Predicting the Biggest Breakout Star on Every NBA 2013-14 Roster
Plenty of young, unsung talents have begun to permeate the mainstream NBA landscape, but it will take a few improved performances to propel these players into the national spotlight.
One thing to keep in mind: When predicting breakout candidates, there's always going to be a bias toward younger players. There are a few veterans on this list, but they are considered special cases.
Atlanta Hawks: Dennis Schroeder
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Surprisingly enough, 19-year-old rookie point guard Dennis Schroeder has enough talent to contribute for the Atlanta Hawks immediately.
With Jeff Teague a more scoring-oriented guard, Schroeder feels like a nice fit in a backup role as a pass-first point man with plus vision.
In fact, according to Ric Bucher, the Hawks are very high on Schroeder:
In spite of what Dennis Schröder is doing at the Las Vegas Summer League, I'm told that the Hawks didn't just match the offer sheet to PG Jeff Teague to retain an asset, but that they believe under the guidance of first-year head coach and long-time Spur Mike Budenholzer that he can be Tony Parkeresque.
Schroeder's jump shot will take a good while to develop, but his speed, agility and ball-handling will help make his transition to the pro ranks easier.
Boston Celtics: Jared Sullinger
Jared Sullinger was on his way to having a stellar rookie season before suffering a back injury after 45 games.
Fortunately, according to The Boston Globe's Gary Washburn, Sullinger has been "cleared for full basketball activity and should be ready by start of training camp."
Sullinger was limited to fewer than 20 minutes per game last season, but in a frontcourt that lost Kevin Garnett, the second-year big should see more action along with Brandon Bass, Kris Humphries and Kelly Olynyk.
Thirty-six minutes per game would be a huge step up for Sullinger, but his per-36 numbers from last season indicate that the former Ohio State Buckeye is well on his way to averaging a double-double.
According to Basketball-Reference, Sullinger averaged 10.9 points and 10.7 rebounds per 36 minutes last season.
He may not reach those benchmarks this season, but Sullinger should be a staple of the Celtics frontcourt for years to come.
Brooklyn Nets: None
It's difficult to pinpoint a breakout star on the Brooklyn Nets, primarily because their projected starting lineup has previously broken out to the tune of 35 combined All-Star appearances.
The Nets don't have many young players brimming with promise, but that's not what Mikhail Prokhorov was looking for. Instead, it will be on the aging Nets' core to capitalize on their final few seasons, with help from the dynamic duo of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
It may still be the preseason, but given the lack of depth in the Eastern Conference, the Nets are all but assured a top-five playoff spot. The real test will be performing when the postseason spotlights are shining brightest, but the added experience of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett should help Jason Kidd's bunch make a title run.
Charlotte Bobcats: Kemba Walker
Maybe it's because he plays for the Charlotte Bobcats, but Kemba Walker seems to be flying largely under the radar. With so many promising young point guards shooting up the ranks, Walker has been overlooked as a breakout candidate after a much-improved 2012-13 season.
Walker's scoring average increased by 5.6 points last season, but what's more noteworthy was his improved efficiency in every facet of the game. Among point guards, Walker finished with the eighth-highest PER, according to ESPN.
This was ahead of names like Jose Calderon, Mike Conley, Rajon Rondo, Damian Lillard and Jrue Holiday, among others. Both Walker's field-goal percentage and three-point percentage improved markedly from his rookie season, while his offensive win shares ascended from minus-0.2 to plus-3.7 in his sophomore season, per Basketball-Reference.
A high-powered scoring threat with elite quickness and a filthy crossover, Walker is a sleeper to be named to his first All-Star team next season.
Chicago Bulls: Jimmy Butler
The 2013 postseason brought out the best in established superstars, but it also resulted in the emergence of several young studs who had previously gone unheralded. Jimmy Butler was one such youngster who thrived under the brightest of spotlights.
