After an improved regular season, Jimmy Butler became indispensable for Chicago during last year's postseason
NBA seasons are only so predictable. The unknown adds a huge element of excitement, much like all things in life.
After all, if we could predict everything before the season even starts, what fun would that be?
Superstars can only take a team so far. The LeBrons of the world can only do so much on their own. You will be hard-pressed to find any good team that did not have at least one or two players exhibit a spike in their production from previous years.
Two of the players who left the most resounding impressions upon basketball fans heading into the offseason were third-year studs Paul George and Kawhi Leonard. Each blossomed into surefire stars in this league on the biggest stage of all.
Who will follow in their footsteps? Surely, each team has their respective candidates to burst onto the scene this year.
This list will feature guys who are primed to break out for one reason or another. There will be no rookies on here, just young veterans poised to take that next step in the NBA.
All stats provided by BasketballReference.com.
It's hard to make anything of the Atlanta Hawks roster. After seeing them bring in foreign youngsters Lucas Nogueira and Dennis Schroeder in the draft, we all thought the fix was on to descend to a level of atrocity only occupied by the Charlotte Bobcats.
Then, they saved face by re-signing solid but unspectacular Jeff Teague to run the point. They continued an odd offseason by bringing in veteran forwards Paul Millsap and Elton Brand. They also threw a bunch of money at Kyle Korver.
Now, they might actually win a game or two and likely miss out on any shot of landing Andrew Wiggins.
What is left is a hodgepodge of talent with opportunities for players to make big names for themselves.
One player of that sort is second-year shooting guard John Jenkins.
He played sparingly in his rookie season out of Vanderbilt. On a roster full of second and third scoring options (at best), he has plenty of room to stake his claim to a hefty amount of shots at the off-guard slot. His shooting ability is unquestionable, as he drilled an impressive 38 percent from downtown during his rookie season despite limited minutes.
If Jenkins can round out other aspects of his game such as defense and ball-handling, he can make a huge leap for Atlanta. Boy, do the Hawks need it.
The player once compared to Kobe Bryant as a young baller at Providence threw down some nice numbers in his rookie season with the now defunct New Jersey Nets.
Last season's move to the other side of the Hudson River to Brooklyn did not bring out the best in MarShon Brooks. The acquisition of Joe Johnson surely didn't help, as Brooks' minutes shriveled to a minuscule 12.5 per night after he saw 29.4 during his rookie year. Subsequently, his points per game went from 12.6 to a sad 5.4.
He is still just 24 years of age and on a team surely "rigging for Wiggins." New coach Brad Stevens will be sure to give Brooks his share of minutes. Aside from Jeff Green and possibly rookie Kelly Olynyk, Brooks is already one of the best scorers on this team. To be even more bold, he might be the most talented scorer on this roster already.
Jeff Green has already been around the block a few times, and it would be hard to envision him as a No. 1 scoring option on any team. Brooks has that type of scoring ability, and it will be fun to see if he can put it on display this season.
This was a tough one.
How do you pick a breakout player on a team old enough to be playing in retirement homes?
The Nets have seven players on their roster aged 32 or older. If we dig deep, we find under-the-radar signee Shaun Livingston.
Likely backing up star point guard Deron Williams, Livingston will be in a position far unlike any other in his career. His horrific knee injury left the one-time can't-miss point guard prospect relegated to a career suited to lowered expectations.
This will remarkably be his 10th season, and he is only 27. His lone experience on a successful team was his role on the unlikely playoff run made by his 2005-06 Los Angeles Clippers.
With this Nets squad and its bevy of veteran experience, Livingston will be in prime position to soak up knowledge from sources unbeknownst to him so far in his career.
Although his role will be limited behind Williams, that is not to say he can't have a solid impact. Livingston has mostly toiled away on middling teams throughout his career, but now he has a chance to show some veteran poise on a big stage, which could spring him into some more successful years in the NBA.
This is the year for Kemba Walker. I just feel it.
After an up-and-down rookie season on one of the worst teams ever, he raised his game and some eyebrows last year. He upped his field-goal percentage nearly six percent to a mildly respectable 42.3 percent while playing in every game for a second consecutive season.
The reality is that averages of 17.7 points, 5.7 assists and two steals would label him a budding star on a team with more spotlight. Unfortunately, he is playing in the equivalent to basketball purgatory.
