Before I scribe one syllable for my latest selection, I can already hear the sound of an invisible audience critically smacking their lips and see them shaking their in head in disagreement.
“How is he supposed to be a break-out player and he won a Finals MVP? How is he a breakout player when he signed a big free-agent deal? How is this guy on the list and he’s been in the league for over two years?”READ MORE: Black Restaurant Week is underway in Atlanta through August 14
My definition of a “break-out player” has varying levels of meaning that is strictly contingent on that particular “break-out player’s” disposition and circumstance.
It’s an interesting bunch but here are the top 10 players I believe will make considerable steps closer to All-Star/Super-Star Status:
- Giannis Antetokounpo (Milwaukee Bucks): The only thing harder than pronouncing the name of this 6’11” SF out of Greece is defending him. Look for this guy to improve his production from last year (12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg) as the Bucks attempt to make headways in the East at a top 4 team.
- Trey burke (Utah Jazz): After plateauing statistically from his rookie season (12.8 ppg, 5.7 apg), it’s either all or nothing for this former Michigan Wolverine entering his 3rd season in the league. Having already being overshadowed in a small market city by a gluttony of talented point guards in the Western Conference, Burke will not only run the orchestra for the Jazz but he is primed to lead this young team for a serious playoff push.
- Reggie Jackson (Detroit Pistons): In the 27 games he played and started for the Pistons last year, the 25-year-old PG roughly averaged 18 ppg, 9 apg and 5 rebounds. That’s all fine and dandy but Detroit wasn’t even close to making the playoffs in a weak Eastern Conference. To top that all off, I don’t know what the Pistons’ front office plan is considering there is a logjam at the guard position (Steve Blake, Spencer Dinwiddie, Brandon Jennings, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Jodie Meeks, Darrun Hillard). Even with that said, for Jackson, a “breakout season” for him is earning his newly $80 Million contract by putting up those numbers during the course of a whole season and justifying comparisons to former teammates Russell Westbrook & James Harden (Being an alpha guy sans the help of Kevin Durant).
- Hassan Whiteside (Miami Heat): I really feel Whiteside’s progression is the key to the Heat potentially overtaking the Hawks in the SouthEast division and competing with the Cavs as Eastern Conference Champs. When Miami threw this virtually unknown commodity in the mix last year, the project out of Marshall University (originally drafted by the Kings in 2010) flourished to the tune of 11 ppg/ 10 rpg as he learned on a night to night basis. If he maintains his health, I foresee Whiteside being the best Center in the East this year.
- Andrew Wiggins (Minnesota Timberwolves): I don’t think last year was a fluke for the reigning R.O.Y (17ppg/5 rpg/2 apg) but I am anxious to see how Wiggins approaches this season. Will Wiggins ascend to be the teams’ unquestioned leader on the floor (I consider KG a mentor and assistant coach at this juncture of his career) even though he and the prime playmakers on the team are all under the age of 25? Wiggins showed me last year he is a quiet player but spoke very loudly when it came to his style of play. I believe in the young pup.
- Jordan Clarkson (LA Lakers): As the Lakers starting pg for the last month of the season, the then rookie averaged 19ppg/6.8apg/4.6 rpg. With the addition of the #2 pick in the draft (pg D’Angelo Russell), the Lakers apparently will move Clarkson to the “2”, start Russell at point and start future HOF Kobe Bryant to SF. That sounds good on paper but Russell hasn’t impressed me so far as he was a turnover machine and inconsistent shooter in the summer league/pre-season. If that lack of production continues in the regular season, the I can see “Sweet” Lou Williams gunning at the shooting guard during crunch time and Clarkson continuing to make strides as the “Kobe approved” ex post facto point guard.
- Aaron Gordon (Orlando Magic): I can’t lie; I became a prisoner of the moment/Gordon believer during this past Orlando Magic summer league. Unlike in his rookie campaign (5.2 ppg/3.6 rpg/ 17 mpg) Gordon dominated the comp and put on highflying shows that had me comparing him to Blake Griffin. The thing about Gordon though, is that I think the 6’9” PF is a better ball handler and shooter than Blake. Yikes!
- Kawhi Leonard (San Antonio Spurs): Coming off a 2014 Finals MVP, last season was supposed to be the year that Leonard broke out as the Spurs best player and team leader, but injury curtailed that vision. Despite missing 18 games last year, “The Claw” managed to put up 16.5 ppg and 7.2 rpg en route to becoming the Defensive Player of the Year. With the addition of top-notch free agent LaMarcus Aldridge, expect Leonard and LA to be the top threats on the Spurs this year as the aging All-Stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker take a back seat.
- Tristan Thompson (Cleveland Cavs): The #4 pick of the 2011 draft drastically increased his stock in the 2015 Playoffs when PF Kevin Love went down to injury, and that was evidenced in his recent $82 Million contract. He averaged 8.5 ppg/8.0 rpg off the bench last year but as long as he can continue to dominate the offensive glass and shows flashes of “Dennis Rodman”, the contract will be justified and the Cavs should be on their way to a consecutive Finals appearance.
- DeMarre Carroll (Toronto Raptors): The “Junk Yard Dog” had a standout season last year for the Atlanta Hawks (12.6 ppg as a primary defensive stopper, 5th option with no designed plays) and was rewarded with $60 Million from the Raptors. Toronto effectively did a Young Dro and told Carroll “You the Man, You the Man” for this upcoming season. Expect DeMarre to shoot a lot more threes and average between 15-17 ppg as the #2 option behind DeMar DeRozan.
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*Sorry Doug “Mc Buckets” McDermott of the Chicago Bulls. Despite the lack of trust in American born Caucasian players from ESPNs Skip Bayless, I have faith in you. I believe you will step up and be a JJ Redick’esque shooter for the Bulls this year, I just couldn’t fit you in the top 10.