Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 NBA Breakouts

Here are ten players who I think will bust out in a major way this year.  I only used established NBA players, so you won't find any rookies who are already making an impact like Jimmer Fredette, Kyrie Irving, Ricky Rubio, or Kemba Walker below.  Many candidates are off to hot starts thus far or have enjoyed dramatic increases in playing time, and I believe they're all for real.

Fear the beard...and a lethal shooting stroke
James Harden: The 22 year-old swingman is among the best in the game because he rebounds (nearly six per game) and passes (over four dimes) exceptionally well for a shooting guard.  He's settled into a more complementary role alongside stud scorers Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.  Unfortunately he's still not starting because of Coach Scott Brooks' inexplicable preference for the defensively superior but offensively challanged Thabo Sefolosha.  Harden is currently averaging 32 minutes per game off the bench and is an early favorite for Sixth Man of the Year along with Al Harrington, but if he could crack the starting lineup he might threaten 20 points a night (he's currently averaging 17), especially when his .294 three point percentage returns to his .356 career average.  This is the year he makes the jump from a good player to a great one.

Greg Monroe: Detroit's sophomore PF/C didn't post overwhelming numbers in his rookie campaign, but his monster second half translated into a starting gig and a larger role on offense.  GM doesn't block well for a near seven-footer, but he's efficient from the floor and should be a nightly double-double threat with good percentages.  He doesn't have much competition on a mediocre Pistons squad and will be underrated/underappreciated because of his team's lack of success, so many will forget that he's only 21.

Kyle Lowry: The Rockets point guard enjoyed a career year last season after replacing Aaron Brooks and becoming an everyday starter for the first time in his career.  He'll never develop into an efficient scorer so his field goal percentage will always be on the low side, but he rebounds well for a six foot point guard.  His current league leading average of eleven assists per game is unsustainable, but playing for one of the league's top offenses with Kevin Martin and Luis Scola means he should be able to notch eight or nine dimes a night.  If Lowry can still healthy, he'll jump from a middle of the road point guard to one of the league's best.

Ryan Anderson: Will he continue to average nearly 20 points and nearly four three-pointers a night? Of course not, but he's no flash in the pan, either.  His per-36 minute career numbers say he's capable of 17 points and almost three treys per game with a high three-point percentage.  Now that he's evolved into Orlando's number two option on offense behind Dwight Howard, he should get plenty of opportunities to keep draining shots from behind the arc.  I'd like to see him take more advantage of his 6'10, 240 pound frame, to become a better rebounder and more efficient scorer, but there's nothing wrong with being a rich man's Channing Frye who could easily lead the Association in threes this year.  He teams with improving sharpshooter J.J. Redick to form a devastating long-range attack.

Marcin Gortat: Always had the talent (just look at his per-36 minute numbers and wonder how Orlando didn't find a place for him) but was blocked by DH during his first three-plus seasons with the Magic.  Now that he's the starting center in Phoenix, the Polish Hammer is free to rack up double-doubles for Steve Nash's aging Suns.  A broken thumb has limited his playing time and hindered his abilities thus far, but once he returns to health he should be a force in the paint once again.

Lawson uses his explosiveness to blow by defenders
and finish at the rim
Ty Lawson: Third year point guard has the starting job all to himself now that Raymond Felton, who came over in the Carmelo Anthony trade, is gone.  The NBA steal leader has responded by improving in every area except for three point percentage, and he should continue to thrive now that he's been handed the keys to one of the league's top offenses. A point guard who can make more than half his shots while still contributing three pointers and threatening 20 points per game is almost unheard of.  His blazing speed (matched by Rajon Rondo and few others) allows him to be a menace on the fast break. I like Lawson even more than Lowry this year.   Just don't let the pedestrian assist numbers fool you: two-guard Andre Miller has assumed more of a playmaker role and is averaging nearly seven dimes a night.

Spencer Hawes: After somehow averaging 21.2 minutes per game despite starting 81 of them last year, Philadelphia's center is receiving much more playing time and has responded by averaging more than a dozen points and boards per game while pacing all players in field goal percentage.  Substantial regression to the mean should be expected, but there's no reason he can't be a 10/10 guy, a la Anderson Varejao or Kris Humphries.  He's a lot like Gortat and Anderson in that he was always capable of producing more and just needed the minutes to prove it. 

Jarrett Jack: Now that Chris Paul has taken his talents to "Lob City" to play with Blake Griffin, Jack can take advantage of CP3's vacant starting role.  He complements Eric Gordon well in the backcourt, and after leading the league in games played four years in a row (but he started only about a third of the time) JJ is a good bet to remain healthy during the shortened season.  He's never been more than a good backup point point guard, but he should have a nice season; a dozen points and eight assists sound about right.  Since Gordon has been bitten by the injury bug lately, Jack figures to play more of a role in the offense, too.

Jeff Teague: See Jack, Jarret.  Expect similar numbers, but fewer assists, from the former backup that will go unnoticed while playing with Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, and Al Horford.  JT doesn't rebound too well, but he's a perfect complementary player for that loaded starting lineup and will benefit from playing in a thin backcourt;  Mike Bibby and Jamal Crawford are no longer with the Hawks, and Kirk Hinrich has been on the shelf all season and may not return.
Teague is no longer trapped in a timeshare in Atlanta
Toney Douglas: See Jack, Jarret and Teague, Jeff.  His numbers won't jump off the page with so 'Melo and Amare Stoudemire using so many possessions, but he'll get his fair share of recognition while playing in New York  and will put up solid all around numbers in his first season as the Knicks starting point guard.  Douglas also sinks about two three-pointers a game, which makes him a great perimeter option when Stoudemire and Anthony draw doubles or receive too much attention from opposing defenses.

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