Predicting the Next Wave of Breakout Stars for the 2013-14 NBA Season
We saw a lot of young studs in 2012-13 hint at a breakout NBA season for 2013-14.
Some of these guys are the beneficiaries of roster change. Either they moved to a better situation or they were promoted in-house.
Usually it takes two to three years for players to really get acquainted with the new speed, size and competition. A few rookies are able to pick it up right away.
The following are the guys expected hit the NBA All-Star radars, or at least show in 2013-14 they'll be in that conversation down the road.
And for the record, guys like Damian Lillard and Paul George were breakout stars last season.
Anthony Bennett, Cleveland Cavaliers
There's good reason why the Cleveland Cavaliers took Anthony Bennett No. 1.
He was as high-risk, high-reward as you can get. But I'm going to bet on Bennett successfully making the transition and finding a niche as a combo forward, instead of getting exposed as a tweener.
Bennett should fit in nicely up front, given his versatility as an inside-outside mismatch. He's got that elite NBA-level explosiveness that should allow him to pick up routine easy buckets in the half court and transition.
If Bennett's 37.5-percent three-ball carries over from college, defenders will find themselves in quite the pickle when deciding how hard to close when he's set up on the perimeter.
With Kyrie Irving running the show, Bennett should also have a setup man who can position him to score.
The highlight finishes will be inevitable, but if Bennett finds his sweet spot early on, we could be talking about one of the tougher mismatches in the league.
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Now that the Raptors have finally dumped Andrea Bargnani, Jonas Valanciunas should see his scoring opportunities increase.
Valanciunas had some big games late last season after missing a good chunk of the year with an injury.
He averaged 14.9 points and 2.4 blocks in April following some monster games in March, and he looks ready to emerge as a top option in Toronto's offense.
Valanciunas has the size and post skill set to command routine half-court double-teams if he's able to get going. Look for the Raptors to feature him more in his second full season in the league.
Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder weren't going to overspend on Kevin Martin because they knew what they had in Jeremy Lamb.
One of the most complete scorers from the 2012 NBA draft, Lamb can beat defenders attacking east, west, north and south.
He works the pull-up and step-back game on the perimeter and attacks the rim off the dribble. Lamb can create his own offense in isolation or score off the ball as a catch-and-finisher.
With proven scorers around him, Lamb won't feel the pressure to take over offensively, but he'll certainly have his opportunity now that the team's previous sixth man has bolted.
Lamb may not become a star in 2013-14, but expect him to break out as a surprise impact player for a premier NBA team.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Injuries and coaching held the big fella back as a rookie, but Andre Drummond should play a dominant role in Detroit's rotation in 2013-14.
Drummond's 21.69 PER reflects how active and efficient he really was. At 6'10'', 270 pounds, the physical transition process was seamless. His body reached NBA-ready status before his skill set ever developed, which allowed him to contribute early as an interior presence.
He can take over stretches of a game without using a single skill, which is downright scary when you think about it. You have to assume he'll gradually implement some low-post moves into his repertoire. But in the meantime, Drummond will continue to own the glass, protect the rim and finish everything in sight.
He's years ahead of where DeAndre Jordan was at this time, a comparable player with similar size and athleticism.
Watch out for Andre Drummond next year as the game's next overwhelming interior force.
Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Harrison Barnes had his best stretch as a rookie during the playoffs, and for Warriors fans, it was glorious.
At times, Barnes looked like the guy who was projected as a No. 1 pick out of high school. It's clear that Barnes' play is directly related to his confidence, which should be at an all-time high heading into next season.
A high-IQ guy who plays with great energy and passion, Barnes averaged 14.8 points per game in the series against Denver and 17.3 points per game in the series against San Antonio.
Barnes has really improved as a shot-creator, using pull-ups, step-backs and strong takes to the hole to score in the half court. Raising his conversion rate will be the next step in his development, but given his feel for the game and sound shooting mechanics, there's good reason to believe his percentages will also go up.
I like Barnes to gradually improve and morph into a Luol Deng type of scorer.
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
Anthony Davis is a fast, fast learner. He's gone from a guard in high school to a center in college to a versatile power forward at the NBA level.
He showed it all as a rookie in New Orleans, from perimeter scoring to pick-and-rolling to controlling the glass and protecting the rim.
Davis demonstrated a face-up dimension of offense that we didn't get to see much at Kentucky. He was knocking down shots in the mid-range and attacking the rim north and south.
We also saw a hint of a post game, including some nifty back-to-the-basket moves.
