Predicting the All-Breakout Team for the 2015-16 NBA Season

Zach Buckley@@ZachBuckleyNBANational NBA Featured ColumnistAugust 17, 2015

Predicting the All-Breakout Team for the 2015-16 NBA Season

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Every NBA season is an opportunity, and a handful of players always seize it and turn it into their introduction to the basketball world.

    The arrival of an up-and-comer changes his future forever. Last season, Klay Thompson transformed from the other Splash Brother into a full-fledged All-Star. Jimmy Butler blossomed from a defensive stopper into a two-way terror and max-contract recipient.

    Breakout seasons are among sports' greatest gifts. They can be game-changers for the players and their franchises.

    They're also often unpredictable, though there are a few common elements that link them together. These are young players in systems that accentuate their abilities, all of whom enter the upcoming campaign in a favorable situation because of the complementary talent around them or lack thereof.

    We have uncovered the top candidates for our all-breakout team, featuring two guards, two forwards and one center. Each of these players has hinted at bigger and better things before, and all of them have a great chance to improve both their statistics and league-wide stature over the coming months.

Guard: C.J. McCollum, Portland Trail Blazers

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    Sam Forencich/Getty Images

    Age: 23

    2014-15 Key Statistics: 6.8 points, 1.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 15.7 minutes, 13.1 PER

    C.J. McCollum's first two NBA seasons produced flashes of offensive success and no shortage of stress tests.

    His rookie year was nearly derailed by a broken bone in his left foot that delayed his big league debut by more than two months. He lost a month of his sophomore campaign to a fractured right index finger.

    A quick-strike scoring guard by trade, McCollum has been forced to embrace slow and steady progress. His stat sheet saw only slight, gradual growth from his first season with the Portland Trail Blazers to his second: 6.8 points, up from 5.3; 15.7 minutes, up from 12.5.

    But the quality of his production has been trending in the right direction. His player efficiency rating climbed from 9.0 to 13.1. He added at least 2 percentage points to both his field-goal and three-point accuracy rates (43.6 and 39.6, up from 41.6 and 37.5, respectively).

    His first big break came during the 2015 postseason. With Wesley Matthews out and Arron Afflalo battling a shoulder injury, McCollum received 33.2 minutes per game. And he used that time to tally 17.0 points on 47.8 percent shooting, 4.0 rebounds and 1.2 steals.

    Both Matthews and Afflalo left Portland this summer, as did Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge and Robin Lopez. Those losses will hurt the Blazers in the standings, but they also set the stage for McCollum to pile up the production. 

    "Someone is going to have to step up. There's no better candidate than McCollum, who averaged 15.6 PPG in April and improved that mark to 17 per game in the Blazers' playoff loss to the Memphis Grizzlies," wrote ESPN Insider Kevin Pelton.

Guard: Rodney Hood, Utah Jazz

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 22

    2014-15 Key Statistics: 8.7 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 21.3 minutes, 12.3 PER

    Injuries kept Utah Jazz swingman Rodney Hood from ever getting too comfortable his rookie year.

    He battled multiple foot problems and missed at least seven consecutive games three different times. By year's end, he had lost 32 games to injury and been limited to only 21.3 minutes a night.

    But even amid the turbulence, Hood was able to make significant progress.

    During October and November, Hood made seven appearances and averaged just 3.7 points on 21.6 percent shooting, 3.1 rebounds and 1.0 assists in 15.0 minutes. He played another seven games in April, this time posting 16.7 points on 45.2 percent shooting, 3.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 30.6 minutes and earned Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors.

    The Jazz outscored opponents by 3.3 points per 100 possessions when Hood played and were outscored by 0.6 points per 100 possessions when he didn't.

    Those numbers alone would demand more floor time for Hood, and the loss of Dante Exum (torn ACL) should only increase Hood's minutes allotment. The Jazz need playmakers, and the 6'8" shooting guard passes well enough to initiate coach Quin Snyder's motion offense. 

    "I think because the best thing I do is shoot, people label me as a shooter," Hood told CBS Sports' James Herbert. "But Coach really stressed to me just working on my ball-handling and continuing to work on my reads in the pick-and-roll. I think I've made progress, and I'll continue to make progress."

    Hood played just enough at summer league to show what kind of across-the-board force he can be, totaling 41 points, 15 rebounds and five assists over two games. He also suited up at every position except for center.

    As long as Hood stays healthy, his stock should continue to skyrocket.

Forward: Otto Porter, Washington Wizards

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 22

    2014-15 Key Statistics: 6.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 19.4 minutes, 11.6 PER

    Otto Porter was supposed to be among the safest picks in the 2013 draft, but injuries and ineffectiveness prevented him from looking the part during his rough rookie season.

