Predicting Every NBA Team's Breakout Player for 2017-18 Season

Grant Hughes@@gt_hughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 18, 2017

Predicting Every NBA Team's Breakout Player for 2017-18 Season

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    The NBA offseason is all about what's next.

    Speculative frenzy runs amok during the draft and free agency as everyone scrambles to get a grip on what the upcoming campaign might look like.

    Who'll contend? Who'll fall off? What will all these teams, torn apart and reformed in a matter of weeks, look like on the floor?

    And, one of the most exciting questions of all: Who'll break out?

    For our purposes, not every candidate will fit the classic breakout mold. Some will be stars who could go supernova, while others are bit players ready to prove they've got the goods to join the rotation. With every team in its own unique situation, "breakout" becomes a relative term.

    Keep these 30 players in mind as the 2017-18 season approaches. They're all primed to make a leap.

Atlanta Hawks: Taurean Prince

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    Taurean Prince, a second-year wing who flashed signs of a bright future last season, is the clear pick.

    Everything about Prince's rookie campaign signaled he was ready for a larger role, as the 6'8" forward saw his shooting accuracy climb when his offensive responsibilities increased. In 10 games as a starter, Prince's field-goal percentage was 41.1 percent, a bit better than the 39.5 percent he shot when coming off the bench.

    Even more encouraging, his numbers after the All-Star break—8.4 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game on 41.5 percent shooting—represented improvements across the board on his pre-break stats. And then he played even better in the postseason, averaging 11.2 points and 5.3 rebounds on 55.8 percent shooting.

    Prince is limited offensively, doesn't create his own looks and is a notch below the best wing athletes in the league. But he's locked in as a starter and will get every opportunity to prove he can be effective despite his limitations.

    The Atlanta Hawks are essentially starting over, and Prince is a key piece—perhaps the most important piece—of the team's young core. If he develops his three-point shot and continues to defend with vigor, he'll enjoy a standout season.

Boston Celtics: Jaylen Brown

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    The Boston Celtics' depth on the wing means Jaylen Brown's breakout won't come easy. He's got a terrific shot at a starting gig with Avery Bradley gone, but he'll have to compete for playing time with Marcus Smart, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jae Crowder.

    Brown can force head coach Brad Stevens to give him more than the 17.2 minutes per game he earned last year by turning rookie flashes of upper-echelon athleticism into sustained second-year production. And if those post-break gains in three-point accuracy (Brown went from 30.4 percent on 1.3 attempts per game before the All-Star game to 37.9 percent on 2.6 attempts after it) are real, we may see him out there closing contests with the vets.

    Even if Brown's offense doesn't take shape right away, his play on the other end will earn him extra chances.

    After the obligatory mention of Kawhi Leonard as the league's most fearsome perimeter defender, Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick praised Brown's D to Alex Kennedy of Hoops Hype, saying: "A guy who did a great job [defending me] last year was Jaylen Brown. Avery [Bradley] was hurt the first time we played them, so Jaylen guarded me in Boston and he just did a great job of sticking with me. He has the length, he's strong and he's athletic."

    Bet on the 6'7" wing to turn his tools into production during a big second season.

Brooklyn Nets: D'Angelo Russell

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    The Brooklyn Nets' uptempo offense breeds opportunities for scoring guards, spacing the floor and opening room for pick-and-roll execution—conditions practically custom-built for D'Angelo Russell's game. He's also getting a fresh start after immaturity cost him in L.A.

    This is a high-stakes second chance, though. Failing to take a leap in these conditions could damage Russell's reputation irreparably. Fair or not, it's easy to imagine the league collectively thinking: If he can't put it all together in this situation, maybe he never will.

    That's a tough thing to think of a 21-year-old coming off a year in which he averaged 15.6 points, 4.8 assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. Only seven other players have ever managed those averages during or before their age-20 seasons.

    Still, the pressure's on for 2015's No. 2 overall pick

    Russell has innate feel on offense, loads of confidence and a clear shot to take control of an NBA team in his third season.

    A career rebirth, imminent stardom, ridiculous numbers—they're all dangling for Russell, and the league is watching to see if he'll grab them.

Charlotte Hornets: Malik Monk

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    It's risky to tab a rookie, and it might seem a little cheap considering there's no previous NBA baseline to break out from.