But most of all, Davis' high-activity level is what separates him. He seems to get his hands on every loose ball, lob, missed shot and rebound. Given his size, length and mobility, it appears that Davis can be in two places at once.
With even more weapons around him in 2013-14, Davis should be an off-ball playmaking machine. The addition of Jrue Holiday should help aid in Davis' offensive development as a second-year breakout candidate.
Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
Instead of losing J.J. Redick for nothing in free agency, Orlando was able to flip him for Tobias Harris (among other players) last season, a move that could go down as a felony.
The Magic flat-out robbed Milwaukee of a young stud just waiting to break out offensively.
Harris averaged 16 points and 8.3 boards in the month of March and nearly 20 and 10 in April. He dropped a couple of superstar performances late in the year, including a 30-point, 19-rebound, five-assist game in a win over his old team.
With the frame and strength of a power forward and the skill set of a wing, Harris is one of those combos who's learned to exploit his versatility. He'll need to get that three-point percentage above the 31 percent mark, but all signs point toward his accuracy improving.
He's got the basketball IQ, physical tools and advanced offensive game to really make a mark next season. Expect Orlando to feature Harris as the team's top offensive weapon in 2013-14.
Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
With Russell Westbrook on the shelf, Reggie Jackson stepped up and played some big minutes for the Thunder in the playoffs.
He went for 17 points, seven boards and eight dimes in a series-clinching win over Houston, and he averaged 13.8 points, 6.2 boards and 3.8 assists against the Grizzlies in Round 2.
With Westbrook back and Kevin Martin gone, Jackson will fill both backup point guard and scoring duties off the bench. He's a dynamic athlete who can generate offense off the dribble for himself or a teammate.
Look for Jackson's role to expand as an offensive playmaker in Oklahoma City's backcourt.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
The Bulls are expected to promote Jimmy Butler, who should be lining up alongside Derrick Rose as the team's starting shooting guard.
Butler was tremendous for Chicago in the playoffs after a strong ending to the regular season.
He averaged 14.6 points and 6.6 boards on a lights-out 56 percent shooting from three during April. Through two rounds of the playoffs, Butler averaged 13.3 points and 5.2 boards on 40.5 percent shooting from deep, playing lock-down defense throughout.
Butler is one of those mistake-free players who knocks down open shots, moves the ball, finishes opportunities and defends the perimeter.
But in 2013-14, look for Butler to be a little more aggressive as a scorer. He improved as a shot-creator, which is something the Bulls are likely to test now that his role should grow.
Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Kawhi Leonard seems to be growing as a player with every game he plays. He was sensational for the Spurs in the playoffs, and he has emerged as one of the most valuable two-way wings in the league.
With his size, strength, length and motor, Leonard is a fantastic on-ball defender built to guard the game's top scorers.
His game is really coming around offensively as well. After being somewhat erratic as a shooter in college, Leonard is now a reliable threat from behind the arc, shooting 37.6 percent as a rookie and 37.4 percent last year.
He's also so strong attacking the rim and excels at finishing after contact. Between his evolving perimeter game and ability to score inside, Leonard is becoming a rather difficult defensive assignment.
This is the year where Leonard's in-between game should develop, the way it did for Paul George in Indiana.
Expect more touches and plays that feature Leonard in 2013-14.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
The Boston Celtics are going to play a lot of Jeff Green-light basketball in 2013-14. Without Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Green immediately becomes the team's primary scoring option.
Luckily for them, it appears that Green has broken out at just the right time.
He recently averaged 20.3 points in the first round against the Knicks. Heading into the playoffs, Green had scored 15.3 per game in February, 17.6 per game in March and 17.1 per game in April.
At 6'9'' with the ability to play face-up basketball on the wing, he's an offensive mismatch if he can use his versatility.
Green has gotten much more comfortable creating shots for himself in the half court, whether it's attacking the rim and scoring on the move or pulling up off the dribble to stop-and-pop.
The Celtics are going to need someone to put points on the board this season. Expect Green to do most of the heavy lifting.
Eric Bledsoe, Phoenix Suns
All signs point to Eric Bledsoe taking over Phoenix the way James Harden took over Houston when he was dealt by Oklahoma City.
With only Goran Dragic in his way, Bledsoe's usage rate should see a dramatic boost. Given his ability to create as a point guard or score as a 2, Bledsoe should be a ball-dominant playmaker in Phoenix's backcourt.
He finished 2012-13 with an impressive 17.60 PER, making 39.7 percent of his three-point attempts and averaging 3.1 assists in limited action.
There aren't too many attractive offensive weapons in this rotation. Bledsoe's athleticism and talent should electrify a rotation in desperate need of a jolt.