Predicting 1 Player on Every NBA Team That Will Break Out Next Season
Becoming a breakout star in the NBA can be as simple as being in the right place at the right time, as that moment when talent and opportunity cross paths can turn a virtual unknown into a household name.
A prime example of this is Indiana's Paul George. A lottery pick in 2010, George always had the talent to be a star. However, it was the absence of forward Danny Granger that opened the door for George's career-year last season.
The Fresno State product averaged career-highs in points (17.4 per game), rebounds (7.6) and assists (4.1) on his way to nabbing the NBA's Most Improved Player Award. As the Pacers' new alpha dog, he was a Game 7-win over Miami away from a trip to the NBA Finals.
Sometimes, a player can emerge by finally putting everything together. Washington's John Wall was a former No. 1 overall pick that had yet to make "the leap." After missing the first few months of the season with a knee injury, Wall had a strong second half and finished with an average of 18.5 points and 7.6 assists a night.
Forecasting who this year's Paul George or John Wall might be requires a look at which players are in the best position to have a career-year.
It could be another player who is sitting behind an injury-prone starter that's anxiously waiting for his turn. It could also be a young player looking to take advantage of a bump in minutes. It may be a rookie in a good position to take charge on a fledgling team. And perhaps, it could also be a downtrodden talent who is looking to capitalize in his make-or-break year.
Whether the guys on this list live up to their breakout potential won't be known until around this time next year. For now, though, here is a candidate from each team that has a good chance at having a big year in 2013-14.
Atlanta Hawks: SG John Jenkins
John Jenkins was drafted a year ago with the idea that he would fill the void left by Joe Johnson's departure. Last season, Atlanta went with a variety of options to replace their franchise two-guard.
Veteran DeShawn Stevenson notched 31 starts. Kyle Korver also saw some time at the 2, as did free-agent acquisition Lou Williams.
This time around, Stevenson is gone, and Korver will start at small forward. As for Williams, he's still rehabbing from surgery to repair a torn ACL.
That leaves the door open for Jenkins to break out as Jeff Teague's backcourt mate. Rotoworld has the Vanderbilt product penciled in as the starter, and he can keep Williams on the bench after his return if he can play like he did in the Summer League.
Jenkins averaged 18.0 points per game in Las Vegas this summer. Heralded as a three-point marksman coming out of college, he didn't shoot the deep ball particularly well in Sin City. He did, however, convert 38 percent of his attempts from behind the arc last season.
With the Hawks once again in transition following the loss of Josh Smith, Jenkins can emerge as a key component on a rebuilding team. If he can live up to reputation as a shooter, Atlanta will have themselves a new franchise shooting guard.
Boston Celtics: PF/C Kelly Olynyk
A new age of Boston Celtics basketball is upon us.
One of the intriguing rookies to watch is big man Kelly Olynyk. The talented seven-footer was a First Team All-American and WCC Player of the Year winner at Gonzaga. He averaged 17.5 points and 7.3 rebounds a game for the Bulldogs last season.
The key to the floppy-haired rookie's game is versatility. He can play power forward or center and has the scoring acumen to put up points, either in the paint or from the outside. Olynyk was a career 36 percent shooter from behind the arc at Gonzaga.
With KG now in Brooklyn and last year's rookie Jared Sullinger coming off a back injury, the skids are greased for Olynyk to see significant playing time. He averaged 18.0 points and 7.8 rebounds a game during his time at the Summer League this summer.
He doesn't offer much on the defensive end, but Boston need his offense in the frontcourt. With a sheer lack of proven commodities on the Celtics roster, Olynyk could emerge as a sleeper pick for Rookie of the Year.
Brooklyn Nets: PG Shaun Livingston
It is tough to choose a breakout candidate on a Brooklyn Nets team with so many proven veterans, as you would be hard-pressed to find too many names you haven't heard of on this roster.
However, if forced to take a chance on a young guy who could emerge, point guard Shaun Livingston is an intriguing pick.
As the chief backup to Deron Williams on a team coached by one of the greatest point guards ever in Jason Kidd, Livingston could finally piece together what is left of his floundering career. The No. 4 overall pick of the 2004 NBA Draft has bounced around the league the last few years.
Brooklyn will be his eighth different team since his stint with the Clippers was cut short by a gruesome knee injury in 2007. Still, the pride of Peoria Central High is only 28 years old.
He doesn't have much of a jump shot (career 20 percent three-point shooter), but he has elite size for a point guard at 6'7" to go along with good court vision. Plus, he is bound to make some plays with such a talented supporting cast around him.
