DeMarcus Cousins should continue to fufill the high expectations this year.
Every season in the NBA, one of the most crucial topics for fans—fantasy basketball addicts in particular—is pegging the players who are due for a breakout season.
Determining what justifies a "breakout" campaign can be rather tricky, but one stipulation is that the player is not a rookie, as they have no less-significant performances from which to break out. Hence, you will not see any of the 2012 draft class in this slideshow.
What you will see are 10 players who should be able to significantly increase their production thanks to improvements in their games and increases in playing time.
A number of these players have already made their presences known and shown flashes of what is to come. To put it together for a full season, though, can still be a challenge for young players.
Here's a look at the All-Breakout Team, featuring five starters and five reserves (and a smattering of honorable mentions) who are all due to showcase their game and become key focal points for their respective teams.
Over the last month of the 2011-12 season, Kenneth Faried posted per-game averages of 11.6 points and 9.1 rebounds in just under 27 minutes.
With the departure of Al Harrington, Faried should see an even bigger share of the minutes this year as the full-time starter. Basketball Monster (subscription required) projects Faried to average 13 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season.
He's gotten through his learning curve quickly, and as a guy who led the NCAA in rebounding in 2010-11, Faried has the explosiveness and great second jump that are found in great rebounders.
His second leap, in fact, is reminiscent of none other than Dennis Rodman, though his offensive game has more potential (despite the fact that Rodman could have scored more had he wanted to).
Faried is a high-energy player who plays very hard on both ends of the court.
He also said, "Not everyone runs fast, and I thought the speed would be fast, and that everyone would push it, but the bigs don't really get back, and I get a lot of easy baskets."
Faried's speed does indeed give him an advantage. At 6'8", he's long and agile (not undersized, as some claim) and runs the court very well. That speed combined with his leaping ability and desire to learn and work hard should culminate in Faried having a standout season in the Mile High City.
How high is Batum's true ceiling? No one knows.
Nicolas Batum has always had the athleticism and defensive ability to make a name for himself. So, it wasn't surprising when the Minnesota Timberwolves courted the swingman heavily this summer and signed him to a four-year, $46 million offer sheet.
"Should the Trail Blazers re-sign Nicolas Batum?" was the question posed to fans on Oregon Live Poll. Interestingly, 55.4 percent of the 5,500 polled said the Trail Blazers should re-sign him.
That debate revolved largely around Batum's upside. Is his scoring output going to be like that of midlevel stars like Andre Iguodala, Luol Deng and Gerald Wallace, or could be put up bigger numbers still?
Trail Blazers general manager Neil Olshey thinks the latter:
I'm hoping that's the kind of jump Nic makes. Like Eric Gordon who was at 16 points per game, 16 a game when he played for Vinny Del Negro and before he broke his arm, he was averaging 24 and a half per game and was fifth in the league. I'm not putting a number on Nic.
Batum has the talent to put up those robust numbers, and the Trail Blazers need it to happen now. Although, for as much as fans dread the term "rebuilding process," Batum, Wes Matthews, Damian Lillard and LaMarcus Aldridge form a nice quartet around which to build for the near future.
Throw in the fact that they have a lottery pick, three second-round picks and $13 million in cap room, and Olshey feels confident about the future of the Blazers.
Batum, too, realizes he won't be "very far from 18 to 20 points per game." Batum's confidence and desire to take on a larger role has already been evident. On Monday night, he put up 27 points against the Utah Jazz with Aldridge taking a night off.
Batum pulled out every trick in his book, showcasing a better face-up post game and finishing well in transition. He also came off picks for open threes, nailed 5-of-8 from behind the arc and hit all four of his free throws.
Batum played well defensively in that contest, coming up with three steals in what would be a 120-114 Blazers win. He finished with a plus/minus of plus-11, the second highest of all Blazers starters (Matthews was plus-18).
Can Batum have that level of impact? Can he average around 20 points per game?
Batum is now the 10th-highest-paid small forward in the league, and he has the potential to outperform all of those paid more than him save for Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Will he actually end up being a bargain?
Let this serve as the prediction that he will.
Can Cousins continue to rise in his third NBA season?
DeMarcus Cousins began working with Chris Webber last year, and it began to show dividends almost immediately.
"I have the utmost respect for C-Webb, he's a real person," Cousins said last year to Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.
Gaining Cousins' respect was the first step in Webber's molding of the Kentucky product. Cousins has feuded with coaches in the past, and it seems the only thing preventing him from making the progress many think he will this year has been his attitude.
An NBA scout compared Cousins' footwork with that of the legendary Kevin McHale (per Washburn), and if he can begin to get a grasp on the finer points of reading double-teams, his turnovers and shot selection should continue to improve.
After Keith Smart replaced Paul Westphal, Cousins seemed to settle down significantly, and the thought is that it will carry over into this season.
Basketball Monster (subscription required) projects Cousins to put up 21 points, nearly 12 rebounds, 1.7 steals and 1.2 blocks per game. If he can make that kind of improvement based on what he did last year, it will qualify as a true breakout season.
Regarding his improvement, Cousins said, "I know it's happening. It may not happen at the speed other people want it to happen at, but I know it's happening (and) I'm going to keep working hard."
That hard work should translate to success, because Cousins has all the physical skills and tools necessary to dominate down low. He's extremely coordinated, and now that he seems to have learned to keep his weight in check, there is nothing standing in his way.
Can he increase his scoring average by three points per game and continue to rebound the ball well as he already has? After a four-point-per-game increase between his rookie and sophomore seasons, there's no reason to think otherwise.
Paul George was instrumental in Indiana's pushing of the Miami Heat.
Pacers associate head coach Brian Shaw has placed enormous pressure on Paul George to take the next step this year.
"I told him that the fact everybody in the starting lineup is basically already who they are with the exception of him," Shaw recounted to Mike Wells of the Indy Star. "Whatever steps he makes are going to be the same steps the team will take."
That's definitely the scenario for the Pacers, but to place those expectations on George's shoulders may be a bit much. George is definitely aware of his place on the team, saying, "I feel like there's a lot riding on me."
There has to be a lot riding on George. He's quick and athletic, able to cover shooting guards and small forwards, and he's the best young talent on the Pacers squad.
Danny Granger is still in his prime, but George is the future. D.J. Augustin may not be a long-term option at point guard, and it's uncertain as to whether combo guard George Hill will ultimately be the guy in the backcourt next to George.
For the time being, it is up to George to develop his game and become a star.
"I like the pressure. I like to be in the situation I'm in," George said. "I worked hard the whole summer to get better at my game. I'm the X-factor."
George is the one unknown, and it's up to him if he will be an X-factor and/or All-Star. Starting small forward Danny Granger feels that "the sky is the limit," adding that George is "gifted and can go as far as he wants to go…(with) the ability to do so many things on the court, especially on the offensive end."
Shaw cites George's age as further reason why he will fulfill immense expectations.
"He's 22, so you can't rush experience."
That experience will come, and George's talent should help him become the kind of legitimate No. 1 option the Pacers will need when Granger begins to decline.
A reasonable expectation for George would be 15.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Throw in a couple of steals with that line, and he'll be well on his way.
Lowry took his talents north of the border this offseason.
Up until January 24, 2012, Kyle Lowry ranked higher in fantasy basketball than that elite class of NBA point guards.
So, pretty much everyone.
I wrote last year that Lowry was the biggest snub for the Western Conference All-Star team, mainly because the Houston Rockets hadn't made much noise and lacked a supporting cast.
This year, in Toronto, things could be different. Lowry leads a talented nucleus that features 2011 No. 5 overall draft selection Jonas Valanciunas, former No. 1 overall pick Andrea Bargnani, athletic swingman DeMar DeRozan and 2012 No. 8 overall pick, shooting guard Terrence Ross.
That core, in addition to some valuable reserves such as Amir Johnson, Ed Davis, Linas Kleiza and backup point guard Jose Calderon, could have the Raptors sniffing the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference this year.
Lowry's calling card coming out of Villanova was defense, but he's proven to be much more than just a pest, posting 14.3 points and 6.6 assists per game last year.
He also posted a player efficiency rating of 16.51. John Hollinger (subscription required) predicts his PER to increase further this year, up to a career high of 18.89.
Lowry's rebound rate led all point guards last season, and Dwane Casey is going to be looking for a lot more of Lowry's hard-nosed defense this season.
