As the 2012-13 NBA season approaches, you'll hear team executives, writers and fans all express opinions on the myriad breakout candidates the league will offer. Some of these claims will be spot-on. Others will be ... uh, a bit plagued by excessive exuberance. (Let us live in a post-hype world.)
I wanted to take as much subjectivity as possible out of the equation in coming up with a breakout candidate list. You can never remove all subjectivity: someone has to pick the objective standards, after all, and while you can use data to come up with those standards, at some point, you're spinning your wheels. So I have not by any means come up with a fully objective list of breakout candidates, just a list of breakout candidates assembled in what I believe to be a fairly objective fashion.
I used the valuable Basketball-Reference player season finder to pick out my candidates based on various criteria (16 points per 36 minutes for scorers, 15 PER for all-around players, five three-point attempts per 36 and 38 percent for shooters). Do keep in mind that for all candidates I included two standard criteria: that they have played an average of less than 25 minutes per game over the past two seasons combined, and that they are younger than 30. This is not to say that there are no players 30 or older ready to break out. I'm just not as interested in finding those players, nor am I confident that I could using this method. Similarly, I rejected players who, despite the minutes threshold, are already really well-known to even less diehard fans. (More subjectivity! Oh dear ...) Louis Williams, Kyle Korver, Drew Gooden and others fell into this category. It'd just be weird to see Drew Gooden on a Breakout! list in 2012, no?
I also tried to limit the second-year players, though there were some who were unavoidably good. (Alec Burks, a nice breakout prospect, was on the wrong side of the cut-off.) I also omitted a number of players who played very low minutes totals and may not be in the league at all this season.
With all that said, let's get to our list.
Klay Thompson. He's on the verge of being too ... broken out to be a breakout candidate. Everyone knows he's good. But he played just 24.4 minutes per game as a rookie last season, so we'll allow him in. The kid's performance in Oakland screams star-in-the-making, as he averaged better than 18 points per 36 minutes and shot really well. The Warriors have a lot going for them between Stephen Curry, Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, but Thompson could legitimately be the most exciting piece. If they can be passable defensively, Curry and Klay could end up one of the more thrilling backcourts in the league very soon. (Look at all of that subjective bluster. But seriously, the numbers speak for themselves.)
C.J. Miles. I'm conflicted on Miles, who left the Jazz for the Cavaliers this offseason. He's clearly a potent scorer, averaging 17.4 points per 36 minutes over the past two seasons and playing just 23 minutes per game. He has no issue creating shots for himself, which is indeed a skill (though one of debated value). But he's extraordinarily inefficient -- at least, he has been in recent years. He ought not be scoring so much because he's not efficient enough to warrant all of the shots he takes. But at just 25 years old (the oldest 25-year-old ever?), he's got room to grow there. With a dearth of both scorers and small forwards in Cleveland, he could end up on most year-end Most Improved shortlists. (Shortlists which should be burned, because Most Improved is a malevolent trophy worthy only of being pitched into Mount Doom.)
Kenneth Faried. I feel uncomfortable writing about Faried because I want to use all of the familiar and awkward comparisons to wild animals we make for high-energy, athletically superior players (beast, rabid, monster, etc.) but that whole line of metaphor is ... problematic. So: Faried is really active, really athletic and really quite a good basketball player already. He played 22.5 minutes per game last season, averaging 16.4 points and an insane 12.2 rebounds per 36 minutes. And he scored really efficiently, so while his playing time may be blocked by high-dollar JaVale McGee, his scoring growth could improve if he gets more shots.
Jerryd Bayless. Bayless has been a breakout candidate since birth, actually. Over the past two seasons, he's played about 21 minutes per game and averaged better than 16 points per 36 minutes. He's just 24 and will join the Memphis Grizzlies this season. That's a good fit in my estimation, and we could see Bayless (finally) blossom into the player that the per-minute numbers say he can be.
Nikola Pekovic. Pek is not just some nasty mountain who beats around opponents and gets by on brute strength. He's actually a canny scorer -- he's just under 17 points per 36 minutes over his first two seasons -- in addition to a good rebounder. He finished third in Most Improved last season, but has a better potential prize this season as love beyond the already adoring Twitter class should spread.
Darrell Arthur. Arthur makes this list on multiple counts, as both a good scorer and very good defender. He missed all of last season with an injury, but re-signed with Memphis to be the team's third big man behind Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph. I believe he'll be a steal at $9 million over that term. He averaged better than 16 points per 36 minutes on just about 50 percent shooting in 2010-11.
Tiago Splitter. The Brazilian has pretty impeccable per-minute numbers (16 points, 9.8 rebounds per 36), but has only received 15.6 minutes per game from Gregg Popovich through two seasons. I don't believe Splitter has a reputation as a poor defender (have I missed something?), so at some point, I do think Pop will loosen the reins and let Splitter fly.
Patty Mills. There are actually many Spurs who are legit breakout candidates. Gary Neal is a good scorer who doesn't get a ton of burn, and Kawhi Leonard is, by Pop's admission, a future star. But we'll limit our inclusion to Splitter and Mills, a firebolt point guard who played in just 80 games over the past two seasons but has per-36 numbers of 17.9 points and 5.1 assists and has shot 37.6 percent on threes.
Gustavo Ayon. The Mexican big man was traded to the Orlando Magic and ... he might be their best frontcourt player already. Ayon is not remotely a scorer, but he's an efficient garbage man who moves well and can rebound and defend. He's already 27, so he's in his prime and ready to exceed expectations on a bad, bad team.
Anthony Randolph. You laugh. Go ahead and laugh. But one of these days. Over 1,100 minutes in the past two seasons, A. Rand (!) has scored 18.1 per 36 with 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. I refuse to believe that's all worthless.
Hamed Haddadi. Usually a punchline for various reasons, Haddadi is actually a passable scorer (14 points per 36) and a superlative rebounder (career rebound rate of 21.1 percent). The problem is that he never ever ever ever plays under Lionel Hollins, even when injury strikes and the Grizzlies are desperate. Despite that, he signed a two-year deal to stay with the team. So maybe mark him for the 2014-15 list.
*** BONUS SPECIALIST BREAKOUT CANDIDATES ***
Steve Novak broke out last year, right? Let's find the next Steve Novak, only let's make sure one of them isn't white, because it is not requisite that Steve Novak be white. (This may be news to Steve Novak.)
Luke Babbitt. This is the white one. Babbitt doesn't play much, but he can shoot. He hit 71 of 173 three-pointers in Portland last season (41 percent), and took a stunning 6.7 attempts per 36 minutes. In college, he shot 42 percent on three-pointers. In 17 D-League games, he's hit better than 40 percent of his threes. Give Babbitt the rock.
Cartier Martin. This is the non-white Steve Novak candidate. Martin has already been with the Wizards for parts of three seasons, and he's on a veteran's minimum deal for this year. The 27-year-old guard shoots a career 37 percent from long-range, but takes those threes with great frequency (6.9 per 36 last season, 5.8 for his career). The Wizards desperately need shooting, and Martin is the best candidate to offer it up. If the shots continue to go down, Randy Wittmann needs to continue putting Martin in the game.
The Hook is a daily NBA column by Tom Ziller. See the archives.