    But the Charlotte Hornets are an organization spectacularly devoid of up-and-comers. This is how they seem to like it, though. The Hornets were already loaded with vets and added more (Dwight Howard) in pursuit of the playoff berth that eluded them in 2016-17.

    The intact core is the main reason the Hornets will get closer to the 48 wins they posted two years ago than the 36 they stumbled to last season, but Malik Monk will help.

    Despite an ankle injury that kept him out of summer-league action, he's in line for minutes as the third guard behind Kemba Walker and Nicolas Batum. Jeremy Lamb has never been trustworthy for more than a few weeks at a time, and Michael Carter-Williams is flirting with a G-League career. So the opportunity will be there.

    Monk shot 39.7 percent from deep at Kentucky and has more bounce than you think. He profiles as one of the more gifted scorers in his draft class. 

Chicago Bulls: Kris Dunn

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    Of the 248 players to attempt at least 300 field goals in 2016-17, Kris Dunn ranked last in true shooting percentage. He was, without exaggeration, one of the absolute worst offensive players in the NBA.

    Nowhere to go but up, right?

    Maybe advancing from "truly awful" to "sort of playable" falls short of a breakout for you, but it'd be a pretty significant step up for Dunn, a second-year point guard fresh from the lottery, already playing for his second team.

    And there's still hope Dunn can do more than he showed as a rookie.

    He may yet become a tremendous defender at his position. He was billed as a beast on that end coming out of Providence and showed flashes as a rookie. He's competitive, physical and has no-questions-asked NBA athleticism. As bad as he was in his first year, Dunn's tools are too obvious for us to write him off.

    As the centerpiece of the Jimmy Butler deal, he'll be the starter from the outset in Chicago. Maybe that will boost his confidence and lead to respectable offensive production.

Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Love

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    Were you expecting Cedi Osman?

    The Cleveland Cavaliers have little youth, and Osman was a role player in the Euroleague last season. He may help Cleveland, but he won't blow up.

    But we're assuming here that the Cavs move Kyrie Irving for defense and more shooting, which bumps Kevin Love up a spot on the pecking order. And let's say he still has most of the skills that made him a fearsome offensive fulcrum during his days with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    Isn't there a chance he thrives with the first unit if the ball moves more without Irving? And shouldn't we expect him to relish an opportunity to run the second unit from the elbows like he did with the Timberwolves?

    Love has taken heat with the Cavs for not being the stat-stuffing monster he was in Minnesota, but the circumstances made it impossible for him to play such a high-volume role. Joining LeBron James ups your title chances, but it also requires personal sacrifice. Ask Chris Bosh.

    We should root for Love to prove he didn't suddenly become a worse player upon joining the Cavs, and that he's only been sacrificing for the good of his team.

    Consider this a prediction that Irving is moved, and that Love will remind everyone he's been a flat-out star all along.

Dallas Mavericks: Dennis Smith Jr.

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    In an NBA that now contains Dennis Smith Jr., there are only three states of being.

    1. Dennis Smith Jr. has not yet dunked on you.

    2. Dennis Smith Jr. is dunking on you right now.

    3. Dennis Smith Jr. just finished dunking on you.

    That's it. That's all of them.

    Taken ninth by the Dallas Mavericks and almost immediately regarded as "the guy who should have gone earlier," Smith validated the draft-steal buzz from the second he took the floor in summer league.

    His misses were highlights.

    The Mavs won't be able to keep this kind of athleticism and off-the-dribble nastiness out of the starting lineup. The outside shot isn't there yet, but if it comes around, man...

    Is he a more athletic Damian Lillard? Is he Derrick Rose? Is he the young version of Steve Francis?

    These seem like good options.

Denver Nuggets: Jamal Murray

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    If you were forbidden from studying up on the stats and could only watch Jamal Murray as a rookie last season, you probably would have assumed several All-Star Games were in his future.

    He was an eye-test stud—smooth, creative and clearly in possession of a versatile feel for scoring.

    He also shot 40.4 percent from the field, so...shrug emoji.

    Here's the thing, though: We have an explanation.

    Murray suffered through a sports hernia for most of the year, which he described as his core muscles "ripping apart" in an interview with Sportsnet's Donnovan Bennett.

    The NBA is a no-excuse enterprise, but let's be realistic. Murray was hurting as a rookie but has since had surgery to repair the issue.

