With the NBA season fast approaching, SB Nation NBA is highlighting players we believe are poised to break out this season. Most of these players are young talents on the verge of stardom, but a few others are diamonds in the rough and others still are veterans poised to bounce back.
These are the picks of 10 SBNation.com staffers, as well as those of our team sites. This is not meant to be comprehensive -- we didn't forget your favorite team's player, we promise! -- so share your top breakout candidate in the comments or on Twitter with the hashtag #NBABreakout.
WIGGINS pic.twitter.com/kx6oCGfixl— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) September 1, 2015
Let the record show I chose Andrew Wiggins before he put Andres Nocioni six feet under with a rimrocker at the FIBA Americas Championship on Tuesday. That was just a further reminder that Wiggins is going to be so damn good next season.
Despite a Rookie of the Year nod and a year legitimately deserving of the award, it feels like Wiggins is being overlooked a bit. Maybe it's just that the entire state of Minnesota gets overlooked, I don't know for sure, but the league should be taking serious notice of the young Timberwolves sophomore. He's on a path to become a star sooner rather than later.
From Dec. 23 to the end of the season, Wiggins averaged 19 points on 46 percent shooting and about five rebounds. In April alone, he scored 23 points and dished four assists on 44 percent shooting while getting to the line more than 10 times (!) a game. He consistently played better and grew smarter all throughout his rookie campaign.
Even if he doesn't keep improving at such meteoric levels this season, he's a ridiculously-good 20 year old who's only getting better. --Tim Cato
It wasn't too long ago that Stan Van Gundy helped mold Dwight Howard into one of the most dominating forces in the NBA. Now heading into his fourth NBA season and eligible for a massive contract extension, Andre Drummond looks to become the Pistons' version of Howard for Van Gundy.
Van Gundy is using his successful Orlando teams as a template for Detroit, acquiring a stretch 4 in Ersan Ilyasova this summer and a potentially lethal pick-and-roll partner for Drummond in Reggie Jackson at February's trade deadline. Drummond flourished playing with Jackson, shooting over 57 percent when sharing the floor with him compared to under 49 percent with the point guard off the floor, per Basketball-Reference.com.
Drummond still has room to improve defensively, but he has the tools to be a premier rim protector and has already shown an ability to be a capable one. The free throw shooting will likely always be a problem (he's under 40 percent for his career), but if he can even get his free throw percentage up over 50 percent consistently, he'll be less of a liability in that area.
Drummond just turned 22 years old, and it was at that age that Howard really broke out to become the consistent monster he was in Orlando. The youngster is on the verge of becoming a fearsome presence down low for years to come. --Jason Patt
Jabari Parker was supposed to spend his rookie season in an exciting Rookie of the Year chase with Andrew Wiggins. An ACL injury put an end to that narrative, but not to Parker’s quest of becoming the Bucks’ franchise player. Now healthy and set to take on a big role in Milwaukee as a sophomore, Parker is ready to make good on his potential as a former No. 2 overall pick.
If you wanted to craft the ultimate perimeter scorer from scratch, you’d build someone like Parker. He’s long, strong and capable of creating his own opportunities. He also has the potential to become an efficient shooter who leaves defenders to pick their poison. Try to take away Parker’s driving ability, and he’ll shoot it over you. Try to take away that shot, and he’ll use his size and ball handling ability to attack. The game’s best scorers force defenders to make tough choices on each and every play. Parker can be that kind of player.
The real question, as it’s always been with Parker, is defense. In his brief 25-game stint with the Bucks last season, the team was markedly worse on defense with Parker on the court.
The reality, however, is that Milwaukee needs a high-level offensive star to get to the next level and Parker needs to be that guy. This is the year he moves past the setbacks and really asserts himself. --Satchel Price
There's a sense the Wizards' fourth-year guard isn't the sweet-shooting future star he's purported to be. The thought is that Beal's efficiency numbers are poor and a string of leg injuries that could linger keep interrupting his promising spells.
But that view fails to consider necessary context. Barring a freak preseason injury like last year (knock on wood), this will be Beal's first healthy summer in the pros. The source of his shooting inefficiency lies with his distribution rather than his stroke, and that should change as Randy Wittman slowly embraces small-ball. Beal's raised his game in both of his playoff runs and flashed particularly intriguing skills when John Wall was injured last season.
