Every NBA season begins with a fresh group of young players that are in the position to have a breakout season for their teams. Up and coming stars and superstars are one of the best parts of the NBA and watching them grow into their potential is a rewarding feeling for NBA fans across the nation.
One of the most exciting parts of every offseason is the anticpation of who will be the next big star(s) of the upcoming season. The NBA is a league that thrives on individual stardom, moreso than any of the other major sports, so it's a huge boost for the game whenever we see that next big star break out. Last year, we saw some young new stars emerge and this year should be no different.
This year is no different and I could have very easily made this list twice as long or picked a breakout player for each team. Many players deserve to make this list, but I tried to base it on multiple factors including playing time increase, potential, team situations, player situations, etc.
With that said we would love for viewers to add anyone they feel should be on the list or give us your opinion in the comments section.
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15 Reggie Jackson – Detroit Pistons
After playing behind Russell Westbrook in OKC, Jackson finally got his chance to be the main point guard for the Detroit Pistons last season. It was definitely a tough season and in my opinion Jackson underperformed a bit while learning the system and maturing into a true starting point.
With a year under his belt, the Greg Monroe situation finally over and a chip on his shoulder I expect Jackson to come out on fire this season. The Pistons have regrouped and at this point it is on Reggie Jackson and Andre Drummond to take this team to the next level.
2014-15 Numbers: 14.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg, 6 apg and .8 spg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 18 ppg, 5 rpg. 7.5 apg and 1.5 spg
14 Zach Lavine – Minnesota Timberwolves
After a slow start to his rookie campaign, Zach Lavine has done nothing but impress since the All Star break and continues to improve his game. Last season he played better as a 2 guard, but has point guard like skills in his game which will really help this season with a healthy Ricky Rubio running point.
Can he earn the starting spot from Kevin Martin this year or will he be the 6th man coming off the bench for the Timberwolves? Either way, he will get his opportunity to pick up where he left off at the end of the season and put up good numbers for a second year player.
2014-15 Numbers: 10 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 3.6 apg and .7 spg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 14 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 4 apg and 1.2 spg
13 Shabazz Muhammad – Minnesota Timberwolves
Although the Timberwolves have Andrew Wiggins in front of Muhammad, there is a lot of potential for Muhammad to continue his impressive play. His per 36 minutes numbers are off the chart and in the company of Carmelo Anthony, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Kevin Durant.
With his natural talent and Kevin Garnett in his ear all season, I expect Shabazz Muhammad to improve on the defensive end while maintaining his offensive skill set. Look out everyone because the Timberwolves have a very tall and talented team and will be a dominant force in 3-5 years.
I expect Muhammad to be the clear number 2 small forward behind Andrew Wiggins and be a major contributor off the bench. Can he produce more points per game than last year? We shall see.
2014-15 Numbers: 13.5 ppg, 4.1 rpg and 1.2 apg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 15 ppg, 5 rpg and 2 apg (excellent numbers off the bench!)
12 Jonas Valanciunas - Toronto Raptors
Valanciunas has improved every year consistently for his career and is primed for a breakout season with the departure of Amir Johnson. He will be the main man in the paint for the Raptors and hopefully be expected to produce more on the offensive end this year.
With playmakers surrounding him including Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan he should find a lot of easy baskets near the hoop. Not to mention he just signed a large contract with the Raptors for four years and $64 million.
It seems like the Raptors agree that Valanciunas is ready for a breakout season.
2014-15 Numbers: 12 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 1.2 bpg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 16 ppg, 10.5 rpg and 1.7 bpg
11 Otto Porter - Washington Wizards
Last season was definitely not the best season for Porter, but the postseason when he was healthy showed what he is capable of. With Paul Pierce leaving for the L.A. Clippers the small forward spot is up for the taking and Porter should get the starting nod.
He almost averaged a double-double in the playoffs last season and increased many aspects of his game once the playoffs began and he started getting more minutes. If he can put up similar (or better) numbers this season, the Wizards will be in a great spot come playoff time.
