10 NBA Players Who Will Break Out in New Roles During 2014-15
Movement is constant in basketball, even during the offseason. And for these 10 NBA players, moving into a new role in 2014-15 could be all they need to break out.
Some will be playing more minutes thanks to the departure of guys who were ahead of them on the depth chart last season. Others will be playing new positions. And finally, three will be on entirely new teams.
Whatever the reason, these 10 stand to benefit from shakeups in either their own careers or in the organizations for which they play.
This isn't a ranking of who will experience the biggest "breakout," but rather a look at those who could potentially have different roles than they did in 2013-14. For that reason, they'll be organized by conference, with the guys out west coming first.
Alec Burks, Utah Jazz
Old Role: Sixth Man
Potential New Role: No. 1 Option
Even a team that moves the ball as effectively as the San Antonio Spurs has to have one or two guys who can create their own shot when the offense breaks down. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have carried that responsibility for years. Alec Burks could be that player for the Utah Jazz.
Last season, he led the Jazz in points per 36 minutes at 17.9 and was a more effective scorer than his current teammates on the perimeter. His shooting percentages were better across the board, and his ability to get to the free-throw line made him even more dangerous.
With Richard Jefferson and his biggest fan, Tyrone Corbin, now gone, Burks should get the opportunity to showcase that offensive ability in a more prominent role.
His usage is bound to go down as he spends more time on the court with Gordon Hayward and Trey Burke, but that could also lead to even more efficiency. With Hayward and Burke creating for him, Burks can use his elite-level athleticism to cut and move without the ball for open looks at the rim. And as stated above, he's more than capable of creating a shot for himself if he needs to.
Burks sounds like he's ready for all this potential responsibility.
In a piece detailing Utah's need for a No. 1 scorer, Mike Sorensen of The Deseret News quoted Burks responding to whether or not he can be that player: "I definitely feel like I can. I’ve got the talent to be. I’ve got the competitiveness to be. I feel like I can become a great player in this league with my athletic ability and potential. I think I can be real good in this league."
Reggie Jackson, Oklahoma City Thunder
Old Role: Sixth Man
Potential New Role: Starting Guard
Reggie Jackson's minutes have increased every year he's been in the league. Now that Thabo Sefolosha is with the Atlanta Hawks, his playing time figures to go up again in his fourth season.
The question with Jackson is whether or not he can coexist in the Oklahoma City Thunder's backcourt with Russell Westbrook. Both players are 6'3", shoot-first point guards.
Neither really has conventional shooting guard size, but Jackson could be more adaptable thanks to his 7'0" wingspan. That length would help negate the advantage that taller opposing 2-guards would pose.
On the other end, Jackson could see a boost in not only scoring but in assists as well. Spending more time on the floor with scorers like Westbrook and Kevin Durant will inevitably lead to more assist opportunities.
Combine the increase in playing time and the new role with the fact that he'll be in a contract year if OKC fails to extend him this summer, and you can see why a breakout is likely for Jackson.
Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman spoke on the extension, saying, "The Thunder would prefer to lock up Jackson this offseason, but that’s not likely. It’s possible that Jackson plays for a contract in each of the next two seasons in Oklahoma City, which generally motivates a guy rather well..."
Marcus Morris, Phoenix Suns
Old Role: Reserve Combo Forward
Potential New Role: Starting Stretch 4
With Channing Frye now set to space the floor for the Orlando Magic, the Phoenix Suns need a new stretch 4 to open up the lane for slashers like Goran Dragic or Gerald Green.
Because that position was occupied by a shooter last season, Marcus Morris should have the inside track on his brother to take over the role despite scoring fewer points last season.
Starting Marcus allows for offensive continuity to carry over from last season and leaves Markieff in the role of sixth man, where he thrived.
Either way, they'll likely spend plenty of time on the floor together, something Markieff spoke about with reporters: "Wherever we're together, it's home. We just go out there and have fun. The game isn't the same when we're apart."
Jeremy Lin, Los Angeles Lakers
Old Role: Backup Point Guard
Potential New Role: Starting Point Guard
"Linsanity" was one of the NBA's biggest stories in 2012 and could finally get its second chapter in the mega-market of Los Angeles during the 2014-15 season.
Following Jeremy Lin's breakout with the Knicks, he started all 82 games in his inaugural campaign with the Houston Rockets, but last season he conceded the role of starting point guard to Patrick Beverley.