Livingston will never be what he was expected to be coming out of high school but, with Kidd and D-Will's guidance, he could surprise some people as a solid role player on a team that is expected to be really good this year.
Charlotte Bobcats: SF Michael Kidd-Gilchrist
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist didn't have the kind of impact as a rookie on the Charlotte Bobcats last season that you would hope to get from a No. 2 overall pick. He averaged 9.0 points and just 5.8 rebounds per game as a rookie last season.
He also didn't shoot the ball particularly well. He converted just 22 percent of his three-point attempts (although he only took nine shots from deep). He also shot a putrid 28 percent from between 3-10 feet, as well as an equally horrid 14 percent in the 10-16 foot range.
To help out the former Kentucky star's lack of touch, the Bobcats hired Mark Price to work on shooting. Also, according to Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer, head coach Steve Clifford said he will also give the second-year man some minutes at power forward.
Kidd-Gilchrist's game will always be predicated on hustle, athleticism and an attention to defense. Any improvement in his shooting touch would be nice, but he's going to be at his best on the break and in transition.
As bad as he was last year, it is important to remember that MKG is still only 19 (he will be 20 next week), and there's still plenty of room for him to grow. The extra time at power forward will give him more scoring opportunities around the rim, and it will also give the team another defender inside.
After a terrible debut, there's nowhere to go but up. With time and improvement in his jumper, Kidd-Gilchrist could become the second coming of Gerald Wallace: a high-energy player that puts up numbers all over the stat sheet.
Chicago Bulls: SG Jimmy Butler
Some Bulls fans may tell you that Jimmy Butler already broke out last season, as the Marquette star filled in admirably for Luol Deng at small forward and provided quality minutes at shooting guard as well.
In the playoffs, he averaged 13.3 points per game, which was up from the 8.6 he contributed in the regular season. He also shot a ridiculous 40 percent from three in the postseason.
This year, Butler will take over the starting shooting guard spot, playing alongside Deng and a returning Derrick Rose. With increased playing time, the opportunity is there for him to build upon the promise he showed in the playoffs.
He has good size at 6'7" and is an excellent shooter. He also has the athleticism to be a factor when he attacks the basket. However, most of his opponents are going to shift the majority of their focus to stopping Butler's more popular teammates.
As much potential as he's shown in the past, he's still the fifth most recognizable name in the team's starting rotation, but playing under the radar will certainly work to Butler's advantage. If you're looking for a top contender to win Most Improved Player honors, it's this guy right here.
Cleveland Cavaliers: PF Tristan Thompson
All things considered, Tristan Thompson had a modest second season last year. He nearly averaged a double-double per game (11.7 points and 9.4 rebounds) in his first full year as a starter.
This year, he will be better.
For starters, Cleveland, as a whole, improved mightily over the summer. The 6'10" Earl Clark gives the team a versatile forward that can be productive in the paint or on the perimeter. No. 1 overall pick Anthony Bennett is an explosive forward that also can make an impact from anywhere on the floor. More importantly, the presence of Andrew Bynum (when he's physically ready to play) gives the Cavs one of the best centers in the league.
All of those bodies inside will take pressure off an athletic forward like Thompson.
At only 22 years old, the former Longhorn's game is still improving. He's at his best playing above the rim, but he also has a sneaky jumper that he can unleash from outside the paint. He shot nearly 39 percent from between 10 and 16 feet last season.
Developing the mid-range game will come in handy with Bynum drawing attention in the paint. If he can improve on the defensive side of the ball, he can become one of the best young power forwards in the league.
As it stands right now, he's an athletic big man on a team that suddenly has a lot of weapons.
Dallas Mavericks: SF Jae Crowder
This one is going to take a bit of luck.
According to ESPN's depth chart, Jae Crowder currently sits behind proven veterans Shawn Marion and Vince Carter on the Mavs' small forward pecking order. However, Marion is 35 years old and Carter will be 37 in January, and both men are a shell of what they once were.
With Dallas' playoff hopes being murky in a deep Western Conference, it may be wise for the Mavericks to utilize some of their younger bodies.
That's where Crowder comes in.
The Marquette product is well-built at 6'6" and 235 pounds. He has the kind of body that can take punishment when attacking the basket. He didn't get a ton of playing time last season, but he showed flashes of being solid down the road.
It will take an injury or a trade of Marion or Carter (or both) for Crowder to really emerge, but a Mavericks fire sale isn't completely out of the question. Crowder has the talent to be a sneaky good small forward. He just needs the opportunity to show off what he can do.
Denver Nuggets: SG Evan Fournier
Evan Fournier is the perfect example of a young guy poised to break out. He flew under the radar for most of last season but had some good games down the stretch. He dropped 19 points on Brooklyn on March 29 in his first game with significant minutes.
A couple weeks later, he exploded for 24 points on 8-for-12 shooting (3-for-5 from three) against Portland on April 24. With Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer on the roster, though, there wasn't much playing time left for Fournier.
Now, Iguodala is in Golden State and Brewer is back in Minnesota. The only person standing in the 20-year-old Frenchman's way is veteran Randy Foye. Much like Atlanta's John Jenkins, Fournier is an accomplished shooter that will benefit from increased minutes. He shot nearly 41 percent from behind the arc last year, while logging an average of just under 12 minutes a game.
Even though Foye is listed as the starter on Rotoworld's depth chart, it will only be a matter of time before Fournier takes over. He's younger and his size advantage over Foye makes him a better fit playing next to diminutive point guard Ty Lawson.
Regardless of whether he starts or not, Fournier is going to see significant playing time. That means his days of flying under the radar are over, and his chances of becoming the latest Nugget to break out have increased exponentially.
Detroit Pistons: C Andre Drummond
One of last season's biggest travesties was the lack of playing time given to then-rookie big man Andre Drummond. As a still very raw 19-year-old, the Pistons opted to bring the No. 9 overall pick along slowly.
The result was an average of just under 21 minutes per game. In exchange, the enigma out of UConn posted 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per contest with a PER of 21.69. The case can be made that, had he played starter's minutes, Drummond could have given Damian Lillard a run for Rookie of the Year honors.
This year, the hope is that head coach Mo Cheeks will take the kid gloves off of his prized center. With the additions of forward Josh Smith and point guard Brandon Jennings this offseason, Detroit has thrusted themselves into win-now mode.
That kind of transition can go either way for Drummond. They could still opt to keep him on a pitch count while giving a bulk of the minutes to more proven commodities like Smith and Greg Monroe. The other option is giving him the starting center spot alongside Smith and Monroe and unleashing the talented big man in his second season.
If the Pistons decide on the latter, look out.
Drummond has the size, athleticism and explosiveness to immediately become one of the league's best centers. His production last season in reduced playing time was just the tip of the iceberg. If Detroit chooses to increase his minutes, they will have an interior force on both ends of the court.
Consider yourselves warned.
Golden State Warriors: SF Harrison Barnes
Harrison Barnes has been through quite the roller coaster ride over the last two years.
He entered the start of his sophomore season at North Carolina as the potential No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NBA Draft. Then, a subpar performance in the NCAA tournament combined with the emergence of other prospects allowed Barnes to slide to Golden State at No. 7 overall.
After a ho-hum regular season as rookie last season, he stepped it up in the playoffs by raising his scoring average from 9.2 points per game to 16.1.
Despite that impressive showing, the Warriors still opted to sign Andre Iguodala this offseason and relegate Barnes to a key reserve role.
However, despite Iggy's presence, all is not lost for the former Tarheel. As the team's new sixth man, Barnes will lead the scoring attack off of the bench. Instead of fighting Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and David Lee for touches, he will be the go-to guy on the second unit.
When the starters need a breather, Barnes can be the team's spark plug. The offense will flow through him, and he will have a greater opportunity to showcase his skills. It may not be as flashy as being a starter, but it is still a chance for him to establish himself on a team with a bright future.
Barnes is still only 21 years old. He still has to learn how create his own shot, but his production in last year's playoffs is proof that he can be a force for years to come.
Houston Rockets: PF Terrence Jones
Terrence Jones could be the answer to the Houston Rockets' power forward woes. He came on strong in the closing weeks of the regular season last year, and he has continued to improve over the offseason.
Jones averaged 15.8 points and 7.0 rebounds a night during his time in the Summer League. He also contributed over a block per game. The Rockets could use someone at the 4 that can be an asset on both ends of the court.
Further helping Jones' cause is his ability to shoot from the outside. He didn't show off his mid-range game much as a rookie, but he did manage to nail 36 percent of his attempts from three in Orlando. With Dwight Howard commanding the ball down low, it helps to have someone that can space the floor.
If he can wrestle the starting power forward spot away from former center Omer Asik, Jones could have a breakout year as the fourth or fifth option on a very good Rockets team. With so many big names on the roster, there is virtually no pressure on Jones' shoulders.
