By Ryan Reed
The Jump. That is what GM's expect from their sophomore studs. As rookies, they are given the benefit of the doubt. It's the first time through everything. The travel, the money, the expectations, the League. By their second year, they are expected to produce. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the players who successfully made The Jump this season.
[img_assist|nid=3347|title=Rudy Gay - Icon SMI|desc=|link=none|align=right|width=300|height=451]Rudy Gay, Memphis Grizzlies
No player exemplified The Jump like Gay did this year. Blessed with incredible athleticism and a graceful offensive game, Gay was the lone bright spot in an otherwise bleak year in Memphis.
Gay proved that he can score from anywhere on the floor, knocking down deep 3's and electrifying crowds around the league with his high wire act. Breaking down the numbers, Gay shot 46% from the field, 35% from 3, and 79% from the line. He led the sophomore class in scoring and improved in every statistical category except 3 point percentage and turnovers (which would be expected). His scoring average doubled with a mere 10 minute increase in playing time. The combination of all these factors has led many to peg him as the most improved player in the league. Regardless of whether he wins this award, Gay has proven that he will be a star in the league for years to come. Note: Gay was NBADraft.net's top rated prospect before the 2006 draft.
Brandon Roy, Portland Trailblazers
Coming out of college in 06', Roy was pegged by many as the most complete and NBA ready prospect in the draft. He proved all of his supporters right by winning the ROY award. How did he follow this act up? By improving every major statistical category and leading the Blazers to a winning record in a year where they didn't have their number 1 overall pick in Greg Oden, and making the all star game in just his sophomore season. Roy put his stamp on the Portland franchise as a leader in the backcourt and has played an integral role in the reversing of this storied franchise's sullied image. While Roy is still a tad injury prone, his ability to do everything well on the basketball court has made him the unquestioned leader on this young squad. A sign of his maturation as a basketball player was his decrease in turnovers (2.1 - 1.8) and increase in assists (4.0 - 5.8). Roy should continue his improvement as Greg Oden joins him next year.
LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trailblazers
Secretly, the Blazers brass knew they could absorb the Oden loss this past summer because of the young Texan who showed tremendous growth over his rookie season. Aldridge did not disappoint. He picked up where he left off in April of his rookie year and improved in every way this past season. His scoring average nearly doubled (9.0 - 17.8), his rebounding improved by nearly three caroms per game (5.0 - 7.7). Aldridge must continue to improve and adjust as the arrival of Oden should have a Shaquille O'Neal/Amare Stoudemire effect on him next year, moving him over to the PF spot on more of a full time basis. If Aldridge continues his ascent, the trio of Roy, Oden and Aldridge will give Blazers' fans hope for the future.
Honorable Mention Jumpers: Ronnie Brewer, Utah Jazz, Rajon Rondo, Boston Celtics
On the flip side, there were many sophomores who just did not live up to their rookie years.
Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors
Whether it was the changing Raptors rotation or an inability to adjust to more attention from the oppositions defense, Bargnani was a major disappointment north of the border this past season. With such a strong finish in his rookie season, Bargnani appeared to be just the compliment that Chris Bosh needed in Toronto. What the Raptor faithful got this year was an inconsistent second year player who seemed lost in Sam Mitchell's rotation.
Bargnani's scoring average, rebounding, and field goal percentage all declined. Maybe the most telling stat of Bargnani's decline this season was his eight games with zero points. Inconsistency is forgivable with rookies, but not in a players second year. It'll be interesting to see Colangelo's approach to Bargnani this summer as he looks to rebound in his third season.
Tyrus Thomas, Chicago Bulls
In what was expected to be a big season for the Chicago Bulls, Thomas exemplified a disappointing Bulls season. The springy forward could not build on the experience of his first year and got lost in the Bulls deep forward rotation (17 mpg). Hopefully for Bulls fans, Thomas takes his training seriously and adds some variety to his offensive game. He relies solely on his athleticism and offensive rebounding. Its a make or break year for Thomas in Chicago next season.
Shelden Williams, Atlanta Hawks/Sacramento Kings
Williams is a good example of the ineptitude that has been on display in Atlanta for quite some time. Williams was pinpointed and drafted in the fifth position (over guys like Gay and Roy) to a team who did not need help at the forward spot, Williams struggled to produce in his season and a half in the ATL. The only positive for Hawks fans is that he was part of a trade that brought steady point guard Mike Bibby in to help solidify the Hawks playoff run. Things did not change for Williams when he went to the California capital. But a change of scenery will give him the opportunity to prove he was worthy of a lottery selection.