    He largely avoided the injury bug as a sophomore, and his stat sheet looked much improved. But the overall production masked the inconsistency underneath it. Porter had 13 games with 12-plus points but 10 others where he went scoreless.

    His playing time ebbed and flowed, and his stats followed the same peaks and valleys. It wasn't until Washington Wizards coach Randy Wittman reshuffled his deck for the postseason that Porter found his rhythm.

    The sinewy 6'8" forward didn't crack the starting lineup, but he did see more floor time than anyone outside of backcourt stars John Wall and Bradley Beal. With the added workload, Porter was able to showcase his versatile glue-guy game. 

    "He does all the little things. He rebounds, he scores, defends well, and you got to give him credit," Beal said, via Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post. "A lot of people, the media and the fans say Otto's not good, Otto's not this elite player. But he's the player we need him to be, he's the player he's going to be."

    The Wizards need Porter now more than ever. Paul Pierce took his stretch 4 skills out of the District this summer, and newcomer Jared Dudley is working his way back from surgery on a herniated disc. Nene Hilario, who has missed at least 15 games in each of the last four seasons, just posted his lowest PER since 2007-08 and can't spread the floor for Washington's offense.

    The Wizards need a stabilizing frontcourt force, one with shooting range and defensive versatility. Porter has been penciled into that role since first joining the league, but this is the first year where he'll actually fill it on a full-time basis.

Forward: Aaron Gordon, Orlando Magic

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    Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 19

    2014-15 Key Statistics: 5.2 points, 3.6 rebounds, 0.5 blocks, 17.0 minutes, 11.4 PER

    Aaron Gordon quietly impressed during his rookie run with the Orlando Magic, and that was much more difficult than it sounds. 

    Injuries cost him nearly half the season, in particular a stress fracture in his foot that sidelined him for more than two months. When he wasn't battling his body, he was fighting against a flawed shooting form. On the season, Gordon only made 28 of his 103 jump shots (27.2 percent).

    Those hurdles, both tremendously steep, couldn't push Gordon off course. He still left his fingerprints on nearly every statistical category (11.0 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 1.0 blocks and 0.9 steals per 36 minutes), he still converted a respectable 44.7 percent of his field-goal attempts and he still displayed game-changing versatility at the defensive end.

    If his summer-league performance is to be trusted, he's continuing to do all of those things—and comfortably stretching his shooting range past the three-point arc. He averaged 21.7 points on 50.0 percent shooting (50 percent from deep), 11.7 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.3 steals in three summer-league outings.

    "I feel a lot more comfortable," Gordon said, via John Denton of OrlandoMagic.com. "I feel like I can pretty much control what I want to do on offense. I have a lot more improvement to go, and it's just one day at a time."

    Gordon still has time on his side. He hasn't even celebrated his 20th birthday yet.

    Already a turbo-charged athlete, he's starting to polish the various layers of his game. His hustle and raw talent alone could make him a breakout candidate with the minutes increase he's likely to receive (he averaged 27.9 over his final seven games). Add in his expanding skill set on both sides of the ball, and he should be among next season's biggest leapers.

Center: Festus Ezeli, Golden State Warriors

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    Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

    Age: 25

    2014-15 Key Statistics: 4.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 11.0 minutes, 16.2 PER

    Festus Ezeli's resume reads differently from that of a typical breakout candidate.

    He'll turn 26 before the season starts, and he's more than three years removed from hearing his name called as the 30th overall selection in the 2012 draft. He has logged meaningful minutes for a world champion, and his personal high for playing time came during his rookie season.

    But nothing about the Golden State Warriors backup big man is typical.

    He's the youngest near-26-year-old in the business. He only started playing organized basketball in 2007, and he missed the entire 2013-14 season while recovering from right knee surgery.

    He has a track record—four seasons at Vanderbilt, three-and-counting with the Warriors—but there's still untapped potential in his 6'11", 265-pound frame. His natural tools and ongoing development allow him to fill a necessary niche role already. 

    "Ezeli is an explosive leaper who protects the rim on defense, and his stone hands have softened just enough that he can at least catch the ball and dunk it when he's wide-open—and cram down offensive rebounds," wrote Grantland's Zach Lowe.

    But there's enough potential for growth to shatter his ceiling. His per-36-minute marks speak to just how effective he can be: 14.4 points, 11.1 rebounds and 3.0 blocks last season.

    The Warriors have to find out whether those numbers can hold up. Ezeli is eligible for a contract extension now, and he'll become a restricted free agent next summer if he doesn't get one. Golden State needs insurance behind and a long-term replacement for oft-injured 30-year-old center Andrew Bogut.

    Ezeli has the defense and rebounding chops to see significant minutes now. If he adds a few reliable weapons to his offensive arsenal, the Nigeria native could break out in a big way next season.

    Unless otherwise noted, statistics used courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

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