Any chance Charlotte has of becoming something other than the laughingstock of the league starts and ends with its point guard. With the supposed name change coming up to bring back the Hornets era, it is important that the team rings in the new regime with a star.
Walker can be that star. It is hard to blame him for the state of the franchise when he had such a pathetic cast of characters around him. Now, with legitimate low-block presence Al Jefferson and the energy of No. 4 pick Cody Zeller, the Bobcats will be markedly better.
Jefferson and Zeller will definitely not be the modern-day Tim Duncan and David Robinson duo, but anything is an upgrade from the Bismack Biyombo and Josh McRoberts' front line of last year. The two of them along with a hopefully improved Michael Kidd-Gilchrist should finally have this team on its way up.
That UConn Kemba who brought home a national championship is still alive and well. With some competitive bodies around him, his game will surely be elevated. His third season will be his coming-out party.
Last year's postseason was a sign of things to come from Jimmy Butler.
After playing admirable defense on LeBron James in last year's playoffs for a team on their last legs due injuries, Butler became a fan favorite and somewhat of a household name. This year, his production will grow to justify all the love that has been bestowed upon him.
In the series with Miami, Butler played all 48 minutes in three of the five games in the conference semifinals. He and Nate Robinson were willing this team to win on both ends of the floor, and it was a joy to watch.
Butler has developed a reputation for being a "three-and-D" guy. Alongside a hopefully healthy Derrick Rose this season, he will have plenty of opportunities to run wild with one of the league's best point guards. He will not only have open threes to shoot but plenty of chances to get out on the break with Rose.
Chicago has been searching for a shooting guard to pair with its superstar for a while now. They have now found that guy, and Butler is primed to solidify himself as a nasty two-way player in this league.
Here's a couple of factoids for all you stat lovers out there. Dion Waiters shot 42 percent during the first half of games last season. During the second half, that number decreased to 39 percent.
He also shot 45 percent during the first six minutes of quarters as opposed to 34 percent with less than three minutes to go in a quarter. All these numbers come via BasketballReference.com.
These stats say one thing to me: rookie wall.
Waiters didn't play huge minutes during his two seasons at Syracuse. After Cleveland shocked many by taking him fourth overall in last year's draft, he had some big expectations.
Kyrie Irving's backcourt running mate mostly lived up to the billing last year. He averaged 14.7 points at just 21 years of age, but is he ready to be a star?
To that question, Waiters has but one thing to say, according to Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated: "I'm ready."
The 203 three-pointers were too many for him last season. He canned just 31 percent of them.
For the time being, he needs to continue to do what he does best and be more of a slasher. He was too willing to settle for low-percentage jumpers last year when he has the ability to break things down off the dribble with the best of them.
If Waiters works on his jumper a little more, it will be a big weapon for him. Even without it, he was able to have a nice rookie campaign. Now with a hopefully resurgent Andrew Bynum, Waiters will have even more room to operate.
It might not be long before he and Irving are mentioned amongst the most dynamic backcourts in the NBA.
It was refreshing to see Brandan Wright on the court for 64 games last season after the crazy amount of injuries he has endured since being a top-10 pick in the 2007 draft.
His per-36 numbers last year were that of a dominant NBA center. He put up 17 points, eight rebounds and 2.4 blocks per-36 minutes, though his problem has always been staying healthy enough to warrant those kind of minutes.
That is the next step in his development. After two mostly healthy seasons in Dallas, Wright is ready to take the next step. He elevated his game in the second half last season once he was given more minutes, averaging 10 points and five rebounds after the break.
Wright's unreal length and athleticism present him with the ability to be an elite-level shot-blocker and finisher in this game. He has a career field-goal percentage of 57 percent and is a candidate to ease the Mavs' still throbbing pain left by the departed Tyson Chandler.
Dallas is a team very much in limbo. The Mavs are thin at center, which leaves Wright every opportunity to grab the starting spot and run with it.
As long as he can stay on the court, he will continue to gain more trust within the organization. He stands to see an uptick in production on both ends of the court on a team that is desperate for it.
It's very simple. Denver no longer has Corey Brewer and Andre Iguodala on the team. Danilo Gallinari will more than likely not be ready for the start of the season after tearing his ACL late last year.
