WATCH: BREAKOUT PLAYER – DEVIN BOOKER
10. Aaron Gordon — SF, Orlando Magic
After struggling to find minutes as the No. 4 overall pick, Gordon took major statistical leaps in his second season. Gordon’s biggest ringing endorsement came when Orlando traded away Tobias Harris, essentially handing the keys to the SF spot to Gordon for the foreseeable future. This will be his first time beginning the season knowing that he’ll be a key part of Orlando’s potential success. Look for Gordon to improve each of these numbers from ’15-’16 — 23.9 minutes, 9.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.6 assists.
9. Terry Rozier — PG, Boston Celtics
Rozier is one of the most valuable prospects within league front offices that nobody’s talking about. After averaging just 8.0 minutes and 1.8 points as a rookie, and occasionally contributing off the bench, Rozier figures to play 20+ minutes and score in double digits — as he did in five preseason contests. Rozier improved multiple areas of his game, but most notably adjusted to the NBA 3-point line where he shot 9-of-15 in preseason. With Marcus Smart’s (ankle) status uncertain to begin the season, Rozier will be the first guard off the bench for a deep Celtics team. Look for him to capitalize.
8. Clint Capela — C, Houston Rockets
Dwight Howard out, Clint Capela in. One thing was clear last season, Houston was better with Capela on the floor, whether he was starting alongside Dwight, starting for an injured Dwight or coming off the bench. In games Capela played less than 15 minutes last season Houston went 7-17. However, when he was on the floor for 20+ minutes the Rockets went 20-11 (per The Dream Shake blog). Capela will be competing for minutes/starts with Nene, but the key will be improving up his 19.1 minutes per game last season (in which he averaged 7.0 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks). All signs point to Capela playing 30 minutes a game this season. Combine that with his natural progression and a fast-paced Rockets team, and he should be in for a big jump statistically.
7. Dennis Schroder — PG, Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague out, Dennis Schroder in. More simple math here. Schroder flashed at times playing alongside/behind Teague, but with Teague’s departure to Indy, the starting job is now Schroder’s alone. Despite a slight slip in shooting percentage last season, Schroder took another jump statistically in just about 20 minutes per contest — 11.0 points, 4.4 assists, 2.6 rebounds. Teague played roughly 30 minutes per game as the starter over the last three seasons while “The German Rondo” was backing him up. Schroder projects to jump to at least 30 minutes, and potentially more without a young, talented reserve breathing down his neck like Teague had. Expect the rest of his numbers to rise accordingly.
6. Harrison Barnes — SF, Dallas Mavericks
Just as Capela and Schroder are absorbing larger roles by inheriting starting jobs, Barnes leaving the Warriors is going to propel him into a much larger opportunity. No more hiding behind Steph, Klay and Dray as a spot up shooter, Barnes could realistically be Dallas’ second option behind an aging Dirk. HB had a brutal preseason, and frankly I’m not a huge fan of the player, but the talent is there (he was the nation’s top prospect when he committed to UNC) and now finally the opportunity is there for him. After maxing out at 11.7 PPG in the Bay, let’s see how he handles a featured role. (It’s also worth keeping an eye on Seth Curry in Dallas — led the team in PPG this preseason and it going to get a shot on a decent team).
5. D’Angelo Russell — PG, Los Angeles Lakers
I thought Russell had a chance to be the best player in his draft class at the time of the draft (I’d like to revise my pick to KAT or PorzinGOD), but he was wildly inconsistent as a rookie. With the Kobe era in the rearview, it’s up to Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram and Russell to take the next step for the Lakers. Russell had a pair of 30-point games in the preseason. Look for that to become a trend.
4. Nikola Jokic — C, Denver Nuggets
Who finished third in ROY voting behind Towns and Porzingis? That’d be Jokic — who posted averages of 10.0 points, 7.0 boards, 2.4 helpers and a steal over the course of the season. But Jokic was constantly improving all year and it showed in his numbers. Jokic peaked in April when he posted 11.6 PPG, 10.8 RPG, 4.0 APG and 1.2 BPG. He’ll be the starting center for a Nuggets team that’s focused on developing their young core, meaning he’ll get plenty of opportunities all season long.
3. Jabari Parker — SF, Milwaukee Bucks
After tearing his ACL 25 games into his rookie season, Parker returned to have a consistent sophomore campaign. Aside from boosting his scoring a couple points to 14.1 PPG, most of Parker’s numbers where very close to where they were his rookie season. But now, nearly two years removed from surgery with a full season of NBA experience under his belt, Parker can finally start to emerge as the star he projects to be. “The Greek Freak” gets a lot of the attention in Milwaukee, but Jabari is the best scorer on that team. Look for him to really emerge as a playmaker this season, especially with Khris Middleton sidelined for the first few months.
2. Karl-Anthony Towns — C, Minnesota Timberwolves
The defending ROY and former No. 1 overall pick is already a star, but this season is when he’ll prove that he’s probably the most valuable young asset in the NBA. You’d be pressed to find a more studly start to a career than Towns, who started all 82 games for the Wolves playing 32 minutes a night, averaging 18.3 points (on 54.2% FG shooting), 10.5 boards, 2.0 assists and 1.7 rejections. Most NBA fans see this kid as a potential future MVP, and certainly one of the faces of the league for the next decade or more. That means he’s expected to develop his game even further, and quickly. It’s not crazy to think this is the year KAT makes the leap to a 25/12 guy.
1. Devin Booker — SG, Phoenix Suns
As the youngest rookie in last year’s NBA Draft, Booker came into the league somewhat raw. He was still a lottery pick for the Suns since he was projected to be the best shooter in the 2015 draft class. It all came together much quicker than expected for Booker — posting rookie averages of 13.8 points, 2.6 assists and 2.5 rebounds. The 19-year old didn’t really come on until January, posting six games with 30+ points after the new year. Aside from offseason praise from LeBron as a star in the making, in the preseason GM poll Booker ran away with 31% of the “breakout season” vote (18% ahead of KAT). This kid’s so young and so good, he’s going to continue to develop into a star.
For questions or comments don’t hesitate to reach out to me on Twitter @julianedlow
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is jedlow) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.