Predicting the Biggest Breakout Player on Every NBA 2014-15 Roster
The NBA's youth movement has been in full effect the past few seasons, and that trend is not going to slow down anytime soon.
As young studs rife with upside litter rosters throughout the league, each new season brings forth promise that some of the Association's most promising young talent will burst on the scene.
So with the summer winding down, we've chosen to explore one breakout candidate on each team.
Specifically, we're choosing to explore youngster who showed promise last season and players whose potential will allow them to flourish in newfound ways.
As a result, you'll notice a majority of these players are still on their rookie deals, as shiny new contracts are generally signs that breakouts have been completed and rewarded. However, we were willing to make a few exceptions where applicable due to the construction of certain rosters.
Player: Shelvin Mack
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 7.5 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.0 blocks, 13.2 player efficiency rating
After he signed a three-year, $7.3 million deal to remain with the Atlanta Hawks, we're confident Shelvin Mack is the player in Mike Budenholzer's rotation who is most ready to break out.
Once D-League material, Mack carved out a niche in Budenholzer's rotation last season, averaging 20.4 minutes over the course of 73 games, including 11 starts.
And while his jump shot could still use considerable refinement (41.7 percent from the field last season), Mack proved that he's best used as a point guard and not an off-guard.
According to 82games.com, Mack produced an offensive rating of 102.5 and player efficiency rating of 20.5 when running the point—up from marks of 99.7 and 12.1, respectively, at shooting guard.
Player: Jared Sullinger
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 8.1 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.7 blocks, 16.4 PER
Jared Sullinger bordered on breakout status last season, but few seemed to notice as the Boston Celtics plummeted toward the Eastern Conference cellar.
With the bulky frontcourt option approaching double-double averages, it's time we talked more about Sullinger's emergence as a dynamic piece capable of playing either the 4 or 5.
Though he's listed as a conventional 4, Sullinger actually played 75 percent of the Celtics' total minutes at center last season, per 82games.com. Unsurprisingly, his statistical output was more robust at power forward.
Per 82games, he recorded an effective field-goal percentage of 58.8 and a player efficiency rating of 24.3 at the 4, which would have ranked No. 3 overall among all power forwards last season, according to ESPN.com.
With Boston likely bringing up the rear in the East alongside Orlando, Philadelphia and Milwaukee once again, Sullinger should have plenty of chances to operate as the focal point of Brad Stevens' lackluster offense.
Player: Mirza Teletovic
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.6 points, 3.7 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 14.3 PER
If last season was any indication, the Brooklyn Nets need to harness all of the youthful contributions they can get.
Unfortunately, the team possesses very few. But at 28 years old entering his third season, Mirza Teletovic feels like a solid bet to bump his production up as a new regime assumes power.
Playing just 19.4 minutes per game a year ago while shooting 39 percent from three, Teletovic showed up when the lights shined the brightest. Against the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Teletovic unleashed a three-point barrage, converting on six of nine threes while dropping 20 points in a 12-point loss.
He then followed up with a 4-of-7 performance from beyond the arc in a 14-point Game 3 win.
Considering Brooklyn was nearly two points better per 100 possessions offensively with Teletovic on the floor last season, according to NBA.com, he should be in line for a larger workload under new coach Lionel Hollins.
Player: Kemba Walker
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.7 points, 4.2 rebounds, 6.1 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.4 blocks, 16.8 PER
Judging by his basic statistical output last season, one could infer Kemba Walker broke out in concert with the Charlotte Bobcats' rise up the Eastern Conference standings.
For instance, Walker was one of eight players to average at least 17 points, six dimes and four rebounds last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com. The other seven members of that club? LeBron James, Stephen Curry, James Harden, Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, John Wall and Russell Westbrook.
Not too shabby.
But here's the problem: Walker was the only player to average at least 17 points and shoot worse than 40 percent from the field, per Basketball-Reference.
With a career field-goal percentage of 39.8 and a three-point stroke that's been good a measly 32.2 percent of the time through three seasons, Walker can fairly be classified as a volume scorer.
Improved offensive efficiency will be imperative in order for Walker to fully break out, but the arrival of Lance Stephenson and Al Jefferson's presence as Charlotte's offensive centerpiece should take some of the burden off his shoulders.