    His combo-guard skills fit perfectly alongside born facilitator Nikola Jokic, and Murray should have the inside track on the starting point guard job. He has the fluidity and skill of a 20-point scorer. If he's healthy, he'll put up huge numbers as a sophomore.

Detroit Pistons: Stanley Johnson

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    Every team wants a breakout from one of its young players, but the Detroit Pistons need it more than just about any franchise.

    Stanley Johnson has been a disappointment through two NBA seasons, and he regressed in his second year. That's not how it's supposed to work for lottery picks who, from the start, have had the tools to make an impact.

    Johnson still profiles as a difference-maker on the wing. At 6'7", he has several guard skills to go with the bulk necessary to tussle with many power forwards on defense.

    Marcus Morris' departure should open up more minutes at the forward spots, and Johnson is optimistic he'll rebound from a down year. He'll have to; the Pistons didn't add anyone to take over Morris' role. It'll be on Johnson to prove he's learned from a rough early career.

    "If you would have told me two years ago that I'd be averaging four points and three rebounds a game in the NBA, I never would have believed you," he told B/R's Yaron Weitzman. "Thing is, the NBA life is not the easiest life to live. Being a professional athlete is an everyday process, and it takes time to learn that. I think I have."

    Getting Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson to produce something better than the minus-8.3 net rating they posted when sharing the court last year is the Pistons' top priority. But Johnson's development is a close second.

Golden State Warriors: Patrick McCaw

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    Even if the Golden State Warriors go overboard in resting Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, and even if Nick Young and Omri Casspi don't fit in perfectly, second-year guard Patrick McCaw will still find it difficult to log big minutes.

    There's just too much depth on Golden State's roster.

    He'll make the most of whatever he gets, though.

    McCaw averaged 20 points per game during summer-league play while displaying increased comfort as a ball-handler and a wider array of clever finishes than he broke out in limited duty as a rookie. Expect him to get a little bolder whenever he sees the floor in 2017-18, having spent his rookie year fitting in.

    To be clear, McCaw will never be a takeover star for his current team. That role is occupied several times over, and he's not wired that way. What McCaw can do, though, is provide wing defense, playmaking, spot-up shooting and ball movement whenever the Warriors need it. 

    On a team full of vets and established stars, McCaw's the guy with the upside. Here's hoping he gets a chance to show it.

Houston Rockets: Clint Capela

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    Like the Warriors, the Houston Rockets head into the season with a vet-heavy rotation. That means we've got to stretch a bit to find someone ready to take a step forward.

    Hi there, Clint Capela!

    The 23-year-old center has improved in each of his three seasons, and some might consider his 2016-17 efforts (which included career highs in scoring and rebounding) breakout-worthy on their own. But even in the midst of that campaign, Capela showed growth.

    He scored at a higher volume and with greater efficiency after the break, and his free-throw percentage approached 60 percent from mid-February on. Not bad for a guy who shot 17.4 percent from the stripe in his first season and 37.9 percent in his second.

    The real reason behind the Capela pick is circumstantial. He's a lob-catcher on offense, and now he'll have Chris Paul tossing them up whenever James Harden isn't.

    Houston's offense will space the floor and always, always, have an elite setup man handling the rock. An above-the-rim finisher such as Capela couldn't ask for a better situation.

Indiana Pacers: Myles Turner

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    Paul George's departure created a scoring vacuum that Myles Turner should be ready to fill. But more than that, it left the Indiana Pacers' third-year center a clear shot at stardom.

    Two players averaged at least 14 points, seven rebounds and two blocks while hitting at least 40 threes in 2016-17. One was Anthony Davis, and Turner was the other. Note, too, that Turner's 58.5 true shooting percentage was marginally higher than Davis' 58.0.

    Stepping into a larger role should hurt Turner's efficiency, but the volume he's likely to produce should result in an All-Star berth. Don't be surprised if he winds up averaging something in the neighborhood of 20 points, nine rebounds and a couple of blocks while knocking in 100 threes.

    Maybe those gains seem ambitious, but when you consider Turner's age (he won't turn 22 until the end of the 2017-18 season) and clear opportunity to take on alpha status in Indy's pecking order, they might actually represent a conservative projection.

    "I want to start establishing myself as a leader in this league and on this team," Turner told Matthew VanTryon of the Indianapolis Star. "I know I'm quite young compared to a lot of guys on this team, but the best time is to start young."

    Sounds like Turner's ready to blow up.

