s in the air.

4. Isaiah Thomas

Isaiah Thomas has broken out this year for the Sacramento Kings, and he’s been a pleasant surprise for fantasy basketball players and regular viewers alike. He’s fantastic on the hardwood, putting up 20.7 points, 6.4 assists, and 1.3 steals per game. Thomas, like his namesake, is also an undersized point guard who uses his speed to his advantage. If Thomas decides to stay in Sacramento, he can be a part of the future for the Kings. At this pace, Thomas is well on his way to becoming an elite point guard, a household name, and an inspiration for shorter ballers to make it to the big stage.

5. Anthony Davis

When he entered the league last year, his unibrow and jagged teeth got more attention than his game at times. This year, Anthony Davis is known for much more than his physical features. Davis is definitely not in a sophomore slump this season, as his numbers and game have improved all around. This year he’s averaging 21.3 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.9 blocks, and 1.4 steals per game. His knack for defensive timing has led him to have then highest average in swats per game this season. There’s no doubt that Anthony Davis is one of the top 10 players in the league this year, and it’s scary to think that this is just his second season. The New Orleans Hornets now have a superstar to build around, and Davis is up for the challenge to lead the pack.

Featured image courtesy of Keith Allison/Flickr.

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