2009 NBA Preview: 10 Breakout Candidates

What constitutes a “breakout” season? To me, it’s a talented player who has been in the league at least one year who is about to see a big increase in minutes. Here is a list of 10 players (in no particular order) who I think will have career seasons in 2009-10.

1. Tyrus Thomas, Bulls
The 23 year-old is entering his fourth season and will probably be the Bulls’ starter at power forward. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds in 27.5 minutes last season, and an increase in minutes would enhance those numbers. Now that he has an effective mid-range jump shot, he can use that and his athleticism to get to the basket.

2. Anthony Randolph, Warriors
Randolph is a popular breakout pick this season after a great summer league and flashes of brilliance in his rookie year. He only played about 18 minutes per game last season, and is playing almost 28 minutes in the preseason, starting every game in which he’s appeared. Don Nelson may not start him during the regular season since he’s been battling some injuries, but expect him to get plenty of run this year.

3. Anthony Morrow, Warriors
Let’s stay in Oakland, shall we? Not to read too much into preseason stats, but through eight games, the second-year Morrow is averaging 22.0 points on 58% shooting (52% from 3PT). He’s going to come off the bench, but that might not last for long if Stephen Jackson eventually gets traded. Morrow is one of the league’s best shooters, nailing almost 47% of his threes a year ago.

4. Aaron Brooks, Rockets
With Yao Ming out and Tracy McGrady hobbled, the Rockets don’t have a whole lot of offensive options and Brooks is one of the best shooters the team has. He averaged 11.2 points in 25 minutes per game last season. If he gets 32-35 minutes per game, he should average somewhere in the 14-16 ppg range.

5. Louis Williams, 76ers
He’s a very different player than Andre Miller, the guy he’s being asked to replace. He isn’t going to drop a lot of dimes, but the guy can score, and if he gets starter’s minutes his averages are going to jump. In the preseason, he’s averaging 14.9 ppg in 27 minutes of PT.

6. Courtney Lee / Chris Douglas-Roberts, Nets
I’m listing them both because it’s not clear which will be the Nets’ starting shooting guard on opening day. It may not matter because the other might be the starting small forward. In the preseason, CDM and Lee are averaging 18.5 ppg and 17.0 ppg, respectively. While Devin Harris and Brook Lopez are likely to lead the Nets in scoring, Lee and Douglas-Roberts could both average 12-14 ppg.

7. J.R. Smith, Nuggets
Smith has already had a breakout year (in his first season with the Nuggets), but the departure of Dahntay Jones gives Smith the chance to start. George Karl started Jones last season because of his commitment to defense, so it’s just as likely that he finds another defensive-oriented off guard to fill that vacated role. Smith has the talent to start, but can he keep his head on straight and play enough defense to keep Karl happy? (By the way, he’s suspended for the first seven games.)

8. Channing Frye, Suns
After a nice rookie season (12p/6r) in New York, Frye wasn’t as good in his second season and landed in Portland where he didn’t get much run. Now he’s the starting center in Phoenix and is averaging 12.3 points and 4.0 rebounds in 26.8 minutes of playing time. The Suns are awfully thin on the front line, so I wouldn’t be surprised if Frye ends up playing 30-35 minutes a game.

9. Julian Wright, Hornets
While he isn’t shooting particularly well (41%) in the preseason, it appears that Byron Scott has finally given up on Peja Stojakovic and is ready to hand over the keys to Wright, who has started all six preseason games in which he has appeared. He’s a great athlete and versatile player, but the big mystery with Wright is his three-point shooting. He hit 10-24 attempts in his rookie season, but just 2-21 in his second year. The Hornets need shooters for Chris Paul to pass to, so if Wright doesn’t start knocking down shots, Scott might go back to Peja.

10. Hakim Warrick, Bucks
Warrick is leading the Bucks in preseason scoring with 14.4 ppg. He’ll battle with Luc Mbah a Moute, Carlos Delfino, Ersan Ilyasova and Joe Alexander for minutes. Scott Skiles will likely start Mbah a Moute at one forward spot because he’s a great defender, but the other is up for grabs. Regardless, Warrick should get plenty of minutes and is on a one-year contract, so he’s very motivated.

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NBA News & Rumors: Delonte, LeBron, JJ and Julian

Delonte West misses practice (unexcused) again. All right, one unexcused absence I can understand, but after he was MIA yesterday, wouldn’t the Cavs track him down to find out why he was absent? Of course they would, which is why he is either completely unreachable or the Cavs don’t approve of his reasons for missing practice. This is worrisome, but expect the team to give him a lot of leeway to get his life straightened out.

The New York Daily News thinks there has been another sign that LeBron is headed to the Knicks.
His name is William Wesley and apparently he has LeBron’s ear. He was at Knicks camp this week and some conspiracy theorists believe his presence is a sign that LeBron will be playing in New York next season.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Joe Johnson will not sign an extension this season.
Instead, Johnson is going to become a free agent next summer when a number of teams are going to have the cap space to offer a max deal. After LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and (maybe) Amare Stoudemire, Johnson is the next biggest prize in the free agent class of 2010. He’s one of those players that isn’t quite worth a max deal but he’s going to get one anyway. (Think Michael Redd circa 2005.)