He may not develop into a star, but he could emerge as a solid role player that contributes 12-14 points a night while giving Howard room to roam around the basket.
Indiana Pacers: SG Lance Stephenson
This was a toss-up between Chris Copeland and Lance Stephenson.
As a big man that can shoot the three, Copeland could develop into a bigger factor with Indiana than he was with New York. The problem is that Copeland is coming off offseason knee surgery and still isn't 100 percent, according to Michael Pointer of The Indianapolis Star.
That leaves potential breakout duty in the capable hands of Stephenson. The 23-year-old saw increased minutes last season thanks to Danny Granger's troublesome knee. He really came into his own in the playoffs, averaging 9.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.2 steals a game.
Granger is expected back after missing nearly all of last season, but how much do you trust a 30-year-old to bounce back following significant knee surgery? It seems unrealistic to think Stephenson can have a Paul George-like breakout year, but he can definitely build upon the momentum from the postseason.
He's a solid defender on a team that prides itself on defense, and he's athletic enough to raise his scoring average a few points with increased opportunities. It will also help the Cincinnati product's chances if he can improve on his outside shot (career 30 percent three-point shooter).
Los Angeles Clippers: C DeAndre Jordan
I know what you're thinking, but bear with me here.
You could opt for Jared Dudley or J.J. Redick here, but those guys are finished products at this point. However, if there ever was a player in desperate need of having a breakout year, wouldn't it be Clippers center DeAndre Jordan?
Jordan failed to live up his big contract once again last season. He contributed 8.8 points, 7.2 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game for the hefty price of $10.5 million. He shot an awful 39 percent from the free throw line, and he shot an even more abysmal 22 percent from the charity stripe in the playoffs.
Despite being the team's best interior defender, Jordan didn't do a great job of protecting the rim. As a result of all of Jordan's shortcomings, the team shopped the 25-year-old all summer. Only commissioner David Stern's interference prevented Jordan from going to Boston in exchange for head coach Doc Rivers and forward Kevin Garnett.
Jordan must look at the failed attempts to move him as motivation. He's still young enough to be a factor, and he has a great motivator in new head coach Doc Rivers. He'll never be a 20-10 guy, but there's still hope that he can be a viable starting center on a championship contender.
With a new-found sense of mortality, immense physical tools and a head coach with a winning pedigree, there's still hope for the former Texas A&M product. If Doc Rivers can't bring the best out of DeAndre Jordan, then perhaps nobody can.
Los Angeles Lakers: C Jordan Hill
There are a number of reasons to like the prospects of Lakers big man Jordan Hill breaking out this season.
First, while listed as a backup at press time, per ESPN's depth chart, the man in front of him is Chris Kaman. Kaman is an adequate starting center, but he's played in more than five games just twice in the past five years.
Given Kaman's inability to stay healthy, the door will eventually open for Hill to man the middle for the Lakers. It also helps that Hill is a few years younger and a bit more athletic than Kaman, despite recovering from a bum hip.
Another reason to like Hill this year is his commitment to improving his outside shot. According to InsideSoCal.com's Mark Medina, Hill has been taking 1,000 jump shots a day in an attempt to become more versatile.
"I have a lot more confidence," Hill said. "I feel I'm a good shooter now".
Hill is a high-energy guy whose game is predicated on defense and crashing the boards. If he can add an outside shot as the latest wrinkle to his game, it will make him an attractive weapon in Mike D'Antoni's scheme.
As long as Hill doesn't fall so deep in love with his jumper that he abandons his prowess in the post, he should be one of L.A.'s pleasant surprises this season. With a diminished supporting cast, it is imperative that one of the role players steps up.
With a developing mid-range game to go with his effectiveness in the post, Jordan Hill has a good chance of being that guy.
Memphis Grizzlies: SF Quincy Pondexter
Quincy Pondexter had moments of brilliance in last year's postseason, especially in the Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. Pondexter upped his scoring output from 6.4 points per game in the regular season to 8.9 a night in the playoffs.
He also raised his three-point shooting percentage from 39 percent to 45 percent. He scored in double-digits in three out of four games against the Spurs, including a 22-point outburst in Game 4.
Those lasting impressions are enough to like Pondexter's chances of doing big things this season. The Grizzlies currently have the declining Tayshaun Prince as their starting small forward. Given how Pondexter played down the stretch and that he's eight years younger than Prince, it might be time for a changing of the guard (or, in this case, forward).