Over the course of 12 playoff games, Butler shot 40.5 percent from three (15-of-37), and averaged 13.3 points, nearly five more than his regular-season average. But the improved scoring efficiency was not the part of Butler's game that turned heads.
It was his defense.
Butler showed no fear when matched up against LeBron James in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and he held his own against the league's reigning MVP.
With Butler and Luol Deng teaming up to hound opponents on the perimeter, the Bulls should rank among the league's top five defensive teams again next season.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Tristan Thompson
Buzz surrounding the Cleveland Cavaliers has focused on Kyrie Irving and Andrew Bynum, and rightfully so. However, it's important to remember that Tristan Thompson is quickly becoming a force in the post. He is dispelling the notion that Cleveland made a mistake passing on Jonas Valanciunas in favor of the Canadian forward in the 2011 draft.
Thompson started all 82 games last season, and he made the most of a 7.6-minute-per-game increase. Bordering on double-double averages (11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds), Thompson flashed an expanded repertoire of moves and used his speed and athleticism to find open lanes and finish in traffic.
If Thompson can develop a steady mid-range jumper (he hit on 38.8 percent of his jumpers between 10 and 15 feet last season, per Basketball-Reference), he'll wedge his way into the conversation of the league's most talented up-and-coming prospects.
Dallas Mavericks: Brandan Wright
A rangy center with a high aptitude for blocking shots, Brandan Wright is one of the few Dallas Mavericks who has a shot to break out next season.
Ricky Ledo and Shane Larkin are years away from being considered such players, and Wright is now 25 years old and entering his sixth NBA season. If he's going to up his production, now is the time.
Samuel Dalembert was brought in to provide stability at center, but Wright is undeniably a more talented and more athletic presence. Unfortunately, Wright, 6'9'', doesn't possess the 6'11'' frame that Dalembert does, and he will likely play the role of backup center after signing a two-year, $10 million contract with Dallas this summer.
Wright has averaged 2.9 and 2.4 blocks per 36 minutes each of the last two seasons, per Basketball-Reference, and he could be among the league leaders if given enough playing time. Based on Wright's tenure in Dallas, he figures to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 minutes per game. That may not be enough to break out completely, but Wright has the talent necessary to do so.
Denver Nuggets: JaVale McGee
If you couldn't tell from the picture above, JaVale McGee is an athletic specimen rarely seen in the NBA. With a massive 7'6'' wingspan and immaculate leaping ability, McGee has a chance to lead the NBA in blocks this season after averaging two per game in only 18.1 minutes per night last year.
Now the starting center for the Denver Nuggets, McGee's numbers are set to balloon under head coach Brian Shaw. McGee set a new career high with a PER of 20.7 last season, per Basketball-Reference, and he finished third in the NBA with a field-goal percentage of 57.5, while his effective field-goal percentage ranked sixth among all players.
With all of the physical gifts in the world, McGee is a mortal lock to post double-figures in points and rebounds while emerging as one of the game's most feared shot-blockers.
Detroit Pistons: Andre Drummond
Another freakishly athletic big man cracks the list. The Detroit Pistons' Andre Drummond was sidelined for a chunk of last season due to a stress fracture in his back, but he will return to the floor at full strength this coming season.
Drummond was considered a raw, athletic freak coming out of UConn, but he showed far more polish last season than anyone could have expected. His post game could use considerable work, but Drummond made an impact in several other ways.
A fierce rebounder and master of the transition slam, Drummond can afford to play off his natural strengths as he develops a more refined offensive game. One of the game's most promising talents, Drummond will make the Pistons must-see TV all year long.
Golden State Warriors: Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes exceeded expectations as a rookie, and he will do so again next season in his new role as the Golden State Warriors' sixth man.
After closing out 2012-13 with averages of 16.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in the postseason, Barnes found his stock trending considerably higher than many believed it could after being selected No. 7 overall in the 2012 draft. It's a bit of a letdown that Barnes' starting spot has been usurped by Andre Iguodala, but Barnes should adjust seamlessly to his position as leader of the Dubs' second unit.
