Fantasy Basketball 2017: Breakout Stars Ready to Be Among the NBA's Best

Alec NathanFeatured ColumnistOctober 11, 2017

BROOKLYN, NY - OCTOBER 8: D'Angelo Russell #1 of the Brooklyn Nets handles the ball against the New York Knicks during a preseason game on October 8, 2017 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2017 NBAE (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

As a fantasy owner, it's always good to be ahead of the curve. 

And with days remaining until the start of the 2017-18 season, time is dwindling to try to hash out which rising stars are worth locking into fantasy rosters. 

So with the start of a fresh slate on the horizon, we've decided to outline three breakout candidates who should be on early round fantasy radars as they attempt to parlay promise into serious statistical growth. 

Keep in mind that first-year players were not considered since a significant component of projecting breakouts involves using empirical data and 2016-17 statistics to gauge the viability of improvement in the months ahead. 

                    

D'Angelo Russell, PG, Brooklyn Nets

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 15:  D'Angelo Russell  #1 of the Brooklyn Nets debuts the new jersey during the unveiling of the New NBA Partnership with Nike on September 15, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images)
Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

D'Angelo Russell has been freed from something of a toxic situation with the Los Angeles Lakers, and fantasy owners should be thrilled. 

"Luke [Walton]'s a helluva coach, but I thought [Russell] was just looking for a fresh start," Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson told SB Nation's Kristian Winfield earlier this summer. "So we're like a fresh program, fresh start, and I really hope that can jump-start him."

Not only will Russell have a chance to clear his mind now that he's a member of the Brooklyn Nets, but an increase in playmaking responsibilities figures to be on the way. 

"He's going to score a lot," center Timofey Mozgov said, according to Nets Daily. "He's going to shoot three a lot because he's a really, really good shooter. He's really talented, and I hope he's going to feed me."

That should be music to the ears of fantasy owners.

Because while Russell encountered his fair share of strife with the Purple and Gold, he still acquitted himself nicely last season to the tune of 15.6 points, 4.8 assists and 1.4 steals while knocking down 2.1 threes per game. 

Not only do all of those numbers figure to tick up now that Russell is slated to crack 30 minutes per game for the first time in his career, but he figures to get to the line more than three times per game since he'll be charged with being the Nets' primary pick-and-roll ball-handler. 

There will undoubtedly be an adjustment period, but a larger role outside of the Hollywood spotlight should suit Russell in Year 3.  

                 

Brandon Ingram, SF, Los Angeles Lakers

Taken as a whole, Brandon Ingram's rookie season was rather underwhelming. 

In 28.8 minutes per game, the 2016 No. 2 overall pick averaged 9.4 points, 4.0 rebounds and 2.1 assists a game on 40.2 percent shooting from the field, including 29.4 percent from three.

But dig deeper, and you can find reason for optimism.

Although Ingram struggled to get acclimated to the pro game during his first few months with the Lakers, he started to find a groove in the second half of the season.

To wit: In 21 games after the All-Star break, Ingram averaged 13.2 points, 3.9 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game on a far more robust 47.5 percent shooting from the field. 

Ingram's three-point stroke still left something to be desired, but evolution appears to be in order following an offseason in the gym. 

"I've been working on my shot mechanics to get better," Ingram told BiProUSA in August. "It feels more comfortable now. I'm more confident from the perimeter and feel ready to nail my outside shots."

Factor in the arrival of passing savant Lonzo Ball and Ingram looks like a prime candidate to make a leap that showcases why the Lakers were sold on him as the draft's No. 2 pick a year ago. 

                

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers

Matt Slocum/Associated Press

It would be fair to say Joel Embiid experienced a breakout last season. 

After all, he became the first rookie since Tim Duncan (1996-97) to average at least 20 points, seven rebounds and two blocks per game. 

But after playing in 31 games due to regular maintenance days that preceded a season-ending meniscus injury, Embiid believes there's still plenty of room for growth.

"I feel like people haven't really seen what I can do, and it's also because I've only played 31 games," he said, according to CSN Philly's Matt Haughton. "I think as long as I stay healthy, I have a lot to improve on and a lot of potential. I love it. I love when people criticize me. I love when you guys say whatever you have to say because that makes me go to the gym and work on me to improve myself."

The obvious key is health.

To this point in his career, Embiid hasn't shown an ability to stay on the court for extended stretches, and an extensive list of medical woes muddies the water when it comes to his season-long fantasy outlook. 

But if you're an owner who doesn't mind gambling on arguably the biggest risk-reward selection out there, Embiid could wind up paying championship-caliber dividends based on the rare statistical air he resided in last season. 

                    

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com unless noted otherwise.