11 NBA Players Guaranteed to Breakout in 2013-14
11 NBA Players Guaranteed to Break Out in 2013-14
If there is one thing that all NBA fans enjoy, it's the birth of a star or the emergence of a young player into a good one. No matter if you're a Miami Heat fan that holds their head high or a Sacramento Kings fan who swears the Kings bumper sticker on their car is some sick act of vandalism by a hooligan, each of us enjoy the rise of someone's career. It might have been the emergence of Kenneth Faried from a simple energy guy off of the bench into "The Manimal", a vital cog in the Denver Nuggets system. To others, witnessing Rajon Rondo go from second fiddle role player to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen into someone who literally rewrote the game guide to say Fantastic Four did the trick. And who can forget the breakout season of Nikola Pekovic, the only man in the NBA to ever remind us of a European Charles Oakley.
In some examples, we see a simple progression of a career through the handling of a heavier workload. In others, we'll see the proverbial factor that is the closing of their first NBA contract or the looming team option that drives the breakout season. No matter what the case, the game of basketball is one that we watch for the game itself, not the reasons behind the performance of its stars. Like previous seasons, there exists a group of players I believe are on the cusp of elevating their career to another level. To clarify, that level isn't something like we witnessed with the earth shattering 2010-11 season put together by Kris Humphries (10/10.4/1.2) who taught us more about the prenuptial agreement than he did the proper technique for boxing out. To make this list, the player in question simply needs to be on the verge of a breakthrough season that elevates them into either a star level talent or one that is a significant contributor for their team.
Without any further delay, here are your 2013-14 breakout performers.
Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
2012-13: 12.8 Points, 3.9 Rebounds, 1.6 Assists
If there's one player that's sure to climb the NBA hierarchy through the simple case of an increased workload, it's Jeff Green. In his career, Green has constantly been followed by expectations and to a large degree, ones that had not been fulfilled. To be fair, one has to expect such a thing when being dealt for Ray Allen in the twilight of his prime.
After a potentially lethal heart condition forced Green to miss all of the 2011-12 NBA season, the return to the court came with not only the production that the Celtics envisioned when they dealt Kendrick Perkins for him a few seasons ago, but with the rekindling, almost akin to the resurrection of a phoenix, in the potential for Green's career. In their first round series defeat against the New York Knicks, Green did not disappoint as he jumped his production to 20.3 points and 5.3 rebounds and became one of the keys to the Celtics staying alive against a much fresher and Knicks squad.
Entering the 2013-14 season, the departures of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce along with the ACL injury to Rajon Rondo essentially mean that Green will resume the role of first, second and third option on the floor. Other than Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, there might not be a player who will be more heavily relied on to provide on offense for his squad, and I believe that Green is more than capable with his skill set. It might be premature, but I thoroughly expect Green to be selected to his first All-Star game.
Projections: 22 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists
Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto Raptors
2012-13: 8.9 points, 6.0 rebounds, 1.3 blocks
Simply put, the last decade has been a painful one for Toronto Raptors fans. It saw Vince Carter, the best player in franchise history, depart while getting pennies on the dollar, lost Chris Bosh to LeBron James and the Miami Heat, extended court time from Rafael Arurjo, Joey Graham, Jelani McCoy, Michael Bradley, and Matt Bonner, and enough losing seasons to make the Pittsburgh Pirates take notice. Again, we're talking about a team that had Bonner not only in its rotation but counted on him to change the complexion of games -- not a winning formula in my book.
Anyways, while the Andrea Bargnani blunder, Hedo Turkoglu over-payment and assistance in constructing the Heat Big Three were among the more notable moves by former GM Bryan Colangelo, he decided that his last significant move would be one that would actually attempt to build a long-term foundation to compete in the Eastern Conference by selecting Jonas Valanciunas in the 2011 NBA Draft.
To be frank, the Raptors' fan base haven't had something this exciting in their midst since the five minutes leading up to the 8th pick in the 2012 NBA draft that were filled with thoughts of a Andre Drummond-Jonas Valanciunas tag team. Although that never materialized, Valanciunas on his own is more than enough to create buzz for the franchise.
Although a full statistical breakout should not be expected due to the presence of Rudy Gay, Demar Derozan and Kyle Lowry on offense, this season should mark the first of what should be many seasons of double figure scoring and rebounding totals for Valanciunas while entering the conversation alongside Drummond, DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis as one of the league's bright young post players.
Projections: 10.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
Evan Fournier, Denver Nuggets
2012-13: 5.3 points, 1.2 assists, 0.9 rebounds
Entering his second year out of France, there is a lot of buzz surrounding the Denver Nuggets' young shooting guard. Although among the lesser used of players under the George Karl regime, the injury to Danilo Gallinari created the need for another perimeter player to replace his production, and Evan Fournier did not disappoint. In April, Fournier saw his minutes spike from 11.3 to 23.1 and rewarded Karl by being about as productive and efficient as one can expect from a rookie getting his first extended run, averaging 11.5 points, 2.8 assists, 2.3 rebounds on 50 percent shooting from the field.