Player: Doug McDermott
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: N/A
The Chicago Bulls aren't replete with young studs on the verge of breaking out, so rookie Doug McDermott earns the designation by default.
With Chicago sorely in need of added floor-spacers, the Bulls moved up on draft night to secure college basketball's most prolific shooter—one who averaged 26.7 points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field en route to 2014 Wooden Award honors.
And while it would be easy to peg McDermott as a shooting specialist, he's capable of being so much more, according to Bleacher Report's Kelly Scaletta:
Of all draftees, McDermott was the most efficient player off the dribble, and that’s in spite of typically facing double-and triple-teams. Sure, NBA defenses are going to be tougher, but is he really going to plunge from the most efficient to not being able to do it at all?
In terms of purity, there's perhaps no rookie whose game is as polished as McDermott's.
With a skill set more versatile than anyone seems willing to admit, there's a good chance the former Creighton standout could be an integral piece of the Bulls' title puzzle.
Player: Dion Waiters
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 15.9 points, 2.8 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.0 PER
With Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett reportedly on their way to the Minnesota Timberwolves, according to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, Dion Waiters will be tasked with producing a sizable cut of Cleveland's perimeter offense.
And now that LeBron James is back in the fold, Waiters will likely be asked to operate off the ball more, which would be a departure from last season.
According to NBA.com, Waiters attempted a majority of his shots between eight and 16 feet while knocking down 43.12 percent of said shots.
However, as we saw during his time with the Miami Heat, James excels at driving and kicking to corner shooters, which Waiters will assuredly learn in the coming months.
But according to NBA.com, Waiters attempted a meager 54 corner threes last season, making just 19 of them. Specifically, he shot a robust 50 percent from the left corner but faltered majorly from the right side of the floor, converting on just two of his 20 looks.
With a rise in efficiency on the horizon thanks to James' presence, Waiters may finally validate the Cavaliers' decision to spend a top-five pick on him in 2012.
Player: Jae Crowder
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 4.6 points, 2.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks, 11.9 PER
If we're going to peg Chandler Parsons as a player who's already had his coming-out party (and his new contract certainly indicates he has), then we need to scavenge for an under-the-radar selection.
Jae Crowder managed 16.1 minutes per game during his sophomore season and watched all of his basic statistics dip nominally or hold steady.
But get this: According to NBA.com, the Dallas Mavericks were a massive 10.1 points better per 100 possessions on defense when Crowder was on the floor.
Here's what Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told Dwain Price of the Star-Telegram last October about Crowder's defensive versatility:
He can guard guys that run off screens, he’s a good one-on-one defender, he’s got good size, he can guard different positions, he’s played some [power forward], he’s played some [shooting guard], and he mostly plays [small forward]. The flexibility that he gives us is a big plus.
Some context: The Mavs' offensive rating (111.2) with Crowder on the floor would have graded out as the league's second-best mark last season, per NBA.com.
He's not going to steal the show by any simple statistical measure, but Crowder is a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.
Player: Kenneth Faried
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.7 points, 8.6 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.9 blocks, 19.8 PER
Whether he signs a contract extension by October 31 or not, Kenneth Faried will have plenty to play for when the 2014-15 season opens up.
If he inks a new deal, Faried will be looking to justify a cushy new payday. If he doesn't, the dread-locked rebounding machine will be playing for a new deal as restricted free agency looms on the horizon.
While Faried's game doesn't yet possess great versatility, he's working on becoming a more reliable mid-range jump shooter, according to The Denver Post's Chris Dempsey:
When Faried returns to the Nuggets he's got a checklist of things he will have added or wants to enhance when he gets back. He's spent a lot of time working out in Los Angeles.
On the court, it's the development of a 15-foot jump shot.
"So I'm able to step out and pick-and-pop more," Faried said. "And if I need to, pick-and-roll."
Considering Faried knocked down just 38.8 percent of his shots between 10 and 16 feet last season, a polished stroke that extends out to the free-throw line could work wonders for his game and the Nuggets' high-octane offense.
Player: Andre Drummond
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.5 points, 13.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 1.2 steals, 1.6 blocks, 22.6 PER
Andre Drummond was a bona fide beast during his second year with the Detroit Pistons, but he still has so much more room to grow.
Which is absolutely terrifying.
Here's why: According to Basketball-Reference.com, Drummond became one of 14 players in league history to average at least 13 points, 13 boards, one steal and one block for an entire season. Other names on that list include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett, Bill Walton, Moses Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and Dwight Howard.
