Latest posts by David Morrow (see all)
- Morrow: Fizdale firing a reminder NBA coaching a tough biz - November 28, 2017
- Baynes as starter has worked wonders for Celtics - November 1, 2017
- Morrow: Five guys primed for breakout year - September 19, 2017
The landscape of the NBA has shifted dramatically this offseason, and with major roster changes come breakout years for many players.
Oftentimes, players have the talent and skill necessary to break out, and just need the opportunity to do so. Here are five guys (plus an honorable mention) who could be looking at breakout seasons:
Honorable Mention: Kris Dunn, Bulls
When the Minnesota Timberwolves drafted Kris Dunn, they probably imagined they were drafting their point guard of the future, hoping the lightning-quick guard out of Providence would allow them to trade Ricky Rubio without being left threadbare at the position.
Instead, they got… well, Kris Dunn. The 23-year-old averaged just 3.8 points and 2.4 assists in 17.1 minutes per game, while shooting 37.7 percent from the floor.
The Chicago Bulls taking a flier on Dunn while his value is low is a smart move, if you ignore the part where they gave up Jimmy Butler to do so. Dunn is still a player with a lot of untapped potential. He’s fast, athletic, and was a legitimately good (albeit foul-prone) NBA defender last season.
He has excellent size for a point guard; he’s 6-foot-4 and his 6-foot-9.5 wingspan lends to his defensive proficiency.
It’s too early to give up on Dunn, and as the presumed starter on an atrocious Bulls roster, he’ll have a chance to prove that he was drafted fifth overall for a reason.
1. Myles Turner, Pacers
Paul George is gone, leaving Myles Turner as the lone beacon of hope in Indianapolis. Turner took a solid step forward last season, increasing his scoring average from 10.3 to 14.5 and his rebounds-per-game average from 5.5 to 7.3. He also blocked 172 shots, trailing only DPOY candidate Rudy Gobert. Turner even upped his 3-point percentage to 34.8, albeit on just 1.4 attempts per game.
This season, without George in town, Turner is going to be The Guy for the Pacers with a capital G.
Turner is already the defensive anchor for this Pacers team; look for his scoring numbers and shot attempts to soar as he transitions into the focal point of the offense.
The Pacers won’t be good, but Turner might be an All-Star.
2. Rodney Hood, Jazz
As I touched on in a piece about the Jazz last month, Utah is going to need offense to come from somewhere.
Gordon Hayward and George Hill were the two leading scorers and assist men for this team, and they’re both gone. Rodney Hood, the sweet-shooting 6-foot-8 shooting guard, seems like a prime candidate to have a breakout season on the offensive end.
He has a clean stroke from outside and has the size to shoot over most players at his position. If he can add a bit of muscle, Hood could become an efficient guard posting up as well, as again, he enjoys a sizable height advantage over most shooting guards.
Hood having a breakout year isn’t a guarantee, but if he doesn’t, the Jazz may be looking at a very tenuous offense.
3. D’Angelo Russell, Nets
The Brooklyn Nets pulled off a great move this offseason, taking on Timofey Mozgov’s salary in order to acquire a bright young star.
D’Angelo Russell, drafted second overall in 2015, is the glimmer of hope that Brooklyn desperately needed. The light at the end of a cold, dark, desolate tunnel has now become slightly visible to the Nets.
Somebody has to put points on the board for the Nets. They shipped Brook Lopez, their best player, off to L.A. in the same deal that netted (no pun intended) them Russell. Russell will likely start alongside Jeremy Lin, Allen Crabbe, Trevor Booker and one of Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Mozgov, depending on how small the Nets want to play.
Russell is a superb talent who can play either guard position, but feels most at home with the ball in his hands. He’s a crafty ball-handler who can score by himself or set up teammates with jaw-dropping passes.
Russell put up 15.6 points and 4.8 assists per game for the Lakers last season, and those numbers could jump now that he’s the centerpiece of a franchise.
The next steps for Russell are improving his defense and efficiency; he shot 40.5 percent from the floor and 35.2 percent from beyond the arc last season. Those percentages could be worse, but he’s going to have to shoot the ball much more consistently if the Nets are going to win more than about 20 games.
4. Dewayne Dedmon, Hawks
To put it mildly, the Hawks are not going to be very good. Paul Millsap, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dwight Howard all left in free agency, and what Atlanta’s left with is a putrid team led by Dennis Schröder.
Who’s the second-best player on that team? Kent Bazemore? Taurean Prince? The Hawks are a mess.
They did get one sneaky-great pickup in free agency, though. Dewayne Dedmon had a classic Spurs backup season last year, playing limited minutes but displaying flashes of brilliance when he was on the floor.
Dedmon, a traditional athletic, defensive-minded center, averaged 5.1 points and 6.5 rebounds in 17.5 minutes per game while shooting 62.2 percent from the floor.
With the Hawks’ limited depth, averaging a double-double is far from out of the question for Dedmon. He averaged 10.5 points and 13.4 rebounds per 36 minutes for the Spurs last year, and should be seeing significantly more minutes in Atlanta.
5. Blake Griffin, Clippers
Blake Griffin without Chris Paul could be a scary thing for opponents. As he’s aged, Griffin has undoubtedly lost some explosiveness, leading to a decrease in rebounding numbers and, sadly, his poster dunks.
He has, however, gained veteran savvy while improving his ball-handling, shooting (33.6 percent on a career-high 1.9 three-point attempts per game last season) and playmaking abilities (more than five assists a game over the past three seasons). I’m super excited for Griffin as a first option; point Blake is a thing!
If he can keep improving all of those skills — especially his outside shooting — we could see Griffin jump back into the conversation of top-10 or -15 player. It’s a conversation that he’s been on the outside of since the 2014-15 postseason, when he put up stellar per-game averages of 25.5 points, 12.7 rebounds and 6.1 assists.
Health is always a question for Griffin, but based on the most recent reports, he could be back in time for training camp.
Griffin probably won’t be up for Most Improved Player because he’s already really, really good. He could be up for the (nonexistent) Comeback Player of the Year award, though.