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PBT Roundtable: Who is poised for a breakout season?

Oct 16, 2013, 1:17 PM EDT

John Henson AP

Each week the PBT writers sit at a virtual roundtable, just like the knights of King Arthur, drink mead and discuss the NBA topic of the day. This week’s question:

Which player do you expect to have a breakout season?

Kurt Helin: After spending an entire summer pumping up Toronto’s Jonas Valanciunas, I’ll go with… John Henson of the Milwaukee Bucks. There’s no question the guy can block shots and rebound, but on the offensive end he grew more comfortable as last season wore on (his last 10 games he averaged 8.9 points a game on 49.4 percent shooting). At Summer League this year he was one of the more impressive big men out there and playing with a consistency rarely seen in younger players. He gets his buckets around the rim — that was true during Summer League and so far this preseason — and ultimately if he is going to co-exist with Larry Sanders up front he has to get a face-up midrange game, but his energy and talent are undeniable. He’s going to get a lot of run this season and that should mean good numbers and a chance to develop the midrange jumper.

DJ Foster: Bad news, Kurt: I’ve already planted the flag on Henson territory. Skit. Get on outta here.

For the sake of non-repetitiveness, though, I’ll gladly pump up Eric Bledsoe. I firmly believe that Goran Dragic and Bledsoe will be the second best defensive backcourt in the NBA next to Mike Conley and Tony Allen in Memphis this year, as both guys are defensive hounds who will drive ballhandlers nuts. I’m optimistic offensively as well, as Bledsoe actually played some of his best minutes next to Chris Paul. This is a guy who put up a 15-5-5 line with 2.5 steals per-36 minutes last year, and I’d expect something similar from him this season. I don’t care if he’s a point guard or shooting guard — he’s a freak.

Darius Soriano: Henson and Bledsoe and both fine choices and I see very good things from both this season. But I see legitimately great things from Anthony Davis in his sophomore campaign. Last year Davis put up 13.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks a game while posting a PER over 20. And he did all that in only 28.8 minutes a night. Can you imagine the impact he’s going to have when Monty Williams has little choice but to bump those minutes up to around 35 a night? We could realistically see him post a line of 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocks and make it look easy while doing it. And if the Pelicans surprise record wise, he could even make the all-star team and challenge for an All-NBA spot. The sky is the limit for this kid and I believe this season he takes that next step and becomes one of the elite players in the league.

Brett Pollakoff: After getting a look at him in person Tuesday night, I’m buying in to the DeAndre Jordan preseason hype machine. Doc Rivers has anointed him the Kevin Garnett of this Clippers team, the defensive anchor who will protect the rim and call out the signals. And you know what? At least early on, DeAndre is all in, embracing every expectation. He’s always had the freak athleticism, but the defensive intensity he’s showed this preseason — talking nonstop while quarterbacking the defense, calling out the other team’s plays, hedging on pick-and-rolls and then recovering to alter shots in the paint — has been seriously impressive. Obviously the huge question is whether or not he’ll sustain it throughout the course of the season, but if he can, the Clippers in my mind jump immediately to the top of the list of favorites in the Western Conference.

Dan Feldman: John Wall is my pick to win Most Improved Player, though I’m cheating a bit. Wall’s real improvement came last season, but he missed 33 games and played limited minutes upon his return. With a full season, Wall should impress voters with how far he’s come, especially with his jumper and defense. Most of the last five Most Improved Players — Paul George, Aaron Brooks and Danny Granger — received votes for the award the season prior. The other two, Ryan Anderson and Kevin Love, improved significantly from two seasons before their award to one season before. The lesson: It takes sustained momentum to win Most Improved Player, and Wall has it. My pick for actual breackout player, not someone who I think is more prepared to game the system: Jonas Valanciunas. He showed a lot of raw ability last season, and at some point, that should translate into just plain ability. I love his aggressiveness on both ends.

  1. 00maltliquor - Oct 16, 2013 at 1:43 PM

    DJ Foster forgot about the defensive backcourt of Rondo and Bradley apparently.

    • lmoneyfresh - Oct 16, 2013 at 1:56 PM

      Jimmy Butler. He’ll get even better with Rose back and really cement that SG spot for Chicago.

      • tk41 - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        Totally agree @lmoneyfresh. I was surprised his name didn’t pop up once in that article.
        Jumping off of Feldman’s point. Most MIP winners are guys that did very well in small roles & continued to play very good, efficient ball as their role increased. The best example is Ryan Anderson whose per-minute numbers & PER stayed the same, but went from 20 to 32 minutes a night.
        Butler was over-matched at the beginning of the season, but rounded into a well above average player by the end. He’ll probably be about 30-32 min a game – maybe more given the Bulls injury history (about a 30% jump from last year). I expect he’ll be as efficient as he was in the back half of last year, but will put up numbers about 30% greater due to his increase in playing time. Pair that with some tenacious D & you got a MIP candidate.