That last name is now particularly relevant given who's manning the bench in Detroit.
With Stan Van Gundy leading the Pistons, it's only reasonable to think the club's new leader will employ a version of the four-out, one-in strategy that carried the Orlando Magic to the NBA Finals with Howard in the middle.
Already the reigning league leader in offensive and total rebounding percentage, Drummond could run away with the league's Most Improved Player honors should his post game evolve in even incremental ways.
Golden State Warriors
Player: Draymond Green
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.2 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.2 steals, 0.9 blocks, 12.7 PER
Draymond Green made some positive strides during his sophomore season under Mark Jackson, namely when it came to his three-point shot and defensive chops.
Following an up-and-down rookie campaign, Green boosted his three-point field-goal percentage by more than 12 points while improving his defensive rating to a mark of 98.
In fact, Green was one of five players along with Paul George, Joakim Noah, Tim Duncan and Andrew Bogut to record a defensive rating of 98 while playing at least 20 minutes per game, per Basketball-Reference.com.
However, Green's mid-range game is still noticeably shaky after he shot 25 percent on attempts between three and 10 feet. That mark dipped to 21.4 percent between 10 and 16 feet.
With a bit more polish and confidence, Green could soon represent the sort of multifaceted role player that new coach Steve Kerr will lean on heavily late in games.
Player: Terrence Jones
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 12.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.7 steals, 1.3 blocks, 19.1 PER
As James Harden and Dwight Howard stole headlines for the Houston Rockets during the first year of their partnership, Terrence Jones quietly stuffed stat sheets as a matchup nightmare.
An agile 4 who excelled in Houston's uptempo scheme, Jones made serious hay around the basket on both ends of the floor.
Whether he was shooting a gaudy 72.4 percent in the restricted area or swatting shots at a top-10 rate among power forwards, per ESPN.com, Jones established himself as an athletic wrecking ball.
But few seemed to notice.
According to NBA.com, the Rockets were also 2.6 points better per 100 offensive possessions with Jones on the floor.
And with Chandler Parsons now residing in Dallas, it's Jones' time to shine as Kevin McHale searches for players capable of picking up the offensive slack.
Player: George Hill
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.5 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.3 blocks, 13.4 PER
With Paul George sidelined and Lance Stephenson no longer residing in Indianapolis, the Indiana Pacers are simply begging for one of their core contributors to break out.
And with Roy Hibbert and David West out of the running with their names firmly on the map, there were few viable options to choose from. Especially since it remains to be seen what C.J. Miles and Rodney Stuckey can contribute on the wing.
As a result, point guard George Hill is the pick.
Here's why: With ball-handlers like Stephenson and George out of the picture, Hill will be leaned upon by head coach Frank Vogel to pick up the offense.
Which would be a major departure from last season.
Hill's usage rate (14.8) was the third-lowest among all Pacers players (only Ian Mahinmi and Solomon Hill's were lower) despite starting all 76 games in which he appeared.
A capable three-point shooter (37.1 percent for his career) and finisher around the basket (career-high 69 percent between zero and three feet last season), Hill and his enormous wingspan should be allotted a far larger role as Vogel looks to his most competent backcourt playmaker to right the ship.
Los Angeles Clippers
Player: DeAndre Jordan
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, 0.9 assists, 1.0 steals, 2.5 blocks, 18.2 PER
DeAndre Jordan thrived during his first year under the tutelage of Doc Rivers, but at 26 years old it feels like he's only starting to scrape the surface of his true potential.
The league leader in rebounds and field-goal percentage last season, Jordan looked vastly improved on both ends of the floor.
Also the owner of the NBA's second-most blocks behind Serge Ibaka, Jordan emerged as an enforcer around the rim while posting a career-best defensive rating of 98.
However, it's the offensive end where Jordan's impact seemed to be overlooked.
According to NBA.com, the Clippers were 7.5 points better per 100 possessions offensively with Jordan on the floor, while the defense was roughly a point better with him off the floor.
The recipient of just 6.3 field-goal attempts per game, Jordan attempted the fewest shots of any center who averaged at least 10 points and 30 minutes per game, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
While he still needs to develop a more natural back-to-the-basket game on the blocks, Jordan has earned a few more touches in the post.