Los Angeles Clippers: Milos Teodosic

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    It's impossible to describe Milos Teodosic's game without using some variant of the word "fun," so even if a guy who's been whipping no-look passes all over Europe for years may not fit the textbook definition of a breakout candidate, his unique brand of playmaking will be new to most NBA fans.

    If you could get a preseason wager down on who'll occupy at least one spot in the year-end top-10 assist highlight clips, the 30-year-old Serbian would be your best bet. Even if he won't defend or knock down shots reliably against an NBA defense, Teodosic will flat-out dazzle with his passing.

    There'll be wraparounds, pocket dimes from impossible angles, liberal behind-the-backing and no shortage of lookaways. There may not be a bolder setup artist on the planet.

    Teodosic has been doing this for a while, but he hasn't yet enraptured a U.S. audience. That'll change when he suits up for the Los Angeles Clippers this year. No incoming player is more assured of niche stardom in 2017-18.

Los Angeles Lakers: Lonzo Ball

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    Brandon Ingram's improvement in the second half may make him the safer pick here, and it's always smart to expect more from a second-year player than a rookie.

    But Lonzo Ball has already begun his breakout.

    In itself, the Summer League MVP award isn't that meaningful. What matters is the way Ball secured it: by flashing all the preternatural court vision, brilliant touch and infectious unselfishness that so tantalized scouts and fans. That he managed to earn his MVP nod while also showing exactly the warts most expected (limited shot creation and an unreliable jumper against NBA-caliber defenders) is actually a positive.

    Even with his shortcomings on display, Ball still made a major impact.

    He'll run what should be a dramatically improved Los Angeles Lakers offense, flanked by athletic wings and plenty of floor-stretching shooters—Brook Lopez and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope among them. Though there are off-court distractions around him, Ball could hardly be better positioned for on-court success.

    Being a rookie is tough. Being a rookie in Los Angeles is tougher. And being a rookie in Los Angeles who comes with more built-in hype than any in memory may seem impossible.

    But Ball looks ready to shine.

Memphis Grizzlies: James Ennis

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    There will be opportunities for a wing to emerge in the Memphis Grizzlies' rotation this season.

    Deciding who it'll be is the trick.

    Ben McLemore is already hurt (foot fracture), and both Tyreke Evans and Chandler Parsons come with enough injury history to suggest they won't make it through 2017-18 without spending time in street clothes. With Vince Carter gone and Tony Allen still unsigned, Wayne Selden Jr. and James Ennis could be candidates for bigger roles.

    Selden performed well in summer league, earning second-team honors. But it's Ennis who looks like the better breakout candidate. Not necessarily because his game has another level, but because he'll be the best option to fill the playing-time void.

    The 6'7" small forward can slide up to the 4 in a pinch, and he's a far better three-point shooter than Selden, with his career accuracy rate of 37.2 percent dwarfing Selden's 25.0 percent.

    Memphis is perpetually challenged from long range, so getting Ennis more minutes will make sense—even if Parsons is healthy. Which, probably, he won't be.

Miami Heat: Justise Winslow

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    Rookie Bam Adebayo averaged 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds in summer league over separate Orlando and Las Vegas stints, and he could get a crack at rotation minutes as an energy guy off the bench.

    But the pick has to be Justise Winslow.

    A torn labrum limited the versatile forward to just 18 games in his second season, and though shoulder injuries to players who already couldn't shoot (see: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) aren't exactly encouraging, there's just so much to like about Winslow's game.

    He defends, he can grab and go when he snags a defensive rebound, he can pass and he has a knack for filling in all the little gaps with smarts and the willingness to perform dirty work. With or without a jumper, a healthy Winslow should take a step forward in his third NBA season.

    At the very least, he's got the ambition, telling Rohan Nadkarni of The Crossover: "As the NBA continues to change, you see these versatile players. Guys like [Andre] Iguodala who can do everything on the court, or LeBron, who is everything. Those type of guys are who I want to be. I never limit myself in anything that I do."

    Averages of around 13 points, seven rebounds and five assists with stellar defense are well within reach.

Milwaukee Bucks: Giannis Antetokounmpo

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    Giannis Antetokounmpo's career trajectory will eventually stop trending up, but why would you expect that to happen in his age-23 season?

    The reigning Most Improved Player has increased his averages in all five major categories—points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks—in each of his four NBA campaigns. The same is true of his usage rate, player efficiency rating and true shooting percentage. And his turnover rate? Trending down for four straight seasons.