2014-15 Numbers: 6 ppg, 3 rpg, 0.9 apg, 0.4 bpg and 0.6 spg
Estimated 2015-16 Numbers: 12 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 1 bpg and 1.2 spg
10 Jusuf Nurkic – Denver Nuggets
Nurkic is coming off of a solid rookie season with a lot of positives and upside to his physical game. Last season the Nuggets were ready to go all in with the rookie center and traded away Timofey Mozgov in order to place Nurkic in the starting lineup. (They also received two draft picks, well played)
His starting numbers last year were not amazing (8 ppg, 8 rpg and nearly 2 bpg), but they were a pleasant surprise for a 20-year-old rookie out of Bosnia. His physicality and toughness have earned him the nickname “The Bosnian Bear” because he will go head to head with any center in the league without hesitation.
Look for Nurkic to produce double-doubles for the Nuggets on a consistent basis this season and potentially improve his offense a bit with the departure of leading scorer Ty Lawson.
2014-15 Numbers: 8 ppg, 8 rpg and 1.8 bpg
Estimated 2015-16 Numbers: 12 ppg, 10 rpg and 2 bpg
9 Jordan Clarkson – Los Angeles Lakers
Clarkson had an impressive rookie season for the struggling Lakers and showed that even as a rookie he was still at times the Lakers MVP. He continued to impress during summer league with dazzling athleticism and a knack for scoring and distributing the ball.
He needs to improve his 3-point shot, assists and his defense this year and has a chance to learn from a (hopefully) healthy Kobe Bryant this season. I expect Clarkson, DeAngelo Russell, Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams to form a nice guard tandem for the Lakers and for Clarkson to pick up where he left off.
2014-15 Numbers: 11.9 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 3.5 apg and 0.9 spg
Estimated 2015-16 Numbers: 14.5 ppg, 4 rpg, 5 apg and 1.4 spg
8 Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks
If you have not heard of Khris Middleton, I suggest you get used to hearing his name because he has shown that his talent and skill set are the real deal. He shattered expectations last season and became the go-to man in Milwaukee, especially in crunch time situations. (I still remember his buzzer beater against my Phoenix Suns)
Middleton is a very efficient player and can shoot lights out from 3-point land with a better shooting percentage than both Klay Thompson and Steph Curry. Even with Jabari Parker coming back from injury this season, I completely expect Middleton to continue improving his game and take it to the next level.
2014-15 Numbers: 13.4 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.3 apg and 1.5 spg
Estimated 2015-16 Numbers: 16 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg and 2 spg
7 Meyers Leonard – Portland Trailblazers
With the absolute depletion of the Trailblazers' starting lineup this season, Leonard should have a real chance to earn starter minutes for the first time in his career. What does that mean? This season Leonard has a true shot at a breakout year where his numbers can potentially double or even triple depending on his chemistry with Damian Lillard.
He is a solid defensive player, but also has the skill set to be an efficient offensive player with the threat of draining shots from downtown against opposing centers. It will be an interesting year for Portland, but I expect the fans are going to be pleased with Leonard.
2014-15 Numbers: 5.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg and 0.3 bpg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 12 ppg, 8 rpg and 1.2 bpg
6 Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
This very young player known as “The Greek Freak” is definitely primed for a potential breakout season after showing exactly how he earned his nick name last season with his freakish athleticism and flashes of brilliance.
His 3-point shooting is atrocious, he is often inconsistent offensively and is not going to be the next Kevin Durant any time soon. However, he has earned a solid role on his team and will only get better this season after getting his feet wet last year.
Look for his confidence to improve this season which will lead to more consistency on offence and open up more opportunities for an increase in points, assists and free throws. With Jabari Parker coming back from a big injury, Giannis should still get solid minutes.
2014-15 Numbers: 12.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1 bpg and 0.9 spg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 14.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.4 bpg and 1.2 spg
5 Hassan Whiteside – Miami Heat
Last season Whiteside stepped out of the NBA shadows and established himself as one of the up and coming centers in the league. He went from playing just 37 games in his first three seasons to starting for the Miami Heat and showing the potential he brings to the table.
