Note: This article also appears on Raptors Republic. Also note: when I was writing this article, I had forgotten about Kawhi Leonard and Eric Bledsoe (Yes, I know. How on earth could I have forgotten about them? Especially since I’m also a Spurs fan.). I will eventually add them to the 5 breakout players, but I haven’t figured out who I’m removing, yet.
At long last the third part of what I hope will be a yearly tradition. First, we looked at the five most overrated players, then the underrated, and this time we’ll look at 5 players who should break out next season.
As with the other lists, who I didn’t put on the list might be as interesting as who I did. For various reason, these are the players who didn’t make it.
Harrison Barnes was taken one spot ahead of Terrence Ross in the draft, and while he didn’t exactly light up the NBA, he started on a playoff team and looked very good in the playoffs. Now, even before Andre Iguodala became a Warrior, I wasn’t adding Barnes to my top breakout list because I think what we saw in the playoffs was a bit of an aberration. That’s not to say I don’t think he’s a good player. I think he is. But I think his future is as a role player.
I always saw a lot of Sean Elliott in Barnes. A talented player, but one who lacked the aggressiveness or an elite skill to become a star. I think he’s a great complimentary player on a team where he fills that roll perfectly.
There are several of Houston’s rookie big men, last season, that I was tempted to put on the list, but neither Donatas Motiejunas or Terrence Jones played enough last season to think that may change this year, and Thomas Robinson will now be playing behind LaMarcus Aldridge in Portland, so unless something happens (like a trade), I’m not sure how much we’ll see of any of them, despite the obvious talents all of them have.
I actually had Tristan Thompson on the list, but with Cleveland drafting Anthony Bennett and then signing Andrew Bynum, his role on the team is suddenly in question. It’s possible he doesn’t even start, next year, and if Bynum and Anderson Varejao are reasonably healthy, he might struggle to get minutes (maybe Ujiri can work something out for him).
Jeremy Lamb is certainly lighting up the summer league so far, but so did Adam Morrison and Quincy Douby, so it’s really hard to use that as much of a measuring stick. With Kevin Martin gone, he’ll definitely get a better chance to play next season, but he’s got to show a lot more than last year.
Like Lamb, Andre Drummond is currently dominating the summer league, and I have no doubt he’ll continue to improve and develop. In fact, he was probably the guy that was the most difficult decision to leave off the list. Detroit should actually be competitive this season, but Drummond isn’t even 20 year old, yet, so I think the Pistons are still going to take it slow with Drummond, with him possibly coming off the bench a lot this coming season. With Josh Smith onboard, I think Monroe will continue to either start, or play a lot of minutes at center, limiting Drummond’s playing time.
Even if one of my criteria wasn’t including a Raptor, Valanciunas would be on here. I think he showed a lot the last couple of months of the season, and think we’ll see a big step forward for him. He’s still got work to do, but with his motor, even if he’s not playing well, he’ll continue to work hard and do what he needs to do.
One of the things that held Valanciunas back last year was coach Dwane Casey’s lack of trust in the big man, often sitting Valanciunas down in the fourth quarter, and even the whole second half, despite him playing well until then. Casey showed signs of trusting him more as the season wore on and Valanciunas rewarded him with productive and clutch play in close games. It’s likely that Valanciunas Casey will give Valanciunas a lot more leash this year, and if he does, there’s no reason to think Valanciunas won’t take advantage of it.
Both big men have been stuck behind veterans in Utah, which have limited their playing time the last couple of season. The thing is, though, both players were extremely productive when they did play, with Favors having a PER of 17.5 and Kanter a PER of 17.6. Obviously that doesn’t tell the whole story, but Utah was much better defensively when Favors was on the floor, and in the two games Kanter started, he averaged 20.5 points and 15 rebounds, while shooting .607 from the field.
There may be some who might not know the circumstances in Utah that might have thought that both players have been disappointments, but that’s not the case at all. The Jazz organization have been, rightfully, very optimistic about both players, but wanted to develop them slowly. And the fact that the Jazz didn’t attempt to re-sign Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap isn’t a coincidence. Favors and Kanter were always Utah’s future front court. And now they will get their chance to show why.
Fournier barely played last season, but actually produced when he got on the court. In fact, he was one of the most efficient scorers on Denver, last season, albeit in limited minutes (Interesting note, Julyan Stone, in even fewer minutes, was far and away the most efficient scorer for the Nuggets last season). He’s got talent, which is why Ujiri liked him so much, and with Andre Iguodala and Corey Brewer gone, I can see him getting a lot more minutes and responsibility.
I think he’s probably another season or two from really becoming a household name, if he ever does, but he’s got loads of talent and he’ll get more of a chance to show it next season.
I’ve been an admirer of Rubio since before he was drafted and, truth be told, I was pushing for the Raptors to trade Bargnani for him when there were still questions about when he’d come over from Spain (most Raptor fans felt it was way too much of a risk and too much to give up).
Rubio’s injury has not really allowed NBA fans to see what he can do, and despite playing 57 games last season, he was obviously still recovering even after he returned. This year I believe we’ll see the real Rubio. He still needs to desperately work on his shooting, but he’s such a dynamic passer that he immediately raises the offensive game of everyone around him. If he doesn’t eventually lead the league in assists, I’ll be surprised.
With more talent in Minnesota, and Luke Ridnour gone to Milwaukee, Rubio will have more scorers to pass to and be the only starting point guard on the T-Wolves.
Once in a while, a player seems to come out of nowhere and performs so well you wonder how everybody missed him. Last year, it was Jimmy Butler. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 draft and showed very little in his rookie season. He shot horribly from the three point line and was such a liability in offense, he couldn’t stay on the floor long enough to show off his defense.
At the beginning of last season, he still struggled from long range, but then something happened. In fact, since the All Star break, Butler shot .475 from behind the 3 point line and scored double digits as his playing time increased.
Of course, Butler probably never would have gotten the chance he did if it weren’t for his defense, which was always on display. Butler is an example of what the new NBA looks for in a wing player. He plays excellent defense and can hit it from long range.