Los Angeles Lakers
Player: Ed Davis
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.7 blocks, 15.9 PER
Whether it's been with the Toronto Raptors or Memphis Grizzlies, Ed Davis' role has been relatively marginalized.
And that's rather puzzling, especially considering Davis has proved capable of providing consistent effort on both ends of the floor when utilized properly.
A pick-and-roll maven, he scored a massive 1.26 points per possession when operating as a roll man last season, per Synergy Sports (subscription required). Only five players produced a higher point-per-possession output on those plays.
Additionally, the Grizzlies were nearly five points better per 100 possessions on the defensive end with Davis on the floor, according to NBA.com.
Yes, the Los Angeles Lakers frontcourt is crowded. But with Carlos Boozer being a defensive liability and Julius Randle facing a steep learning curve, there should be plenty of opportunities for Davis to prove his worth as new coach Byron Scott searches for capable two-way weapons.
Player: Jon Leuer
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.2 points, 3.2 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.3 blocks, 17.6 PER
Along with gritting and grinding, experience is one of the Memphis Grizzlies' defining characteristics. As a result, breakout candidates are few and far between on Dave Joerger's club.
But as we saw last December, Jon Leuer has the potential to be an impactful frontcourt contributor when entrusted with a heavier workload.
Appearing in 14 games during the last month of 2013, Leuer turned heads, averaging 11.6 points and 5.5 rebounds while shooting 52.8 percent from the field in 22.5 minutes per game off the bench.
Factor in the former Wisconsin Badger's competency from beyond the arc (46.9 percent on 49 attempts), and he clearly has the tools to be more than just a fourth big behind Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph and Kosta Koufos.
Player: Mario Chalmers
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.0 PER
Mario Chalmers has received plenty of grief over the past four years, but with LeBron James back in Cleveland, the Miami Heat point guard should be ready to prove detractors wrong.
Although he was used on a career-high 17.4 percent of Miami's plays last season, Chalmers' usage rate has still never exceeded 20, as ball-handling duties were often stripped from his grasp so James could run the offense at a more efficient clip.
Now that James is gone, though, Chalmers figures to have more significant responsibilities as a floor general, which would be good news for a guy who hasn't averaged more than 4.9 assists for a single season.
Shooting percentages of 45.4 percent from the floor and 38.5 percent from three may dip as the team's floor spacing suffers due to James' absence, but Chalmers should finally be granted the more significant tactical role he's longed for.
Player: Giannis Antetokounmpo
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 6.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.8 blocks, 10.8 PER
Given Jabari Parker's status as the No. 2 overall pick in a stacked 2014 draft class, it would be easy to peg him as the Milwaukee Buck most likely to explode during Jason Kidd's first year as head coach.
However, there's a player the same age as Parker who could take the league by storm if his game develops more completely this season.
A force during this year's Las Vegas Summer League, Giannis Antetokounmpo thrashed opponents with a skill set that is seldom seen in a player who is pushing 6'11'', according to the Journal Sentinel's Matt Velazquez.
Here's Bleacher Report's Adam Fromal on the Greek Freak's seemingly limitless ceiling:
Antetokounmpo has the defensive tools to stick in the NBA for a long time, but he's quickly becoming one of the more intriguing offensive prospects because of his rapidly developing skill set. The shooting stroke looks smoother, the handles are tighter, the plays are smarter and the overall product is just an eyebrow-raising one at this stage.
A 19-year-old isn't supposed to have a game that could develop into one with no true weaknesses, but that's what we're looking at. He's already comfortable spotting up or handling the ball for himself, and it's not inconceivable that he could develop a back-to-the-basket game as he continues adding strength and filling out his frame.
Seeing as the Bucks were 8.3 points better per 100 possessions with Antetokounmpo on the floor last season, per NBA.com, there's no reason to think he won't take major strides in Year 2.
Player: Andrew Wiggins
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: N/A
According to Yahoo Sports' Adrian Wojnarowski, the Minnesota Timberwolves and Cleveland Cavaliers "have reached an agreement" on a trade that will send a package including Andrew Wiggins to Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Love.
While the trade is not yet official, there's no denying Wiggins' role in Minnesota (should the deal go through) will be substantially larger than it would have been with LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
As Minnesota reloads with young guns all over the floor, Flip Saunders will need to find a primary weapon to help stabilize an offense that will suffer from the loss of an elite floor-stretcher.