    The rise is not over.

    Now, though, you're probably thinking it's impossible for a guy who made the All-Star Game while averaging 22.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists to break out. That's a failure of imagination.

    Just because Antetokounmpo has already established himself as a star doesn't mean he can't push past that designation. What if he adds a three-point shot? What if he bulks up enough to overpower centers?

    In an interview on NBA.com, Giannis said it all with a quizzical reaction to being informed he probably couldn't win Most Improved Player again.

    "Why?" he said, smirking. "I might be the MVP this year."

    If a star suddenly becomes the best player in the world, that's a breakout. In fact, that's the best kind of breakout.

Minnesota Timberwolves: Karl-Anthony Towns

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    This is the year Karl-Anthony Towns goes from being a spectacularly gifted offensive player with big numbers to one who impacts both ends and jumps into the conversation about the league's 10 best players.

    If you've been making your value judgments solely on the basis of box scores and individual statistics, you probably already think Towns is a superstar. But the Minnesota Timberwolves were tied for 26th in defensive rating last year, and they were 7.2 points per 100 possessions worse on D when Towns was on the floor.

    Tom Thibodeau couldn't fix Towns' defense on his own, but he brought in reinforcements in Jimmy Butler and Taj Gibson. Those three former Bulls should get Towns on the right track.

    KAT has the skill and smarts to be a great defender, even if he's not a supreme run-and-jump athlete.

    In 2017-18, we'll see Towns' contributions to winning basketball (on both ends) catch up to his stats and star reputation.

New Orleans Pelicans: Cheick Diallo

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    Goofy roster construction (nobody told the New Orleans Pelicans about the importance of wing talent) may actually help Cheick Diallo establish himself as a quality rotation player in 2017-18.

    New Orleans already has Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins locked in as starters, and Solomon Hill's best position is power forward. Right away, Diallo should have been buried as the fourth big man on the depth chart (with expensive lugs Omer Asik and Alexis Ajinca also clogging up the rotation).

    But the glaring dearth of skill at shooting guard and small forward means Hill will spend most of his time at the 3. That's bad for New Orleans but good for Diallo, who could see as many as 20 minutes per night in relief of Davis and Cousins.

    Diallo is an unusually skilled, fluid athlete who, at 6'9" can score off the dribble and in transition while also defending the rim. He put up 17.8 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks in the G League last year, and he continued to prove himself during summer-league play in July, flashing growth as a ball-handler in the open floor.

    If he adds improved attentiveness and anticipation to his already swat-heavy defensive game, Diallo will run away with a rotation spot.

New York Knicks: Willy Hernangomez

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    If you gave up on the New York Knicks last year, you missed rookie Willy Hernangomez blossoming after the All-Star break. Now entering his second season, the 23-year-old center is poised to exceed his post-break averages of 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds. 

    Joakim Noah's suspension clears any obstruction to starter's minutes for Hernangomez, but in light of his closing run last year it was unlikely Noah would have held him off anyway—bloated contract and all.

    Hernangomez isn't much of an athlete, but he makes up for being relatively ground-bound with fantastic hands and a willingness to get physical. He'll put his shoulder into defenders and move them off their spots, freeing himself up for an array of finishes with either hand.

    When he really has it going, like he did in his career-high 24-point night against the Spurs last March, he'll even break out clever little floaters from what are typically considered awkward distances.

    Kristaps Porzingis remains New York's most prized young player, but watch for Hernangomez to be the team's most effective weapon several times this season.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Alex Abrines

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    Alex Abrines' shooting form is so smooth, many mothers use video clips of it to soothe crying infants.

    And if you're ever stranded in the wilderness and cannot find a clean water source, simply play highlight clips of his release (which you've presumably downloaded because you don't have service when lost in the wilderness), and even the most brackish, stagnant pond will be purified.

    Abrines shot 38.1 percent from deep as a rookie last year, and if that conversion rate doesn't improve, it'll only be because his shot volume will have exploded enough to include tougher looks. Either way, Abrines is going to score waaaay more than six points per game as a sophomore.

    With Russell Westbrook and Paul George drawing loads of defensive attention and Patrick Patterson further spacing the court, Abrines is going to get plenty of chances—especially with only Andre Roberson ahead of him at the 2.

    After making 94 threes last season, Abrines could double that figure.