Considering the praise that sixth men like Manu Ginobili, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford and former Warrior Jarrett Jack received last season for their performances off the bench, Barnes shouldn't be discouraged by the move.
Houston Rockets: Patrick Beverley
Let's get this out of the way early: Chandler Parsons is exempt from the list of breakout candidates after averaging 15.5 points on 38.5 percent shooting from three last season. The fact that he's considered a part of the Houston Rockets' newly established trinity should end that conversation.
Unseating Jeremy Lin as the Rockets' starting point guard doesn't seem like a realistic possibility, but Beverley made a strong-enough cause in five starts last postseason to garner consideration for a larger role in Kevin McHale's rotation.
Beverley proved to be a capable scorer, averaging 11.8 points in six playoff games, but more impressive was his dedication to hitting the glass. Against Oklahoma City, Beverley pulled down 5.5 rebounds per game, 2.5 more than Lin averaged during the regular season.
Indiana Pacers: George Hill
The best year of George Hill's career to date was overshadowed by Paul George, and rightfully so. But now that George has officially announced his presence, Hill's time to shine is on its way.
In his second season with the Pacers, Hill started all 76 games he appeared in, posting career highs of 14.2 points, 4.7 assists and 1.1 steals per game. What's more impressive is that Hill's PER hit a career-best mark of 16.6, while his assist percentage (23.4) increased by nearly five points over his previous career high, per Basketball-Reference.
A long and aggressive defender who's a perfect fit for Frank Vogel's scheme, Hill will deserve serious attention should he improve in his second season as a starter.
Los Angeles Clippers: J.J. Redick
On the surface, J.J. Redick may seem like an odd choice, but he's been playing at a high level for years now and hasn't gotten the credit he deserves. Finally situated in a big market, Redick will find that praise.
Redick is a 39 percent shooter from three for his career, and he should hit treys aplenty in the Los Angeles Clippers' reformed offensive attack. With Doc Rivers now at the helm, the Clippers made a point to add shooters, even at the price of shipping out one of their most prized young assets in Eric Bledsoe.
Redick, along with Jared Dudley, will help space the floor for the Clippers, and with Blake Griffin and Chris Paul receiving the lion's share of defenses' attention, he shouldn't find it hard to get open looks.
He may be 29 years old, but Redick is being given a unique chance to shine in a starting role after starting just 54 games the previous seven seasons.
Los Angeles Lakers: Wesley Johnson
Do the Los Angeles Lakers have a player who could conceivably break out this season? A betting man would say no, but there is one intriguing possibility.
Wesley Johnson, 26, has yet to validate the Minnesota Timberwolves' decision to select him at No. 4 overall in the 2010 NBA draft. Perhaps that's why he's playing on his third team in four years.
There's been no evidence to suggest that Johnson will break out, but he does possess the physical tools to be an impactful player for the right team. The opportunity just hasn't presented itself yet.
With the Lakers sorely in need of help on the wing, Johnson was signed to a veteran minimum contract that will put him in a timeshare with Nick Young at small forward. At least, that's the thinking right now.
A positive to platooning with Young is that Johnson can't possibly look more inefficient on offense or careless on defense by comparison, so he should be given opportunities to succeed under Mike D'Antoni.
Memphis Grizzlies: Ed Davis
Like several breakout candidates, Ed Davis needs more playing time to prove that he's for real. It was clear that Davis wasn't going to see extended minutes under Lionel Hollins, but perhaps Dave Joerger will bring aboard a refined approach that involves heavier doses of the 24-year-old.
After being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies, Davis appeared for a shade over 15 minutes per game, down nine minutes from the run he was accustomed to with the Toronto Raptors.
Davis averaged a double-double per 36 minutes last season, but with Zach Randolph hogging minutes ahead of him, adjusting to a new system could prove to take considerable time.
