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.

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Five players that have made a name for themselves during March Madness

Most of the players on this list were stars during the regular season, but for one reason or another, they didn’t capture national attention until making serious noise in the NCAA Tournament.

1. Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s
Hands down the most quotable player in this year’s tourney, Samhan has led the Gaels on an unlikely Sweet 16 run. But St. Mary’s deserved to get there — the Gaels are better than Richmond and they proved on Saturday that they were better than a slumping Villanova team. The 6’11” Samhan was the key in both games. He posted 29-12 against Richmond and followed that up with 32-7 against Villanova. Moreover, he has been extremely efficient, hitting 75% from the field. St. Mary’s has the tools to beat Baylor, but the Bears have size and athleticism inside to give Samhan trouble.

2. Ali Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa
Farokhmanesh is the one player on this list that didn’t average double-digits in scoring during the regular season. But he hit THE biggest shot of the tournament thus far when he drilled a three to give the Panthers a four-point lead in their upset of #1-seed Kansas. The shot was big, but his balls were even bigger. Before nailing the game-sealer, Farokhmanesh had missed seven straight shots in the second half and he launched the three early in the shot clock when UNI was nursing a one-point lead. After averaging just 5.6 points in his previous five games (on 6-29 shooting from deep, no less), the senior guard now has 33 points in two tournament games and has nailed 9-19 shots from long range. Here’s another look at his bracket-busting shot:

Even a certain despicable historical figure has felt the impact of that shot.

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