Predicting NBA's All-Breakout Team for 2016-17 Season

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2016

Predicting NBA's All-Breakout Team for 2016-17 Season

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    It's never too early to talk about the NBA's next batch of breakout performers.

    These rises can be difficult to define. They usually pertain to players 25 and under but are not specific to those barreling their way toward immediate stardom. 

    Ascensions of players such as Paul George (2013), Jimmy Butler (2015) and C.J. McCollum (2016) resulted in Most Improved Player honors. That isn't the case for everyone; there are many more smaller-scale leaps that deserve recognition.

    Some of these players, make no mistake, will get there. It may even happen next season. But our primary focus is singling out those who are about to make the transition from budding prospect or project to household name.

    Think along the lines of Evan Fournier and Rodney Hood last season. They drastically improved their standing without inciting superstar expectations.

Backcourt Reserves

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    Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Detroit Pistons

    Real talk: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is going to make boatloads of people uncomfortable when he signs a $100 million extension with the Detroit Pistons. Those initial moments, when the news first breaks, are going to be awesome.

    This isn't to say Caldwell-Pope won't deserve his armored-truck-shaped goody bag. He is a perimeter defensive lifeline in Detroit, and that won't change until Stanley Johnson actually gets accurate directions to inside LeBron James' head. 

    It's Caldwell-Pope—not Tobias Harris, Marcus Morris or Johnson—who tackles the toughest wing assignments. He is already a fringe All-Defensive Team candidate, and a refined three-point stroke is all that's standing between him and pre-Achilles-injury Wesley Matthews status.

    Norman Powell, Toronto Raptors

    Norman Powell barely logged 700 total minutes as a rookie but became a consistent part of the Toronto Raptors rotation by March, an exposure surge that lasted through most of the playoffs. He proved his 6'4" frame would hold up against rival shooting guards and small forwards on the defensive end, and his 40.4 percent clip from downtown on 89 attempts suggests he won't have issues playing off DeMar DeRozan, Cory Joseph and Kyle Lowry.

    Cracking the 20-minute-per-game plateau might be tough with a healthy DeMarre Carroll eating up playing time on the wings. Then again, Terrence Ross is the wild card that keeps on giving. Powell shouldn't have any problems carving out a regular role that's theoretically conducive to a Hood-like leap.

    Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics

    Marcus Smart is going to get some run at small forward next season. He saw (very little) time there last year, and the Boston Celtics didn't make any significant moves to make up for Evan Turner's departure. Jae Crowder's minutes are already accounted for, Jaylen Brown is a rookie, and the R.J. Hunter-James Young prospect pool is barely worth playing, much less mentioning.

    Guarding regular-sized wings is a feasible task for Smart. He covered them in abundance during the first round of the playoffs and is an overall defensive bulldog. Mix in a jump shot that was on point-ish for a short postseason stay (34.4 percent three-point shooting), and Smart looks poised to enjoy one of those feel-good, third-year upswings. 

Frontcourt Reserves

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    Kyle Anderson, San Antonio Spurs

    Tim Duncan's retirement, Boris Diaw's trade to the Utah Jazz and David Lee's relative inability to stop anyone at the rim all create an opportunity for Kyle Anderson to make regular-season noise for the first time in his career.

    Many laugh at his lack of speed, but he's a cerebral player. He doesn't crowd ball-handlers and prefers to defend off reads. He has the size (6'9", 230 lbs) and ambition to body up in the post, and his passing off the bounce borrows from Diaw and Tony Parker.

    Anderson just needs extended spin to prove himself outside the NBA D-League and NBA Summer League. And with the Spurs thin on frontcourt defensive versatility for the first time in a long time, he should get it next season.

    Clint Capela, Houston Rockets

    Picture Nerlens Noel on a team that has enough playmakers and can create enough space to run pick-and-rolls. That's who Clint Capela has the potential to be for the Houston Rockets.

    Head coach Mike D'Antoni should take care of the 22-year-old on offense. He loves rim-runners, and Capela ranked in the 83rd percentile of roll-man efficiency as a sophomore. His rim protection is a necessity following Dwight Howard's departure, especially since Nene doesn't have the legs to play serious minutes within an uptempo system.

    All signs point toward Capela assuming a prominent role for Houston next season, an opportunity on which he'll have no trouble capitalizing—providing his putrid free-throw shooting (35.9 percent for his career) doesn't run him off the floor.

    Justise Winslow, Miami Heat

    Are breakouts by necessity a thing? For the Miami Heat's sake, they better be. 

    Justise Winslow is about to shoulder a lot more responsibility. The departures of Luol Deng, Joe Johnson and Dwyane Wade left huge voids, none of which have truly been filled, and team president Pat Riley is looking to his sophomore for a veteran impact.

    "Are we ready for Justise Winslow to start at the 3? I am," he said, per the Palm Beach Post's Anthony Chiang. "I’m not just throwing him out there. This guy has been thrown out there last year and played significant minutes and significant time. I trust him."

    Winslow's offensive game is a work in progress. He shot 27.6 percent from deep as a rookie and struggled finishing around the rim—issues that appeared far from solved during summer-league action. But he's already used to battling against some of the best offensive threats in the game. He will keep himself on the floor for his defense alone, and an increased number of touches should help him work through some of his offensive kinks by the end of 2016-17.

Sixth Man: Allen Crabbe, Portland Trail Blazers

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    As one of the 31 highest-paid players in the league, Allen Crabbe better be a breakout candidate. The new cap climate does not safeguard him against expectations.

    Fortunately for both him and the Portland Trail Blazers, Crabbe is more than equipped to earn his contractual keep.

    Portland has spent itself into a delicate situation. There is a ton of skill on the roster, but so much of that talent is accustomed to operating on-ball. The Blazers need guys they can run off screens and use as spot-up assassins. Evan Turner doesn't qualify, and neither Al-Farouq Aminu nor Maurice Harkless can be relied upon for premier off-ball shooting. 

    Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum can be set up away from the action, but as two rock-dominant attackers, they need their share of touches. That makes Crabbe an offensive godsend.

    Out of 100-plus players who used up 175 or more spot-up possessions in 2015-16, Crabbe ranked fifth in points scored per possession (1.19). He trailed only Chandler Parsons (1.23), Kawhi Leonard (1.25), James Harden (1.27) and Stephen Curry (1.49).

    Crabbed also finished among the best close-out defenders in the game. His blend of shooting, modest playmaking, defense and ball control was nearly unparalleled. Leonard was the only player to match his assist (7.2), steal (1.5), turnover (8.1) and effective field-goal (54.1) percentages. This adaptable style allowed Crabbe to command a higher salary than Paul George next season, and it bodes well for his breakout chances.

Backcourt Starter: Dennis Schroder, Atlanta Hawks

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    Dennis Schroder's breakout feels more like a formality than a matter of faith. The Atlanta Hawks have handed him the keys to the offense after trading Jeff Teague to the Indiana Pacers this offseason, a progression he has been waiting for and is ready to undertake. 

    Atlanta's four other starters from last season notched a higher net rating with him running point (plus-12.2) than they did with Teague (plus-4.0). That uptick came in much less playing time, but the Hawks' overall offensive and defensive ratings with Schroder outstripped their performance with Teague in comparable samples.

    Taking over as the incumbent starter assures the soon-to-be 23-year-old of more touches and, thus, an opportunity to post glitzier stat lines. Higher usage has not adversely impacted Schroder's splits; his efficiency has mostly improved as his playing time and possession control increase.

    Last season, while averaging career highs in minutes and usage rate, he finished as one of six players to clear 19 points per 36 minutes and an assist rate of 36. His company reads like a who's who of top-flight floor generals: Jrue Holiday, Reggie Jackson, Chris Paul, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.

    Adjust the scope a bit, and you'll find Schroder is also one of six players to eclipse 18 points per 36 minutes and an assist percentage of 34 in each of the last two seasons. His castmates this time around are even more impressive: James Harden, LeBron James, Paul, Teague and Westbrook.

    Additional responsibility will accentuate Schroder's flaws. He can be out of control at times and has maintained an above-average shooting touch through just one of his first three seasons. There will be a learning curve—but it'll be a short one, with a semi-immediate payoff.

Backcourt Starter: Gary Harris, Denver Nuggets

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    Choosing a Denver Nuggets swingman was initially difficult. They have so many. Incumbent players, even established ones, will find it difficult to stand out with the team welcoming back Wilson Chandler and ushering in rookies Jamal Murray and Malik Beasley.

    But Gary Harris led the Nuggets in total minutes in 2015-16. While his usage rate and shot attempts may fall going forward, they weren't exceptionally high as a sophomore. He enjoyed lower usage and fewer field-goal attempts per 36 minutes than Darrell Arthur.

    Most of Harris' work comes away from the ball, as an offensive pinball and defensive zealot. As's Rob Mahoney wrote:

    This is where Harris lives. His pick-and-roll game is nascent—functional in some cases but not yet fully natural or reliable. There will be more opportunity this season for Harris to test out that element of his game, but only because he's subsidized his development with the strength of his work off the ball. Harris made the ball see him, to borrow Malone's phrasing, and found a lane to playing time and a starting spot.

    A no-frills cutter who shoots respectably (35.4% from three last season, up from 20.4% the season prior), rebounds competitively, and defends committedly is a difficult one to keep off the floor. 

