Before last season began, I wrote a piece predicting 5 players who will have breakout seasons, 5 players who will get traded, and 5 players who will have the biggest impact on the title picture.
I whiffed so badly on the players who will be traded and the players that will impact the title picture, that I’m not even going to try again.
However, I was 2 for 5 on my five breakout players (Ty Lawson and Paul George), which would win me a batting title in Major League Baseball, so I’ll give it another try.
Brook Lopez, Brooklyn – The Nets have put together an outstanding roster with a starting lineup of 5 guys who have all been All-Stars in the last 3 years. This ensemble approach will not only serve them well as a team, it will individually beneficial to each of those five stars they start, plus their Sixth man Andrei Kirilenko. However, there is no player on their roster who will benefit the most from the delivery of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Kirilenko to Brooklyn than their starting center, Brook Lopez.
Lopez is an excellent offensive center. He is an accomplished low post player, solid in the pick-and-roll, and can step outside and drain a perimeter shot with consistency. With a dynamic perimeter attack spearheaded by Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and the aforementioned Pierce, Lopez will have more room to operate than he’s ever had in his career. That, combined with his maturity and the knowledge that he can be an unstoppable force inside, set Lopez up to have his best year.
Lopez also has some discernible weaknesses. He’s never been the strongest rebounder. He generally boxes out like he wants to avoid an infectious disease. His on-the-ball defense is not very good either. However, he made big strides on the defensive end this past season, especially as a help defender. With the king of defensive anchors playing next to him in Kevin Garnett, the stage is set for Lopez to graduate into being a plus defender across the board. The luxury of having Garnett teach and at times cover for Lopez will be priceless for him. Garnett can’t do anything about Lopez’ lead feet defending the pick and roll, but he can educate Lopez on a smarter approach.
Lopez has a ton of ability and the willingness to improve. Now he has an excellent team around him. This is the year Lopez makes the jump from an above average center to one of the league’s best. (Did you hear the one about how Jason Kidd compared him to Dirk Nowitzki?)
Chandler Parsons, Houston. – Parsons is entering only his third year in the league after being selected in the second round by brilliant Houston GM Daryl Morey. In his rookie year, he certainly showed that he belonged in the league as a useful role player and maybe a little more. However, in year 2, he flashed some potential that showed he could be so much more.
Parsons has decent athleticism for a wing, but what distinguishes him is his excellent size. He measures close to 6’10”in sneakers. That length helps him defensively, where he’s very active. It also helps him offensively where he is a good perimeter shooter and is very aggressive attacking the basket off the dribble. He shot 48% from the field last season and 38.5% from behind the arc, both well above the league average — but numbers that should rise with Dwight Howard drawing double-teams. His shot selection is also good. He gets his shots within the framework of the Rockets’ offense and forces very little.
Parsons has also landed in an extremely enviable spot on a legitimate title contender. Last season, he fit in seamlessly as a wing partner to James Harden. He took the tough defensive matchup, allowing Houston coach Kevin McHale to hide a much weaker defender in Harden. This year, the synergies for Parsons are exponentially improved with the addition of a legitimate force in the middle in Howard. Parsons will have more space to operate offensively and an animal of a shot blocker behind him defensively, which allows him the luxury of being more aggressive on the ball.
The added bonus for both the Rockets and Parsons is his versatility. Parsons is long enough that he provides Houston a matchup disadvantage not only at on a wing, but as a stretch four as well. With Houston’s affinity for the 3-point shot, the presence of Howard allows McHale the luxury of putting four shooters on the floor without punishing the defensive end. Parsons is a good player who’s in an ideal situation. It should be a very good year for him.
Jimmy Butler, Chicago – After last year’s regular season, Butler had established himself as a productive rotation player on a contender. However, due to a rash of injuries, he was afforded an opportunity to be more than just a rotation player in the playoffs. He was given the chance to play a major role and very frankly, he aced his exam and then some.
Butler had an extremely efficient regular season in averaging 26 minutes per game. Butler shot 46 % from the field and 38% from behind the arc while only attempting 6 shots per game. Butler was able to mostly maintain that efficiency when his minutes per game were increased by necessity.
With many players, the law of diminishing returns kicks in when there is a big bump in minutes. Butler is not that type of player.
The thing that really distinguishes Butler is his defense. He is extremely aggressive on the perimeter and has no issue with physicality. His defense during the Bulls 2nd round loss to the Heat on LeBron James was excellent. Shutting down LeBron completely is impossible at this stage, but Butler makes him work for everything he gets and is quite good at making life difficult for him. With Butler only entering his 3rd year, his physicality and cerebral approach will only improve, and he could very shortly become one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA.