2010 NBA Preview: A dozen players ready to break out

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Kevin Love backs into New York Knicks forward Ronny Turiaf during their NBA preseason game in Paris on October 6, 2010. The Timberwolves won the contest, part of the annual NBA Europe Live tour, by the score of 106-100.  UPI/David Silpa Photo via Newscom

The 2010-11 NBA season starts tonight (Miami and Boston tip things off tonight at 7:30 ET on TNT) and while most eyes will be on one-name superstars like LeBron, Wade, Kobe and Melo, it’s fun to try to predict who this season’s breakout players will be.

It takes more than just talent to succeed in the NBA. It takes opportunity as well, and each of the 12 players I’ve listed before figure to play a more prominent role than they did last season. I didn’t include any rookies (or Blake Griffin, who qualifies as a rookie) because in order to break out, you have to have a baseline season to start from.

1. Kevin Love, Timberwolves
After spending most of last season coming off the bench, Love has started all eight preseason games and has averaged 18-11 while shooting 14-of-24 from long range. Neither Michael Beasley nor Darko Milicic are aggressive rebounders, so Love has a chance to lead the league in boards this season. I suspect Love will be in consideration for the All-Star team in January.

2. Darren Collison, Pacers
Indiana’s best move this offseason was to acquire Collison from the Hornets. He had a very nice rookie year, but the starting gig is his now and he doesn’t have to look over his shoulder wondering what’s going on with Chris Paul. He averaged 13-3-4 in the preseason, but I’d expect those numbers to rise with bigger minutes. He should be good for 16-4-6 this season.

3. Jrue Holiday, Sixers
Doug Collins is really high on Holiday, predicting that he’ll be a Top 5 point guard in the league sooner rather than later. He averaged 13-4-6 in March of last season and posted 12-6-5 in the preseason.

4. Roy Hibbert, Pacers
Hibbert averaged 12-6 in 25 minutes per game last season, but in seven preseason games, he has increased those averages to 17-9, though he’s shooting just 43% from the field, which is a little worrisome. Still, with Troy Murphy gone, there are a lot of minutes available on the front line, and Hibbert should get his fair share.

Mar. 03, 2010 - East Rutherford, NEW JERSEY, UNITED STATES - epa02064297 The Cavaliers' J.J. Hickson (L) shoots over the Nets' Brook Lopez (R) during the first half of the NBA basketball game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the New Jersey Nets at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA, on 03 March 2010.

5. J.J. Hickson, Cavs
The third-year forward has started 7-of-8 preseason games and has averaged 14/8 in just 25 minutes a game. He’s going to start over Antawn Jamison, so if he gets his expected 30+ minutes a game, he could approach double-double territory.

6. Austin Daye, Pistons
Daye averaged just 5-3 in his rookie season, but he’s slated to start at power forward after averaging 16-6 in eight preseason games. He led the Pistons in three-point makes and attempts (17-of-34) so he’s a versatile forward. Hopefully he can hold up against the stronger power forwards in the league.

7. Terrence Williams, Nets
Williams had a solid rookie season, averaging 8-5-3 in 23 minutes per game. Apparently, he’s not going to start, but head coach Avery Johnson jokingly called him the “Sixth Man of the Year,” which bodes well. He has averaged 13-4-4 during the preseason which resembles what he was able to post late last year.

8. Arron Afflalo, Nuggets
He’s averaging 20-4-3 in the preseason and has started all eight exhibition games. Don’t expect those numbers when the Nuggets are at full strength, but something in the area of 14-3-2 is well within reach if Afllalo continues to get starter’s minutes. He’s doing everything J.R. Smith does, plus he’s a good defender and doesn’t come with all of the headaches.

9. Marco Belinelli, Hornets
A career 42% 3PT shooter, Belinelli has a great jumper and look for Chris Paul to set him up early and often. It appears that Belinelli will start at SG while Marcus Thornton will bring scoring off the bench.

10. Serge Ibaka, Thunder
It looks like Nenad Krstic will start at center for OKC, but Ibaka should get plenty of run given his ability to rebound and defend. He averaged 6-5 last season in 18 minutes, and he’s getting 27 minutes in the preseason, averaging 10-6.

11. Jordan Crawford, Hawks
Jamal Crawford is disgruntled because he doesn’t have a new deal, so if the Hawks trade him during the season, expect Jordan Crawford to get most of his minutes. He’s averaging 14-3-3 in 31 minutes per game in the preseason, so the rookie can definitely score.

12. Reggie Williams, Warriors
Williams is playing behind Dorrell Wright and is probably the better player. He’s averaging 14-2-2 in the preseason and shot 46% from the field. He also may see some minutes at the point when Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis aren’t on the court.

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