Every NBA Team's Top Breakout Candidate in 2021-22

Greg Swartz@@GregSwartzBRCleveland Cavaliers Lead WriterSeptember 28, 2021

Every NBA Team's Top Breakout Candidate in 2021-22

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    There are a few factors that go into trying to identify breakout NBA players.

    Usually, these players are still on rookie deals, somewhere between their second and fourth seasons in the league. They should project to have a larger role than the season before, either because of their own developing skill set, more opportunity at their position or an impressive offseason in international or summer-league competition.

    For this exercise, rookies were ineligible, as were players who have already "broken out" in the league. For the more recognizable players on this list, it means another significant jump is likely coming.

    "Breaking out" also means different things for different players. It could mean a big jump in role and overall efficiency or moving from a low-level starter into All-Star territory.

    Here's the player on every NBA team who could make the jump this season.

Atlanta Hawks: G/F Cam Reddish

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    At his best, Reddish could be the next Paul George—a tall, silky-smooth wing who can dominate on both ends of the ball. At his worst, well, we caught a glimpse of that last year as the second-year forward ranked dead last in field-goal percentage (36.5) among 126 players attempting at least 10 shots per game.

    Reddish was hampered by a sore Achilles for much of last year, and a clean bill of health in 2021-22 could make a world of difference for the 22-year-old.

    Although he could begin the season off the bench for a loaded Hawks team, Reddish showed us what he was capable of with a 21-point performance against the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals, nailing six of his seven three-point attempts.

    With Trae Young already established as a superstar and John Collins and De'Andre Hunter looking like potential All-Stars, it's Reddish's turn to show he's the next big thing in Atlanta.

Boston Celtics: C Robert Williams III

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    Although he hasn't officially been named a starter, Williams looks like the Celtics' guy at center to begin the 2021-22 season.

    NBC Sports Boston's Chris Forsberg named Williams as one of four players (along with Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart) "seemingly locked into starting spots" and a "pillar" on the Celtics.

    If true, this will be the first year Williams is a full-time starter, a spot he's only found himself in for 16 of his 113 career games.

    The 23-year-old averaged 9.5 points, 8.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.8 blocks on 70.5 percent shooting in his 23.7 minutes as a starter in 13 games last year, showing promise as a defensive anchor and improved passer.

    Boston committed to Williams by giving him a four-year, $48 million extension, another sign he should win the starting job over Al Horford and receive a bump from his 18.9 minutes per game a season ago.

    Now entering year four, look for Williams to finally grab hold of the starting job in Boston and become a nightly double-double threat while contending to be one of the best shot-blocking bigs in the NBA.

Brooklyn Nets: C Nicolas Claxton

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    There are not a lot of breakout candidates on a Nets team that will mostly rely on veterans this season. Claxton and rookie Cam Thomas are the only players under 25 who could actually make the rotation.

    While Thomas is a nice bonus as a light-it-up scorer off the bench, the Nets won't need his offense as much as they'll require Claxton's defense.

    Even if Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge is named the starting center over Claxton, the 22-year-old should still see regular minutes off the bench because of his rim-protecting abilities.

    He's one of the few young players the Nets could offer teams via trade, although The Athletic's Alex Schiffer thinks Brooklyn will keep him.

    "I would be stunned if Claxton does not finish the season with the Nets. Why trade him? He's their best defender, one of their lone young players and is crucial to their title run. As of this moment, I'd put all my chips in the center of the table on that."

    If Aldridge (36) or Griffin (32) begin to wear down as the season goes on, we could see Claxton in an even bigger role for a Nets team that needs stoppers.

Charlotte Hornets: F Miles Bridges

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    While LaMelo Ball could certainly make a second-year leap, he's already established himself as a young star by winning Rookie of the Year last season. It's his lob partner, however, who could see a major jump in production.

    Bridges already improved his shooting efficiency in Year 3 (62.5 percent true shooting, up from 52.0 the year before), although his scoring dipped to 12.7 points per game while being moved to a bench role.

    While P.J. Washington and Mason Plumlee may win the starting frontcourt jobs, Bridges could replace Washington at some point this season given how good he was in the opening lineup last season.

    In 19 games as a starter, Bridges averaged 18.6 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.0 blocks with impressive shooting splits (50.8/41.8/85.7).

    No matter where he begins games, the Hornets simply have to get Bridges more than the 29.3 minutes he averaged last year and continue to grow the on-court chemistry between him and Ball.

Chicago Bulls: F Patrick Williams

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    Williams may not be Chicago's leader in any raw statistical category this season, but he's arguably the Bulls' most important player overall.

    Chicago injected a ton of talent this offseason with the acquisitions of DeMar DeRozan, Lonzo Ball and Alex Caruso in an attempt to impress Zach LaVine before he becomes an unrestricted free agent next summer. It's Williams, however, who now becomes the glue that holds this new-look roster together.

    Although he's only entering his second season, Williams is already the best defender on the Bulls.

    DeRozan killed the San Antonio Spurs with his defense last season, with opponents scoring a whopping 11.3 more points per 100 possessions with the veteran forward on the floor, per Cleaning the Glass. With DeRozan and Williams likely starting at the forward positions, it's Williams who will be tasked with slowing down the other team's best wing while Chicago tries to hide DeRozan as much as possible.

    Outside of defense, the Bulls need Williams to become a knock-down three-point shooter with so many ball-handlers now on the roster.

    The 20-year-old hit 39.8 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes last season, an encouraging sign for this year. The Bulls are extremely thin up front after trading away Thaddeus Young, Lauri Markkanen and Al Farouq-Aminu in the offseason, so Williams should see a bump from the 27.9 minutes he received per game a year ago.

    Even though he's currently recovering from a sprained ankle, look for the second-year forward to make a big impact all over the floor, as he's crucial to Chicago's success both this season and for years to come.

Cleveland Cavaliers: SF Isaac Okoro

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    Expecting Darius Garland here? The young point guard already made a big jump in year two (17.4 points, 6.1 assists, 1.3 steals, 39.5 percent from three) and should already be considered a top-15 point guard in the league. To find a breakout candidate on the Cavs, we need to dig a little deeper.

    Okoro made the All-Rookie second team, showing strong defensive potential while averaging 9.6 points, 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 0.9 steals in his 32.4 minutes. Head coach J.B. Bickerstaff threw the then-teenager into the fire immediately, starting Okoro in all 67 of his games and making him regularly defend the opponent's best wing. The results weren't always pretty, but they should make Okoro better in the long run.

    Playing with two ball-dominant guards in Garland and Collin Sexton, Okoro should continue to grow in his role as a cutter after ranking near the 70th percentile (1.38 points per possession, 66.7 field-goal percentage) as a rookie.

    A Denzel Valentine signing isn't going to affect Okoro's minutes or his spot as the team's starter, and getting some summer-league experience and a true training camp for the first time should help improve his game as well.

Dallas Mavericks: PG Jalen Brunson

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    As much as the Mavs would like to see last year's draft picks Josh Green and Tyrell Terry break out, there's really no reason to believe either will just yet.

    Terry begins the season buried behind Luka Doncic, Brunson and Trey Burke (and possibly even Frank Ntilikina) on the point guard depth chart. Green ranked last in points per game and minutes as a deep reserve on the Australian men's Olympic team.

    Instead, it's Brunson, 25, who should establish himself as one of the Mavericks' most important players now in year four, especially considering his new head coach, Jason Kidd, is one of the greatest point guards of all time.

    The former Villanova star made a miniature leap last season, becoming one of just three players in the NBA to average at least 12.0 points and 3.5 assists while shooting 40 percent from three and 50 percent overall, a group that also included Kyrie Irving and Zach LaVine.

    Brunson will be a free agent next offseason, so there's plenty of financial motivation for him to demonstrate improvement. There's not a ton of playmaking on this roster outside of Doncic, so Brunson should continue to see a heavy workload off the bench.

Denver Nuggets: F/C Bol Bol

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    While his raw skills haven't been a fit for the win-now Nuggets, Bol is now going into year three and is coming off an impressive summer-league performance.

    The 21-year-old averaged 21.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, 2.3 blocks and made 40.0 percent of his threes in 26.9 minutes over three games at the Las Vegas Summer League, showing off his versatile offensive game and rim-protecting abilities.

    Finding a designated position is difficult with a skinny 7'2" frame, although backup center minutes should be available with JaVale McGee leaving in free agency for the Phoenix Suns.

    Teammate Michael Porter Jr. said via Mike Singer of the Denver Post:

    "He's scoring, blocking shots, playing with a good attitude, a good energy about him. That's really good to see. I'm trying to stay in his ear just because, Bol Bol, he can be a part of this team and help us do big things. It's just gonna take a mindset change, which I think he's ready to embrace. So I'm trying to text him, tell him to hang out with me, come to the gym with me at night, things like that because that kid is very talented."

    The physical talent is clearly there. If the minutes and focus accompany it, Bol should become a rotation NBA player for the first time this season.

Detroit Pistons: C Isaiah Stewart

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    Pistons fans should be hoping for a breakout performance from second-year point guard Killian Hayes first, but averages of 6.3 points on 31.8 percent shooting—18.2 percent from three—in the summer league aren't exactly inspiring.

    Instead it's Stewart, who went nine picks after Hayes, who should establish himself as one of the best young centers in the league.

    Starting the 2020-21 season as a backup to Mason Plumlee, Stewart took over starting duties in April and played well enough that Detroit traded Plumlee to the Charlotte Hornets this summer.

    Over his final 15 games (10 starts), the 20-year-old averaged 12.0 points, 9.3 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and shot 50.7 percent overall. The Pistons were 5.2 points per 100 possessions better with Stewart on the floor, a rare positive mark for a rookie big man.

    With Plumlee gone, the starting center job should be all Stewart's as he continues to improve his range and overall game.

Golden State Warriors: C James Wiseman

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    Assuming he stays with the Warriors (or even if he doesn't), Wiseman has to be better in year two, almost by default.

    While his raw numbers were solid for a rookie center (11.5 points, 5.8 rebounds, 0.9 blocks, 51.9 percent shooting overall in 21.4 minutes), Golden State was far better when he was off the floor. Though Wiseman's outside shot showed promise, his post-up game was very much a work in progress (0.71 points per possession, 40.7 percent shooting, 14.4 percentile).

    Wiseman hasn't been able to train this offseason while recovering from meniscus surgery, and he will be limited to individual drills during training camp.

    Even with this setback, just getting a year of NBA experience under his belt should do wonders for his mental progress. After missing most of his lone year in college, Wiseman is coming into his second season with a head full of advice from Draymond Green and Golden State's coaching staff.

    He may look a little rusty at the beginning of the season, but Wiseman should eventually start to look like the player who was selected No. 2 just a year ago and packs a ton of physical talent into a 7'0", 240-pound frame.

Houston Rockets: PG Kevin Porter Jr.

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    While Porter already had his breakout game with 50 points and 11 assists against the Milwaukee Bucks on April 29, he's yet to put together a full, healthy season while avoiding off-court issues.

    While his raw averages of 16.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 6.3 assists per game may seem too good for this list, Porter's efficiency (52.9 percent true shooting), defense and overall impact (minus-5.8 swing rating last season) still have a ton of room for improvement.

    The biggest change for Porter this season could be moving to point guard on a full-time basis. With John Wall and the Rockets agreeing to a mutual separation, Porter could get to start as the team's floor general.

    His assists already took a huge leap from Year 1 to 2 (13.9 assist percentage to 31.2), and Porter has the size (6'4") to see over most point guards.

    With Wall out of the picture, Porter and rookie Jalen Green should get all the offense they can handle, with Porter taking on primary playmaking duties.

Indiana Pacers: C Goga Bitadze

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    The Pacers had the two best shot-blockers in the NBA among players who logged at least 500 minutes last season.

    The first one, Myles Turner (8.8 block percentage), is already well known. The second, Bitadze (8.7 block percentage), should be after this season.

    The 18th pick by the Pacers in 2019, Bitadze moves well for someone his size (6'11", 250 pounds) and has become a reliable backup to Turner. His presence also makes moving Turner far more possible if the right deal would come along.

    If the 22-year-old can continue to improve his three-point shot (19.0 percent in Year 1, 25.3 percent in Year 2) he'll become a starting-caliber center who protects the rim and almost never turns the ball over.

    Look for Bitadze's minutes to increase, especially if Turner ends up being traded before the deadline.

Los Angeles Clippers: G/F Terance Mann

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    Mann introduced himself on the big stage by dropping 39 points on the Utah Jazz in the 2021 playoffs, helping the Clippers close out the series in six games.