      • lmoneyfresh - Oct 16, 2013 at 5:46 PM

        Whoops, that wasn’t supposed to be a reply.

  2. johngalt1783 - Oct 16, 2013 at 1:56 PM

    I agree with Soriano on Davis. If he can stay healthy he could put some mean numbers.

    I also like Waiters, Beal, Drummond and Valanciunas as a top breakout candidates.

    My all breakout team by front court and backcourt not position.

    Front court: Davis, Drummond and Valanciunas
    Backcout: Beal and Waiters

    • tk41 - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:59 PM

      Totally agree with Valanciunas & Beal – can’t say the same for Waiters.
      He needs the ball in his hand a lot as he attempts to dribble penetrate & still lacks a solid deep stroke & midrange game. However, I can’t see him being a primary ballhandler for more than 5-6min night w/ Irving & Jarret Jack on the roster.
      He is a talented player for sure, just not sure how he’ll make a large jump forward in the confines of an oddly constructed roster

  3. azarkhan - Oct 16, 2013 at 1:57 PM

    Zen Spur, Kawhi Leonard.

    • adamsjohn714 - Oct 16, 2013 at 2:00 PM

      Kawhi has already had 2 great seasons in a row. It’s doubtful he has a huge leap in productivity this year, but very likely that people will start to notice his great play more readily.

      • azarkhan - Oct 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

        You’re right, Kawhi has been outstanding, especially in the Finals, but I see him going from 11.9 PPG to around 17 PPG during the regular season.

      • spursareold - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:18 PM


        Kawhi gonna fly. Lowe wrote a GREAT article over at Grantland on him. I knew he was going to be something special about 2 months into his rookie year. You read the stories about him and you like them, but take a wait and see approach. He worked with Chip Englland for about a week after the draft and before the lockout on his three pointer. He was essentially breaking into the SDSU gym at 6 AM every day, and bringing his own lighting to practice his shooting. He’s that rare player untouched by the sleeze of AAU ball that views getting to the NBA as the starting point, not the finish line.

      • bougin89 - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:35 PM

        I really like Kawhi Leonard. He has played really well and is rapidly improving but you’re jumping the gun on saying he has had 2 ‘great’ seasons in a row. He has a lot of room to improve still. I don’t think he will continually be the 4th/5th option on offense in San Antonio, it’s time for him to become much more of a focus on offense, he seems plenty capable.

        Defensively he’s great. This year he becomes more of a true two way star IMO, which will in itself be a big improvement.

      • ProBasketballPundit - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:52 PM

        I love Zach Lowe! And Zach Lowe loves Kawhi Leonard so I guess by deductive reasoning… I love Kawhi Leonard. He really is a terrific defender and probably a notch over average offensively. All he lacks is passing ability but that’s pretty important on a Popovich team. I have to agree with adamsjohn that Kawhi won’t break out but instead his high level of play will finally be appreciated.

      • Kurt Helin - Oct 18, 2013 at 5:22 PM

        I don’t think of him as a breakout player because he became a star during the finals, I think he already broke.

  4. themagicfanguy - Oct 16, 2013 at 2:11 PM

    Tobias Harris!

  5. nflcrimerankingscom - Oct 16, 2013 at 3:45 PM

    Tristan Thompson

  6. bougin89 - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:10 PM

    I think John Henson might be a victim of the stagnant offense of the Bucks. The assist to turnover ratio of Knight and Mayo scares the hell out of me. Not a whole lot of easy buckets for our bigs will be created by either one.

  7. ProBasketballPundit - Oct 16, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    Bradley Beal! That dude made Wade look silly the other night. Of course it’s just preseason and Wade is probably 85 games away from giving it his all… but Beal’s moves were nasty. He finished strong at the rim and took advantage of poor defensive matchups… I think he’s gonna break out.

  8. legend30 - Oct 16, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    Ricky Rubio, E. Bledsoe, G. Hayward, to name a few. Excited to watch these guys this year.

  9. flickflint - Oct 16, 2013 at 6:31 PM

    Shumpert, this is the first time he’s done preseason and training camp (rookie yr lockout 2nd yr acl rehab)

  10. weaselpuppy - Oct 16, 2013 at 9:29 PM

    Drummond. Man among boys just starting to out it all together.

    Rubio. John Stockton with flash….without a shot.

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