Byron Scott told the Times-Picayune that the Hornets’ starting small forward job is Julian Wright’s to lose.
This is about a year too late. Wright was quite productive (PER: 15.48) in his rookie season, but the Hornets went with James Posey instead, thinking that he’d be the missing piece to the championship puzzle. Wright is one of those young, talented players that is going to see a big increase in minutes, so fantasy basketball owners should take note.

2009 NBA Consensus Mock Draft (6/25)

The draft kicks off (or is it “tips off”?) in less than three hours, so I thought it would be fun to publish one last edition of the consensus mock draft. I pulled in mocks from SI.com and ProBasketballNews since they are current and are well respected enough for NBA.com to use in their consensus.

If three or more mocks made a pick, then it’s considered majority rules and that pick is listed in bold with the number of votes next to it in parenthesis. For those picks that have two or fewer mocks agreeing on a pick, I make the pick for them. For example, the five mocks have five different players going to the Knicks, so I made my best guess — Jrue Holiday. I went with Jennings over Flynn for the Bucks at #10 because Chad Ford reported that the Bucks are in love with Jennings’ upside. Et cetera.

A few random thoughts…

– Even though the #5 and #6 picks aren’t true consensus picks, three mocks had the T-Wolves using one of those back-to-back picks on Stephen Curry, while three mocks had the T-Wolves using the other pick on James Harden — who cares who is picked first? (Besides the players, of course. Their salary depends on it!)

– I’d be a little surprised if the Thunder drafted Rubio and kept him. Although I don’t think it would be a bad move, as Russell Westbrook is too much of a shoot-first point guard in my opinion, Westbrook’s camp has been pretty adamant that he doesn’t want to move off the ball. If OKC sees Westbrook as a point guard, then the best fit appears to be James Harden.

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What happened to the Hornets?

New Orleans was one of the best teams in the league last season. Chris Paul played at a MVP level and David West blossomed into a bona fide All-Star. Tyson Chandler turned into one of the best defensive centers in the league and the team got solid play from Peja Stojakovic and Morris Peterson. Over the second half of the season (and the playoffs) it looked like Julian Wright was turning into a starter-quality player right before our eyes.

Fast forward a few months, and after adding NBA Finals hero James Posey, the Hornets have lost five of their last seven games and are sitting at 5-5. It gets worse: they lost to Charlotte two weeks ago and lost last night, at home, to a Sacramento Kings team that was without Kevin Martin.

But Posey certainly is not the one to blame. His PER of 14.18 is actually the second-highest of his career. The only disadvantage I can see to the Posey signing is that it has taken valuable minutes away from Julian Wright.

No, the problem in New Orleans is not Posey, Paul, West or Chandler. They’re all posting the same numbers as last season. The problem is Peja Stojakovic. The team is paying him $13 million this season (and owe him another $29.5 million over the next two seasons) for the privilege of having him shoot 37% from the field and 38% from long range. Stojakovic is a poor defender, so if he’s not knocking down shots, he’s hurting the Hornets on both ends of the court. And right now he’s not knocking down shots.

I didn’t like the Stojakovic trade when it happened, and I really don’t like it now. I’d like to see the Hornets move him and give more minutes to Posey and Wright. But it’s going to be tough to find a team that wants to trade for a 31 year-old shooter who has two years left on a bloated contract and hasn’t shot better than 44% since the 2004-05 season. Stojakovic helped the team last year because he shot 44% from long range. Unfortunately, that was a career-high, and he’s not likely to match it this season.

Couch Potato Alert: NBA Friday

With 12 games on the docket for Friday, there is bound to be a few games worth watching. I’m going to keep my eye on these games…

Trail Blazers (5-3) @ Hornets (4-3), 8 PM ET
The Blazers have won four straight and their first two of a five-game road trip. Rudy Fernandez, Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge have been outstanding, and they just got Greg Oden back on Wednesday. The Hornets are 4-3 need a win here to get back on track. They are just 2-2 at home with losses to the Lakers and the Hawks. Chris Paul is in MVP form and David West is playing well, but they aren’t getting much from Peja Stojakovic (39% FG%). Byron Scott is (ponderously) only playing Julian Wright in very limited minutes, which is surprising considering how strong Wright came on last season.

Pistons (6-2) @ Lakers (7-0), 10:30 PM ET (ESPN)
Detroit is hitting the second of a back-to-back, so the Lakers have a distinct advantage tonight. Still, if the Pistons are on their game, they can test the Lakers. Allen Iverson is averaging 21.8 points, 7.0 assists and 4.8 rebounds in four games with the Pistons. Meanwhile, the Lakers are still trying to figure out how to use Lamar Odom off the bench and are trying to get something other than defense out of Andrew Bynum. The upside is that Trevor Ariza is starting to look like a star (or at least a starter) in the making.

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