    His scoring will once again be needed as L.A. navigates the 2020-21 season without Kawhi Leonard, whose ACL surgery could possibly sideline him for the entire year.

    Mann could become the Clippers' starting small forward in Leonard's place and averaged 11.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, 2.1 assists and shot 45.5 percent in 10 starts last season. He's become an elite three-point shooter both off the catch (40.6 percent) and the dribble (42.9 percent) for a Clippers team loaded with outside threats.

    After mostly serving as a reserve and averaging just 18.9 minutes per game in his sophomore season, look for Mann to truly break out with Leonard sidelined.

Los Angeles Lakers: SG Talen Horton-Tucker

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    Through no fault of his own, Horton-Tucker has become one of the most overrated young players in the game. He's also easily the Lakers' top breakout candidate this season.

    Despite entering his third NBA season, Horton-Tucker won't turn 21 until Thanksgiving and already has the experience of a championship run while sharing the floor with LeBron James and Anthony Davis for the past two seasons.

    At 6'4" and 234 pounds, Horton-Tucker is like a locomotive when he gets into the lane. He is already a talented passer off the dribble and made 52.2 percent of his shots inside the arc.

    Horton-Tucker's outside game needs work, however, as his efficiency (28.2 percent) ranked 156th out of 157 guards who shot at least 100 three-pointers last season. Only Josh Okogie of the Minnesota Timberwolves was worse.

    Expect Horton-Tucker to play a sixth-man role for the Lakers, giving the team some fresh legs and offensive creation off the bench when guys like James and Russell Westbrook need a breather.

Memphis Grizzlies: G/F Desmond Bane

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    The Grizzlies' success this season will largely be determined by the return of a healthy Jaren Jackson Jr., but the 22-year-old's breakout sophomore season (17.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 39.4 percent from three) makes him a little too good for this list.

    Instead, look for Bane to make his own second-year jump.

    While it was no surprise the 22-year-old rookie found success from outside the arc, Bane was historically good last season. His 43.2 percent mark from three was fifth-best in franchise history—trailing only Mike Miller and Wesley Person—and ranked 13th in the NBA last year.

    Memphis needs his floor spacing with Ja Morant struggling from deep (30.3 percent). Bane is also a strong defender and can put his head down and get to the basket as needed on offense.

    Don't be surprised if Bane earns a starting job over Kyle Anderson at some point this season, as he's consistently provided quality minutes for a Grizzlies team loaded with young talent.

Miami Heat: SG Tyler Herro

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    Herro became a household name during the 2020 NBA playoffs with his impressive scoring performances as a rookie while helping lead the Heat to the NBA Finals.

    While a season-long breakout was expected in year two, Herro's true shooting percentage actually took a step back during the regular season. He followed that with a disastrous playoff showing (9.3 points on 31.6 percent shooting) as Miami was swept out of the first round.

    All of this has actually made Herro a little underrated and overlooked, especially with the Heat picking up Kyle Lowry and P.J. Tucker this offseason.

    Herro has since been busy, adding 10 pounds of muscle to a frame that was listed at 6'5" and just 195 pounds last season.

    "He has totally dedicated himself to the weight room," Miami's (retiring) strength and conditioning coach Bill Foran told the Miami Herald's Anthony Chiang and Barry Jackson. "His body is transformed. He will be a much better athlete."

    With Lowry, Jimmy Butler and Duncan Robinson likely starting in the backcourt and on the wing, Herro could be in line to be the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year given his scoring and playmaking ability.

    After improving his physique and having the extra offseason time to work on his game, Herro's third season should be his best yet.

Milwaukee Bucks: SF Jordan Nwora

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    Although he struggled to find consistent playing time on a veteran Bucks team last year, Nwora has the most upside of any young player off Milwaukee's bench.

    The 45th pick in the 2020 draft, Nwora could be a scoring spark for the Bucks this season following a successful run with the Nigerian Olympic team. On a squad that featured NBA players like Precious Achiuwa, Josh Okogie, Jahlil Okafor and KZ Okpala, it was Nwora who led Nigeria in scoring with 21.0 points per game while shooting 48.0 percent from three.

    This followed up a rookie season where he averaged 22.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals per 36 minutes while going 28-of-62 (45.2 percent) from outside the arc.

    The skill set is there, but will the minutes be?