The Heat have quietly set themselves up for a very strong season and playoff push with multiple key pieces acquired last season/offseason.
Expect Whiteside to continue where he left off as a double-double starting center and eventually earn his way into the Eastern Conference All Star team in the future.
2014-15 Numbers: 11.8 ppg, 10 rpg and 2.7 bpg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 14 ppg, 12 rpg and 3 bpg.
4 Aaron Gordon – Orlando Magic
If the 2015 NBA Summer League was any indication of Gordon’s tremendous talent, the Orlando Magic may have struck gold.
Gordon absolutely crushed it this summer dominating multiple spots on the floor and aspects of the game for his team. If he gets starting nod over Channing Frye (which he certainly should) there is a possibility we will be discussing him at the end of the season for MIP (most improved player).
He is athletic, can defend, can shoot the 3-ball and has good decision making skills. I expect him to take over the starting spot, double his minutes from last year and possibly triple his numbers from last year.
2014-15 Numbers: 5.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.9 bpg and 0.9 spg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 15 ppg, 8 rpg, 3 apg, 1.5 bpg and 1.5 spg
3 T.J. Warren – Phoenix Suns
Warren is an absolute scoring machine! This young player has turned out to be exactly what we were expecting coming out of college and is proving that he can turn it on at a moment’s notice. He had a good first two seasons (for being stuck behind P.J. Tucker and recently traded Marcus Morris), but showed flashes of his scoring ability toward the end of the season when he started getting more playing time.
With the small forward logjam clearing up this year, I fully expect Warren to either start at small forward or be the main guy coming off the bench for the Suns. He always seems to be in the perfect spot on the floor and can finish through or around contact with ease. He also has the potential to be a small lineup power forward if he can improve his rebounding and defense.
Of all the amazing players on this list, I am the most excited to see Warren get some quality minutes against quality opposing starters to see if he can maintain his scoring prowess. (Remember, he goes up against PJ Tucker every practice)
2014-15 Numbers: 6.1 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.6 apg and 0.5 spg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 12 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2 apg and 1.2 spg
2 Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
One of the top candidates for most improved player last season, Rudy Gobert will only get better this season with a valuable starting role. Not only did he show consistent improvement all last season, but also over the summer for his national team in France.
Known as “The Stifle Tower” Gobert has a knack for gobbling up rebounds and the potential to be one of the best shot blockers in the league this season.
In just over 26 minutes per game last season Gobert put up nearly a double-double with 8.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and over 2 blocks. I can easily see each of these stats increase this season with a full time starting role as the anchor of the defense. Did I mention he is only 23 years old?
2014-15 Numbers: 8.4 ppg, 9.3 rpg and 2.1 bpg
Projected 2015-16 Numbers: 14 ppg, 12 rpg and 2.7 bpg
1 Andrew Wiggins – Minnesota Timberwolves
I understand that he had a solid rookie campaign and won ROY (rookie of the year), but the fact remains that he will most certainly continue to improve toward the star potential we all can see. As a young player coming off a great rookie season, it may be harder to improve than anticipated. However, he is primed to rise to the occasion and has a solid supporting cast.
Not only did he overcome a slow start to his NBA career and finish as the ROY, but he also established his presence as a leader on a very young team. The addition of Kevin Garnett is going to be great for Wiggins growth, maturity and leadership positioning him for a breakout season yet again.
He also became the main option for the Timberwolves down the stretch in close games showing that he is not afraid to lead the team and take the last shot when required. His 3-point shot is going to look better this season as well which will open up the driving game while allowing the big men to work solo in the paint. Look for Andrew Wiggins to assert himself as a future star this season.
2014-15 Numbers: 16.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 2.1 apg, 1 spg and 0.6 bpg
Projected Season Numbers: 20 ppg, 6 rpg, 3 apg, 1.5 spg and 1 bpg.
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