Pondexter doesn't shoot the trey enough to be considered a consistent threat, but he's good enough from the behind the arc to make opponents respect him. On a team that needs outside shooting, it would make sense to give the former Washington star the nod over Prince.
The team brought in Mike Miller to improve their scoring on the perimeter, but he has even less left in the tank than Prince does.
With increased minutes, Pondexter could develop into a solid third option behind Zach Randolph and Mike Conley. With the Grizz still looking to replace Rudy Gay's production, the best candidate to do so might already be on the roster.
Miami Heat: PG Mario Chalmers
It is tough to find a breakout candidate on the two-time NBA champion Miami Heat, because the presence of the "Big Three" seems to overshadow everyone else.
Chris Andersen emerged in the playoffs last season, but at 35 years old, it's a stretch to think he'll have a career resurgence. Also, Greg Oden hasn't played pro basketball since 2010 and is a long shot to make a dent on this team.
One possible choice is point guard Mario Chalmers. The shooter out of Kansas has had his moments, particularly in the playoffs. As a free agent next summer, he'll be playing for a new contract (either with Miami or elsewhere) this season, though, and he'll have plenty of open looks to benefit from.
It will take some monstrous performances for him to steal attention from the likes of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, but he has the skills to get himself noticed. He's a career 37 percent shooter from behind the arc. He's also been solid enough to start for a team that has made the finals in each of the last three years.
Chalmers needs to improve his assist numbers and attack the basket more to become a more complete guard. If he can do that, he could sneak up the point guard ranks a few notches.
Milwaukee Bucks: PG Brandon Knight
The Detroit Pistons gave up on point guard Brandon Knight too soon. Brandon Jennings may be a more proven commodity, but trading away a 21-year-old with this much upside is a tough sell.
Luckily for Knight, he landed on a Milwaukee Bucks team that isn't ripe with proven talent. Beyond the inconsistent O.J. Mayo and the fragile Caron Butler, there aren't many scorers on the roster.
That leaves Knight with the opportunity to emerge as an alpha dog on a rebuilding Bucks team. The former lottery pick out of Kentucky has a few things he needs to work on before taking that next step, though.
First, he has to learn to get others involved. Last year's 4.0 assists per game was a career-best, and that's not going to cut it. If he is going to keep it himself, he needs to attack the basket more, as a good starting point guard should average more than four free throw attempts a night.
Those are the negatives, but there are some positives as well.
Knight has good range on his jumper. He shot 38 percent from three as a rookie and just under 37 percent last season. He's also adequate defensively, holding opponents to 49 percent shooting, according to 82games.com.
The swap of Knight for Jennings was understandable, but it could still come back to haunt the Pistons. Knight is still very young and he has plenty of room to get better. On a Bucks team headed nowhere, there's very little pressure to carry the franchise.
If there's a young point guard capable of making a Jrue Holiday-type leap this season, it's Brandon Knight.
Minnesota Timberwolves: SF Chase Budinger
A bum knee robbed the world of seeing Chase Budinger play to his full potential in his Minnesota debut. He played in just 23 games last season and averaged 9.4 points per game, while shooting 41 percent from the floor and 32 percent from behind the arc.
Of course, that didn't stop the T'Wolves from giving the Arizona product a three-year, $16 million deal this summer to be their starting small forward. The team also protected themselves at the 3 by adding Kevin Martin, Corey Brewer and rookie Shabazz Muhammad.
When healthy, Budinger is a sneaky athletic slasher that can also make defenders pay if they sag off his jumper. He'll benefit from playing with a creative point guard in Ricky Rubio, who will put him in a position to make plays.
Mark Remme of Timberwolves.com tweeted that Budinger has participated in guard drills, and the hope is that he'll be ready for camp. If the knee woes are behind him, he will be a fun player to watch this season. He showed off some of his hops in the 2012 Slam Dunk Contest.
On a team with so many playmakers, we can expect more of the same from Budinger this year, if his body cooperates.
New Orleans Pelicans: PG Austin Rivers
Austin Rivers has nowhere to go but up, as he looks to rebound from a dreadful rookie season in which he averaged 6.2 points per game, shot 37 percent from the floor (including just under 33 percent from three) and posted a putrid PER of 5.95.
As a result, New Orleans stripped Rivers of his "point guard of the future" title and handed it to new acquisition Jrue Holiday. The team also opted to add Tyreke Evans, Anthony Morrow and Pierre Jackson (now in France) to an already-crowded backcourt.