    Nwora will have to beat out veteran Rodney Hood for the backup small forward job and could see time at power forward behind Giannis Antetokounmpo as well.

Minnesota Timberwolves: F Jaden McDaniels

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    McDaniels will likely open as Minnesota's starter at one of the two forward positions.

    At 6'9" and 185 pounds, the second-year forward showed good three-and-D potential last season while averaging 6.8 points, 3.7 rebounds, 1.1 assists and 1.0 blocks while shooting 36.4 percent from three.

    A breakout for McDaniels won't mean turning into a 20-point-per-game scorer with Anthony Edwards, Karl Anthony-Towns, D'Angelo Russell and Malik Beasley around, but it would mean turning into someone who can be an elite defender, spaces the floor and makes everyone else's job easier.

    Edwards deserves mention here as well. Even though he dropped 19.3 points per game as a rookie, he'll likely become a far more efficient scorer in year two and someone who puts himself in the conversation among the best young players in the league along with Luka Doncic, Zion Williamson, Jayson Tatum and others.

New Orleans Pelicans: SG Nickeil Alexander-Walker

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    While Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram will carry the scoring load in New Orleans, Alexander-Walker could soon make this a Big Three.

    The third-year wing should slide into the open starting guard spot vacated by Eric Bledsoe and will be a bigger, better option moving forward.

    When given the opportunity last year, Alexander-Walker averaged 19.0 points, 5.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.1 steals and shot 41.2 percent from three in his 13 starts, and he has the size at 6'6" to defend multiple positions.

    The Pelicans have to hope fellow 2019 draft classmate Jaxson Hayes makes a leap as well (something he failed to noticeably do from Years 1 to 2), making Alexander-Walker the better choice here.

New York Knicks: C Mitchell Robinson

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    Last season was supposed to be Robinson's breakout party, a year that ultimately was shortened to just 31 games because of a broken hand and foot.

    Despite being named the full-time starting center for the first time in his career, Robinson's scoring actually took a step back (9.7 points per game to 8.3) as did his rebounding, assist and block rates.

    The 23-year-old big man is still recovering from foot surgery that took place in March but hasn't been ruled out of any preseason games thus far.

    "I thought last year, [Robinson] was really starting to take off when he got hurt," head coach Tom Thibodeau said, per Marc Berman of the New York Post. "And then he had the setback. And this summer, he's put in a lot of time. He hasn't been able to play. He's put a lot of time into conditioning, strength and conditioning and whatever he's allowed to do—being in the pool, weight training, form shooting, watching a lot of film."

    Robinson will once again be the starting center when healthy, with Nerlens Noel back on a new contract as his reserve.

    Eligible to sign a contract extension now, Mitchell is in line to be a free agent next summer and should earn a huge raise from his current $1.8 million salary.

    If he can make a full recovery before the start of the year, look for Robinson to become the rim-running, shot-blocking force that earned him the starting job in the first place.

Oklahoma City Thunder: F Aleksej Pokusevski

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    One of the most interesting prospects coming into the 2020 NBA draft, Pokusevski was the 17th pick by OKC. His rookie season was a mixed bag, as the 7-footer looked like an incredible mismatch at times and completely lost at others.

    The Thunder chose to have him focus on adding muscle to his 190-pound frame this offseason rather than attend summer league, knowing a physical transformation would be crucial to Pokusevski's long-term success.

    "I think he has a unique set of skills and talent," Thunder GM Sam Presti said via Sports Illustrated's Ryan Chapman. "But he's gonna have to fight, he's gonna have to compete. He's far from having established himself as a player in the NBA, but the steps he took this summer I think are going to give them the best opportunity to realize his talent."

    In 28 starts last season, Pokusevski averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists and shot 31.8 percent from three.

    After an offseason of work, we should see Pokusevski compete for the starting power forward job as he remains one of the most intriguing young players in the league.

Orlando Magic: F Chuma Okeke

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    The Magic seemingly have breakout candidates everywhere you look.

    Wendell Carter Jr. and Mo Bamba are both headed into year four and will be looking to get paid next summer. Cole Anthony (and Markelle Fultz when he returns from a torn ACL) should be improved but could lose out on touches to rookie Jalen Suggs. Even Jonathan Isaac could make a big leap as a full-time starting power forward without Aaron Gordon on the roster anymore.

