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October 21, 2010
Breaking Out
10 Candidates for Improvement

by Kevin Pelton

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As you've surely noticed if you follow me on Twitter or read the Unfiltered blog, I've been doing a lot of podcasts and radio appearances over the past two weeks. This is a bit of a problem because there is a reason I write instead of talking for a living--I struggle to think on my feet. As a result, I sometimes have a tough time coming up with answers for questions I haven't considered. Two in particular stand out:

  • Who are the most overrated players in the league?
  • Who can we expect to have a breakout season?

The first question is highly open-ended (just how are players are rated?) and totally subjective. Beyond that, I'm generally a positive guy, so I'd rather talk about underrated players than overrated ones. I don't have such good excuses for breakout players, which can be quantified and is precisely the kind of question the SCHOENE projection system is designed to answer. So, for my own benefit when asked this question in the future and your entertainment, here is a look at 10 players SCHOENE anticipates improving, ranked by the difference in their 2010-11 projected WARP from their actual total in 2009-10.

Do note that this is not a list of the 10 biggest jumps, which would also include players who were injured and/or are expected to bounce back after poor seasons. Ramon Sessions, for example, can't exactly be considered a breakout player since SCHOENE merely sees him getting back near the level at which he played in 2008-09.

Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas (+4.2 WARP)
First, Beaubois has to get healthy. The Mavericks hoped he would return from a broken bone in his right foot in time for the start of the regular season, but it is now clear he will miss some games with the injury. Beaubois was outstanding in limited action last season, while 76 percent of similar players improved at the same age (nearly 23). Beaubois might end up claiming a starting spot at shooting guard when he gets healthy, so the opportunity to break out is there.

Reggie Williams, Golden State (+4.0 WARP)
Of the 10 players on this list, eight were lottery picks, making Williams--undrafted out of Virginia Military Institute--the odd man out. Williams' "breakout" potential is based largely on the chance to play a full season after being called up for the final 24 games of last year. Dorell Wright has usurped the starting job Williams held down the stretch, but Williams will still see regular action as the Warriors' top wing off the bench.

Tyreke Evans, Sacramento (+4.0 WARP)
Evans might be due to break out in the same way Kevin Durant was one of the league's most improved players during his second NBA campaign. Evans' potential was obvious during his Rookie of the Year campaign, but his ability to help the Kings succeed lagged behind. Expect Evans to become more efficient as a scorer and improve his decision-making in year two.

Anthony Randolph, New York (+3.8 WARP)
Randolph's best comparables are impressive: Tracy McGrady, Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith and Josh Smith. Subjectively, Josh Smith seems like the closest comparison. Like Smith, Randolph oozes potential and makes plays constantly. The key to his development is turning some of the negative plays into positive ones. Randolph has come to a good place to harness his ability. Mike D'Antoni is as good as any coach in the league at focusing on what a player can do rather than his limitations. D'Antoni has made the most of oddballs like Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa. Randolph could be his greatest triumph yet.

Rudy Gay/O.J. Mayo, Memphis (+3.4/2.9 WARP)
The Grizzlies' wing duo figures to take a step forward this season. Both players are young (Gay turns 24 this season, Mayo 23), have shown the ability to create their own offense and have lottery talent. SCHOENE sees both scoring more efficiently, which should help Memphis offset the fact that Zach Randolph will have a tough time repeating his outstanding 2009-10 performance.

Terrence Williams, New Jersey (+3.3 WARP)
Actually, Williams' breakout came last March in April. SCHOENE projects similar performance over a full year, which translates into a major leap forward in terms of WARP because Williams struggled so badly through the first four months of the season. During the preseason, Williams has performed well in the super sub role new coach Avery Johnson envisions for him. He's a massive upgrade over anyone the Nets had coming off the bench last season.

Wilson Chandler, New York (+3.2 WARP)
Chandler has started in a major media market for so long that it is easy to forget he will not turn 24 until May. Several of the players most similar to him--including Sean Elliott, Michael Finley and Joe Johnson--needed some time to put it together. Overall, 14 percent of similar players broke out at the same age, meaning they improved by at least 20 percent.

Stephen Curry, Golden State (+3.2 WARP)
Every time I get asked this question, I answer Curry. It works out well because the Warriors are my choice for breakout team and because Curry exemplifies two traits that usually mark breakout picks--playing point guard and posting a high turnover rate (much higher than Evans', for the record). Somewhat counterintuitively, turnovers tend to be a good thing for young players when it comes to future development because they indicate the capacity to grow and develop. Those mistakes turn into highlights down the road.

Andrea Bargnani, Toronto (+3.0 WARP)
Bargnani is the most likely candidate to replace Chris Bosh as the Raptors' go-to player. Though his statistics have been unimpressive to date, SCHOENE thinks he will thrive in the new role, increasing his usage rate (projected for a career-high 24.2 percent) while maintaining his efficiency as a scorer. Oddly, his comps were as likely to coppage (drop off significantly) as break out. Also, Bargnani has struggled during the preseason, barely shooting 30 percent from the field.

The 2010-11 Pro Basketball Prospectus is now available in paperback form on Amazon.com. For sample chapters and more information, see our book page.

Kevin Pelton is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Kevin by clicking here or click here to see Kevin's other articles.

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