Ranking the Top Breakout Campaigns of the 2012-13 NBA Season

Jesse DorseyFeatured ColumnistMarch 11, 2013

Ranking the Top Breakout Campaigns of the 2012-13 NBA Season

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    The NBA has seen an outburst of players becoming very good, or downright star players over the course of the past few seasons, ushering in a new era of basketball for better or worse.

    What we have now is a point guard-driven league in which very few players will average over 25 points per game, and averaging a double-double is incredibly rare, especially for guys looking to average a double-double in assists.

    We do, however, have a league much less dependent on hero ball, as teams are putting together squads of players, whether they be centered around superstars or not, to form complete, cohesive units.

    We're entering an interesting time in the NBA, and it's coming to the point where there's a dramatic shift in who is at the top of the league, who will be at the top of the league and who is rapidly falling away from the top of the league.

    As far a breakout players go, there are guys like Kyrie Irving who haven't broken out as much as they've continued on a warpath, and guys like James Harden who have completely broken the shackles of their past.

    Those given the most credence will be the players who have broken through a wall to become All-Star caliber players when they were once no more than good young players on a middling team.

    The reason for excluding guys like Irving, and even Joakim Noah and Brook Lopez is a perception that what they've done is natural progression. They're not changing anybody's mind about them or jumping so high statistically that everyone's dropping jaws.

    Sure, all were All-Stars this season, and they deserve that recognition, but it was easily within the realm of possibility that they would be candidates to make the team, and their improvement was enough to get there.

    The other players ahead of them did something to change people's minds, or at least start the change of a mindset, creating a new reputation for themselves.

Honorable Mentions

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    It seems to me that four guys excluded should be explained right off the bat. That would be Larry Sanders, Omer Asik, Chandler Parsons and Nikola Vucevic.

    All four guys have had incredible seasons, and all for comparable reasons; they've been given a chance.

    It's hard to really gauge whether or not a player is having a true breakout season when he's more than doubled the amount of time he sees on the court compared to a season ago.

    All four of these players have increased their amount of time on the court by at least 12 minutes per game, an additional quarter of work, and it's part of what can explain what's making them a better player.

    Looking at their per-36 minute statistics can give a fair assessment of their improvement, but that can only tell a conditional side of the story. If this player would have played this many minutes last season then it's possible that their stats would be reflected thusly.

    Trying to shake out exactly what the true culprit of their improvement is becomes a two-fold narrative, more minutes leads to more playing time, while more playing time leads to more progression, so its hard to tell if these guys are just naturally progressing, or truly improving by leaps and bounds.

    Nonetheless, all are having incredible seasons, and deserve at least a mention.

7. Greivis Vasquez

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    While it's a bit of a stretch to consider Greivis Vasquez a star, he's nearly averaging a double-double in a year where assist-piling point guards are incredibly difficult to come by.

    Aside from Rondo (who will be unqualified by year's end because of games played) Vasquez' 9.4 assists put him just behind Chris Paul for the league lead.

    Throw more than 13 points per game on top of that and you've got one of the few point guards capable of being a double-double threat in every game he plays.

    On top of that, Vasquez is the second-best rebounding point guard at 4.4 per game, a much-improved three-point shooter, bordering on 40 percent from downtown, and he's slowly starting to figure things out on defense.

6. Brandon Jennings

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    Brandon Jennings is a weird player this season, as he's shown that he knows how and when to make the right passes, but he also purposely ignores these situations when he wants to shoot the ball.

    Because of that, his passing numbers have improved only moderately, nicking up to just over six assists per game, while his shooting numbers have stayed on par, right around 19 points.

    Of course, he's still an inefficient scorer, and perhaps that's what he's always going to be, but the long exposures of stellar passing that he's shown off this season have been impossible to ignore.

    His improvement has truly been more recent than chronic, as he's playing a more intense defensive game, and his passing numbers are off the charts, leading to career-high numbers all over the place.

    Just over the course of his last four games Jennings has nailed down 14.5 assists per game, and it seemed like he did it with ease.

    Jennings has put up career highs in assists with 6.7, three-point shooting at 38.3 percent and steals with 1.8 per game.

    I'm not sure what another team is going to try to plunge into him monetarily this offseason, but he's got the ability to break out further from this breakout season—he just needs to get his ego in check.

5. Ty Lawson

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    Ty Lawson is continuing on a steady statistical increase as far as the first four seasons of his career are concerned, but his improvement has been so much beyond just scoring a bit more and tossing around a few more assists.

    Lawson's steady improvement is a testament to him becoming a smarter and more reliable player, but the fact that he has the ball in his hands so much more is a testament to him becoming a leader of the Denver Nuggets.

    With a few good young point guards entering the fourth year of their careers, we're seeing them rise above a level that is just them being promising—they're starting to reach that promise.

    Lawson's promise is as the whip-quick leader of an offense that is simultaneously fast and efficient, and there's no question that he has become that leader.

    Since the All-Star Break, Lawson is averaging 23.1 points and 7.3 assists per game, all while shooting an extremely impressive 50 percent from the floor.

    He's truly playing at another notch.

4. Paul George

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    Paul George's improvement this season has been two-fold, and it's been easy to point out as the season has gone along.

    First of all, George is just a better basketball player. That's the natural progression that we all expected to see from him in the first few years of his career.

    George is scoring five more points per game, pulling down two more rebounds, doling out an additional assist and playing defense in the flow of this Pacers unit that gives them an incredible perimeter presence, even more so than last year.

    However, his ability to step in, move up a position (he played shooting guard last year, he's in at small forward now) and take over a leadership role for the Pacers is incredible.

    While the team struggled for the first hunk of the season, David West did a miraculous job of taking on the scoring load while George figured out what it would take to be the team's No. 1 option.

    George figured it all out by December, and the Pacers' season suddenly went from being in a hot tub of doubt, to skating smoothly off across a frozen lake into the playoffs. He's been key in turning this team around.

3. Jrue Holiday

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    Jrue Holiday is one of two players to really break out this season who made the All-Star Game, and there's no way in denying that he was absolutely deserving.

    Holiday's a front-runner for the league's Most Improved Player Award, and the fact that he's done so much more thanks to actual improvement, not just playing more minutes, is going to give him a ton of votes.

    The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled to find themselves all season long, and if it weren't for Holiday, they'd have even more troubles to this day.

    Holiday's 19 points and nine assists per game are huge improvements over his numbers from a year ago, and it's not just because he's gotten better. Philadelphia has completely given him the keys to the car, and he's driving it in the right direction.

    They've just got a few other things to shore up before they can really be a threat to make some playoff noise.

2. Stephen Curry

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    We've seen him step up and knock down three-point shot after three-point shot, and it seems as if every miss is more of a surprise than the last one was.

    That's how much confidence Stephen Curry plays with these days.

    He's played healthy all season long (feel free to knock on wood for the next hour or so to negate me jinxing that), and every shot he takes is one he knows he can make. They might look like bad shots if they were from other guys in the league, but those other guys aren't Curry.

    Beyond his shooting looking more mature and effective, Curry's become a more precise passer, one with confidence to get the ball down into the post, something he struggled with early on in his career.

    Of course, the fact that the other elements of his team have improved so much this season compared to last definitely helps, but he's improved and broken out a ton himself.

1. James Harden

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    Everybody knew James Harden was a good player, and more minutes on a team where he's suddenly the No. 1 option was only going to make us secure in that thought.

    However, he still had to do the work to keep up his production, and he was suddenly forced to deal with every team's best perimeter defender.

    The change was no problem whatsoever for Harden.

    He's gone from being the no-doubt Sixth Man of the Year in 2012, to being the no-doubt leader of the Houston Rockets in 2013, scoring 26 points per game, dishing dimes, grabbing boards and setting the pace for their intense offense.

    Harden has truly broken free from the shackles of playing off the bench and cemented himself as a star player in the NBA.