While the presence of Randy Foye might relegate Fournier to the duties of second man off of the bench for the Nuggets, the potential for winning the starting position and becoming a worthy replacement for Andre Iguodala on offense is there.
Projections (starter): 12.5 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 rebounds
JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
2012-13: 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks
We've been waiting a long time for this man to break out.
At 7-foot, 250 pounds with arms longer than Inspector Gadget and athleticism that would make Usain Bolt jealous, JaVale McGee has all of the physical tools to become a star in the NBA. Unfortunately, up until this point, "Tragic Bronson" has provided more laughs in Shaqtin' A Fool than he has any real notable impact on an NBA court.
When you dismiss a coach who led the team to 57 wins and a spot in the contender conversation, you know someone in management was displeased with something significant in terms of player management, an issue that probably could best be summed up in one number: 18.1. It is the amount of minutes that McGee, fresh off a four-year, $44 million contract negotiation received under the Karl regime. No matter how well the team performed, management simply wanted to see more from their hefty investment as a 25 year old freak physical specimen is much tougher to come by than a coach that can instill a free flowing offense and not win in the playoffs.
The 2013-14 season should see a significant spike in minutes for McGee as a role increase along with a possible spot in the starting lineup is all but guaranteed under new head coach Brian Shaw. It should be a big year for Tragic Bronson in Denver this season.
Projections: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 3.2 blocks
Bradley Beal, Washington Wizards
2012-13: 13.9 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.8 assists
If there is one perimeter wing scorer that can make the jump into star player this upcoming NBA season, it's Bradley Beal. At the closing of last season, it was easy to see why the Washington Wizards banked on Beal in the 2012 NBA Draft, hoping that they'd found their running mate for John Wall for the next decade. After the All-Star festivities, Beal became the kind of player in his rookie season that gives you butterflies thinking about down the line as he averaged 16.5 points, 5.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists on 47 percent from the field and 45 percent from deep. In short, it really reminded you why many had pegged Beal to be a player that closely resembled the kind of talent that Ray Allen entered the league with so many seasons ago.
If the preseason is any indication, we will undoubtedly be seeing and hearing a lot about Beal this upcoming season. With a Wizards squad that desperately wants to translate their youth and potential into some semblance of success, expect Beal, who I project as an All-Star this season, along with John Wall, to be driving force in pushing the Wizards back into the postseason.
Projections: 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, 4 assists
Andre Drummond, Detroit Pistons
2012-13: 7.9 points, 7.6 rebounds, 1.6 blocks
If there is anyone that's comparable to Dwight Howard in the NBA from a physical standpoint, it's Andre Drummond. The 20 year old, entering his second season with the Detroit Pistons, is the kind of combination of talent and physical abilities that you see a few times a decade. Brought along slowly by Lawrence Frank, Drummond displayed the kind of impact on both sides of the court that gave you hope as a Pistons fan in seeing the slow climb back into a contender with Drummond front and center in the effort.
Despite a season that was spent logging minutes mostly from the bench, the small sample size of his production in a starter role (11.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.1 blocks in 26 minutes) would already be more than enough to expect from a rookie center, a position where players usually don't really hit their stride until their fourth or fifth season.
Simply put, there isn't a big man in the league with more potential for stardom than Drummond. With a year of experience to draw upon along with a solidified starter role in 2013-14, it should be a big year for the Pistons young star.
Projections: 13 points, 11 rebounds, 2.5 blocks
Jeremy Lamb, Oklahoma City Thunder
2012-13: 3.1 points, 0.8 rebounds, 0.2 assists
As a talent, there is no questioning what Jeremy Lamb can do on the basketball court. Although we haven't seen the type of meaningful minutes thus far in his NBA career to show it, one only has to look back at his days at the University of Connecticut and under-21 USA team to see the potential that he possesses. It's the kind of talent that can not only soften the blow that James Harden, now a top 5-7 talent in the NBA, created for Thunder fans, but a talent that I believe can completely negate it in a few seasons.
Lamb is the kind of prototypical talent at the shooting guard position that scouts and GMs dream about. He possesses a picture perfect jump shot, slashing abilities and great athleticism which are very rare among NBA players when looking at raw tangible talents from an individual standpoint. The issue with Lamb has been his seemingly passive demeanor on the floor, his lack of aggressiveness and his questionable intangibles brought onto an NBA floor, something that made him fall all the way to the late lottery to Houston despite the vast potential as a player he possesses.