Randolph, though, is 32 years old, and he feels like a prime trade candidate (especially after ESPN's Chad Ford said he was a "marked man" last winter). If the Grizzlies are looking to avoid shelling out $16.5 million next season in the form of Randolph's player option, they'd be wise to deal him for younger, cheaper pieces at the deadline.
And the good news is that they'd have Davis available to step in right away and fill Randolph's void. It's going to take time before Davis sees his role expand in Memphis, but once it does, he should be well on his way to breakout status.
Miami Heat: Mario Chalmers
Remember when Mario Chalmers told Bleacher Report's own Peter Emerick that he was among the game's best point guards? Well, if he truly believes that, then it's time he started playing like it.
Just in case you forgot or were unaware of Chalmers' comments, here they are:
"He's not the best, but he's in the top five (in reference to Rajon Rondo). There are a lot of great point guards in the league, Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Steve Nash. There are a lot of great guards in the NBA so for him to say he's the best is a pretty bold statement. I'd say that I [Mario Chalmers] am in the front end of the top 10."
It's an understandably difficult task to break out when you're playing on a team with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. And when James is often playing a point-forward role, things get even tougher.
In a point guard-centric league, Chalmers is surrounded by stars who can help take his game to the next level. We'll just need to see some consistency before making any proclamations.
Milwaukee Bucks: John Henson
John Henson's productivity was stymied by limited playing time as a rookie, but boy did he show flashes of promise in the 13.1 minutes per game he was granted.
Jim Boylan and Scott Skiles didn't place much trust in Henson, but hopefully Larry Drew will in his new position as head coach of the Milwaukee Bucks.
Per 36 minutes, Henson was a force last season. According to Basketball-Reference, Henson averaged 16.5 points, 12.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per 36, which is a more complete line than starter Ersan Ilyasova posted per 36 minutes last season (17.2 points, 9.3 rebounds, 0.6 blocks).
It would be a shame to see Henson log fewer than 20 minutes per game in year two, but it will ultimately be up to Drew to make a decision regarding playing time for all of the guys in a crowded frontcourt.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Derrick Williams
Admittedly, this one is a bit of a reach. It's not that Derrick Williams doesn't have the talent to break out; it's that his most productive minutes last season came with Kevin Love sidelined.
With Love presumably back at 100 percent, Williams won't have the luxury of receiving starter's minutes, which happened on 56 occasions last season. That said, the confidence that Williams gained with Love out could carry over to 2013-14. And for the Minnesota Timberwolves' sake, hopefully it will.
Williams' scoring average increased in his sophomore season, but that's a given considering all of the time Love missed. What's more encouraging is that Williams' shooting percentages improved, with the most notable increase coming from beyond the arc.
The former No. 2 overall pick hit on 33.2 percent of his threes last season, up from a mark of 26.8 percent the year before.
New Orleans Pelicans: Anthony Davis
Anthony Davis may have been the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 draft, but Portland Trail Blazers' point guard Damian Lillard (selected No. 6 overall) overshadowed him with electric offensive performances night after night.
Davis was no slouch, though, averaging 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks during a rock-solid rookie campaign. With the New Orleans Pelicans having reloaded on talent this summer (namely Tyreke Evans and Jrue Holiday), they should see a fair bit of the national spotlight as one of the Western Conference's up-and-coming squads.
With Robin Lopez gone and Ryan Anderson currently projected as the Pelicans' starting power forward, Davis figures to slide up to center and log the bulk of his minutes at the 5.
New York Knicks: Iman Shumpert
The potential Iman Shumpert possesses is massive. Over his first two NBA seasons, Shumpert has turned heads with his defensive tenacity and crazy athleticism, but filling up the box score hasn't been his style.
Shumpert is shooting 39.9 percent from the field for his career, good for an 8.3 point-per-game average. With Carmelo Anthony dominating the touches in Mike Woodson's offense, it shouldn't come as a surprise that Shump has only attempted 7.8 shots per game over the last two seasons.
