Heading into the 2012-13 NBA season, there are a number of players who are prime candidates for a breakout year.
Every prospect enters the league with the potential to be good—some great—but not everybody can turn their play into instant production the way the league’s best do right from the start.
Whether it comes from turning an underwhelming career into a productive one, or converting that production into all-star caliber play, breakout performances can happen any season, and next year should prove to be no exception.
Al Horford is a big, strong post player, but his numbers up to this point haven’t screamed NBA star.
Having averaged 12.8 points, 9.4 rebounds and 1.1 blocks throughout his career, we know that Horford is a good player.
Having seen an increase in points and field-goal percentage every year before getting hurt last season, we also know that he is clearly trending in the right direction.
With Joe Johnson gone next year, Horford could become a more integral part of the offense, and he could take the next step toward becoming one of the league’s top centers.
New additions Devin Harris and Lou Williams could also breakout with a change of scenery next season.
Courtney Lee has had a solid NBA career up to this point, but he’s never played with a point guard of Rajon Rondo’s selfless passing ability.
Rondo averaged a league-leading 11.7 assists last year and made numerous connections with sharp-shooter Ray Allen throughout their time together in Boston.
Lee is also a great three-point shooter, as he’s shot more than 40 percent from beyond the arc in three of his four NBA seasons.
His shot is going to fall with Rondo looking for him on the perimeter, but where he’ll truly fit into Boston’s culture is on the defensive end.
With the Celtics, Lee will have an impact on both ends of the floor, and he could have a career year throughout the 2012-13 season.
Brook Lopez has put up solid numbers for his career. Having averaged 17.4 points, 7.5 rebounds and 1.6 blocks in four years, it’s obvious that the 7’0” center is already a big-time player.
However, his impact on the Nets has appeared to be minimal, as he’s yet to help lead the team to the playoffs, or a winning percentage higher than .415.
With a relatively new roster in a brand new arena next season, Lopez could prove to the Brooklyn Nets that they made the right decision in not blowing up the team for Dwight Howard.
Lopez can impact the game on both ends of the floor, and if he stays healthy, he could jump up to an all-star level or beyond as early as next year.
MarShon Brooks could also be a candidate for a breakout season, but with Joe Johnson on the roster, he’s not likely to progress to an ultra-high level for another couple of years.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is going to do a little bit of everything for the Charlotte Bobcats next year.
The former No. 2 pick will be a physical defender anywhere on the court, an aggressive finisher at the rim and should be the best player on the team from the first day of the season.
Even as a rookie next year, the 6’7”, 232-pound forward should emerge as the leader of the rebuilding roster.
Gilchrist isn’t likely to dominate any one category, but as a versatile young player with an incredible motor, his fingerprints will be all over every win the Bobcats manage to squeak out in 2013.
Luol Deng received All-Star recognition last season, but with Derrick Rose set to miss most of the 2012-13 campaign, the 27-year-old forward should become the No. 1 option on the Chicago Bulls next season.
A 16 point per game player through eight seasons, Deng could look to put up career numbers in 2013.
Deng isn’t the most creative of offensive players, but with his length, he has the ability to shoot off the dribble and score over taller defenders.
His defense has always been solid, and he could be a great two-way player next year.
Kyrie Irving had hands-down the best season of any NBA rookie last year, but he could very well establish himself as a top-tier point guard in 2013.
The former No. 1 pick is an extremely versatile player on a rebuilding team. His court vision is excellent; his shooting touch is deadly and his outright scoring ability is up there with the best floor generals that the NBA has to offer.
Having averaged 18.5 points, 5.4 assists and 3.8 rebounds last year, it can be argued that Irving is already a star.
That being said, as the Cavaliers continue to rebuild, Irving’s game will continue to grow; and he’ll make a lot of noise around the league next season.
O.J. Mayo has had all-star talent since he first joined the league in 2008, but he’s yet to put it all together and become the player his talent suggests he can be.
Mayo had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 18.5 points, 3.2 assists and shot 38.4 percent from behind the three-point line. Since then, his numbers have dropped; his role has decreased and his production has seemingly taken a step back every single season.
Being on a young Memphis Grizzlies squad gave himself and the team promise for the future, but he could never quite put it all together, leading him to sign with the Dallas Mavericks this summer.
Even though Dallas will look far different next year than they have in a long time, they’re still a veteran team that could get Mayo to focus on basketball and get the most out of the 24-year-old guard.
For as deep as the Denver Nuggets rotation goes, they’ve yet to establish a true go-to player since the trade that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks.
