NBA training camps are fast approaching, so it’s time to take a look at some of the young talent expected to become household names during the 2013-2014 seasons. These may be players who’ve been in the league one year, with glimpses of stellar play during their rookie campaign. It could be guys who’ve played backup rolls, but now for various reasons will have an opportunity to start and play big minutes. It could even be the type of player who floundered in mediocrity for a few years, but suddenly came into his own in the second half of last season. Nevertheless, here are the top ten NBA players who will have breakout years during the 2013-14 NBA season:
10. Derrick Favors, PF, Utah Jazz
At 6’10” and 250 pounds, Favors has the type of NBA body to compete with many of the big men that play in the Western Conference. The 2013-14 campaign will see Favors getting more minutes with the departure of Al Jefferson to the Charlotte Bobcats and Paul Millsap to the Atlanta Hawks. Favors will be asked to solidify the low post, getting points with his back to the basket and from offensive rebounds. Moreover, Favors will be looked upon defensively to block and contest shots in the paint. I believe this offseason gives Favors the spark he needs to elevate his game with the Jazz’s aforementioned former bigs moving on. Favors will play better in the post and develop his midrange game, while increasing his scoring and rebounding output. Look for Favors to be a major cog in the rebuilding process of the Utah Jazz.
9. Jimmy Butler, SG/SF, Chicago Bulls
During the NBA Playoffs this past season, the Chicago Bulls found themselves plagued with injury after injury. As a result, Jimmy Butler was inserted into the starting lineup, with his major assignment to guard the best player in the game, LeBron James. Though Butler didn’t shut down James by any means, he did hold his own by forcing James into difficult and contested shots. In addition, Butler scored in double figures in four of the five games during their series against the Miami Heat, while shooting 50 percent from the field. Whether Luol Deng is traded or not, Butler should receive starter’s minutes at the small forward spot. He may also play shooting guard in situations where head coach Tom Thibodeau wants to go with a big lineup. In any case, anticipate Jimmy Butler to score 15 points a game this season, while helping the Bulls earn a playoff spot for the sixth consecutive year.
8. Tobias Harris, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
If the final five games of last season are any indication, Harris should have a great upcoming campaign in Orlando. During that final stretch of games, Harris averaged 23.4 points per game, with all but one of those games played against a playoff team. At 6’9” and 226 pounds, Harris provides a welcomed versatility to the Magic lineup. As an Antwan Jamison-type, Harris is a matchup problem for other power forwards with his ability to shoot from the outside and drive to the basket. If Harris played for Orlando during the start of last year, he may not even qualify as a breakout performer for this coming season. I suspect Tobias will continue to develop his game as he works on his post play and defense in the paint. Don’t be surprised if this young stud is in an NBA All-Star game in a few years.
7. Jonas Valanciunas, C, Toronto Raptors
The Las Vegas Summer League’s MVP is well on his way to making a name for himself in the NBA. The 7’0″ Lithuanian sensation has developed an NBA body with terrific foot work and post play. During Summer League, Valanciunas averaged 18 points and 10 rebounds, while shooting over 56 percent from the field. Even during last season, he showed he can shoot a high percentage both from the field and free-throw line. As he gets more opportunities with the struggling Raptors squad, I believe Valanciunas will continue to prove his worth as an above-average inside presence. Don’t be surprised if his Summer League averages are very comparable to his season averages in 2013-14.
6. Jeff Green, SF, Boston Celtics
The Big Three no longer exists in Beantown. Ray Allen departed last year for warmer waters in Miami, followed by Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s exit as part of a trade with the Brooklyn Nets. Star point guard, Rajon Rondo, is coming off an injury and will have the Celtics hard-pressed to find scoring and playmaking with the projected lineup currently in place. This in mind, look for Jeff Green to step up and take some of the onus off his teammates. Though he only averaged 12.8 points per game last season, he did elevate his scoring to a team high 20.3 points during the NBA Playoffs. He is a hard-nosed defender who can cover the 3 and 4 positions very well. The team’s need for scoring, more opportunities and improvements in his jumpshot should help increase his scoring average. I expect Jeff Green to be the leading scorer and second leading rebounder for the Celtics in 2013-2014.
5. Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons
The Detroit Pistons expect big things out of Drummond, who only averaged eight points and eight rebounds per game last year. At 6’10” and 270 pounds, Drummond has the type of NBA physique that could present real matchup problems for other big men in the Eastern Conference. The biggest obstacle he has to overcome in working towards post prominence is his conditioning. Last year there were many times when Drummond had trouble staying on the court, whether it was through fatigue or foul trouble. If he is able to give the Pistons 30-plus minutes a game, you will see a guy who scores in many ways. He can score in the post, through a midrange game or from offensive put-backs. In addition, Drummond can be a force on defense by clogging the middle, blocking shots, altering shots and forcing penetrating guards to stay on the perimeter. Expect Drummond to easily average double figures this coming season.
4. Bradley Beal, SG, Washington Wizards
An All-Rookie first teamer, Bradley Beal showed why he was selected with third overall pick in last year’s NBA Draft. However, Beal did miss twenty-six games during his rookie season with several injuries, including a stress injury to his right fibula. Still recovering from that injury, there may be some skepticism as to whether Beal will fall into a sophomore slump. I disagree with the notion of a second-year dive for Beal. He is a pure shooter, who can score as a slasher, penetrator or coming off screens. John Wall is expected to be healthy and play the entire year, so Beal should thrive with a player who can create shots for himself and his teammates. Don’t be surprised if Beal averages near 20 points a game while leading the Washington Wizards, along with John Wall, to their first playoff berth since the 2007-2008 season.
3. Kawhi Leonard, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs
There was some debate on whether to include Leonard on this list since he played so well during the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. However, after some careful analysis, I believe Leonard has yet to hit his stride in the NBA. He only averaged 12 points per game in the regular season while struggling to get 10 shots per game. He did, however, shoot nearly 50 percent from the field and 83 percent from the free-throw line. The 2013-14 season should be a carry-over from last season’s playoffs for Kawhi Leonard. His ability to shoot the three and get out in transition should continue to work well with point guard, Tony Parker. Leonard’s size, length and knack for getting to the basket will translate into points and free-throw attempts. Expect Leonard to be the second leading scorer for San Antonio this year, averaging near 20 points per game.
2. Dion Waiters, SG, Cleveland Cavaliers
In less than thirty minutes a game last year, Waiters averaged almost 15 points. This scoring output was impressive, considering his Cleveland Cavaliers team only had twenty-four wins and played a portion of their season without star point guard, Kyrie Irving. At 6’4” and 215 pounds, Waiters has the size to match-up well with opposing shooting guards in the NBA. His talent for getting to the basket, both by penetrating off the dribble and executing back cuts, gives Waiters opportunities to get points in the paint and from the free-throw line. He improved his shooting percentage as last season progressed, upping his shooting nine percent after the NBA All-Star break. With more minutes this year, look for Waiters to fill up the stat sheet in many ways. Additionally, don’t be surprised if his Cleveland Cavaliers are participants in the 2014 NBA Playoffs.
1. Eric Bledsoe, PG/SG, Phoenix Suns
Bledsoe is by far the most likely player to breakout this upcoming season since he only played twenty minutes a game last year in a backup role with the Los Angeles Clippers behind Chris Paul. Well, new scenery and a great opportunity will be all Bledsoe needs to show the rest of the NBA what kind of player he really is. Bledsoe is a phenomenal athlete, with excellent quickness and the talent to take anybody off the dribble. In a new situation in Phoenix, Bledsoe will likely be teamed up in the backcourt with fellow point guard, Goran Dragic. The small tandem will have an advantage on the bigger guards and Bledsoe could flourish in this system. They should be able to get out and run and get a number of easy baskets in transition. Don’t be alarmed if Bledsoe’s numbers come close to resembling Chris Paul’s by the end of the season.
There will be other players during this NBA season that elevate their games to new heights. However, don’t expect those players to have the kind of breakout seasons that the players on this list will have. The ten players on this list should be major reasons why their teams meet or exceed expectations. We will check back in January to evaluate how these players are doing. Stay tuned.