NBA All-Breakout Team for the 2011-2012 Season
Players like James Harden, John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins all showed tremendous potential last season. With another full season of experience under their belts, they look to be among the next group of players to break out in the 2011-2012 NBA season.
While the NBA already compiles All-NBA Defensive, All-NBA and All-Rookie teams as each season concludes, they have yet to acknowledge a team full of the Most Improved NBA players.
Sure, an award is given out to the most outstanding improved player in the NBA, but what about the rest of the players who have made impeccable improvements?
Most improved players deserve recognition as they often become the future of the NBA. Players like Kevin Love, LaMarcus Aldridge and Blake Griffin all stepped into the spotlight last season, and there is a slew of players ready to do the same when the lockout comes to an end.
While most improved players ultimately get overlooked unless they win the Most Improved Player award or are on an elite team, concocting this team eradicates such an injustice.
If this team were assembled, they would ignite fans' love of the game with their captivating play and enthralling potential to get better. Because let's face it, who doesn't love an underdog?
Point Guard: John Wall
After averaging 16.4 points, 4.6 rebounds, 8.3 assists along with 1.8 steals per game, many would argue that John Wall already had his breakout season.
I tend to disagree because Wall is so good that it's not inconceivable to see him posting averages of over 20 points, five rebounds, 10 assists and rounding his steals off to two per game.
He only averaged 41 percent shooting from the field, 30 percent from distance and 77 percent from the free-throw line. Considering the vast potential which he has, it is fair to assume that he will improve his shooting accuracy greatly in his sophomore season.
His explosive athleticism and feline quickness suggest that he can eclipse his rookie season production, and become an even better leader for the up and coming Washington Wizards.
Shooting Guard: James Harden
When James Harden was drafted by the Oklahoma City Thunder, many later criticized them for passing on the deadly accurate Stephen Curry.
However, Harden used the 2011 NBA Playoffs as his personal stage to prove all his doubters wrong.
Harden has a precocious feel for the game reminiscent of Brandon Roy.
He can shoot the ball, set up his teammates and even defend exceptionally well.
Although Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be the superstars on the team, the playoffs proved that Harden is the metaphorical spoon that stirs the pot.
His playmaking ability allows Durant to focus on scoring the ball and takes pressure off of Westbrook as he learns the nuances of the point guard position.
If the Thunder are wise, they should relegate Thabo Sefolosha to the bench and give the bearded Harden the starting spot he rightly deserves.
Small Forward: Nicolas Batum
While Nicolas Batum's averages of 12.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 1.5 assists per game don't jump off the page, it's important to remember that he has been playing his entire career with LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy.
However, Roy's career has quickly deteriorated along with his knees and he can no longer be the elite scorer he once was before his injuries got the best of him.
That is where Batum comes in. His lanky frame allows him to defend the ball well and he has the ability to knock down a shot from virtually anywhere on the court.
His time playing for the French national team will also be valuable as it has given him practice as a leader and placed him in high-pressure situations. This experience will be invaluable to him and the Portland Trail Blazers as they try to advance further into the playoffs in the upcoming season.
With heavier emphasis placed on his contributions, look for Batum to average somewhere between 15 and 17 points per game.
Power Forward: DeMarcus Cousins
DeMarcus Cousins is constantly misjudged by people because he is aggressive on the court and aloof to those who don't know him off of it.
Before the 2010 NBA draft, John Thompson stated appreciation in this video for the style which Cousins plays by stating that: "It's easier to calm down a fool, than to resurrect a corpse."
His tenacious nature on the court should be viewed as an asset to the Sacramento Kings, not a detriment to his character. His intensity is reminiscent of Kenyon Martin and that is in no way a bad thing.
Since being drafted in 2010, he has slimmed down from 291 lbs. to 270 lbs. which allows him to be more elusive and put his offensive skills on full display.
The pairing of Cousins and the newly acquired J.J. Hickson is likely going to be one of the most athletic frontcourt pairings in the entire league.
Cousins' averages of 14.1 points and 8.6 rebounds per game prove that he has the potential to become one of the best centers in the NBA.
If he is able to take better shots and stay out of foul trouble, it won't be long before Cousins corrects the common misconceptions about him and becomes a fan favorite in Sacramento.
Center: JaVale McGee
With freakish length and sublime springs in his sneakers, McGee is one of the most explosive athletes at the center position.
In a little less than 28 minutes per game, he was able to average an unreal 2.4 blocks per game. In 37 minutes per game, Dwight Howard averaged the same number of blocks, so that just shows how remarkable McGee's production truly is.
Although he is not nearly as polished as Howard is offensively, it is not out of the question to see him trounce Howard and lead the NBA in blocks in the upcoming season.
He will also have the dynamic John Wall throwing him passes, so that will only help him develop his game at a greater rate.
McGee posted a rare triple-double last season of 11 points, 12 rebounds and 12 blocks which is a testament to his tantalizing potential.
Just like teammate Andray Blatche, McGee has been labeled by some as a problematic player due to his immaturity.
The Washington Wizards are certainly a team on the rise and I believe that McGee will overcome his character issues to help catapult the Wizards from cellar-dwellers to contending for a final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference when the lockout comes to an end.
Bench Player No. 1: Gordon Hayward
Although Gordon Hayward's averages of 5.4 points, 1.9 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game looked like a player who is destined to be mired in mediocrity, that couldn't be further from the truth.
This was Hayward's rookie season for one and he only averaged just under 17 minutes per game. When he did receive the minutes though, he shined majestically.