He's an effective shooter with good range, and that effectiveness from downtown makes it even tougher to stop his dribble penetration.
Since Valanciunas is a good athlete around the rim, Lowry should provide some easy looks for the youngster. He'll find Davis and DeRozan on their cuts to the hoop, and he will also help rookie Terrence Ross adjust to NBA defenses from the 2-guard position.
The Raptors are going to be a much better team with Lowry running the point, and they should be able to find something for Calderon at the trade deadline since he is an expiring contract.
Lowry is expected to post a similar line to last year, according to Basketball Monster, with his projections at 15.3 points and 7.3 assists per game.
At just 26 years old, he is going to be a fixture for the Raptors for years to come, and he is still a season or two away from entering his prime. However, he'd achieve true breakout status this season if he were to lead the Raptors to a playoff berth.
Klay Thompson brings some much-needed size to Golden State's backcourt.
SG: Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
Last year, following the trade that sent starting shooting guard Monta Ellis to Milwaukee for Andrew Bogut, Thompson was due for an uptick in playing time.
His minutes increased to 30 per game over the final two months of the season, and the scoring output that Warriors coach Mark Jackson knew he was capable of surfaced.
Thompson posted 17 points per game over that span, dishing out 2.6 assists per night. He is the starting shooting guard of the future for the Warriors.
Those numbers over the final two months of the season should be expected from Thompson for the duration of the season.
C: Greg Monroe, Detroit Pistons
The Pistons decided to go in a different direction with their 2012 draft pick by selecting Andre Drummond out of UConn. The thought is to pair the 6'11" Drummond with the 6'11" Monroe and eventually have a powerful frontcourt.
Monroe is already developing well, and he posted 15.4 points and 9.7 rebounds per game last season. This season, Monroe could reasonably put up a line of 17.5 points and 10.5 rebounds per game, elevating him amongst the elite centers of the league.
SF: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard was obtained at the high cost of Gregg Popovich's former favorite, George Hill. Fittingly enough, Leonard became Pop's new favorite. Popovich compared Leonard to former Spur Bruce Bowen, saying he was "more gifted."
His defensive abilities are undeniable, and his athleticism and desire to become a featured part in the Spurs offense should be showcased this season. He should get more minutes, with Stephen Jackson only being a stopgap solution and not a part of San Antonio's long-term plans.
The 6'7" swingman from San Diego State put up great per-36-minute numbers last year: 11.9 points, 7.7 rebounds and two steals. He could approach that level of production on a per-game if he sees 30 minutes a night this season.
SG: Arron Afflalo, Orlando Magic
Arron Afflalo was the main piece in the Dwight Howard trade (at least from an immediate-impact perspective) for the Orlando Magic.
Afflalo is coming off of a career year for the Denver Nuggets. He put up 15.2 points per game and shot over 47 percent from the floor and nearly 40 percent from distance.
If he could step up his free-throw shooting significantly (80 percent for his career), he could enter the 50/40/90 club. He was just under 50 percent from the floor and over 42 percent from three in 2010-11.
Combine that shooting with lock-down defense, and Afflalo is the one player on the Orlando roster with a legitimate chance of making an All-Star team (with all due respect to Big Baby, who may be in for a career season in his own right).
PG: Kemba Walker, Charlotte Bobcats
Kemba Walker had a bit of a disappointing season after ranking fifth among all scorers in the 2010-11 NCAA season with 23.5 points per game for UConn.
The thought was that drafting Walker would give the Bobcats a high-scoring guard to drive them out of the cellar and toward the realm of mediocrity.
Players often make huge strides during their sophomore seasons, and many fantasy basketball enthusiasts have pegged Walker as a sleeper this season. On a Bobcats team in desperate need of scoring, Walker should be able to get up plenty of shots.
Walker posted 12.1 points in just over 27 minutes per game last season, and he should be able to put up 15 points per game this season if he's actively seeking his shot.
Ersan Ilyasova (MIL), Thaddeus Young (PHI), Evan Turner (PHI), Nikola Pekovic (MIN), Goran Dragic (PHO), Gordon Hayward (UTA), DeMar DeRozan (TOR), Tristan Thompson (CLE), Kevin Seraphin (WAS), O.J. Mayo (DAL), Omer Asik (HOU)