Most importantly, he just turned 22. The knocks on Beal are similar to those on Klay Thompson before last year, and we all saw how that turned out. If Thompson can transform into an All-Star at 25, why can't Beal when he's three years younger? --Mike Prada
MORE: Bullets Forever explains why the Wizards need Beal to take the next step to help them in the Kevin Durant chase.
Breakout seasons are the norm for the Warriors, and their prime candidate this season is Harrison Barnes. With the Splash Brothers carrying the offensive workload for the defending champs, Barnes will need to take the Draymond Green route and turn into a do-it-all guy. With a solid foundation already, Barnes is more than capable of building himself into that kind of player.
Barnes needs to keep doing his thing shooting wise, but his defense and ability to create on offense are lacking. Barnes is a solid defender, and, at 6’8 and 225 pounds, is essential to the Warriors' defensive style, but Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala were often switched onto Barnes’ man down the stretch -- most notably in the NBA Finals against LeBron James. Barnes’ handle is lacking and he rarely creates his own shot: he took 58 percent of his shots without dribbling. Imagine if, like Green, he could grab a rebound and get the offense moving immediately.
The good news for the Warriors is that Barnes worked with Jerry West again this offseason. The Logo helped Barnes improve his game before the Warriors’ magical 2014-15 season. It’s a good bet they fine-tuned some of the shortcomings in Barnes’ game this summer. Entering a contract year and coming off another offseason working with an all-time great, Barnes is ready to join Stephen Curry, Thompson and Green as part of the league’s elite. -Liam Boylan-Pett
Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports
Nerlens Noel had one of the best defensive performances by a rookie in league history, but few noticed. The 76ers had so little talent on their roster that only the faithful and League Pass junkies tuned in. Those who did saw an athletic freak with terrific instincts that got better as the season went on and could become a perennial Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Noel protected the rim fiercely and wreaked havoc on inattentive opponents by anticipating passes and using his quick hands to cause turnovers. He came so, so close to being the fourth player to average two steals and two blocks in a year, which shows the uniqueness of his skill set and physical tools.
The addition of Jahlil Okafor will push Noel to the power forward position, where he didn't seem all that comfortable last season. He's already getting ready for the challenge, working on his jump shot and accepting the change in role. The transition won't be seamless, but it doesn't feel impossible, either.
The 76ers aren't in any hurry to settle for a core or anoint anyone as a cornerstone, but if Noel continues to be such a force on the defensive end and shows even marginal improvement on offense, he will force Sam Hinkie's hand. --Jesus Gomez
Is Marcus Smart a point guard? Is he a starter? Is he a building block of the next great Celtics team, or the prime offering in a blockbuster deal for a great player? Just one year into his career, we're still not sure what to make of Smart other than he played with an admirable fearlessness as a rookie that won over fans and teammates alike.
The answer to the first question appears to be no, he's not a traditional point guard. Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn't tend to worry about those things all that much and that's good for this multi-talented player who offers defensive versatility, a must in the C's crowded backcourt mix.
Defense alone won't fulfill his promise. If Smart is going to take the next step in his career, he must improve his shooting, particularly from behind the arc. If he can become even an average shooter, Smart's other skills will carry him toward a long and prosperous career. Don't bet against him. --Paul Flannery
MORE: Celtics Blog on why Smart will get more responsibility this season.
Injuries became a fact of life for the Bulls during Tom Thibodeau's tenure, but Nikola Mirotic's month of March proved to be a quality silver lining. When Taj Gibson sprained his ankle in Chicago's last game of February, Mirotic was finally granted regular playing time for an extended stretch. All he did was average 21 points and eight rebounds per game in just over 30 minutes per night.
There were times when the Bulls rookie looked like everything the modern NBA demands out of its power forwards. He was a threat from three-point territory, even if his 31.6 shooting percentage from deep was a bit underwhelming. His ball handling was better than advertised and his ability to get to the foul line was a nice boost for an often stagnant offense.
Mirotic ended his rookie season with a rough run in the playoffs, but there were plenty of positive signs. With a bigger role under Fred Hoiberg in his sophomore campaign, Mirotic is set to show his March production was no aberration. --Ricky O'Donnell
Harris got paid by the Magic this summer -- four-years, $64 million -- and it's easy to see why. He's a 6'9, 235-pound forward who averaged 17 points and six rebounds per game and shot 36 percent from behind the three-point line last season. He was even better from those all-important corners, where he connected on 47 percent of his tries. He also just turned 23.