Although his dribble-drive capabilities and mid-range game will likely be under the microscope right away, Wiggins' ability to knock down catch-and-shoot jumpers and run the floor on a team replete with athletes should serve him well during Year 1.
New Orleans Pelicans
Player: Anthony Davis
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 20.8 points, 10.0 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.3 steals, 2.8 blocks, 26.5 PER
Has Anthony Davis already broken out? Absolutely.
But the New Orleans Pelicans' superstar is still just 21 years old—younger than recent draftee Doug McDermott—and is primed to break out in perpetuity until he's recognized as one of the game's greats.
Factor in the tremendous uncertainty New Orleans possesses behind Davis in Jrue Holiday, Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans, and there's no other logical selection.
Just consider these facts:
- Davis became the fifth player in league history to record at least 10 win shares at the age of 20 last season, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
- The other four players to accomplish that feat: LeBron James, Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson and Chris Paul.
- Davis became the third player in league history to average 20 points and 10 rebounds before his 21st birthday, according to Basketball-Reference.
- Along with Shaq, he's the only other player in league history to post those same averages while blocking at least two shots per game before turning 21.
I know how good he’s going to be,” the four-time NBA scoring champion said, after a USA Basketball practice. “I know how good he is now, but I know how good he’s going to be. He’s an MVP-caliber player. So he’s next. He’s next in line – a guy that has grown so much in just a year. I’m excited to see what he does from here. He’s definitely on pace.
Sign us up for another season of historically significant greatness.
New York Knicks
Player: Tim Hardaway Jr.
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 10.2 points, 1.5 rebounds, 0.8 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.1 blocks, 12.7 PER
There's a reason Tim Hardaway Jr. was added to the Team USA's Select Team to train with Mike Krzyzewski's squad in Las Vegas.
A member of the 2013-14 All-Rookie First Team, Hardaway Jr. was one of the more proficient and electrifying scorers in his class.
One of three rookies to shoot better than 35 percent from three while logging at least 20 minutes per game last season, per Basketball-Reference.com, Hardaway Jr. slotted in seamlessly as a high-energy contributor off the bench.
On an otherwise old and sluggish Knicks team, that was a particularly welcome sight.
Refinement on defense will need to be one of Hardaway's primary focuses in Year 2, but the fact that he posted an offensive rating (112) just one point shy of Carmelo Anthony's is a major reason for optimism.
Oklahoma City Thunder
Player: Reggie Jackson
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals, 0.1 blocks, 15.4 PER
It would have been fair to peg Reggie Jackson as the Oklahoma City Thunder's breakout candidate last season, but the departure of Thabo Sefolosha makes his impending explosion all the more likely.
Jackson's statistical output last year was steady for a player who was averaging 28.5 minutes, but the Thunder desperately need a sure thing at shooting guard.
With the spot next to Russell Westbrook vacant, Jackson feels like a logical solution, particularly after he proved to be an offensive force when playing the 2.
According to 82games.com, Jackson's offensive rating last season at the off-guard position ballooned to 118.9—up from 102.8 as a floor general.
Should Scott Brooks entrust Jackson with full-time starting duties, bank on the 24-year-old breaking out in a big way.
Player: Victor Oladipo
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.6 steals, 0.5 blocks, 13.6 PER
After he watched Michael Carter-Williams capture Rookie of the Year honors a season ago, Orlando Magic guard Victor Oladipo is primed to make himself the face of an underwhelming 2013 draft class.
As is typically the case with first-year players, Oladipo struggled with consistency. Although he appeared in 80 of Orlando's 82 games, he started slightly more than half (44) of them.
There was also the matter of positional uncertainty, as Oladipo was thrust into action at both guard spots.
According to 82games.com, he played 56 percent of Orlando's possible minutes at the point while lining up at shooting guard 43 percent of the time.
Thankfully for the Magic, Oladipo showed a propensity to thrive offensively at the off-guard, generating an offensive rating of 97.7 compared to his mark of 92.4 as a floor general.
Now with rookie Elfrid Payton figuring to assume full-time distributive duties at the point, Oladipo should be given more freedom to create off the ball on the wing and develop his shot further while flashing his athletic gifts in the open court.
If Orlando can push the pace a bit more this season (No. 15 overall in 2013-14), Oladipo and the Magic should see some surprising results.