While Andre Iguodala will certainly be that player at times, expect to see Ty Lawson elevate his game big-time next season.
Lawson is coming off a career year where he averaged 16.4 points, 6.6 assists and 3.7 rebounds—all career highs.
He is a great jump shooter, and he showed last season that he can get his teammates involved while he takes on an added scoring role for himself.
If the team is able to commit to getting him involved in an even greater capacity next season, he could establish himself as their No. 1 option moving forward.
Sometimes the best way to learn is by teaching someone else, and this could be the case for Greg Monroe alongside Andre Drummond next season.
Drummond enters the league as a potential project, and he’s going to need a fellow center to help him grow as he adapts to the NBA game.
Monroe could be that mentor next year, but don’t be surprised if he learns the game a little better in the process.
The 22-year-old big man is coming off a solid sophomore year where he put up 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game.
There’s still room for Monroe to improve, but as he’s guiding Drummond during his rookie season, his own game might be the one that sees the most progress.
After trading away Monta Ellis for Andrew Bogut last season, the Golden State Warriors could get a big-time season out of Klay Thompson next year.
Thompson averaged 12.5 points in his rookie campaign, but those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Following the Ellis trade, Thompson averaged 18.6 points in the month of April, and his point-per-game average was 10 points higher as a starter than it was coming off the bench early in the season.
Thompson is a lethal shooter, having shot 41.4 percent from the three-point line last year, and while it’s possible that the addition of Harrison Barnes takes away from his opportunities, the more likely scenario is that the two players complement each other nicely and keep defenses distracted as they work to score points on the perimeter next year.
With Linsanity having blown up with the New York Knicks, it’s going to be Omer Asik’s turn to have a breakout year in Houston next season.
The Houston Rockets have gotten rid of Marcus Camby this offseason and have been unsuccessful in their attempts to bring in Dwight Howard.
Asik has historically been a backup with the Chicago Bulls, but having received a big-time contract from the Rockets this summer, it’s time for him to step up his game.
The true seven-footer is an excellent rebounder and good defensive presence. His offensive game needs work, but with more minutes next year, he could start to show people that he deserves the money he’ll be making over the next three seasons.
Roy Hibbert signed a maximum contract with the Indiana Pacers this summer, and next year, he’ll surely show that he deserves such a lucrative pay day.
The 7’2”, 260-pound center is coming off a season where he put up career highs in points, rebounds, blocks and field-goal percentage, but he’s yet to dominate the league the way his height and skill set suggest he should.
We began to see some of that dominance in the playoffs last year, so don’t be surprised if he carries the momentum forward into the 2012-13 season.
Shooting guard Paul George is another strong candidate, but with Danny Granger still a star player on the perimeter, the 22-year-old George may have to continue developing before he truly takes over the perimeter in Indy.
The 2012-13 season just might be the year when DeAndre Jordan turns his raw potential into all-star-caliber production.
Jordan’s leaping ability has made him a threat to land on any highlight reel, and having Chris Paul to find him in the pick-and-roll has begun the process of adding to his overall offensive game.
Jordan averaged career highs all across the board last season, but where he truly makes his mark is on defense.
Having recorded two blocks per game last year, his length, athleticism and timing are major tools when dominating the paint on the defensive end of the floor.
The Los Angeles Lakers have had one of the busiest summers of any NBA team, and as a result, they've compiled a number of major assets heading into the 2012-13 season.
One of the pickups that has gone virtually unnoticed outside of L.A. is the signing of Jodie Meeks.
Don't expect Meeks to become an All-Star behind Kobe Bryant, but his shooting ability and familiarity with the Princeton offense will be great in L.A. next year.
The team was looking for bench production and an offensive perimter presence, and Meeks will give them both.
As a natural 2-guard, Meeks will be undersized if forced to play the 3, but with a shallow core at the small forward spot, the 24-year-old could become somewhat of a hybrid player when Metta World Peace heads to the bench.
Don’t be surprised if Rudy Gay makes a giant leap from an all-star caliber player to a superstar next season.
As a near 20 point per game player every year since his rookie season, Gay has taken massive strides in his first six years toward becoming a better overall player.
He’s a very good scorer, a solid rebounder and has shown better effort toward becoming a good defender in recent years.
At just 25 years old, the 6’8”, 230-pound forward has the physical tools to compete with the best that the league has to offer.
With O.J. Mayo officially off the roster, Gay should continue to show improvement and continue to increase his leadership on a rising Memphis Grizzlies team.