Harris is far from a perfect player, but his combination of size, skills and age is one you don’t see very often. He can create off the dribble and is comfortable pulling up for jumpers and driving all the way to the rim. He can also post up smaller defenders. Harris is still figuring out how to efficiently blend into a productive offense, but considering the fifth-year forward isn't much older than several players taken in the first round of this year’s draft, that's to be expected.
If Harris starts to figure things out defensively under Scott Skiles and continues to improve his shooting stroke, he’ll morph from a player with no real position into one capable of starring at either forward spot. --Yaron Weitzman
Dion Waiters Island has officially been inundated and the U.N. Rescue Mission is giving its last call to all who hope to escape. Let me hang out for just a few minutes longer.
My belief that Waiters is a viable breakout candidate is based fully on what the basketball spirits whisper to me in my fever dreams, not what the data says. (Because the data says he is one of the least productive players in the NBA.) Waiters is 23, he's been in a tough spot his entire career and he'll finally have a chance to live in the shadows under a healthy Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Billy Donovan will find ways to make Waiters acceptable, and acceptance is the first step toward change. (That's how it works, right?)
Most importantly, Waiters -- assuming the Thunder don't give him an early extension -- is in a contract year. Has there ever been a Contract Year Phenomenon like the one we could witness from young Mr. Waiters? Contract Year Phenomenon theorists are salivating at the process of this trial. Let's get it, Dion. --Tom Ziller
MORE: Welcome to Loud City is also still on Waiters Island.
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Hassan Whiteside: He broke out last year. Hot Hot Hoops explains why he'll break out again this year.
Kevin Love: He already broke out in Minnesota, but after a frustrating first season in Cleveland, he will re-emerge, writes Fear the Sword.
Chandler Parsons: The Mavericks need him to become a star instead of a second or third option, writes Mavs Moneyball.
Jordan Clarkson: The second-year Lakers guard is poised to build on his promising rookie season ... and then become very expensive, writes Silver Screen and Roll.
Ryan Anderson: The sweet-shooting Pelicans forward is healthy and will thrive in Alvin Gentry's system, writes The Bird Writes.
Festus Ezeli: The late-blooming Warriors big man could be the starter by season's end, writes Golden State of Mind.
Jared Sullinger: Celtics Blog explains why the slimmed-down big man is poised to bounce back from a tough 2014-15 season.
Ben McLemore: Kings fans shouldn't expect a major breakout, but more consistency will be key, writes Sactown Royalty.
Terrence Ross: If he doesn't put it together this year, he never will, writes Raptors HQ.
George Hill: The Pacers' point guard was great last year. Indy Cornrows explains why he'll keep building on that performance.
Rodney Hood: The second-year Jazz wing was excellent down the stretch last season. He won't be overlooked any longer, writes SLC Dunk.
Many Bucks players: As Brew Hoop writes, Milwaukee has tons of breakout candidates.
J.J. Redick: Perhaps he is what he is, but he's far better than folks realize, writes Clips Nation.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: The Pistons' third-year wing is a Most Improved Player candidate, writes Detroit Bad Boys.
Clint Capela: The Rockets big man shined in the playoffs, and that'll carry over next season, writes The Dream Shake.
Mitch McGary: The Oklahoma City frontcourt is crowded, but Mitch McGary will take advantage when he gets his chance to play, writes Welcome to Loud City.
Robert Covington: Liberty Ballers writes that the sweet-shooting wing will benefit from Jahlil Okafor in the post.
Tony Snell and/or Doug McDermott: One breaking out would be nice, writes Blog a Bull. Both? Even better!
T.J. Warren: As Bright Side of the Sun notes, the Suns are counting on Warren to nail down a key role after not playing much as a rookie.
Kyle O'Quinn: He never got a chance in Orlando. He will in New York, writes Posting and Toasting.
Russ Smith: Don't be surprised if the Louisville product earns minutes behind Mike Conley, writes Grizzly Bear Blues.
Ray McCallum: The Spurs don't really have many breakout candidates, but the former Kings guard is the best of the bunch, writes Pounding the Rock.
We've also analyzed a number of breakout candidates in-depth throughout the summer, including Wiggins, Parker, Drummond, Whiteside, Kidd-Gilchrist, Victor Oladipo, Jonas Valanciunas and Danilo Gallinari,