With the Los Angeles Lakers, he should have a shot at piloting a team once again.
40-year-old Steve Nash represents Lin's only competition for the spot, but at this point in his career he may be more suited for a reserve role. Bleacher Report's Stephen Babb explored the subject, saying:
The Lakers already have one ball-dominating playmaker in the starting lineup. Rather than asking Nash to compete with Bryant for touches, why not make him orchestrator-in-chief of the bench? It would ensure the veteran more touches, and it just might translate into better performances from other reserves.
Nash has a way of bringing out the best in his teammates. Perhaps he'd have a force-multiplying effect on L.A.'s depth, making the most of guys like rookie Julius Randle and potential sixth man Nick Young.
Moving Nash to the bench could very well be a win-win scenario for him and Lin alike.
With Nash coming off the bench, Lin will have the opportunity to play alongside Kobe Bryant, who even at 36 will assume the vast majority of the defensive pressure L.A. faces.
That will give Lin the opportunity to once again showcase what he did best for the New York Knicks back in 2012: attack, attack, attack.
Carmelo Anthony, New York Knicks
Old Role: Scorer
Potential New Role: Triangle Focal Point
Weight loss has been an unexpected storyline this summer, as LeBron James, Dion Waiters and Carmelo Anthony have all dropped a few pounds for the upcoming season.
In the case of Anthony, the drop is part of an effort to be better-suited to Phil Jackson's triangle offense. According to Marc Berman of The New York Post, an Anthony confidant said, "He wants to be as athletic as he was when he was a rookie. Plus he wants to be a facilitator in the triangle, and speed will help that."
"Facilitator" and "Melo" are two basketball terms that haven't spent a lot of time in sentences together. It'll take some time before they look normal next to each other, as Anthony's previous career-high average in assists is 3.8.
The effort he's putting in this summer is a sign that things are heading in the right direction, though. Berman added, "Anthony was working out three times a day, doing basketball drills, agility drills, weights and yoga."
If he can get himself back to the shape he was in as a 19-year-old rookie, Anthony will be more than capable of being the triangle's focal point in a physical sense. Whether he can facilitate the offense the way Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant did at times is more a question of mentality.
At 30 years old and still looking for his first championship, Anthony may be more willing than ever to accept a new role as a complete player rather than just a complete scorer.
Chris Bosh, Miami Heat
Old Role: Pseudo Stretch 4
Potential New Role: No. 1 Option
Because he selflessly played a significantly smaller role over the last four years, it's easy to forget that Chris Bosh was once a consistent 20-and-10 threat for the Toronto Raptors.
From 2005 to 2010, Bosh made five straight Eastern Conference All-Star teams while averaging 22.8 points and 9.9 rebounds. He's just 30 years old and only four seasons removed from that kind of production and will now have the chance to lead a team again.
CBS Sports' Zach Harper wrote about Bosh's new role, saying:
With the departure of LeBron James and the pairing with a Dwyane Wade who has become less and less reliable over the past two years, it's expected the Miami Heat will ask big man Chris Bosh to be their go-to scorer. ...
In his new role, he'll likely have supporting cast members picking up the load on defense and allowing Bosh to concentrate on being the offensive focus.
As such, Bosh stands to receive more touches and shots than he's ever had as a member of the Heat. If he maintains his field-goal percentage from last season and picks up even a quarter of the shots James took, Bosh will comfortably average 20 points.
The real struggle for Bosh will be returning to his previous rebounding rate. In his four years with Miami, he's averaging 7.4 rebounds, with the rate going down each season.
That's not something that can be directly attributed to his smaller role, although playing stretch 4 did keep him farther from the rim.
More effort on the glass will limit possessions for the opposition and give Bosh easy looks at the rim on the other end.
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
Old Role: Glorified Garbage Man
Potential New Role: No. 1 Option
Andre Drummond may stand to benefit from a coaching change more than any other player in the NBA. Stan Van Gundy, the coach who led the Orlando Magic with Dwight Howard and a bunch of floor-spacers to the NBA Finals in 2009, is now in charge of the Detroit Pistons.
And it already looks like Van Gundy, who's also in the front office, is bringing back the blueprint that was so successful with the Magic. Detroit signed shooters Jodie Meeks, Caron Butler and D.J. Augustin this summer to surround Drummond, whose first two NBA seasons have been eerily similar to Howard's.
