Opening week is here and with it comes all the usual manner of prognostications. We've already given you our thoughts on all the teams and the major awards, but today I want to delve into something else -- which players we should expect to make big steps forward this season.
Every year, several players make the jump from relative anonymity to household names. Sometimes they're truly out of nowhere -- Boris Diaw last year, for instance. Other times, however, we can see it coming if we look close enough at their age, performance and opportunity. That's what I'm doing today, as I name my "All-Breakout Team" for 2006-07 -- 10 guys I expect to put up much better numbers than they did a year ago.
First, some ground rules:
No current stars. I'm trying to avoid Master Of The Obvious stuff here. For instance, NBA.com's GM survey named Dwight Howard as this year's top breakout player. Gee, ya think? I heard the Cavs have some guy named LeBron James that might be good, too. This list digs a bit deeper, so don't expect to see Chris Paul, Dwyane Wade, or any other Olympians or All-Stars in here.
Opportunity matters. No matter how much I like a guy, there is no point putting him on an All-Breakout team if he's not going to play. For instance, I'm a huge Andris Biedrins fan, but he might play only 10 minutes a game this year in Don Nelson's smallball system. So I'll hold off on the endorsement for a while. Similarly, some players that I might not be as high on have undeniably improved opportunities this year that could vault them ahead of their peers.
Comebacks don't count. Sorry, I'm not putting Grant Hill or Nene on this list. I'm just looking at young guys who are genuinely on the upswing, not veterans regaining their former standing by dint of improved health.
With those caveats, then, let's take a look at this year's breakout players: