Every season brings surprise to the NBA, which is one of many reasons why being a fan is so enjoyable. I want to offer the names of breakout candidates; young players who are ready to emerge from obscurity into prominence. There’s no science here – the listed players impressed me last season, and will build on their improvement if given the chance. I’m not about to waste your time by proclaiming the imminent rise to stardom of obvious names like Anthony Davis, who’s my early contrarian pick for MVP. Hopefully I’ll surprise you with a few of these selections.
Tim Hardaway, Jr., G, New York Knicks – The downtrodden Knicks need someone to step forward, and this guy might be the one. He’s only a sophomore, but he moves well and isn’t shy about shooting. Assuming he can keep his head amid the Big Apple pressure and craziness, he’ll have to get minutes. Who else are they going to count on to improve? Iman Shumpert? Andrea Bargnani? As this team collapses, and the veterans are shipped out or benched, Hardaway will become a starter.
Any seven of the Philadelphia 76ers – Yes, I’m being facetious, but there is a serious point. If you were a young NBA player, can you imagine a better team to play for? Every position on that squad is open. Someone’s got to go on the floor for 48 minutes times 82 games. Pick a name (other than ’13-’14 Rookie of the Year Michael Carter-Williams) or several: Nerlens Noel, Tony Wroten, Hollis Thompson, Jerami Grant….one or more of them could break out, despite being babes in arms.
Gerald Green, G/SF, Phoenix Suns – A hoops vagabond, who got his passport stamped playing for squads in Russia and China, this failed high-school-to-pros selection has turned the corner in a serious way. He averaged over 15 PPG [Points Per Game] with the resurgent Suns last year, including 28 against the Raptors in March. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if Green makes the All-Star Game. One of the rare players who got a second chance in the NBA, and has taken full advantage. His athleticism is eye-popping.
Timofey Mozgov, C, Denver Nuggets – Despite the attention paid to small ball these days, there’s definitely a place for a mobile, tough rebounding big man. Mozgov can take over a game. He finished last season very strongly. Denver is counting on him contributing, so he’ll definitely get the playing time he needs.
John Henson, C, Milwaukee Bucks – Tall and skinny, this North Carolina product almost doubled his scoring average from his rookie to his sophomore season. On a points-starved Bucks team, Henson will get every opportunity to use his excellent mobility and hops to double his average again. That won’t happen, but doesn’t need to for him to have a breakout. He’s a 19P-11R PG man, and an All-Star candidate when the rest of his teammates catch up in 2-3 seasons.
Brian Roberts, G, Charlotte Hornets – I love these undrafted guys who don’t give up, and find their way to the NBA (via Germany and Israel) anyway. Roberts is small but feisty, a sound shooter and passer. The biggest issue for him in enjoying a breakout season will be getting minutes on a team where Kemba Walker is, deservedly, the starter at the point.
Terrence Ross, G, Toronto Raptors – You knew TRoss had to make this list, didn’t you? I’ve already projected him as a NBA Most Improved Player candidate, so I’d better choose him to break out.
Over to you, Rapture Nation. Who are your favourite “secret” players? Let us know in the Comments.