That means last year's No. 10 overall pick is going to have to carve his way onto this team. If his performance in the Summer League is any indication, Rivers may do just that.
Rivers lit it up in Orlando to the tune of 18.2 points per game. While Summer League stats should always be taken with a grain of salt, keep in mind how poorly he played in the same venue last year.
Another thing to remember was that Rivers was starting to come along before breaking his hand in March. He was arguably the team's best defensive guard and was developing as a scorer.
Now, there are still things that need to be worked on. Rivers' outside shot still needs work after converting just 20 percent of his threes in Orlando (which is troubling for a good college shooter). He also averaged 2.6 turnovers a game, which evens out with his 2.6 assists.
Rivers did finish with a field-goal percentage of nearly 49 percent, so perhaps he will shy away from being a shooter and flourish as a slasher. The road to salvage his career is an uphill battle, but he's still only 21 years old.
On a young team that still needs to develop, Rivers will only get better. After all, he can't get any worse.
New York Knicks: SG Iman Shumpert
Iman Shumpert has all the physical tools to be an outstanding two-way guard. He's a good on-ball defender (as shown in this clip from his rookie year), and he's an impressive athlete that can finish at the rim.
He also can nail the occasional three, as he converted 40 percent of his attempts from behind the arc last season.
The problem is Shumpert's body has found ways to fail him. He sprained his MCL in his rookie debut on Christmas a couple years ago. Later that season, he tore his ACL in the playoffs. That injury lingered into this past season and held him to just 45 games.
This season, he appears to be healthy, and he'll get an early tryout as the Knicks' starting shooting guard. J.R. Smith is suspended for the first five games of the season, and rookie Tim Hardaway, Jr. is coming off a wrist injury.
If he can stay on the court and out of an infirmary (or a recording booth), he can be something special. The Knicks could use someone with the Shumpert's ability to stop the ball, and his shooting will help take pressure off Carmelo Anthony.
With Smith missing the first few games, Shumpert's offense will be more of a necessity. Whether he fends off Smith the rest of the year or comes off the bench, the kid out of Georgia Tech will be a huge factor, as long as his body stays intact.
Oklahoma City: PG Reggie Jackson
For the second year in a row, the Oklahoma City Thunder are looking for a new spark plug off of the bench. Last year, they replaced James Harden with veteran Kevin Martin.
This season, they'll look to replace Martin with the unproven duo of Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb. Judging by their Summer League numbers, the young tandem seems up for the task.
Jackson led all scorers in Orlando with an average of 19.5 points per game (albeit in only two games). Lamb finished third with a clip of 18.8 points per contest.
Of the two, Jackson has the best chance to break out. Starting point guard Russell Westbrook is recovering from a torn meniscus suffered in last season's playoffs. Even if he's able to play in the season opener, the Thunder would be wise to ease their star guard along slowly.
That means a greater responsibility for Jackson, who averaged 13.9 points per game in the playoffs, mostly filling in for Westbrook. Jackson's outside shot leaves much to be desired, but he's a quick guard that can fill it up.
Regardless of when Westbrook is 100 percent, Jackson will be relied upon to provide offense for the second unit. His success in that role could do the same for his career that it did for Harden, especially if Westbrook's knee doesn't hold up.
Orlando Magic: SG Victor Oladipo
In a weak rookie class, Orlando Magic freshman Victor Oladipo stands atop the pack. He has had a stellar last few months of basketball.
First, he won Sporting News NCAA Player of the Year honors after averaging 13.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 2.2 steals per game for the Hoosiers.
After being selected with the No. 2 overall pick by Orlando, he then gave the locals a piece of what they can expect for years to come with a solid summer league performance. He finished second behind OKC's Reggie Jackson with an average of 19.0 points per game. He also flashed his defensive skills by contributing 3.0 steals per contest.
The Magic plan to use Oladipo in a variety of ways this season. According to CBSSports' Matt Moore, Orlando will try their prized prospect out at shooting guard and point guard. That will allow the team to play Oladipo and Arron Afflalo together, while also finding a new home for veteran Jameer Nelson.
If he can shoot the ball close to his junior year average at Indiana (44 percent from three), he will be a tough player to contain. He just needs to work on his ball-handling skills in preparation for his playing time at the point.
Given his ability to affect the game on either end of the court, Oladipo should be the favorite to add Rookie of the Year honors to his vast trophy case. Even if he comes up short, he has all the makings of a future star.