The Nuggets' offseason pickups were Darrell Arthur, Nate Robinson and J.J. Hickson. Nothing was done to address the holes left on the wing, so the replacements will have to come in-house.
First in line is Evan Fournier. He alleviated some of the pain in Gallinari's absence by averaging 11.5 points, three assists and 1.4 assists in limited minutes last April. Now with a bigger opportunity, the second-year guard will be ready to break out.
He will have to shoulder a much bigger load along with fellow breakout candidate Jordan Hamilton if this team is to repeat as a top-four seed in the West. Many other teams have reloaded and improved immensely, whereas Denver appeared to make only minor adjustments after losing two huge players in the rotation.
The Nuggets almost need Fournier to break out. We know he can hit the long ball; he knocked down an impressive 41 percent last season. Without Iguodala, the main thing they will miss is his all-around game. Fournier is more than capable of assuming larger playmaking abilities to go along with his lethal jumper.
Keep an eye on the Frenchman this season. He wasn't drafted 20th overall for no reason. Now is the time for Denver to let him loose.
Andrew Drummond was a straight-up beast last season. His per-36 numbers were off the charts at 14 points, 13.2 boards, 2.8 blocks and 1.7 steals a night. He also shot 61 percent from the field.
The only problem was his abysmal 37 percent free-throw shooting. That has to creep up to a more respectable number in order for him to have a chance of actually seeing 36 minutes every night.
If he can get that up to at least around Dwight Howard territory of about 50 percent, it will improve his confidence around the rim. Drummond is such a monster, but if teams are able to bail themselves out by sending him to the line, he is doing his team a disservice.
In this past summer league, he looked like he was playing amongst sixth graders. He did so well that Detroit sent him home to spare the other teams the embarrassment of getting slammed on repeatedly.
The craziest part? He was still the youngest player in the entire Las Vegas summer league.
With Josh Smith now in town along with an apparently less selfish Brandon Jennings lobbying to bring Lob City to Detroit, this team could be scary good. Jennings, Smith and star power forward Greg Monroe are all good passers at their positions, which is nothing but great news for Drummond.
As for being the new Lob City, hasn't Brandon Knight suffered enough without having to worry about getting humiliated again when he makes his return to The Palace with the Bucks?
I can't be the only one who was a little sad to see the Dubs scoop up Andre Iguodala in free agency because he will most likely be taking Harrison Barnes' starting spot.
Barnes established himself as a rising star as a rookie last season. Now as the likely sixth man with Jarrett Jack leaving for Cleveland, we must look at the bright side. Coming off the bench, Barnes will be able to focus on scoring, which is his forte.
At just 21, he had a lot thrown at him quickly last year. With Iguodala taking some pressure off him, he might have a shot at winning Sixth Man of the Year. Golden State's second unit is not strong, so he will have plenty of opportunities to come in and light up the scoreboard like a Christmas tree.
His aggressiveness last season was a welcome surprise after he looked rather passive at times during his tenure in North Carolina. That may have resulted in him falling to the Warriors at the No. 7 spot in the draft in the first place.
His dominant showing in the postseason was all we needed to see. He is going to be a huge threat in this league for a long time. This season will be a big step forward for him.
The stars are aligned in Houston with Dwight Howard and James Harden ready to take the league by storm. Chandler Parsons and Jeremy Lin have already announced their arrivals in this league.
The only spot on the floor aching for a breakout performance on Houston is power forward. Terrence Jones seems to be the one ready to make that jump.
He had a productive career at Kentucky under John Calipari. He was one of three first-rounders taken by Houston in the 2012 draft alongside Jeremy Lamb and Royce White, who have both moved on from the organization.
He has little competition in his way to take the starting spot. With his diverse skill set, he will be a perfect complement alongside Howard and Parsons on the front line.
Lance Stephenson had his fair share of moments in last year's postseason. He gave a real prequel to what kind of player he can be, rising to the occasion on the national spotlight.
Of course, the fragile Danny Granger will be back in the fold next season. How that affects Stephenson remains to be seen, but last year, he made it well known that he will not be taking a back seat to anybody, even the former All-Star.
He is an absolute menace on the defensive end already, but where he stands to improve is on the other side of the ball.
He has the ability to be a solid offensive player. He may never score 20 points per game, but with his already incredible defense, if he can get that scoring up to around 14-15 a night, he will be immeasurably valuable to Indiana.
Paul George came into his own playing Granger's small forward spot this season. The Pacers may be better suited to have Granger relegated to a sixth man role so Stephenson and George can continue to grow as the future of this franchise on the perimeter.
If the volatile swingman can correct his shot selection just a bit and get a better feel for the game—by knowing when to go 100 miles per hour and when to tone it down—he can be a special player.
DJ has been in the league for five years, but he still has so much more room to improve.
Last season, he improved in certain areas and regressed in others. For one, his foul shooting dipped from a somewhat manageable 53 percent down to a laughable 39 percent.
He is not the most versatile scorer, but his foul shooting was such a liability last season that he missed out on a lot of court time. Los Angeles could not afford to have him on the court during fourth quarters, so despite the $11 million he made last season, he saw just 24 minutes per game.
His scoring has increased each season in the league. At just age 25, he has to earn more minutes on the court so he can establish himself as one of the most intimidating paint presences. He has the ability to be an elite-level defender, rebounder and finisher at the rim.
On a team devoid of green players, I'm banking on Jordan improving even more next season. He is the only true center on the roster besides maybe Ryan Hollins. The Clippers need him to break out a little more next season for them to reach their sky-high potential.
The Lakers have set themselves up for the most uncertain season in franchise history.
After last year's superteam crumbled to the ground, the guys who are left have to pick them up off the ground. With Kobe's torn Achilles and a questionable timetable for his return, the bar has been lowered significantly.
Most importantly of all, there is now a Dwight Howard-sized gaping hole in this lineup for Jordan Hill to fill.
This team is going nowhere fast with Chris Kaman at the 5. He has also seen under 30 minutes a game for three consecutive seasons and has done little to warrant any more than that.
The uber-talented Pau Gasol and the crazy athletic Hill can work together perfectly. Hill is a former top-10 pick who has not been on a team that was ready to let him show the world what he's got. The Lakers are now in that position with a middling talent level and so many question marks.
Gasol and Steve Nash can and will help Hill get over the hump. His career per-36 minute numbers are strong at 14 points and 11 rebounds a game. Last season, he was even better than that. There is no reason why coach Mike D'Antoni can't utilize him next season to help him max out his potential.
Hill is the perfect breakout candidate on this team. If all of the outside variables such as D'Antoni's faith in him and Kaman's limited upside fall into place, Hill could be poised to make fans forget about Howard more quickly than expected.
It's arguable that Memphis fell just short of the NBA Finals because they lacked any sort of perimeter threats on the offensive end. Tayshaun Prince and Tony Allen were good enough to get the the Grizzlies on the brink of the finals, but they lacked the punch to get them over the top.
The only semblance of offensive firepower on the wing comes from Quincy Pondexter. In the postseason, that became even more apparent as his minutes increased since he was the only way to draw attention off of Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
He averaged 15 points per game in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. Pondexter was one of the biggest reasons why three of the four games in the series were even close.
Now that it is clear how stagnant the offense can be with both Prince and Allen on the court together, the cards are aligned for Pondexter to break out next season. The sixth man role is something he could grow into, which would give this team an added dimension in the area where it is most lacking.
Memphis did not make any big moves to address this deficiency during the offseason, so the improvements will have to come from in-house sources. No one is better suited to tackle the perimeter scoring problem than Pondexter.
On an established team like the back-to-back champion Miami Heat, there is almost no opportunity for any new or existing players to break out and take the next step in their careers.
If anyone has a chance to make a big improvement, it is Norris Cole.
Mario Chalmers has been holding onto the starting job with inconsistent and underwhelming play. We all know LeBron and Wade run the show and Chalmers is more of a "three-and-D" type of player. Since it has worked, there is little sense in Miami disrupting the dynamic in place.
Cole was an outrageous all-around player in college, averaging 20-5-5 during his senior season. You can tell when he is on the court how much confidence he has and how much more of a dynamic presence he is over Chalmers.
While he may not be able to wrest away the starting job from Chalmers, it's not like he won't see playing time. He and Chalmers split most of the minutes at the point, so his time to shine is alive and well.
In Year 3, it would not be surprising to see him become a much bigger threat off the bench. The only big departure from the Heat has been Mike Miller, so Cole will have to carve out his own niche on the squad.
Brandon Knight was a close second for this spot due to his more certain slot in the starting lineup, but John Henson has more upside.
In the last five games of last season when Henson finally got big minutes, he averaged 15 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks, including this jaw-dropping 17-point, 25-rebound and seven-block performance against the Orlando Magic.
Milwaukee has a puzzling amount of money committed to average front-line players in Ersan Ilyasova and the newly acquired Zaza Pachulia. Despite that, talent should outweigh contractual obligations. Larry Sanders and John Henson have the potential to be in the top tier of defensive frontcourts in all of basketball.
The Bucks didn't bestow a bunch of responsibility or minutes on the rookie last season, but when he did get his minutes, he made the most of them. Henson deserves to be a much bigger part of the rotation this season.
His late-season performance should have Bucks fans salivating. He is a big breakout candidate with enormous potential. Keep an eye on this one.
This could be a make-or-break year for Derrick Williams. In Year 3, he has to continue to improve to ensure that Minnesota picks up his $6.3 million option for next season.
"D-Will" put up some nice numbers in Kevin Love's absence last year, but now he has to prove that he can coexist with the All-Star.
The good news for him is that Flip Saunders is now back running the show in Minneapolis, and the coach intends to use the athletic former Arizona Wildcat at both forward spots this year, according to Phil Ervin of Fox Sports.
Williams was drafted to be a small forward, but that has not come to fruition yet. In his rookie season, he wasn't in ideal shape to play the 3, and last season, Love's injury left the team with little option other than to slide D-Will down to the 4.
Continuing to cut weight and get quicker, the former No. 2 overall pick will break out on the perimeter this season. His long-distance shooting increased seven percent last season to a respectable 33 percent, and he looked more confident and quicker with his decisions on the perimeter.
In the beginning, Williams struggled to win the trust of coach Rick Adelman. Now, without Andrei Kirilenko in the fold, there is a spot for him to step up. We all know he is the most talented option at that spot; now he just has to grab hold of that spot and not let go.
That's right, the unibrow will be on full display this season.
After Anthony Davis got past his brief stint of injuries during the early part of last season, he started flashing the potential that we saw at Kentucky. Unfortunately, very little of it was seen by the masses, since New Orleans played with little national spotlight.
The team has made some huge acquisitions with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans to help usher in the Pelicans era. Both of those gentlemen will assist in turning the 20-year-old into the superstar he will eventually become.
Davis averaged over 15 points and nine rebounds after the All-Star break last season and showed a more diverse offensive game than John Calipari allowed from him during his one national championship season at Kentucky.
New Orleans' backcourt will be improved hands down, but the front-court depth takes a big hit without Robin Lopez in town anymore. All the stars are aligned for Davis to become a star as early as this year.
Call me pessimistic, but I see the wheels on the J.R. Smith bandwagon starting to go flat.
His recent suspension will only be for five games, but beyond that, I just don't see everything going so smoothly for him next season. The year he had last season was far beyond anything he's ever done, and if he is capable of doing it again, I'd be surprised.
Smith developed steam early last season before Iman Shumpert came back from his torn ACL. Once he returned, Shumpert showed flashes of the player he was during his rookie year, but clearly he wasn't the same.
It normally takes guys a full year to recover after an ACL tear. Not everyone can be Adrian Peterson. With a full offseason to devote to getting better instead of rehabbing, Shumpert will blow up next year.
The biggest positive development for him last year was the 40 percent three-point shooting he showed off. If he can pair that with his dynamic defense and playmaking ability, his third season will be a great one in New York.
With Kevin Martin leaving for Minnesota, Jeremy Lamb and rookie Steven Adams are all that the Thunder have to show for the James Harden trade.
Before even stepping on the court, the two of them will be held to that standard. Lamb especially will see some added pressure this season as he showed very little during his rookie season as a 12th overall pick. Granted, he rarely saw minutes and was not needed with Martin in town.
He will have his shot this year, and he will make the most of it. Lamb is a lanky scorer much like Martin was. He has a nasty jumper and a solid all-around game that should fit well in OKC.
