NBA Predictions 2013-14: The Next Big Breakout Player at Every Position
If you could pick one player at each position to completely break out in 2013-14, who would you go with?
First, let's define breakout player.
I'm not just talking about a guy who's likely to come out of nowhere and land a spot in a rotation. I'm thinking major impact player—someone who's going to quickly emerge as an NBA star.
If there's an obvious player I left out, say maybe like a Larry Sanders, assume I've already considered him broken out.
I'm predicting that each one of the following players will generate All-Star consideration by the time we get there in late January.
Point Guard: John Wall, Washington Wizards
The numbers have been there—16 points and eight assists per game through three NBA seasons—but John Wall hasn't fully broken out yet.
Rarely is he mentioned with the other upper-echelon point guards in the game. I'd imagine that has something to do with his win-loss and injury records.
But now healthy entering year No. 4, alongside a more talented and experienced group, and Wall and the Wizards should be able to make some noise during the 2013-14 season.
As an individual, Wall's ceiling sits up there with some of the brightest young point guards around. Only Russell Westbrook and Derrick Rose share the same level of athleticism and explosiveness. And you forget Wall is also just 23 years old.
His ability to pick up free points in the open floor and break down half-court defenses make him a playmaking machine. Wall's struggles as a pro can be traced directly to his shooting and decision making, though you can make the argument a poor supporting cast has led to him having to force the issue.
And though some call his jump shot broke, there's certainly still hope.
Wall missed the start of last year with a knee injury but will enter the 2013-14 season ready to roll at 100 percent. With backcourt mate Bradley Beal also given a clean bill of health, these two could form one of the most potent backcourts in the league.
I like Wall to emerge this year as a true floor general and finally get recognized as one of the NBA's premier point guards.
Other Candidates: Eric Bledsoe (PG/SG), Phoenix Suns, Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers, Brandon Knight, Milwaukee Bucks
Shooting Guard: Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
Bradley Beal is poised for one of the most destructive breakouts of the year.
His maturity, both physically and mentally, are both extremely impressive for a kid his age. Beal has the ideal body for his position, as well as the athleticism shared by all the NBA stars. At 6'5'' with a 39-inch max vertical, he has the size and spring for an attacker to complement his accuracy as a shooter.
Beal rocked a 38.6 percent stroke from downtown as a rookie, a number that's likely to carry over throughout the course of his career.
On the perimeter, he has the shot-making skills to knock down anything, whether he's pulling up or stepping back.
He's also deceptively effective off the dribble. Beal can put it on the floor and get to the rack or find the space needed to cleanly release.
Beal has been getting in all sorts of work in the offseason, and he mentioned to The Washington Post he's entering the year with his confidence "sky high."
So is mine. I'm thinking around 17-to-18 points a game for the game's next star 2-guard.
Other Candidates: Iman Shumpert, New York Knicks, Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
Small Forward: Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
Unlike in years past, the spotlight entering Spurs training camp will be tilted toward one of their youngest players.
All eyes are now on Kawhi Leonard, whose performance during last year's playoffs appeared to be a sign of things to come.
After averaging just 12 points and six boards during the regular season, Leonard went on to average 13.5 and nine through four postseason series. He also recorded a double-double in four out of seven NBA Finals games while defending the best player in the world.
This year, expect the Spurs to give him a little more offensive responsibility. He only took 9.1 shots a game last season, a number you can expect to rise entering year No. 3.
Overall, Leonard excels in the three areas that make him a strong complementary piece—three-point shooting, perimeter defense and finishing in the open floor.
Look for Leonard to be more aggressive this season as a scorer, particularly in the mid-range, where he can step back from 18 feet or take it strong to the rack.
Other Candidates: Gordon Hayward, Utah Jazz, Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
Power Forward: Tobias Harris, Orlando Magic
After seasoning on the bench for a year-and-a-half in Milwaukee, Tobias Harris was finally dealt and ultimately unleashed in Orlando.
Harris put up monster numbers since the deal, averaging 16 points and eight boards in March and nearly 20 and 10 in April.
He'll be the featured guy from Day 1 for the Magic, posing as an offensive mismatch at both forward positions. Harris has the skill set that allows him to face the rim, jab step into a jumper or attack his man off the dribble.
Down low, he has the strength up top to muscle his way for buckets.
And while Harris isn't known for being a long-range threat, he knocked down 27 threes in 27 games with the Magic. He has promise on the perimeter, along with a developing one-on-one game as a 3 or a 4.
Harris also has the discipline and willingness to rebound. Late in the year, he grabbed 19 boards (and scored 30 points) in a win over his former team.
With a live motor and high basketball IQ, Harris has intangibles to go with quality physical tools and talent.
He should have the green light for all 82 games and remains a good bet for 2013-14's Most Improved Player of the Year.
Other Candidates: Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz, Kenneth Faried, Denver Nuggets
Center: Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
I don't think Andre Drummond is the long-term project many thought he'd be out of college. I think Drummond is ready to tear up this league in his second year in it.
He's already proven that his 270-pound frame and powerful athleticism are a handful for any center to deal with. Drummond pulled in 7.6 boards and blocked 1.6 shots in only 20 minutes of action last season. Nobody was capable of containing Drummond or keeping him from getting to and finishing loose balls.
And now with a year under his belt, Drummond's confidence and comfort levels should both be a notch or two higher.
This year, new head coach Maurice Cheeks won't put any restrictions on his prized big man. With extended minutes, we could be talking about a routine double-double and two blocked shots a game.
Drummond still has to improve on his low-post scoring repertoire, but that won't stop him from making his presence felt.
With the ability to impact a game on the glass, scoreboard and defensive end, Drummond edges out Jonas Valanciunas as the 2013-14 breakout center.
Other Candidates: Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
Sixth Man: Harrison Barnes, Golden State Warriors
Harrison Barnes played well through stretches of his rookie year but ultimately suffered from the same issue that plagued him at North Carolina.
Barnes struggled with consistency. He has the physical tools and skill set to get himself good looks at the rim—Barnes just couldn't execute on a regular basis.
Confidence and repetition will fix that.
Barnes flashed his potential during last year's playoffs, when he finished the postseason with averages of 16.1 points and 6.4 boards on 36.5 percent shooting from three.
He went for at least 23 points on four separate occasions in the playoffs. He has the shot-making capability to convert from any spot on the floor, whether he's shooting off two feet or scoring on the move.
And with 6'8'' size and explosive athleticism, he's able to get himself easy buckets at the rim.
With the addition of Andre Iguodala, Barnes will likely settle into a sixth man role, where he'll be asked to lead the second unit and spark the first.
There should be a little less pressure on Barnes as a sophomore now that he's coming off the bench. I'm expecting him to finish the year as one of the game's top reserves, and the X-factor for a team looking to climb over the hump.
Other Candidates: Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder, Jeffery Taylor, Charlotte Bobcats