The 2013-14 NBA season should be one where we see the emergence of Lamb into one of the best young shooting guards in the game today. With the injury to Russell Westbrook and the departure of Kevin Martin, it's evident that the Thunder not only need to disperse the lost minutes to new players but desperately need to replace the 23.2 and 14 points a game that the duo provided the Thunder last season. Although he's all but assured to stay on the bench in the role of the sixth man, I believe that the talent of Lamb will result in hefty production off of the pine and even a whisper or two in the conversation for sixth man of the year.
Projections: 12.5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists
Derrick Favors, Utah Jazz
2012-13: 9.4 points, 7.1 rebounds, 1.7 blocks
The Utah Jazz, amid the rift and departure with Jerry Sloan and the running out of town of Deron Williams, have created some real potential for the future. It is potential that doesn't solely rest on the shoulders of one player in particular but a handful of them, none being more important than Derrick Favors.
Entering his fourth season in the NBA, the young post player has finally escaped the enormous productive shadows of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap, both of whom left town to Charlotte and Atlanta respectively. With that, Favors becomes another example of a player who should see a significant breakout performance and the development coming along with that which come from a boost in time on the floor, a figure which was a mere 23.2 minutes last season.
Common among the post players on this list, Favors is a physical specimen. Two seasons ago, we saw a glimpse of what he could become as he went toe to toe against Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs and not only held his own but played very, very well. Although I'm not suggesting that we're going to see a breakout like the previous young player to do well in the playoffs against the Spurs, Amare Stoudemire, the next season, it is something worth keeping in mind for a player who should get at least 30 minutes a game this season on a team that doesn't have any established scoring options behind Gordon Hayward.
Projections: 14.5 points, 10.2 rebounds, 2 blocks
Enes Kanter, Utah Jazz
2012-13: 7.2 points, 4.3 rebounds, 0.3 blocks
As the second part of the "Kan't-give-no-Favors-out-here" twin towers in Utah, it's easy to see why many are expecting big things from Enes Kanter this season.
Kanter remains a player that is still clouded in some mystery, something that seems pretty unusual for a player that has already been in the league for a few season. In Kentucky, we didn't see Kanter step on the floor because of his ineligible status bestowed onto him from the NCAA for his financial gains in Europe. In the NBA, we've seen very little from him because of the log jam that has existed in the post over the last few seasons with Favors, Jefferson and Millsap all battling with Kanter for minutes. In a way, other than hearing the mythical tales of the battles that Kanter and Jonas Valanciunas use to have on a regular basis in European competition in years past, there is very little known about him other than the fact that he can match Valanciunas blow for blow on a basketball court, something that's obviously appealing to the Jazz.
With the added pressure that comes with being looked upon to replace the sizable lost production of Jefferson and Millsap, Kanter, a player that possesses great fundamentals in the post and a good mid-range jump shot, in a way a game very similar to that of Pau Gasol, is someone that will be heavily leaned on to produce this season.
Projections: 15.5 points, 9.5 rebounds, 1.2 blocks
Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves
2012-13: 10.7 points, 7.3 assists, 4.0 rebounds
I'm going to save us some time and provide a little bit more depth on Ricky Rubio by simply linking to the entire article I have dedicated to the talented Spanish point guard, as can be found here. It's going to be an exciting year for the Minnesota Timberwolves and a big one for Rubio as well. With a roster that is loaded with team oriented, skilled players and a coach that has shown for over a decade he can implement a system that gets the most out of just such a personnel group, there is no doubt that the Timberwolves will be right in the thick of the playoff race. Similar to Rajon Rondo's impact on the Boston Celtics, I see the same kind of season being produced this year and beyond by Rubio as he possesses arguably the best passing ability and vision in the NBA to go along with great intangibles, man to man defense and an improving offensive repertoire.
Projections: 15 points, 12 assists, 6 rebounds, top 5 in MVP voting
Anthony Davis, New Orleans Pelicans
2012-13: 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, 1.8 blocks
If the preseason is any indication, we are about to see the arrival of a new superstar in the NBA this upcoming season in Anthony Davis. In 2012-13, the former first overall pick showed glimpses of why he should be considered one of the best big men in the entire association by season's end, something that impressive the 18/15 and 20/18 performances against the Memphis Grizzlies' tough post tandem should make you take notice.
In Davis, we're talking about a player who not only has length, defensive prowess and great offensive instincts but one that has the skill set of a perimeter player. If ever a replica of Kevin Garnett were to come along, Davis is as close as we could come without actually delving into the science of cloning.
In short, the upcoming season should see Davis assent into the conversation of the top ten players in the entire league, a distinction that shouldn't be all surprising considering he was a first overall pick a mere season ago. The future is bright in New Orleans and that light shining comes off no one stronger than the talented second year player out of Kentucky.
Projections: 19.5 points, 10.5 rebounds, 2.5 blocks