Culture of Hoops

The Starting 5: NBA Breakout Players of 2012-13

Mirza Teletovic finally moves from Europe to the United States to try his hand  in the NBA. Will he get to shine as he has in the Euroleague

With the first full season of NBA in over a year nearly upon us, punditry of nerds with little better to do than clacking away feverishly on their laptops is reaching heights unseen since the advent of NBA TV. And what excites those (us) nerds more than we realize? Change. Change and the potential to be either right or—so I hear—wrong. What offseason moves were worthwhile? What rookie not named Anthony Davis will have the biggest impact? Which NBA breakout players will take the biggest leap? What type of candy has Lamar Odom been eating all offseason?

That third question is what we’re dealing with today. Here’s the BMF Starting 5 of the upcoming season’s breakout players:

Greivis Vasquez, New Orleans Hornets

Based on simple math, the Philadelphia 76ers’ Jrue Holiday seemed the easy choice. Losing Andre Iguodala and his 5.5 assists per game and replacing him with Jason Richardson—a good shooter, leaper, and defender, but hardly a plus ballhandler—means more time on the ball for the UCLA product. But Holiday actually regressed as a distributor from the previous season (6.5 assists per game to 4.5) while Iguodala posted his lowest usage rate since his sophomore campaign. A lot of this has to do with the emergence of Evan Turner, who just missed a spot on this list in his own right.

This logic genuinely applies, however, to Mr. Vasquez. With Jarrett Jack and Marco Belinelli gone, the former Terp is accompanied by rookie combo guard Austin Rivers and shooters Xavier Henry and Roger Mason, Jr. in a very shallow New Orleans backcourt. Oh, and his squad also recently required a certain number one overall pick who threw down Olympic Gold alley-oops before his first NBA game, as well as a power forward who led the league in three-pointers last year. To say Vasquez’s numbers should increase dramatically would be an understatement.

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors

One strike-shortened season under his belt, Thompson has already captured the gaze of NBA players, pundits, and guys who catch NBA Fastbreak once a month and recognize the event by bothering me with their findings at work. That’ll happen when your dad played 12 seasons in the league and when your coach—a no-nonsense type who battled both with and against Reggie Miller—is calling you “Reggie-like.”

Yet I posit Thompson turning more heads than predicted. Why? Well, two reasons. The first has a lot to do with Mr. Vasquez’s reasons for breaking out. With a shallow backcourt that includes fragile starting point guard Stephen Curry and not much else in the way of ballhandling (to the point where Draymond Green might get a few minutes per game at point forward), Klay will simply get used a lot more than your average sophomore shooting guard. Second, the Warriors’s acquisition of Andrew Bogut, who erases shots at the rate of the Jersey Shore cast on a Saturday night, coupled with his being backed-up by the defensively-adept Brandon Rush, means Klay will have more energy to focus on his strengths: flinging threes like boogers at a trash can and using that threat to get to the basket.

Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs

Much of Kawhi Leonard’s potential improvement can be summed up in these shooting splits: 44.9 FG%/25.0 3pt%/74.4 FT% vs. 49.3%/37.6%/77.3 FT%. The first split? Kawhi’s shooting percentages during his two years at San Diego State University. The second split obviously being his lone NBA season. If a dude that athletic can improve that drastically in one year—all while switching from power forward to the wing, and becoming his team’s defensive stopper—it’s safe to say we’ve only begun to scratch the surface of his potential under the tutelage of Greg Popovich and his coaching staff.

Mirza Teletovic, Brooklyn Nets

Of course the easy answer here, or even at center, would be Anthony Davis. But I feel like Davis could post obscene statistical averages, eke out simultaneous Rookie of the Year and MVP Awards, and not a soul would be taken aback (hyperbole, I hope).

Instead I turn to Teletovic. The Bosnian led Euroleague in scoring last year, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement (previous winners, from 2011 down to 2006: Igor Rakocevic, Linas Kleiza, Rakocevic, Marc Salyers, Juan Carlos Navarro, Drew Nichols—and the mediocrity goes on), but still:

Basically, a Ryan Anderson-type with a better shot-fake-and-attack game who drinks a lot of coffee.

JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets

JaVale basically wins the center spot by default. For him, as has been the case since his rookie year, “breaking out” doesn’t necessarily mean elevating his game as much as limiting his mental mistakes to a point where he can play starter’s minutes. Do I think this will be the year it finally happens? Not exactly. Let’s just say that not a lot of centers qualified.

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