Player: Nerlens Noel
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: N/A
For a team that ranked No. 21 overall in opponents' points in the paint per game last season, according to TeamRankings.com, the Philadelphia 76ers have to be thrilled Nerlens Noel is healthy once again.
A shot-blocking force and explosive leaper in summer league, Noel consistently disrupted opponents' rack attacks. But more than that, he used his quickness to step out and contest shots outside the paint, which pointed to the tremendous defensive versatility he possesses.
Noel's offense will be slow to develop considering the evolution of his mid-range jumper is still in its infancy, but lobs, turnaround hooks and second-chance opportunities should be enough to pad his stats in the scoring column.
Given the frantic pace that Philly prefers, Noel could finish as one of the league leaders in blocks thanks to the bountiful number of defensive possessions he'll be tasked with playing.
Player: Marcus Morris
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 9.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.8 PER
It would be fair to say the Phoenix Suns were the NBA's breakout team last season thanks to explosive and unexpected performances from the likes of Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and several others.
And if you hadn't noticed by now, we're bullish on players possessing positional versatility to break out next season.
In this case, we're talking about combo-forward Marcus Morris.
At 6'9'' and 235 pounds, Morris is unique in that he can size up bigger defenders and go to work on the blocks or stretch them out to the three-point line, as he often did last season.
While his brother, Markieff, generated Sixth Man of the Year hype with his player efficiency rating of 18.4 off the bench, Marcus was quietly productive, shooting 38.1 percent from beyond the arc.
That reliability from deep made head coach Jeff Hornacek comfortable playing Marcus at the 3, where he recorded a net rating of plus-5.8 per 100 possessions, according to 82games.com, posting season-high offensive and defensive ratings of 106.4 and 101.1, respectively.
Portland Trail Blazers
Player: C.J. McCollum
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.3 points, 1.3 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.4 steals, 0.1 blocks, 9.0 PER
The Portland Trail Blazers are replete with veteran talent at all five positions, so pegging a breakout candidate among the likes of established talent like Damian Lillard, Nicolas Batum, Robin Lopez and LaMarcus Aldridge is a difficult task.
As a result, we're inclined to select C.J. McCollum as Portland's primary breakout candidate, particularly after he was limited to 38 appearances during an injury-riddled rookie season.
Despite a nightly allotment of just 12.5 minutes, McCollum was able to make his presence felt on the offensive end.
A mark of 37.5 percent shooting from three helped soften the blow that accompanied McCollum's 41.6 percent conversion rate from the field, but as DraftExpress noted before he was selected by the Blazers, McCollum can score in a variety of ways:
In addition to his improved shooting, McCollum continues to show the ability to get into the paint using changes of speed and direction to keep defenders guessing. Possessing a good first step, but lacking blow by quickness and elite leaping ability, McCollum isn't as prolific at the basket as he is from the perimeter, but he shows good body control and a willingness to draw contact. Finishing at a 56.8% clip at the rim and averaging 6.1 free throw attempts per-game, the two-time Patriot League Player of the Year can make plays around the rim given the opportunity and excels in fast paced games where he can push the ball and catch the defense scrambling.
Considering Portland played at the league's 12th-fastest pace last season, McCollum should be in for a boost in production at the rim and from beyond the arc, should he remain injury-free in the months ahead.
Player: Ben McLemore
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 8.8 points, 2.9 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 7.7 PER
The Sacramento Kings' lottery selection of Nik Stauskas could have been viewed as an indictment of Ben McLemore's less than sterling play as a rookie, but head coach Mike Malone recently told NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper that's not the case:
I told him,” coach Malone said of McLemore,” ‘Listen, we drafted Nik Stauskas. That’s not any slight on you. We still believe in you. You’re still our guy and we still expect great things from you from Year 1 to Year 2.’ I think he came out to Summer League after one year in the NBA thinking he had to score 20 points a game. It’s not about that. It’s playing the right way as we try to instill more ball movement.
Billed as an athletic wing and knockdown shooter coming out of Kansas, McLemore struggled to steady his stroke during Year 1.
Let's put it this way: It's sad when we collectively jog our memories and think of LeBron James posterizing McLemore as the most memorable highlight of his rookie year.
