I could have just as easily called this entry “NBA Players I’m Most Excited To See Develop This Season,” but upon deeper consideration, I’ll avoid make this a personal wishlist and stick to guys I expect to break out, rather than the players I hope to.
Do I think that all of these players will be in the serious running for Most Improved Player? Of course not. But I do expect them to take a major step forward this year statistically, get noticeably better and have a big impact on their teams
Also, when we define “breakout season,” we have to consider young players, typically with 1-3 seasons under their belt, who may have had very limited opportunity (for a number of reasons) or even the right team to help them grow from their rookie status. So no, rookies won’t count. And despite being given a fresh start with a new team and having a heck of an Olympic run, Andrei Kirilenko or his type will not quality for the “breakout” list, sorry Timberwolves fans. With that out of the way, the list:
- Klay Thompson, Warriors
I absolutely LOVE Klay Thompson this season. He has a perfect situation for himself in Golden State where he can get plenty of minutes swapping between the starting shooting guard spot and some time at small forward. He’ll be playing in a very young, up-tempo offense that finally has a capable center in Andrew Bogut, who teams will have to pay a little more attention to than Andris Biedrins and Ekpe Udoh. That means open shots for Klay, who was one of the best three-point shooters in the league last season. If this year’s Summer League is any indication, Klay will progress quickly and form one of the best shooting backcourts in the game with Steph Curry. Even though it was only two games, Klay averaged 20.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg, 4.5 apg and shot the lights out in Vegas, going 10-for-14 from behind the arc. A shooter with great size at 6’7, he’ll be an extremely hard cover at the 2-spot, so there’s no reason to think he won’t get much better in every category. I expect him to be the number one scoring option very quickly.
Kenneth Faried, Nuggets
Aside from having arguably the best nickname in the league, “The Manimal” proved last season that his ferocious rebounding skill set absolutely belonged in the league. In only 22.5 mpg for the Nuggets last season, he averaged 10.2 ppg and 7.7 rpg. Like the season itself, Faried got even better in the playoffs, where his rebounds went up and he averaged a double-double (10.4 ppg and 10.0 rpg) in seven games. Faried figures to be a starter going into this season and the Nuggets have the look of a very dangerous team in the West, especially after adding Andre Iguodala to upgrade the defense. It should surprise no one at all if Faried ends up averaging a double-double this season, given 30+ minutes a night.
Greg Monroe, Pistons
Monroe barely makes this list, simply because many feel he had a breakout year last year, to which I agree. However, I think Monroe has a chance this year to not only improve further, but to become THE franchise player in Detroit. The Pistons are long since the days of their 2004 Championship season and now finally have a budding young star in Monroe (and hopefully Brandon Knight) to start building around. The skilled big man started all 66 games for the Pistons last season, averaging 15.4 ppg and 9.6 rpg in 31.5 mpg. The only knock on Monroe is that for his size, he should be a better shot blocker, averaging only 0.6 over two seasons. His totals (including blocks) should go up this season as he the Piston offense will run more through him. Expect very close to a 20 and 10 season.
Derrick Williams, Timberwolves
As the #2 pick in the draft last year (with some arguing that he should have been #1 over Irving), a lot was expected of Derrick Williams. His numbers were solid, but not impressive. In only 21.5 minutes, 8.8 ppg and 4.7 are fine for a rookie season. Shot selection was a mild concern, as .412% shooting is a little scary, but that should improve in his second season and the eventual return of Ricky Rubio. Even with the rosters additions of Kirilenko and Buddinger, Williams should see closer to 25 minutes this season with the Wolves hopes his production spikes as well. Williams will primarily back up Kevin Love at the 4-spot and will see some minutes at the 3. It may not be by the same leaps as the other guys on this list, but I expect a step forward, which the Wolves will need to get into the playoffs in the tight West.
Evan Turner, 76ers
Another #2 pick, Turner was an anomaly even before he entered the league. An extraordinary, do-it-all talent at Ohio State with a puzzling personality, one would hope that his third year in Philly will see him grow into a go-to player. Even with the roster changes (Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams OUT, Andrew Bynum, Jason Richardson and Nick Young IN), Turner’s minute numbers should start to resemble his playoff ones from last year (34.5 up from 26.4) and he could be in line for a starting spot right away. While the shooting was ugly (.364% over 13 playoff games), everything else went up, including 7.5 rebounds per game. At this point, Turner doesn’t have the look of an NBA scorer and the Sixers want to use him as a Scottie Pippen-like point forward who can rebound and facilitate. It’s time for Turner.
Derrick Favors, Jazz
As much as Enes Kanter could be on this list as well, I expect Derrick Favors to more opportunity right away. When the Jazz bumped Favors minutes up from 21.3 during the season to 29.0 in the playoffs, he responded by posting a near double-double in 4 games with 11.8 ppg, 9.6 rpg and 1.5 bpg. If he can improve his free throw shooting, the scoring average will see an increase. With Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap the starters, Favors should be the first big man off the bench to play either the power forward or center position. Utah isn’t a big market, so it’s easy for Favors to fly under the radar, but I expect we hear his name mentioned a lot more in this upcoming season as the Jazz gun for a playoff spot. He’s definitely a building block.
Avery Bradley (Celtics), MarShon Brooks (Nets), Kemba Walker (Bobcats), Dominique Jones (Mavericks), Brandon Knight (Pistons), Paul George (Pacers), Josh Selby (Grizzlies), Iman Shumpert (Knicks), DeMarcus Cousins (Kings), Enes Canter (Jazz), John Wall (Wizards)