    For now, Okeke seems like a safe bet: a second-year forward who's already shown the ability to do a little bit of everything on both ends.

    At 6'6" and a solid 229 pounds, Okeke is a bit of a combo forward who can defend multiple spots. His future, however, is probably at power forward.

    An NBA scout told The Athletic's Josh Robbins:

    "I think he's a 4—more of a small-ball 4. I don't think you want to play him at the 3 a lot just because teams are going smaller, so you don't want him having to chase smaller guys. I think he can play the 3 at times for you if you want to go bigger, but I like him at the 4 where he's able to stretch the floor and kind of be like a Tobias Harris."

    After showing off the ability to hit threes (34.8 percent), drive and even serve as a playmaker a bit as a rookie, Okeke could be one of Orlando's best players as early as this season.

Philadelphia 76ers: G/F Matisse Thybulle

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    Raw offensive numbers won't do Thybulle justice, as he's become one of the NBA's best wing defenders just two years into his career.

    Despite being picked 20th in the real version, Bleacher Report's Andy Bailey selected Thybulle fourth in a 2019 re-draft, writing:

    "In 2020-21, he earned one vote for Defensive Player of the Year and was named to the All-Defensive second team. He also led the league in defensive BPM and averaged 2.9 steals and 2.0 blocks per 75 possessions.

    "No one in NBA history has ever had a season with averages at least that high in both marks. And if you drop the steals qualifier to 2.0, the list only includes 16 others."

    While Thybulle's role should grow solely based on natural improvement on both ends of the ball, he'll truly be needed if (when) the Sixers end up trading Ben Simmons.

    If Philly loses its defensively elite point guard, Thybulle will become even more valuable as a stopper who can defend multiple positions. If 34-year-old Danny Green begins to slow down, we could see Thybulle slide into his starting spot as well.

Phoenix Suns: F Cameron Johnson

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    For a player who was viewed primarily as a shooter coming out of college, Johnson has begun to expand his offensive game heading into year three.

    The 6'8" forward showed an ability to get to the basket and finish around defenders in the postseason—even throwing down arguably the most vicious dunk of the NBA Finals.

    His 36.2 percent mark on catch-and-shoot threes seems destined to improve given his silky-smooth release, and there should still be plenty of quality looks with Chris Paul back on a new four-year deal. While Johnson may not take Jae Crowder's starting spot, he will still be needed as an offensive threat off the bench.

    Jalen Smith is another breakout candidate here, as the second-year big man showed floor-spacing and rim-protecting ability coming out of college. He'll likely have to beat out JaVale McGee for backup center minutes, however, considering that Johnson and Crowder should see the bulk of the minutes at the 4.

Portland Trail Blazers: F Nassir Little

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    Even after showing off an improved three-point shot last season (35.0 percent, up from 23.7 as a rookie), Little never got consistent, meaningful minutes from head coach Terry Stotts. Now with Chauncey Billups in charge, Little is ready for a fresh start with his new coach.

    Little said, per The Athletic's Jason Quick: 

    "We are pretty close already. I think we connect pretty well, and work well together. We've had a really open line of communication, which I think is good for a young player like myself. He's been pretty straightforward in what he expects from me, and what my role will be, as long as I continue to do what I'm doing. That's kind of all I ever wanted. All I could ask for. So I appreciate that."

    Little has also worked hard to transform his body, dropping 12 pounds while gaining muscle as a result of a new diet.

    "I stopped eating BS, bro," Little said. "No more hamburgers. No fried food. I haven't been eating bread, not that much pasta. And I cut out sugar—that was probably one of the biggest things. I'm eating more vegetables, drinking more water and getting more sleep."

    With Norman Powell and Robert Covington likely starting at the two forward spots, Little should see a bump in minutes as one of the first guys off the bench because of his defensive ability and outside shooting.

Sacramento Kings: SG Tyrese Haliburton

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    The surprise rookie of 2020-21, Haliburton should only continue to rise after averaging 13.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.3 steals while shooting 40.9 percent from three.

    Of course, the roster around him will have a lot to do with his development as well.

    If the Kings trade Buddy Hield at some point this season (which they already tried to do over the summer), it should open up the starting shooting guard job and a bigger scoring responsibility for Haliburton. The 21-year-old averaged 14.6 points per 36 minutes when sharing the floor with Hield last season, compared to 17.2 points when Hield was on the bench.

