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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Failed box out costs Thunder Game 6

OKC led 94-93 in the closing moments of Game 6 when Kobe Bryant dribbled up the right side of the floor preparing to attempt a game-winning shot…

Watch the video again. This time, notice how Nick Collison (charged with covering Pau Gasol) starts to cheat over on Kobe to help on a potential drive to the hoop. This is by design. What’s not by design is how neither Serge Ibaka (#9) nor Jeff Green (#22) rotates down and puts a body on Gasol. The players that they were covering — Lamar Odom and Derek Fisher — were ponderously standing out behind the three-point line, so they weren’t threats on the offensive glass.

Instead, Ibaka and Green turn and watch Kobe’s shot. After the put-back, Jeff Van Gundy blamed Collison for not rotating back to Gasol, but physically-speaking, it’s tough to ask a guy to help on a Kobe drive and box out Gasol. That duty needs to fall to Ibaka or Green (probably Ibaka).

Here’s a case where the Thunder’s inexperience really cost them. But it’s not like failed box outs haven’t lost games before. In the 1983 NCAA title game, Hakeem Olajuwon stood and watched the shot go up, allowing NC State’s Lorenzo Charles to sneak in behind him, catch the airball, and dunk it for the win. Here’s another look:

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