But even if he isn't seeing many offensive touches, Shumpert could do better by improving his shooting efficiency. From a PER standpoint, Shumpert has been lackluster as well, averaging a mark of 11.1 for his career, per Basketball-Reference.
The raw tools are there; Shumpert just needs to hone his craft offensively a bit more in order for the Knicks to have a second star on their hands.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Jeremy Lamb
By all indications, Jeremy Lamb will be given every opportunity to break out with the Oklahoma City Thunder this season.
Perhaps Reggie Jackson will land the gig as the Thunder's sixth man after showing out in last year's playoffs, but with Kevin Martin gone, Scott Brooks has a void to fill on the perimeter.
The most logical solution is an in-house one.
We know the 21-year-old has the talent necessary to light it up on a regular basis. In the D-League last season, Lamb averaged 21 points per game.
Replicating those numbers will be nearly impossible in his first full year with the big club, but Lamb should find success in an expanded role that will be crucial to the Thunder's success.
Orlando Magic: Tobias Harris
With their young talent, the Orlando Magic could field a starting five consisting of breakout candidates. It's a tough proposition wading through names like Victor Oladipo, Andrew Nicholson and Nikola Vucevic, but I'm going with 21-year-old Tobias Harris.
Harris, who started nine games during a run-of-the-mill rookie season, demanded attention after being traded to the Orlando Magic midseason. In 27 games and 20 starts with the Magic last season, Harris posted averages of 17.3 points and 8.5 rebounds, including a PER of 17, according to Basketball-Reference.
Based on Basketball-Reference's projections for next season, Harris could conceivably average 16.8 points, eight rebounds, one steal and 1.1 blocks per 36 minutes should he ultimately start at small forward.
Philadelphia 76ers: Nerlens Noel
Nerlens Noel likely won't be back until "Christmas at the earliest," according to The News Journal's Jason Wolf, but half a season should be enough to make him the Philadelphia 76ers' breakout candidate.
Michael Carter-Williams figures to run the point from the jump, but with a poor jump shot and questionable ball-handling abilities, MCW's adjustment to the pro ranks will be harder than Noel's.
Upon returning, Noel will slot in as the Sixers' starting center. While he's rather lanky, Noel's athleticism will be a great equalizer against more powerful bigs. It's well-established that Noel is a pure shot-blocker, but it's his ability to break up passing lanes that will jump off the screen.
Much more than your prototypical shot-blocking presence in the post, Noel will contribute in a number of ways defensively from the get-go.
Phoenix Suns: Eric Bledsoe
The Phoenix Suns could easily be the worst team in the Western Conference this coming season. Fortunately, for those who are interested in consuming 82 games of sadness, watching the development of Eric Bledsoe will be a nice treat.
Now situated in Phoenix, Bledsoe has moved out from behind the shadow of Chris Paul and into the spotlight. Bledsoe's not known as much of a scorer, but we'll see if increased playing time leads to more opportunities to produce.
Much the way Jrue Holiday capitalized on a starring role in Philadelphia, perhaps Bledsoe will gain more confidence in his shot and start to post bigger scoring figures.
Already a feared defender, Bledsoe has a chance to be special if his offensive game develops gradually over the next few seasons.
Portland Trail Blazers: C.J. McCollum
How spoiled are the Portland Trail Blazers? They have not one, but two young point guards bursting with talent.
Damian Lillard's Rookie of the Year campaign puts him firmly out of the running to be a breakout candidate, so it's his new backcourt mate, C.J. McCollum, who earns the designation.
One of the rare few who committed himself to four years of college basketball, McCollum enters his rookie season a mature talent who excels at scoring the ball. Considering the Blazers were content handing the reins of their starting point guard spot over to Lillard last season, they should have no problem bestowing sixth-man honors upon McCollum in his rookie year.