The Thunder need him and Reggie Jackson to step up and fill the void on the perimeter. Lamb has a higher ceiling than Jackson, and this will be the first year that we see that.
With a year out of the spotlight, it is quick to forget just how good Lamb was and what made him such a high draft pick. After soaking up some knowledge on the bench last year, he is primed to break out this season.
Any die-hard Orlando Magic fans who stuck through last season's disastrous showing in Year 1 A.D. (after Dwight) were rewarded when Tobias Harris unceremoniously came to town in the J.J. Redick trade.
It's difficult to even put into words just how outstanding Harris was toward the end of last season. His stat line with Orlando speaks for itself: 17.1 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 1.4 blocks and 0.9 steals per game.
The only question is, can he repeat his performance over the course of an entire season with guys like Jason Maxiell and Hedo Turkoglu entering the equation? Regardless, they should prove to be inconsequential. Orlando management has to know that it uncovered a diamond in the rough by acquiring Harris.
If I'm a Magic fan, this upcoming season has me excited to see what Harris can do alongside Victor Oladipo.
Everyone involved has to be realistic with the current state of the franchise. Arron Afflalo, Jameer Nelson and the other veterans on the roster are taking this team nowhere fast. The keys must be handed over to Oladipo, Nikola Vucevic, Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson, with Harris running the show.
The Magic have assembled an enormously talented roster behind a potential superstar in Harris.
That's right—I said superstar.
This slide would have been Royce White, but no one knows if he'll ever find his way onto a basketball court.
Evan Turner made big strides last season in his first year without Andre Iguodala running the show. Now, he almost becomes even more of a breakout candidate by default.
He is still just scratching the surface of his potential, but this roster is so devoid of established talent that for the time being, he will be the first, second and third options on offense.
First-rounders Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel have big question marks heading into the season, which leaves Turner and Thaddeus Young to shoulder a lot of weight.
Turner will be up for the task. He may not bring a bunch of wins to Philly, which is fine seeing as how they seem to be all in for Wiggins, but E.T. is going to put up huge numbers.
Fans have been waiting on a Bledsoe breakout since he came into the league. He just needed the opportunity.
He now has that after his trade to Phoenix. There are question marks as to how he and Goran Dragic can coexist in the same backcourt, but Bledsoe's elite athleticism should ease the pain.
I don't think the average fan realizes how outrageous it is for a backup point guard to average nearly one block per game. Bledsoe does exactly that. He made strides last year with his outside shot, canning just under 40 percent from downtown while increasing his overall field-goal percentage to 45 percent.
Bledsoe is a jaw-dropping athlete whom Phoenix is lucky to have. The Suns didn't give up a ton to get him and should be applauded for making such a deal. He now becomes a building block for their rebuilding process and should prove to be a great one in a short amount of time.
Dragic is a good point guard to pair with him. He is unselfish, and his weaknesses are Bledsoe's strengths. If Bledsoe will see big minutes at shooting guard, he will have to use his athleticism to make up for his lack of height.
Phoenix doesn't project to win much this season, but Bledsoe will bring a lot of smiles to fans. They now have a guy who will steer the Suns back on the right track.
I wanted to put Thomas Robinson here, but unless LaMarcus Aldridge gets traded, it is not in the cards right now.
Robin Lopez may be the new starting center, but Meyers Leonard will force his hand and be breathing down his neck. He put up some sneaky good numbers last season and played well down the stretch.
His fantastic athleticism enables him to finish well around the rim, as evidenced by his 55 percent shooting. However, that is not his only weapon. He has an awkward looking jumper that goes in with stunning regularity. He hit 39 percent of his shots from outside of 10 feet, which was higher than both James Harden and Paul George.
In other words, Leonard hit a higher percentage of jumpers as a 21-year-old rookie center than two established superstar shooting guards.
He has some work to do on defense, but he proved to be slightly less raw on the offensive end than most thought heading into his rookie season. Without J.J. Hickson, Portland will need Leonard to step up on that end of the court as well.
This will be the season that Leonard makes his presence felt. He is too talented to keep off the court for Portland.
DeMarcus Cousins can be as good as he wants to be. There might not be another big man in the league with his raw skills.
After three seasons, we've seen that there isn't much that he can't do on a basketball court. He has made the conscious effort to work on his body, and it has paid off. Unfortunately, his problem still remains between the ears.