    His 20 starts resulted in averages of 14.9 points and 6.0 assists, numbers that should only go up with more experience, especially if Hield is moved.

    Marvin Bagley III is yet again a breakout candidate but has thus far remained incredibly consistent with per-game averages between 14.1 and 14.9 points and 7.4 and 7.6 rebounds in all three of his pro seasons.

San Antonio Spurs: F Keldon Johnson

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    Of the Spurs' top six scorers from last season, three (DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Rudy Gay) are now gone. This means far more offensive opportunity for the rest of San Antonio's young core, especially Johnson, who could be the team's new starting power forward with DeRozan now with the Chicago Bulls.

    Even some of the new additions (Doug McDermott, Thaddeus Young) shouldn't take away from a third-year leap for Johnson, who can play multiple positions at 6'5" and 220 pounds.

    "Johnson will have more runway this year with DeMar DeRozan gone," an NBA executive told HoopsHype's Michael Scotto. "He'll entrench himself as a starter. When he's gotten minutes, he produces. He's vastly improved his shooting."

    The 21-year-old is also coming off some valuable Olympic experience as a somewhat surprising selection to Team USA after averaging a modest 12.8 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.8 assists last season.

    The extra time with Gregg Popovich should earn Johnson some additional minutes and shot opportunities. Considering the opportunities in front of him, Johnson could very well end up as San Antonio's leading scorer this year.

Toronto Raptors: F/C Precious Achiuwa

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    Although he likely won't begin the season as the starting center in Toronto, Achiuwa could make an argument for the job by season's end.

    The 22-year-old is already a better rebounder than Khem Birch and Chris Boucher ahead of him, and he picked up some valuable experience by playing a key role for the Nigerian Olympic team this summer.

    Although he took just one three-pointer during his rookie season with the Miami Heat, Achiuwa did go 13-of-40 (32.5 percent) from deep in college as a freshman at Memphis. There's some floor-spacing ability there, another factor that could help move Achiuwa up the depth chart over the course of the year.

    OG Anunoby and Gary Trent Jr. are other breakout candidates here, but both already stepped up to become 15-plus point-per-game scorers last season while securing starting roles.

Utah Jazz: C Udoka Azubuike

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    Rocky Widner/Getty Images

    No team is more difficult to pick a breakout candidate for than Utah, which boasts a roster that's already dripping with proven talent.

    Azubuike becomes the choice here almost by default, even if he'll have to jump Hassan Whiteside at some point this season just to get into the rotation.

    The second-year center is coming off a strong summer-league performance, averaging 13.8 points, 8.8 rebounds, 1.2 steals and 2.5 blocks while shooting 84.6 percent in his four games.

    A first-round pick by the Jazz in 2020 (27th), Azubuike's ceiling still projects to be that of a backup center, especially if he stays in Utah behind Rudy Gobert.

    If Whiteside, 32, begins to slip this season, we could see the 22-year-old Azubuike make a leap as a solid rebounder and rim protector. He could have additional opportunities, too, as the Jazz attempt to fill the 15.3 minutes per game vacated by Derrick Favors, who was traded over the summer.

Washington Wizards: C Daniel Gafford

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    Nick Wass/Associated Press

    It's tempting to pick Deni Avdija here, as the second-year forward arguably has the greatest potential of any of the young Wizards.

    However, an influx of veteran talent following the Russell Westbrook trade could mean a demotion for Avdija and a step back in playing time.

    As NBC Sports Washington's Chase Hughes wrote, "with more depth at the forward position following the Wizards' offseason moves, it sounds like Avdija could be bumped to the second unit more consistently. Washington may turn to one of its new players to start at the 3, like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope or Kyle Kuzma."

    While the trade also brought in center Montrezl Harrell, the veteran has never been a full-time starter and thus shouldn't be in danger of stealing Gafford's job.

    The 22-year-old looked good following a trade from the Chicago Bulls last season (10.1 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.8 blocks, 68.1 percent shooting in just 17.7 minutes off the bench) and has earned a starting job while Thomas Bryant continues to recover from a torn ACL.

    Gafford puts a lot of pressure on the rim on both ends. He could serve as the defensive anchor this team needs while finishing off lots of lob opportunities from Bradley Beal and new point guard Spencer Dinwiddie.

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