In fact, he shot better than 40 percent from the field during just one full month throughout the entire season. Fortunately, that was in March, when McLemore knocked down a season-high 42.7 percent of his shots from the field.
Ending the year on a relative high note was imperative for the No. 7 overall pick, and if he can capitalize on more open looks from deep as Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins draw the attention of opposing defenses, he should be in line for higher praise.
San Antonio Spurs
Player: Cory Joseph
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 5.0 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 0.5 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.7 PER
Following Patty Mills' relative explosion and subsequent payday, the San Antonio Spurs aren't exactly loaded with breakout options.
With few young studs to choose from, we're going to hedge our bets and go with another point guard: 22-year-old Cory Joseph.
The Canadian floor general saw just 13.8 minutes per game last season, but his performance in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals spoke volumes about his approach to the game.
Here's what head coach Gregg Popovich had to say about Joseph's effort in the 105-92 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, according to Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express-News:
I actually told the team, Everybody has to take the attitude of Cory Joseph, kind of a take-no-prisoners, bunker mentality. He was fantastic, and he did that better than anybody on our team. I liked Cory’s approach to the game. I liked his attitude.
In 17 minutes, Joseph scored 11 points on 4-of-7 shooting while posting a plus/minus rating of plus-11, which was higher than any starter that evening.
It may take an injury to Mills or Tony Parker for Joseph to truly shine, but the foundation is in place to turn heads if he is allotted significant playing time.
Player: Jonas Valanciunas
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 11.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, 0.7 assists, 0.3 steals, 0.9 blocks, 16.1 PER
As I wrote last week, the Toronto Raptors could stand to benefit from feeding Jonas Valanciunas in the post at a higher rate than last season.
While wings Terrence Ross and DeMar DeRozan burst on the scene in tandem with Kyle Lowry and helped propel Toronto to the top of the Atlantic Division, Valanciunas' role was marginalized quite a bit.
Specifically, he saw just a 2.4-shot-per-game increase over his rookie season while shooting a robust 53.1 percent from the field.
And when Valanciunas was on the floor, Toronto's proficiency around the rim was markedly better.
According to NBA.com, the Raptors shot 60.3 percent inside five feet with Valanciunas on the floor as opposed to 56.1 percent with him on the bench.
If Dwane Casey can establish Valanciunas in the low post, thus forcing defenses to collapse at a higher rate, Toronto's offense could improve on an offensive rating that already ranked among the league's top 10 last season.
Player: Derrick Favors
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 13.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steals, 1.5 blocks, 19.0 PER
It feels like we've been talking about Derrick Favors as a breakout candidate ever since he was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 2010, but alas, the former No. 3 overall pick has yet to shatter expectations.
In his first season as a full-time starter with the Utah Jazz (73 starts), Favors produced efficiently on the offensive end, converting on a career-high 52.2 percent of his field-goal attempts.
However, he attempted Utah's fifth-most shots per game (10.2), while less efficient, more ball-dominant options like Trey Burke, Gordon Hayward and Alec Burks hoisted the rock at higher rates.
Playing 54 percent of Utah's minutes at center last season, Favors posted a player efficiency rating of 22.1, per 82games.com, which would have graded out between Al Horford and Dwight Howard if that were his natural position.
Used on just 20.8 percent of the team's plays last season (No. 6 overall on the Jazz), Favors could explode if utilized appropriately by new head coach Quin Snyder.
Player: Bradley Beal
2013-14 Per-Game Stats: 17.1 points, 3.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 1.0 steals, 0.2 blocks, 14.3 PER
If the 2013-14 season was John Wall's time to shine, get ready for Bradley Beal to take the nation's capital by storm when the 2014-15 campaign gets underway.
As the Wizards surged up the Southeast Division ranks, Beal's hot shooting helped spread out an offense that quickly developed a potent inside-outside combination.
In doing so, Beal finished the season as one of only seven players to shoot at least 40 percent from three while averaging better than 17 points, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
And as Bleacher Report's Josh Martin notes, Beal didn't just thrive during the regular season:
The talented two-guard broke out during the Washington Wizards' surprising playoff push this past season, averaging 19.2 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists while nailing 41.5 percent of his threes in 11 games.
That added confidence should serve Beal well, as should the (admittedly limited) time he spent in training camp with Team USA.
With Beal also flashing advanced proficiency as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, there's no reason to think he won't emerge as a star in Year 3.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.
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