His best month was in April when he posted a 22-point performance against Kobe Bryant, and capped off the season with a sizzling 34 points where he was absolutely on fire.
During that final game against the Denver Nuggets, he shot 70.1 percent from the field, 83 percent from three-point range and knocked down all five of his free-throw attempts.
While this is obviously not something he's going to be doing on a nightly basis, it is a good barometer to show the kind of potential he truly has.
He has sneaky playmaking skills which he displayed as well often posting four and five assists in games when he received significant playing time.
With Andrei Kirilenko unlikely to return since he is an unrestricted free agent, it looks as if the small forward position is Hayward's to lose.
Make no mistake though, after capping off last season with several impressive performances in the final month of the season, it is highly unlikely that he will disappoint.
Bench Player No. 2: DeAndre Jordan
After receiving more minutes at the center position last season, DeAndre Jordan delivered by throwing down some impressive dunks and averaging 7.1 points, 7.2 rebounds along with 1.8 blocks per game, as he is finally starting to get noticed.
At 6'11" and 265 lbs., Jordan is an absolute behemoth at the center position. As if the big guy wasn't imposing enough, his frontcourt buddy is none other than supernaturally athletic Blake Griffin.
Although Jordan will receive a ton of interest this summer from any team in need of a center, the Los Angeles Clippers would be wise to match any offers put on the table for him.
Pairing Jordan with Griffin in the frontcourt not only guarantees them one of the most dominant frontlines in the NBA, but one of the most athletic as well.
Bench Player No. 3: Jrue Holiday
Under the superb coaching job of Doug Collins, the inexperienced Philadelphia 76ers quickly became one of the most improved teams in the NBA as the season came down to the final stretch, and even stole a game from the star-studded Miami Heat in the 2011 NBA Playoffs.
Jrue Holiday was a major beneficiary of Collins' experience and leadership as he posted stellar numbers across the board of 14 points, four rebounds, 6.5 assists along with 1.5 steals per game.
With a long reach and good height at the point guard position, Holiday is quickly becoming one of the best defenders at his position, only coming into his third season in the NBA.
Since Collins is returning to coach the Sixers whenever the lockout ends, I expect Holiday to continue to improve statistically, defensively and most importantly as a leader of one of the most dynamic young teams in the NBA.
Bench Player No. 4: Marcin Gortat
Nicknamed the "Polish Hammer" for his strength and ability to throw down powerful jams on his opponents, Gortat was finally unleashed upon the NBA last season when the Orlando Magic traded him to the Phoenix Suns and flourished in the role.
He posted averages of 13 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per game on 56 percent shooting from the field in 55 games with the Suns.
With an injury-prone Robin Lopez as his only true competition at the center position, Gortat looks like he has finally escaped the massive shadow of Dwight Howard and earned himself a steady starting center job.
The perimeter marksmanship of Channing Frye along with the brutish inside game of Gortat should give the Suns one of the more intriguing frontcourt pairings in the NBA.
However, the Suns' success is always contingent upon Steve Nash's health. If he is able to stay on the court, it will only bode well for the Suns as a team and Gortat's statistical production as an individual player.
Bench Player No. 5: DeMar DeRozan
Many may feel as though DeMar DeRozan's average of 17.2 points per game last season was his breakout season.
However, he is a bona fide superstar and has boundless energy, leaping ability and potential.
DeRozan looks like a human pogo stick furiously bouncing through the lane hell-bent at getting to the rim, soaring above and beyond his opponents and throwing down annihilating dunks all night long.
His potential (much like his leaping ability) seems to have no limits. He broke the 30-point mark five times last season and scored over 20 a bunch of times.
While his leaping ability may be reminiscent of Vince Carter, his attitude thankfully isn't.
DeRozan looks poised to be the Raptors' next superstar and unlike Carter has the right mindset to go along with the task.
With Andrea Bargnani and highly touted draft pick Jonas Valanciunas, they could be clawing their way out of mediocrity much sooner than everyone thinks.
Bench Player No. 6: Anthony Randolph
Admittedly being a New York Knicks fan, I was ecstatic when I heard that we got Anthony Randolph in a trade because of his unbelievable potential, length and ability to handle the ball in the open floor.
As everyone knows that unfortunately didn't work out. Knicks head coach Mike D'Antoni likely had something to do with that, as I mentioned here.
Randolph was traded away to the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he would finally get his chance to shine.
While Kevin Love garnered all the attention for his superhuman rebounding ability, Randolph was a bright spot towards the end of the season for the Timberwolves.
He finally started posting stat lines that were indicative of the potential scouts were drooling over when he was taken in the middle of the first round by the Golden State Warriors in the 2008 NBA draft.
Randolph has the ability to average around 15 points, eight rebounds along with two assists per game and a couple of blocks and steals just for good measure.
The Timberwolves roster is eerily similar to the "Island of Misfit Toys." Tell me you don't see Michael Beasley as the emotionally damaged doll and you're kidding yourself. Even the general manager, David Kahn, who compiled the roster is a misfit in his own right.
His trip through the NBA pipeline has seemingly been from one dysfunctional NBA family to another, playing for the fickle Don Nelson, then temperamental D'Antoni and now he has landed in basketball Siberia in Minnesota.
The difference with this team is that each player is or was a misfit at some point in their career.
The only hindrance in Randolph's possible breakout season is the hiring of Rick Adelman, who although he is a good coach, is known to play veterans over youngsters.
With Brad Miller, a former veteran of Adelman's, it will be interesting to see who gets the lion's share of minutes.
If Adelman does give Randolph the minutes though I expect him to pick up right where he left off at the end of last season.