    Don't confuse this to mean that Harris exists under the radar. He improved in virtually every statistical category last season, finishing with averages of 12.3 points, 2.3 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.3 steals on 46.9 percent shooting. The obstacle for him will be building on those numbers despite lateral, or even less, playing time.

    Then again, more of the same for a second consecutive year fits the breakout bill. Harris' per-36-minute point (13.8), assist (2.2), steal (1.4) and three-point (35.4 percent) splits have been matched by three players over the last five years who are younger than 22: Paul George, Jrue Holiday and Kyrie Irving. So yes, an encore will do just fine.

Frontcourt Starter: Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers

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    Hop aboard the Robert Covington bandwagon while you still can. It will be pulling out of the station next season, and this time, unlike the last two, it won't be making a return trip.

    Every member of the Philadelphia 76ers will be forced to endure a topsy-turvy rotation. The team has too many bigs up front, which will crush the spacing for its wings, and the additions of Jerryd Bayless and Gerald Henderson make predicting head coach Brett Brown's minutes distribution a futile crapshoot.

    But Covington is used to this brand of mayhem. He is a two-year veteran of the Sixers' ongoing "process." And he has not only survived; he has thrived.

    Last season, three players cleared 16 points, six rebounds and 1.5 steals per 36 minutes while swishing at least 35 percent of their threes: Paul George, Kawhi Leonard and...Covington. This was actually the second straight year he hit those benchmarks. Of every player who logged as many minutes as Covington since 2014-15 (3,859), Leonard is the only one who did the same.

    And now Covington gets to play alongside more talented running mates, such as Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and a healthy Joel Embiid.

    Much like Harris' situation in Denver, this will help Covington; his game isn't built upon heavy usage. Almost 80 percent of his makes came off assists. Playmakers such as Saric and Simmons will get him open looks, and Covington could use more of those. Nearly half of his shot opportunities last season came in tight spaces.

    In other words, imagine Covington, as you know him to be now, playing beside real NBA players he'll complement without sacrifice. Presto! You have a recipe for a breakout.

Frontcourt Starter: Jabari Parker, Milwaukee Bucks

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    Khris Middleton exploded for the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014-15, and Giannis Antetokounmpo made a quantum leap in 2015-16. Now it's Jabari Parker's turn.

    Parker looked every bit as offensively polished as advertised after returning from an ACL injury. He shot nearly 66 percent around the basket last season and converted a not-too-shabby 33.9 percent of his attempts between 16 feet and the three-point line. 

    The Bucks will need to depend on him even more now. Matthew Dellavedova won't completely fill their playmaking void, and they can't trot out an above-average offense with Antetokounmpo and Middleton as their only instinctive drivers—especially if the plan is still to use the pick-and-roll-challenged Greg Monroe at center.

    That leaves Parker. (And perhaps Thon Maker but mostly Parker.)

    Though he isn't a well-rounded contributor in every department, he already fills the stat sheet from multiple angles and beyond his years. Consider the list of sophomore forwards who have matched Parker's 2015-16 point (1,070), rebound (395), assist (130) and steal (69) totals over the last 10 seasons: Wilson Chandler, Kevin Durant, Danilo Gallinari, Rudy Gay, Jeff Green and Chandler Parsons. Parker and Durant are the only ones of the group to reach these statistical milestones before their 21st birthday, so Milwaukee's young buck (sorry) is on the right track.

    Sticking with opposing power forwards will always be an issue for him, but the Bucks can help out by using John Henson beside him instead of Greg Monroe. From there, borderline stardom is just a matter of Parker creeping above 30 percent shooting beyond the arc.

Frontcourt Starter: Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets

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    If you didn't see much of Nikola Jokic last season, then you missed out on watching the NBA's second-best rookie.

    Sorry, Kristaps Porzingis.

    The New York Knicks newbie benefited from a hotter start and playing in a bigger market. By the end of the season, however, Jokic left him in his rearview mirror, leading all rookies in win shares per 48 minutes, ranking first in box plus-minus—measurement of how much better the average team is per 100 possessions with a given player on the floor—and finishing second in player efficiency rating, trailing only Karl-Anthony Towns.

    Jokic, simply put, was the more efficient player and further along than most realized. Finishing third in Rookie of the Year voting didn't even do his NBA debut justice.

    This league is made for a big such as him right now. He is quick enough to play within a fast-paced offense, can defend certain playmaking 4s and most 5s, has three-point range and passes better than any first-year big in recent memory.

    Try naming the last rookie to average more than 16 points per 36 minutes while sustaining Jokic's assist (18.1), steal (2.3) and block (2.3) percentages. You can't. There is only Jokic

    And better still, where Porzingis' development could be stunted by a Knicks squad heavy on post-prime veterans, Jokic figures to blossom on an upstart Nuggets contingent—much like he did last season, only more so.

    Stats courtesy of and unless otherwise cited.

    Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @danfavale.


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