It’s going to be difficult for anybody outside the Big Three and Ray Allen to flourish in Miami next season, but as Mario Chalmers continues to grow, he should establish his spot in the rotation moving forward.
Chalmers certainly makes mistakes on the court, but if he continues to learn his role and makes smart decisions, he can be a more than reliable point guard alongside two of the best players in the entire NBA.
Brandon Jennings’ numbers have improved every year, but his production has been streaky, and his jump shot has been questionable at times.
Next year, Jennings will have his first full season with Monta Ellis as his backcourt mate, and it could help boost both his scoring and assist numbers.
Ellis wants to play as quickly as Jennings does. Both are good ball handlers; both can score and both can make a defense adjust at any point throughout a game.
Jennings is coming off a year where he scored a career-high 19.1 points per game. If he can exceed that production next year, he’ll be primed for an all-star season, especially with the absence of Derrick Rose from the equation out East.
If Ricky Rubio comes back healthy and exceeds the level of how he performed last season, he could very well be the breakout star of this team.
However, having already seen that he can be an extremely productive player early in his career, it’s Derrick Williams’ time to shine in Minnesota.
The former No. 2 pick had a decent rookie season, but with Michael Beasley now in Phoenix, the 6’8” forward Williams could be primed for a breakout year in 2013.
His 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds per game are solid when considering he played just 21.5 minutes per game off the bench last season.
According to Kent Youngblood of the Star Tribune, general manager David Kahn hopes that the signing of Andrei Kirilenko will challenge Williams to play better in his second year.
If Williams accepts the challenge, his versatile game should be prominently displayed in Minnesota next season.
Eric Gordon has been known as a very good player during his four seasons as an NBA player, but next year should be when he finally breaks out and becomes an all-star.
The 6’3” shooting guard has a career point-per-game average of 18.2, but up to this point in his playing days, he’s been tucked away on struggling teams that have become completely irrelevant by the end of most seasons.
Next year, the spotlight will be on the New Orleans Hornets at times with No. 1 pick Anthony Davis and Austin Rivers competing in their rookie years.
Davis could potentially emerge as a star early in his career—especially if his offensive game can emerge along with his dominant defense—but Gordon could ultimately be the biggest beneficiary of a much improved team next year.
Iman Shumpert’s rookie campaign came to an abrupt finish with a season-ending knee injury in the 2012 playoffs.
Before the injury, he managed to average 9.5 points in his 59 games played with the New York Knicks.
His shooting percentage doesn’t necessarily show it, but the 21-year-old player can occasionally get hot from beyond the arc, and he’s always a threat to make a play defensively out on the perimeter.
With the subtractions of Jeremy Lin and Landry Fields, Shumpert could prove to be a starting-caliber player and a more reliable option at times than J.R. Smith next season.
Serge Ibaka had a very good 2011-12 campaign, having made a serious push at Defensive Player of the Year honors. He averaged 9.1 points, 7.5 rebounds and a league-leading 3.7 blocks per game.
That being said, at just 22 years old and in a contract year, the 6’10” big man could take his game to yet another level again next season.
Ibaka has made his Olympic debut this summer with the ultra-talented squad from Spain, and he should be loose and ready to play again next year following a summer of international competition.
Ibaka’s game is primarily focused on defense, but an emerging offensive game gives him the potential to become an extremely versatile player on both ends of the floor.
Yahoo! Sports’ Eric Freeman has reported this summer that legendary center Hakeem Olajuwon would like to work with Ibaka to help improve his game. Olajuwon is a perfect example of a great player who impacted a floor on both ends, and if the Thunder big man jumps at the opportunity, it could make a world’s difference heading into the 2012-13 season.
With the Orlando Magic finally in the post-Dwight Howard era, it's anybody's guess as to who will step up big for the team next season.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the goal is to build next summer through the draft and free agency, making Andrew Nicholson a prime candidate for a breakout year right away.
It's tough to imagine anybody from last year’s team stepping up big now that the most viable candidate in Ryan Anderson is with the New Orleans Hornets, as most players on the current roster have seemingly hit their ceilings.
Don’t expect Nicholson to be a star, and don’t expect him to make fans forget about Howard; but the rookie can score from almost anywhere on the court, and he could have a decent rookie season if given the playing time.
Nobody on the Philadelphia 76ers is primed to break out like Andrew Bynum.
Bynum had arguably one of the biggest breakout seasons in 2012, but that shouldn’t hinder him from continuing to improve throughout next season.
Having been traded from the Los Angeles Lakers to Philly this offseason, Bynum is now in a new city under one of the best coaches in the NBA.
Doug Collins knows how to get the best out of his young players, and Bynum's game and maturity could both benefit from such a fantastic leader.
With the subtraction of Andre Iguodala from the Sixers' offense, Bynum could prove to be a No. 1 option if he truly breaks out.
Don't undervalue the fact that he is a contract year, either, as he will be looking for the same kind of max deal that Roy Hibbert received from the Indiana Pacers this summer.
With Iguodala gone, Evan Turner is another strong candidate for breakout player, but if Bynum continues to improve, the Sixers will become his team moving forward.
Michael Beasley has been full of inconsistency and lackluster play throughout his four-year NBA career.
However, with the Phoenix Suns, Beasley should be given the opportunity to flourish in a fast-paced, high-scoring offense.
Although Beasley is 6’10”, 235 pounds, his game is fit far more to the style of a small forward, and one who doesn’t like to play defense.
In the desert, Beasley will have the opportunity to run up and down the floor; and with offense being the name of the game, his perimeter-based style of play could finally prove to be the best option.
Nicolas Batum has been inconsistent throughout his four years with the Portland Trail Blazers, but having landed a big-time contract this summer, it’s time for him to step up next season.
With any lucrative deal comes extra responsibility, but in the case of Batum, he’s likely to see an expanded role to help him live up to those expectations.
The Oregonian’s Jason Quick reported this summer that there's a chance Batum sees more “offensive freedom” with his return to Portland long-term.
Batum’s role has been up in the air in the past, as he’s been used primarily as a spot-up shooter in the corner. With Nate McMillan gone next season, the 6’8” small forward Batum will hopefully be used more effectively, and he could finally establish himself as a true second option behind All-Star forward LaMarcus Aldridge.
DeMarcus Cousins took massive strides in becoming a better NBA player last season, but if he can continue that trend next year, he’ll solidify himself as one of the league’s best centers in 2013.
In just his second season, Cousins jumped his scoring average up to 18.1 points per game and also recorded 11.0 rebounds and 1.2 blocks.
Cousins’ maturity has been brought into question early in his career, and inconsistent play has seemingly grasped more headlines than the fantastic performances he already has on his NBA resume.
The Sacramento Kings’ bad record and poor performance makes it easy to forget about Cousins, but another great season should convince a league with few dominant centers that he can be a force night in and night out.
Kawhi Leonard may not become a superstar behind the big three of the San Antonio Spurs, but he could very well see a bigger role and have a bigger impact by the end of next season.
In 24 minutes of play last year, Leonard recorded 7.9 points, 5.1 rebounds and shot 37.6 percent from the three-point line.
He has also proven to be a good defender, as he averaged 1.3 steals per game with his long arms and excellent athleticism.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich is the best in the league at getting the most out of his young prospects, and while Leonard was a role player throughout all last year, he could see an increased role as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili continue to age moving forward.
The Toronto Raptors have a number of newcomers on next season’s roster, but the one who could prove to be the biggest surprise is Jonas Valanciunas.
The Lithuanian center is a very good rebounder, can defend the paint and knows how to get to the free-throw line.
Valanciunas is the clear-cut starter at the center position for Toronto, and their success next season is somewhat dependent upon how quickly he can translate to the NBA game.
Kyle Lowry, Landry Fields and Terrence Ross will all be expected to produce next year; but Valanciunas could prove to be one of the better rookie centers that the league has to offer.
Marvin Williams has had an underwhelming career up to this point, mostly defined by the fact that he was the second overall pick back in 2005.
He’s a decent small forward who is good at rebounding and defending the perimeter, but the expectations coming in haven’t been met throughout his first seven seasons.
While it could very well be one of Utah’s young frontcourt members who makes the leap next year, Williams could be rejuvenated following his departure from Atlanta.
Nobody’s going to claim that Williams is destined for stardom, but a change of scenery to a team out west might be just what the 26-year-old small forward needs to jumpstart his NBA career.
John Wall has been very good throughout the early part of his career, but next season could be when we see the point guard jump his game up to an all-star level.
Wall is a very good passer, but the need for him to score has been extremely present on a rebuilding Washington Wizards roster.
With the addition of newly drafted Bradley Beal next year, Wall should find that he has a backcourt mate who can take the pressure off him to score, as the rookie 2-guard can shoot from deep, create his own shot and score late in games.
Wall fits the mold of today’s super-athletic point guard, and if he can put it all together, he could begin his all-star-caliber career in the 2012-13 season.