The numbers look even better for Drummond when they're drawn out to per-36-minute averages.
And finally, here are some advanced metrics like player efficiency rating, rebounding percentage and offensive rebounding, where Drummond has a clear advantage.
As the foundation for the blueprint that was so successful for Van Gundy in Orlando, Drummond's production figures to explode in 2014-15.
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Old Role: Utility Man
Potential New Role: Point Giannis
A 6'11" point guard? Previously, it's only been imagined in create-a-player modes in NBA 2K or NBA Live. But with Giannis Antetokounmpo, the dream is becoming a reality.
When Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd first revealed his plan to use Antetokounmpo at the position, it was tough to picture, but now we've seen it in action.
On Monday night in the Bucks' game against the Utah Jazz, Antetokounmpo played almost exclusively as the primary ball-handler in a team-high 32 minutes.
But does Kidd really think Antetokounmpo could handle the point guard — or point forward — duties during the regular season?
The answer is a qualified yes.
Gardner relayed Kidd's thoughts, who said:
We've seen it in practice. When you see a player's comfort level with the ball — no matter what size — we wanted to see it in game action. We slowly have started letting him have the ball and running the offense. ...
We'll see how the roster shakes out, but we're not afraid to play him at the point, as you see.
There was good and bad in Antetokounmpo's debut running the show. On one hand, he averaged 17 points while shooting 46.2 percent from the field. On the other, he turned the ball over 18 times compared with just seven assists.
There will obviously be growing pains as he adjusts to running an offense and taking care of the ball, but he appears to be ahead of the curve as a scorer.
At 6'11" with explosive athleticism, he'll be nearly impossible for opposing 1-guards to defend. If his playmaking catches up, we could be witnessing the genesis of a more athletic incarnation of Magic Johnson.
Pau Gasol, Chicago Bulls
Old Role: Low-Post Scorer
Potential New Role: High-Low Partner with Joakim Noah
Under Tom Thibodeau, the Chicago Bulls have had a dull offense, but thanks to the addition of Pau Gasol, they could now have one of the most unique and exciting offenses in the NBA.
Gasol and Noah are arguably the best passing big men in the game, finishing first and third respectively in assist averages for players standing at least 6'11" last season.
With those two manning the high and low posts, the Bulls will have a ton of options. As detailed by Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta, the others on the floor will love playing off Noah's and Gasol's passing ability:
The towering tandem will be setting screens for the hard-charging, foul-drawing Jimmy Butler, picking defenders and dropping the ball off for the sharpshooting McDermott or playing give-and-go with the speedy Rose. They will be the catalyst for the Bulls offense, making everything else work.
In this new role, we should see Gasol's passing put to better use than ever before. The number of assists and secondary (or hockey) assists the two big men rack up will be something to keep track of all season.
Kevin Love, Cleveland Cavaliers
Old Role: No. 1 Option
Potential New Role: Second or Third Wheel
Behind LeBron James "coming home," Kevin Love's trade to the Cleveland Cavaliers was the second-biggest move of the offseason. It's one that could help the Cavs land the NBA's biggest prize, even if Love's personal numbers take a hit.
The big man will obviously put up fewer shots playing alongside Kyrie Irving and James, but he'll break out in other ways.
He'll break out first as a shooter. Love has never played with anyone who demanded as much attention from the defense as either James or Irving. Not even close. Since Love became a full-time starter for the 2010-11 season, the best scorers he's been paired with were Michael Beasley that year (he averaged 19.2 points) and Kevin Martin in 2013-14 (19.1).
LeBron's career average is 27.5. Irving's is 22.1.
Add to that the fact that they can pass (both have career assist averages over six), and you can see why I expect Love to take a ton of open threes this season.
His career percentage from downtown is 36.2. Don't be surprised to see him back over 40 for the first time since 2010-11, when he hit 41.7 percent.
The other way in which Love can break out is as a distributor. His outlet passes are already the stuff of legend, but again, Love hasn't played with many great scorers who can take advantage of his passing ability in the half-court.
Even still, Love's three triple-doubles in 2013-14 tied him with Kevin Durant for the fourth-most in the league. Imagine how many more he might have with receivers like James, Irving and Dion Waiters catching his passes.