McCollum only played in 12 games last season due to a broken foot, but he was on pace to finish a third consecutive season with an average of 20 points or more in the scoring column.
A ball-handler with range, McCollum should have very little trouble transitioning to a role that calls for him to create instant offense.
San Antonio Spurs: Kawhi Leonard
One could argue that Kawhi Leonard broke out in 2012-13. You won't hear any arguments from me on that front.
Leonard was sensational, but there's still room left for him to get even better. Combine that with the fact that the San Antonio Spurs don't have many other intriguing young pieces, and Leonard is the selection by default.
A rock on both ends of the floor, Leonard anchors the the Spurs' perimeter defense impeccably. Not only that, but he's hit on 37.5 percent of his threes through two seasons. And he's still just 22 years old.
The rich continue to get richer in San Antonio, and if Leonard continues his rapid development in 2013-14, the Spurs may very well be playing for the Larry O'Brien trophy again in June.
Sacramento Kings: Ben McLemore
Yes, another rookie. Ben McLeMore only played one season at the University of Kansas, but he proved that his unique blend of athleticism and three-point proficiency were meant for the pros during that brief collegiate stint.
With Tyreke Evans in New Orleans, the Sacramento Kings are going to need someone to pick up the slack on the perimeter. That man should be McLemore.
We saw McLemore's leaping ability on display during the Las Vegas Summer League, and it's those sort of plays that should have Kings fans excited.
Nothing has come easy to Sacramento in recent years, but with Mike Malone at the helm, DeMarcus Cousins an emerging star and McLemore oozing with potential, the Kings' gradual ascent up the Western Conference ranks could finally begin this season.
Toronto Raptors: Jonas Valanciunas
Overreacting to summer league performances in the NBA is like overreacting to preseason performances in the NFL, but it's hard to ignore how solid Toronto Raptors center Jonas Valanciunas looked in Las Vegas.
Valanciunas took home Las Vegas Summer League MVP honors, averaging the fifth-most points (18.8) and fifth-most rebounds (10) over the course of four games. Entering his second NBA season, the Lithuanian center feels like a prime breakout candidate.
In his rookie season, Valanciunas averaged 8.9 points and six rebounds in 23.9 minutes per game, and he posted an impressive defensive rebounding percentage of 20.5, per Basketball-Reference. With an increase in playing time, there's no reason Valanciunas shouldn't average a double-double this season.
All eyes will be on the progression of Rudy Gay during his first full season in Toronto, but Valanciunas is a player to keep an eye on.
Utah Jazz: Enes Kanter
Check out Enes Kanter's per-36-minute numbers from last season, and you'll understand why the Utah Jazz let Paul Millsap and Al Jefferson walk this summer.
Not only is Kanter 21 years old and cheaper, but he has the ability to produce similar numbers in an expanded role. Last season, Millsap averaged 14.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in 30.4 minutes. According to Basketball-Reference, Kanter averaged 16.9 points and 10.2 rebounds per-36 minutes last season, including a PER of 17.6.
The numbers don't lie. Kanter has the ability to be a big-time player for a long time. The Jazz will be among the Western Conference's worst teams this season, but they have a young foundation in Kanter, Derrick Favors, Trey Burke and Gordon Hayward to build upon.
Washington Wizards: Bradley Beal
It's been a while, but the Washington Wizards have a backcourt that they can ride to plenty of wins. John Wall is quickly emerging as one of the game's best young point guards, and Bradley Beal is a fearsome three-point shooter with a clean and quick stroke.
Wall's quickness and improving court vision are devastating enough, but combine them with Beal's ability to knock down shots coming off down screens, and the Wizards could soon have one of the league's most dynamic backcourts.
Beal struggled to find his shot at the beginning of last season, but he found a groove after the All-Star break. Below are Beal's shooting splits before and after the break last season, per Basketball-Reference:
It may sound ambitious, but Beal's post-break numbers more closely resemble what I would expect to see this season and beyond.