Orlando Magic: Aaron Gordon

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    It's far too early to be sure of Jonathan Isaac's future, which means Aaron Gordon must break out this season. If he doesn't, the Orlando Magic's rudderless rebuild will have gone on for several years without ever establishing a true cornerstone.

    All the losing will have been for nothing.

    Gordon, playing the 4 full time, has a chance to give meaning to all of Orlando's recent suffering.

    A breakout will require improved perimeter shooting (Gordon sits at 28.9 percent from deep in his career) and more effective use of his undeniably elite athleticism. A player with Gordon's bounce and speed shouldn't grade out as a below-average defensive player, which he did last year, according to ESPN's Defensive Real Plus-Minus.

    Gordon will be 22 when his fourth NBA season begins, certainly young enough for real growth to be a possibility. Bank on career-best production and, in the depleted East, some fringe All-Star consideration for the springy forward.

Philadelphia 76ers: Markelle Fultz

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    The entire Philadelphia 76ers team is poised for a breakout—including Joel Embiid, who still has plenty to prove after dominating for a grand total of 31 games.

    There's also Ben Simmons, still a rookie after sitting out what would have been his first season with a foot injury.

    But the pick is Markelle Fultz, the non-Embiid Sixer with the most star potential and the guy who'll be in charge of a promising offense from the get-go. This year's top overall pick is positioned to succeed with a first unit featuring a dynamite pick-and-roll partner in Embiid, terrific spacing from JJ Redick and Robert Covington, and secondary playmaking from Simmons.

    Are there questions? Sure.

    B/R's Jonathan Wasserman raised a few key ones: "Can he carry his team throughout stretches of a game? Will he be overly casual, float or drift during a lengthy 82-game season? Fultz's intensity wasn't always the highest in college. "

    But Fultz's talent and feel mark him as the likeliest star in his draft class. With the collection of talent around him, he's set up to succeed.

Phoenix Suns: Josh Jackson

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    Josh Jackson gives us two rookies in a row, and yet another first-year player beating out slightly more experienced (but still raw teammates).

    Devin Booker did his breaking out last season, Marquese Chriss' feel and basketball IQ are still works in progress and Dragan Bender didn't show enough to signal imminent improvement. That leaves Jackson, the fourth pick in the 2017 draft, as the Phoenix Suns' best hope.

    If the Suns trade Eric Bledsoe, Jackson will get a chance to take on more playmaking duties, which could further boost his stock. And either way, his versatility, quick first step and court vision will make him a valuable offensive weapon—one whose quickness and 6'8" size also point to impactful defense.

    If Jackson's clunky shot falls (or he irons out the shaky mechanics during the year), the Suns will have a true star on their hands.

Portland Trail Blazers: Jusuf Nurkic

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    To buy Jusuf Nurkic as a major breakout candidate, you don't have to believe he will forever be the player he was in 20 games with the Portland Trail Blazers last year.

    All he has to do is come close.

    Upon joining the Blazers, the former Nuggets backup transformed. Maybe it was a better attitude, maybe it was the pressure of proving himself, or maybe Nurkic just really liked the 24-hour availability of Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland.

    Whatever it was, averages of 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.9 blocks were the result.

    Defense may be an issue with Nurkic in the middle, but the Blazers don't have any better options to push him for minutes. Plus, Nurkic is slimming down this summer. If we don't see a career year from the center in his age-23 season, it'll be a stunner.

Sacramento Kings: Skal Labissiere

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    With Buddy Hield (last March's Rookie of the Month in the West), Willie Cauley-Stein, Bogdan Bogdanovic and De'Aaron Fox in the mix, the Sacramento Kings have no shortage of breakout options.

    Skal Labissiere feels like the best of several good choices.

    Strength will be an issue, as Labissiere relied on good touch to compensate for his inability to get all the way to the rim through contact last season. But with a bit more experience, he'll only get better at attacking with the intent to create collisions.

    Though he only shot eight threes last season, the 6'11" big man has a stroke that should serve him well from long range. If Kings head coach Dave Joerger gives Labissiere the same three-point green light DeMarcus Cousins got last season, it wouldn't be a shock to see the second-year player knock down 100 total treys.

    Sacramento has to sort out several positional logjams, but Labissiere should see most of his minutes at center. That's where he projects to be most effective.

