NBA All-Breakout Team: Who's for Real? Who's a Mirage?
The 2010-11 season is still young, but many players have already established themselves as candidates for the NBA All-Breakout Team.
Through a handful of standout performances, these individuals have become surprise stars for their teams, producing at a level which they had never before experienced.
However, the NBA season is a long, grueling campaign, and long-term, consistent production is a very hard feat to accomplish.
Therefore, some of these breakout candidates will inevitably experience a drop-off in production and level of play.
Consequently, we are faced with the following two questions:
Who's for real?
Who's a mirage?
For Real: Roy Hibbert
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Roy Hibbert of the Indiana Pacers is putting up career numbers thus far in 2010-11, with per-game averages of 15.6 points, 10 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.4 blocks.
Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, his minutes-per-game average is up to a career-high 33:12.
In the past, Hibbert's tendency to commit an extraordinarily high volume of fouls had limited his playing time (25:06 in 2009-10) and, consequently, his production.
Now, with his foul problems under control, he will continue to able to play aggressively and productively.
Additionally, with a sharp-shooter like Danny Granger keeping defenses honest, and a point guard like Darren Collison to get him the ball, Hibbert will keep thriving on the offensive end.
And with all of this now going his way, Hibbert will finally be for real, as he'll be able to maintain the breakout season which Pacers fans have been waiting for.
A Mirage: Elton Brand
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Seven games into the 2010-11 NBA season, it seems as though Elton Brand has just stepped out of a time machine.
Currently, he is leading the Philadelphia 76ers in points (18.6), rebounds (8.1), steals (2.3*) and blocks (1.9), all while shooting a blistering 58.4 percent* from the field.
Consequently, when an individual tunes into a Sixers game, it's as though they're watching the 1999-2007 version of Brand, rather than the injury-prone, inefficient player of the past three seasons.
Nevertheless, this is exactly the reason why Brand will probably come back to Earth this year.
A 31-year-old experiencing such a sudden rejuvenation is highly unlikely, so don't expect his production to continue—and that's not to mention the risk of him missing time or being limited due to an injury.
So, therefore, it seems as though Elton Brand's play so far has been a mirage; an early promise which will likely fade away as the rigors of NBA life set in on his aging body.
(* denotes a career high)
For Real: Luis Scola
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With Yao Ming missing the majority of the 2009-10 season due to injury, Luis Scola stepped up in a big way for the Houston Rockets, filling their frontcourt void.
And even after a strong showing in the 2010 FIBA World Championship, many people expected that Scola would resume a secondary role behind Yao in 2010-11.
However, even with the return of Yao, his play has been nothing short of amazing thus far, with career-high averages of 22.5 points, 12.3 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.7 blocks per game, and a field goal percentage of 52.
Now, with the fourth-year, 30-year-old Argentinian finally proving himself worthy of a primary role on an NBA team, Scola is for real, so one can expect this type of success to continue for the foreseeable future.
A Mirage: J.J. Hickson
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Following LeBron James' departure from the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team was going to need someone to step up in 2010-11.
Six games in, J.J. Hickson has seemingly done so, putting up career highs in both points (16.5) and rebounds (5.5).
However, one can likely attribute the 22-year-old forward-center's spike in scoring to James' departure and Mo Williams missing half of this year's games because of injury.
Additionally, Hickson has also seen his field goal percentage and blocks per game drop to career lows and his number of turnovers per game more than double, all while he has only seen an eight-minute increase in playing time per game.
Therefore, because of these drops, his lack of rebounding and defense, and the inconsistency he has displayed thus far (20 or more points twice, 10 or less points twice), it seems like Hickson's early success has probably been a mirage.
For Real: Rudy Gay
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After the Memphis Grizzlies signed Rudy Gay to a maximum-level contract over the summer, the team was widely criticized for grossly overpaying their young forward.
However, having played eight games in 2010-11, Gay is currently third in the league in scoring at 26.5 points per game.
Furthermore, he is averaging career highs in rebounds (7.0), assists (2.8), steals (1.9) and threes (2.0), all while also shooting his highest field goal (.519), free throw (.882) and three-point (.444) percentages ever.
