2007 was a year to remember for many athletes.
But instead of giving even more love to the best, why not look ahead to next year and show some appreciation for the breakout athletes?
Here is part two of a three-part series on the best breakout players of the year.
Candidates: Ronnie Brewer, John Salmons, Brandon Roy, Andrew Bynum, Kevin Martin
The Pick: Brandon Roy
Amid a hot streak that has seen the former home for troubled players win 10 straight, it’s easy to see why Brandon Roy is the pick.
But if you back off for a second and look at how much the Portland Trailblazers have grown since drafting Roy, you understand even more.
That duo of Kevin Martin and John Salmons has certainly put excitement back into Sacramento. Martin will be out for awhile with an injury—but in his sixth year, Salmons is started to flourish.
Andrew Bynum is still young, but he hasn’t become that long-developing project that everyone thought he would be when the Lakers selected him.
Ronnie Brewer, who was drafted the same year as Roy, is just another young core player of a very dangerous Utah Jazz team.
Yet, since the start of the new calendar year, Brandon Roy has scored 18.3 points per game—and turned a franchise from hopeless to hopeful.
After finishing the 06-07 NBA season strong, Roy and the Blazers happened upon a stroke of luck, and ended up with the magical key that entitled them to someone who has been widely regarded as a franchise savior.
After the Blazers drafted Greg Oden, the 2007 Rookie of the Year was now an afterthought. Oden mania hit Rip City, and fans were thinking playoffs, not Roy.
Then Oden went down. Surgery was going to prevent Oden from playing in what was supposed to be his rookie year.
Enter Brandon Roy, the forgotten one.
Most people just hoped the Blazers would show a little life; give them something to chew on until Oden is ready for next season.
But Brandon Roy and his cast of merry men—LaMarcus Aldridge, Martell Webster, Travis Outlaw, and Jarrett Jack—all want the playoffs now.
The answer to the question of No Oden?
Candidates: Jordan Staal, Niklas Backstrom, Derek Roy, Thomas Vanek
The Pick: Niklas Backstrom
You will have to excuse my complete idiocy concerning the sport of hockey.
So if you think the pick of Backstrom is off base, my apologies.
How can you argue with this guy’s story, though?
Jordan Staal—the third wheel in the Penguins young trio—wasn’t supposed to be playing yet. He has run into some struggles early this year, but the young Staal brother is well on his way.
The Buffalo Sabres' duo of Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek are doing their best to make their fans forget about the old duo of Briere and Drury.
But Backstrom has had a winding road that doesn’t look to be getting any straighter.
Backstrom had a spot on the Finland National team in the 2006 Olympics, but didn’t get any ice time on the road to a silver medal.
Later, during the '06-'07 NHL season, Backstrom started out on the Wild as the backup to Manny Fernandez. After awhile Fernandez went down and Niklas got the call.
Backstrom’s play was so good that he left the Wild no choice but to continue to play him. He led the Minnesota charge right into the playoffs.
Niklas finished the year as the NHL’s leader in goals against average. Backstrom continued his hot play into the playoffs, posting a 2.22 GAA.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t good enough to keep the Wild alive as they were eliminated in five games. Backstrom’s efforts shouldn’t go unnoticed, though.
This year Backstrom is joined by another hot hand, Josh Harding. Backstrom has been playing well—up until he got sick.
It provided Harding the chance to start and he has wrestled time away from Niklas.
It’s not the end for the Minnesota Goalie though. He was too good to be down for long, and sooner or later the Finland native will be back in between the pipes.
Candidates: Clint Bowyer, Juan Pablo Montoya, Martin Truex Jr, Casey Mears
The Pick: Clint Bowyer
If you had to pick three candidates to contend before the 2007 NASCAR season started, the last person you’d be thinking of is Clint Bowyer.
In fact, according to Bowyer himself, if he didn’t have Jack Daniel’s as his sponsor, no one would really care about him.
Truex finally busted out of the shadow of now-former teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Martin won his first race and finished the season in the Chase for the Cup.
Casey Mears was in the Hendricks shadow all year, but he did get his first win. Plus, he was good enough—and cheap enoug—to stay aboard after the Dale Earnhardt signing.
Juan Pablo Montoya was the darling of the NASCAR world. Whether you believed he was going to be successful moving from open wheel or not, you talked about Montoya. Juan Pablo finished 20th in the standings, and no doubt will be the Rookie of the Year.
But he isn’t Clint Bowyer.
Most NASCAR drivers, like Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson, are prone to be on Sportscenter or the cover of Sports Illustrated—or if they’re Tony Stewart, have their own radio show.
Not Clint Bowyer.
Where does Clint Bowyer appear in the media?
Why, no other place than Sirius’s Bubba the Love Sponge.
How is NASCAR’s number three driver of 2007 relegated to a satellite radio show that not many people have ever heard of?
No matter for Clint. He flew under the radar all year. He made the Chase with a grand total of zero wins.
But Bowyer is more of a closer; he comes through in the clutch.
After just squeaking in the top 12, Bowyer won a race in the final 10 weeks of the season, and piled up top finishes.
In fact, had Jeff Gordon not gotten off to such a hot start, and had Jimmie Johnson not finished with one, your 2007 NASCAR Champion might be this unknown RCR driver from Emporia, Kansas.
Bowyer isn’t going away anytime soon. People still might not know who the hell he is. But I’m sure he doesn’t mind. He has the love sponge on his side.
NBA: Andrea Bargnani
He keeps getting better and better. Toronto is on the rise after a successful run to the playoffs in 2007. 2008 and beyond has big things in store for the first Italian number-one pick.
NHL: Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane
You might have to be in a shell to not hear about the two Chicago youngsters taking the world by storm. It’s Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin—part two. Chicago is on the rise, and they are led by Kane and Towes.
NASCAR: JJ Yeley
After being the odd man out of the Earnhardt to Hendricks, Busch to Gibbs musical chairs dance. Yeley is at Hall of Fame Racing where he is now the poster child for DLP. Yeley showed improvement in '07, and is on his way with a whole team now all to himself.
On Deck for Part Three: MLB, College Sports
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