    He closed out his rookie year on a solid run, averaging 13.3 points and 5.3 rebounds on 64.9 percent true shooting in six April games. As long as he shows a modicum of growth on D, Labissiere should see a bigger role and better numbers.

San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray

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    Davis Bertans just feels like one of those San Antonio Spurs success stories, a bench player who shows flashes and then develops into a legitimate rotation force—seemingly programmed into better play by the Spurs' system.

    But Dejounte Murray is the guy with the golden opportunity.

    Tony Parker is still recovering from quad surgery, and he may miss a significant chunk of the season. Because San Antonio has generally preferred to use Patty Mills as a firestarter off the pine, Murray projects to play with the first unit.

    Though his rookie numbers (3.4 points and 1.3 assists in 38 games) don't stand out, Murray was ready when called upon. He scored in double figures during back-to-back starts against the Nuggets and Cavs in January, and then averaged 8.3 points and 3.8 assists with a bevy of steals when thrust into big minutes in the conference finals.

    Murray didn't impress in summer league, but don't expect that to change his outlook. If he slows down and gets a better handle on the nuances of pick-and-roll orchestration, he could easily surpass Parker's averages of 10.1 points and 4.5 assists per game from last season.

Toronto Raptors: Norman Powell

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    The Toronto Raptors are a little thinner on the wing without DeMarre Carroll and PJ Tucker, and that could mean Norman Powell finally blows up.

    Powell will have to compete with CJ Miles for a starting spot, but even if he comes out on the short end of that battle (which he might, considering the Raps invested free-agent cash in Miles), Powell has shown enough to justify optimism.

    Most recently, he averaged 11.7 points and 3.1 rebounds on 44.1 percent shooting from three in the 2017 playoffs.

    Though he's only 6'4", Powell has athleticism that makes him a better defensive option than the 6'6" Miles—even against small forwards.

    Heading into his third year, Powell has both the opportunity and the game to take a step forward. And it doesn't hurt that he apparently also has some surprises in store.

    "I've been really working on the finer parts of my game," Powell told Donnovan Bennett of Sportsnet. "Being a playmaker, being a decision-maker. There are some things that I'm working on that I'm not going to tell you about. I'm definitely working on my game and hopefully will unveil some stuff for the fans this season."

Utah Jazz: Rodney Hood

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    Gene Sweeney Jr./Getty Images

    Rudy Gobert is going to get (and deserve) fringe MVP consideration this season, but he finished second in the NBA in win shares a year ago. And it's not a breakout if the only thing changing is everyone outside of Salt Lake City realizes you're awesome a year late.

    That leaves Rodney Hood, perhaps the biggest beneficiary of Gordon Hayward's departure, as Utah's best hope.

    Hood never quite got healthy last season, playing 59 games and seeing his production dip. That didn't stop general manager Dennis Lindsey from making Hood the immediate focus after Hayward left town.

    "We believe Rodney Hood can be a primary scorer," he told reporters (via Andy Larsen KSL.com). "It's time for us to pivot, it's time for us to move on."

    Hood is fluid on the catch and rises effortlessly when shooting on handoffs. With more shimmy than you'd expect from a 6'8" frame, he can also work his way into the lane and elevate over smaller opponents for a variety of in-between push and flip shots.

    All the smooth lefty needs to approach 20 points per game in his fourth season are healthy knees and about 15 field-goal attempts a night.

Washington Wizards: Kelly Oubre Jr.

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    Backup point guard Tim Frazier was the Washington Wizards' only meaningful addition this summer, so you could make the case that an entire position is in line for a breakout. That's because Frazier will play adequate basketball on the second unit and won't single-handedly sink the Wiz like Brandon Jennings and Trey Burke did a year ago.

    That's not quiet a breakout, though, and unnecessarily cruel toward Jennings and Burke, who tried their best), so Kelly Oubre Jr. is the pick.

    The idea of Oubre expanding his game as a small-ball 4 is intriguing, and he has real defensive potential against several positions when he's fully engaged.

    Let's also remember that Oubre wouldn't be the first role-playing wing to look better and better the more he plays alongside John Wall. Bradley Beal and Otto Porter Jr. might have big contracts without Wall's dimes...but there's no doubt his setups helped both cash in bigger than they otherwise would have.

    Oubre is a great athlete who plays with tons of energy. If he can stand still in the corner and knock down the threes Wall spoon feeds him, watch out.

               

    Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference or NBA.com.

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