Under new ownership, let's hope this wayward franchise finally has a vision. Keeping Cousins happy and in a good mental state should be the biggest priority. If the Kings can do that, this could be the year he explodes.
Their past regime's handling of Tyreke Evans was disconcerting and can mean nothing but good things for Cousins. Evans won Rookie of the Year with a historic 20-5-5 rookie campaign, only to see the coaching staff shift him around from point guard to shooting guard to small forward.
It reached a point where they had no idea what to do anymore and had to just let him walk. The Kings now start fresh with supremely athletic rookie Ben McLemore.
McLemore is a better complement to Cousins. DMC is a great passer and will have an unbelievable shooter to look for when he sees double-teams.
Additionally, Cousins has a pass-first point guard at his disposal for the first time in his career in Greivis Vasquez. Isaiah Thomas is nothing more than a glorified Nate Robinson, and having him in the starting lineup the past two seasons did done nothing for Cousins' development.
With better pieces and a more positive environment around him, we should see the best of Cousins this season.
The fact that I'm not considering last season to be his breakout is a testament to just how good Kawhi Leonard can be.
More often than not, he was the best player on the court in the NBA Finals for the Spurs last season. He averaged 15 points, 11 rebounds and two steals on 51 percent shooting without having a single sub-par performance. From start to finish, he was a dominant force on both ends at the ripe age of 21.
It is hard to see Tim Duncan, Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili improving heading into next season. They are all on the wrong side of 30. This franchise is going to go through a transition period soon, and Leonard is looking like he can be San Antonio's next star.
The 12 points and six rebounds he averaged in his second season were very good, but he can do even better. If the NBA Finals were any indication, get ready for a huge year from Leonard.
With the offensive black hole Andrea Bargnani leaving Toronto, the next wave of young talent will have much more room to shine.
Former No. 5 pick Jonas Valanciunas started 59 games for the Raptors last year and did not disappoint. The coaching staff did a good job throwing him right into the fire as a rookie, and he responded well.
Much like many other players on this list, the Lithuanian center had a big second half of the season. He shot 59 percent after the All-Star break last year highlighted by 15 points per game in April. It was clear he was becoming more confident and built up some big expectations for the coming year.
His stay in the summer league was purely dominating. He brought home Summer League MVP for his efforts.
One of the best things about him is his 79 percent foul shooting as a 21-year-old center. That eliminates any chance of him being pulled late in games due to being a liability. He only stands to get better, but his all-around ability is incredible. He is poised for a monster sophomore campaign.
Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap are long gone, and so are the desperate attempts to snatch the eighth seed in the West.
Utah is in full rebuilding mode, and no team in the league has two young big men to build around with the talent level of Enes Kanter and Derrick Favors. Kanter had a great year in limited minutes last season after turning into the Incredible Hulk following his rookie season.
In a year or two, this duo should be as good if not better than Jefferson and Millsap ever were for Utah. Kanter had an astounding 14.5 percent offensive rebound percentage while he was on the court last season. Per 36 minutes, he and Favors were both better rebounders than Millsap and Jefferson were.
By stepping into the starting lineup, Kanter will get to show off even more of his offensive game. He doesn't have the elite defensive potential that Favors does, but Favors also does not possess the feathery touch around the rim and smooth jump shot that Kanter has. For those reasons, the two will work wonders together.
Kanter has been slept on after two seasons on the bench. The former No. 3 pick is all ready to go this season, and Utah will be glad it didn't toss barrels of money at its two former big men.
Washington has set itself up for a bright future with John Wall and Bradley Beal in the backcourt for years to come. Unfortunately, the two both underwent injuries last season, which prevented them from getting much time to share the court together.
This year, the two will thrive alongside each another. Beal justified his No. 3 draft selection during his rookie year with 13 points, four rebounds and 39 percent three-point shooting.
There is no doubt playing with Wall will make him better. Fellow third overall pick Otto Porter will also take some pressure off him at small forward. All three are good passers and have this team moving in the right direction.
It's hard to believe Beal is just 20 years old since his game is so mature. His shot selection and defense could stand to improve, but again, he is barely out of his teens.
With a full season alongside Wall, Beal will break out this year. Look for him to be a good 16-17-point-per-game scorer in Year 2.