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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Warriors trade Belinelli

In a small but somewhat strange move, the Golden State Warriors have traded Marco Belinelli for Devean George.

Belinelli, 23, played sparingly as a rookie and at the start of last season, but other injuries forced the Warriors to play him consistently and he had a 13-game stretch where he averaged 16 points and shot better than 50 percent in eight of those games. He also made 46 of his last 113 3-point attempts (40.7 percent.).

Other than maybe being in Don Nelson’s doghouse, I can’t think of a reason why the Warriors would make this trade. Devean George is 31 and has a career average of 5.6 points and 3.2 rebounds per game. His PER hasn’t been above 10 in the last three years and it has never been above 12 in his entire career. Why give up a prospect like Belinelli, who showed some promise in his rookie season? In 15 games in December, he averaged 14.1 points, 3.2 assists and 2.6 rebounds, and shot 38% from long range. His overall shooting percentage (44%) wasn’t bad for a rookie off guard.

George’s contract is expiring this year, but the Warriors had a team option on Belinelli next summer that they didn’t have to exercise. Golden State is projected to be over the cap, so Belinelli’s 2010 salary ($2.4 million) would have cost the team almost $4.8 million with the luxury tax. I guess they just decided to cut bait.

This is a head-scratcher.

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