And with this following Gay's successful stint with the gold medal-winning Team USA at the 2010 FIBA World Championship, it seems like he has finally been able to develop into a great player, rather than just a great athlete.
Therefore, one should expect Gay to excel in 2010-11, as his improvement is very likely for real.
A Mirage: Paul Millsap
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In 2010-11, the Utah Jazz's Paul Millsap has put up breakout averages of 20.3 points, 11.2 rebounds, 3.3 assists, and 1.2 steals per game, on 60.7 percent shooting from the field.
However, Millsap has always produced when given a chance, and this season, his playing time is up nearly nine minutes per game from last season—something which will likely not last.
When Mehmet Okur returns to the lineup from an Achilles' injury, it's highly probable that he will begin to significantly eat into Millsap's time and opportunities.
Furthermore, as newcomer Al Jefferson becomes more comfortable in the Utah system, he will certainly demand a more involved role with the team.
And with Okur, Jefferson and Andrei Kirilenko all vying for minutes at the four, Millsap's potential breakout will instead be a mirage, as he'll once again be limited by playing time.
For Real: Toney Douglas
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In 2010-11, Toney Douglas of the New York Knicks is experiencing anything but a sophomore slump.
Through six games, he is putting up career highs in nearly every statistical category, averaging 16.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.5 steals (fifth in the league) and 1.8 threes, on 48.7 percent shooting from the field.
Furthermore, his top-notch quickness and speed (top-10 all-time in the full-court sprint at the NBA Draft Combine) should allow him to keep on racking up steals and buckets efficiently.
And after winning an increased role, he is now the second-most-featured guard on a high-scoring offense with a legitimate post presence, so one can expect Douglas to continue to get a plethora of opportunities to succeed.
Consequently, Toney Douglas is for real, as he is primed for a drastic breakout this year.
A Mirage: Dorell Wright
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In his first season with the Golden State Warriors, Dorell Wright has looked like a different player.
Through his previous six NBA seasons, his highest scoring average had been only been 7.9 points per game.
Right now it sits at 16.4.
Furthermore, after never having stood out for his three-point shooting, Wright is now tied for second in the league in threes per game and shooting over 50 percent from beyond the arc.
And while he has certainly had more opportunities with the high-scoring Warriors this season (especially when Stephen Curry missed two games), such a drastic change in production seems to indicate the presence of hot shooting streak, rather than a breakout performance.
Additionally, the fact that Wright has only scored seven points in two of his last three games serves to illustrate that he may be cooling off.
Consequently, Wright's hot start was probably a mirage, as he seems to already be slowing down.
For Real: Eric Bledsoe
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After Baron Davis' benching/injury, Los Angeles Clippers rookie point guard Eric Bledsoe has impressively stepped in to fill the hole at the one.
Nevertheless, Bledsoe, who had been written off on draft night, falling to No. 18 overall, was originally expected to struggle in Davis' absence.
However, in his four starts, he has averaged an impressive 13.0 points, 7.0 assists, 1.8 steals, 1.0 blocks and 1.0 threes per game—not too shabby for a 20-year-old.
Additionally, during these four starts he has shot 55 percent from the field and 80 percent from three, all while matching up against some of the NBA's best point guards (Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook, Chauncey Billups and Deron Williams).
And while some of his numbers may eventually drop, Bledsoe has certainly shown that he is for real, and definitely capable of developing into an impressive player.
A Mirage: James Jones
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When the Miami Heat signed LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh this past summer, much was made about how the team would not be able to assemble an effective supporting cast.
Yet after starting out 5-2, role players such as James Jones have begun to step up and contribute.
Through seven games, Jones is currently third in the league in threes (3.1), while also averaging 10.3 points per game on over 50 percent shooting from both the field and from three.
However, this is the first season during his eight-year career when he has averaged double-digit points, and his cumulative shooting percentages have only been 40.1 (field goal) and 39.9 (three-point).
Consequently, his hot shooting should slow down to some extent, even though he will continue to get more open looks than ever before with the Heat.
Therefore, the amazing shooting performance put on by Jones thus far has been a mirage, as there is no way that he will be able to keep up his uncharacteristically good start.