Philadelphia 76ers: SF Evan Turner
It is difficult to find a potential breakout candidate on a team that took a wrecking ball to its foundation this offseason. The Sixers let guys like Andrew Bynum and Jrue Holiday go elsewhere and replaced them the unproven prospects like Nerlens Noel and Michael Carter-Williams.
Noel is still recovering from tearing his ACL in college, and there's no set timetable for when he'll be back to normal. As for Carter-Williams, he's years away from being a viable starting NBA point guard. Other than Thaddeus Young, there isn't much to get excited about this season.
The best of a thin lot may be Evan Turner. While he hasn't lived up to the standards of a former No. 2 overall pick just yet, he's the most proven commodity on a team filled with uncertainty. With Jason Richardson sidelined by a knee injury, Turner expects to see time at the 2 and the 3 this year.
Turner's scoring has gone up in each of the last three seasons. He averaged 13.3 points per game and was a factor on the boards to the tune of 6.3 rebounds per game last season. His outside shot also improved mightily last year, as he converted 36 percent of his threes (up from 22 percent in 2011-12).
While the expectations are low for Philadelphia, this is still a make or break year for Turner. After three years in the league, a player with his high draft slot should be a bit more proven.
As the de facto alpha dog, this might be the year he puts it all together, much like classmate John Wall did last season.
Phoenix Suns: SG Eric Bledsoe
This list may inevitably be renamed "The Eric Bledsoe All-Stars." There is no greater candidate for a young player taking the next step in his career than former Clippers guard Eric Bledsoe.
Even on a struggling team like Phoenix, Bledsoe should be able to shine. After years of being Chris Paul's caddy in Los Angeles, the Kentucky product finally gets a chance to be his own man, thanks to a trade to the Suns this offseason.
At 6'1" and 195 pounds, Bledsoe is better suited to play point guard. Unfortunately, the presence of Goran Dragic forces EB to play out of position at the 2. At that spot, Bledsoe's superb defensive skills will be put to the test against the league's best scorers.
Bledsoe made strides last season. He contributed 8.5 points and 1.4 steals per game (both career-highs), while logging just 20 minutes a night. He shot 44 percent from the field and nearly 40 percent from three (although he only made 78 attempts from behind the arc).
He enters a tough situation in Phoenix, as he'll carry the load for a team devoid of stars. Center Marcin Gortat is the Suns' next best player, and he's essentially keeping the spot warm for rookie Alex Len.
This season will test all of Bledsoe's skills but, if he continues to get better like he did in L.A., he will emerge as the kind of talent Phoenix can build the franchise around.
Portland Trail Blazers: SG C.J. McCollum
Portland pulled off arguably the biggest steal of the draft when they landed guard C.J. McCollum with the No. 10 overall pick. McCollum was an electrifying scorer at Lehigh, averaging 23.9 points per game.
He nailed just under 52 percent of his 194 three-point attempts and shot nearly 50 percent from the floor as a senior. He even put together surprisingly good rebounding numbers for a guard, as he never averaged less than five boards a game in four years with the Mountain Hawks.
On a team that was in desperate need of bench scoring, McCollum is the perfect remedy to Portland's woes. Whether he spells reigning Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard, or plays with him, he'll be a quality offensive contributor all season.
With only incumbent Wesley Matthews in front of him, it may only be a matter of time before McCollum takes over the starting shooting guard spot.
The biggest concern with McCollum's transition will be the increase in competition. It isn't as easy to dominate in the NBA as it is in the Patriot League. Lillard may have been able to assimilate quick, but that kind of thing doesn't happen often.
Regardless, McCollum should be able to produce early on. The Blazers have enough options to keep added pressure off of the rookie. Once he gets acclimated to the pros, Portland could be a very scary team.
Sacramento Kings: PG Isaiah Thomas
The Sacramento Kings brought in Greivis Vasquez to be their steady hand at point guard, but don't be surprised if Isaiah Thomas takes the starting job back at some point.
Vasquez had a breakout season of his own last year with New Orleans. He averaged 13.9 points per game and finished third in the NBA in assists with 9.0 dimes a game. At 6'6", he has elite size for a point guard, especially in comparison to the 5'9" Thomas.
There's a couple reasons to not like Vasquez's chances of remaining a starter. First, he's coming off offseason surgery on BOTH ankles. The Venezuelan told Gonzalo Aguirregomezcorta of ESPNDeportes that he's on pace to be ready for the opener, but he won't be in ideal shape.
"The progress has been really good and really productive," Vasquez said. "But I need a month and a half to get my physical condition at 100 percent again".
Being out of shape and coming off ankle surgery doesn't bode well for a guard that already lacked ideal speed to begin with. It certainly doesn't help Vasquez's matador defense. The former Terrapin's inability to stop opposing point guards was one of the biggest issues the Hornets had last season.
Thomas may not be a great defender, but he's a quicker and healthier option than Vasquez. Even if Vasquez maintains the starting job, don't rule out Thomas having a big year anyway. The little guy has a knack for scoring, and being one of the main options off the bench could be invigorating.
Thomas has been a nice surprise for two years now. As a former No. 60 overall pick, he has continuously exceeded expectations. With a proven competitor vying for his spot, don't be surprised if Thomas steps it up another notch.
San Antonio Spurs: SF Kawhi Leonard
After being haunted all summer by missed free throws in the NBA finals, Kawhi Leonard is going to come back this season better than ever. He increased his profile last year, to the point that he's not a total unknown, but he was overshadowed in the finals by the efforts of guys like Danny Green.
Leonard improved in nearly every aspect of his game in his second season. With an NBA championship slipping through his fingers, he will take another step forward and become a bigger cog in the San Antonio machine this season.
Veterans such as Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, while still productive, are on the downside of their career. The Spurs could use a jolt of youthful exuberance. Leonard is a solid defender, and he continues to develop offensively.
Leonard's only 22 years old, and his stat line in the playoffs (13.5 points, 9.0 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game) should give him nice momentum to build upon in his third season.
Toronto Raptors: C Jonas Valanciunas
Jonas Valanciunas has a chance to be the next big thing. He's the best in a deep group of supremely talented young centers. He has great size and a huge wingspan. He's also a good athlete for a center, and he can be a force on the boards.
The Raptors, much like the Pistons did with Andre Drummond, kept Valanciunas on reduced minutes last season, and the Lithuanian logged just under 24 minutes a game. However, he still managed 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game.
With no other options at center, Valanciunas is poised to have a breakout season. The big keys for JV this season will be developing a go-to move on offense. He can get his share of points on put-backs and tip-ins, but it will benefit him down the road to learn some post moves.
He also needs to continue to get stronger. If he can add some more bulk to that frame, he'll be able to bully guys in the paint for the next decade.
The trio of Rudy Gay, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will garner most of the headlines, but don't be shocked if Valanciunas is the talk of Toronto by the end of next season.
Utah Jazz: SG Alec Burks
Rookie point guard Trey Burke might be the most popular call here, but I think it will take him a year or two before he becomes a viable starter. It doesn't help that Burke had a ho-hom summer league stint either.
Alec Burks, meanwhile, was pretty good in Orlando. He averaged 14 points per game and shot 41 percent from the floor. With the team opting for a younger rotation, he'll get significant playing time as the team's starting shooting guard.
The Jazz won't be contending for a while, but they will be interesting to watch. Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter are an intriguing frontcourt pair. Gordon Hayward continues to make progress, too, and Burke will eventually put it all together.
Burks could be solid as well. He's played sparingly over the last two years, as last season's 17.9 minutes per game were a career-best. However, if you put any stock in his per-36 minute numbers, Burks posts career averages of 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game.
On a team with few proven options, those numbers aren't unreasonable expectations for Burks' first full season as a starter. He's a good athlete with ideal size (6'6") and a nice shooting touch. He could surprise some people this season.
Washington Wizards: SG Bradley Beal
When he entered the NBA draft last season, one of the guys that Bradley Beal drew comparisons to was New Orleans' Eric Gordon. Following in those footsteps, Beal had an injury-riddled rookie season with the Wizards.
Due to myriadailments (most recently, a stress fracture in his right fibula), the former Flordia Gator appeared in just 56 games last year. The injury happened at the most inopportune time, too, as Beal was just starting to hit his stride.
In his final 30 games, he averaged 15.5 points per game, while shooting nearly 46 percent from the field and 48 percent from behind the arc. The injury kept him out of the summer league this year but, according to CSN Washington's J. Michael, Beal started practicing at the Verizon Center back in August.
Assuming Beal will be ready to go for the opener, there's no reason to believe he can't pick up where he left off. With a talented trio of Beal, John Wall and rookie Otto Porter, the Wizards have the look of an exciting young team.
If Beal can manage to be "the next Eric Gordon"—in a good way (scoring, shooting the three)—rather than the bad way—injuries—he will establish himself as one of the league's brightest stars in just his second season.
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