There’s a lot of questions going around about the NBA season this time of the year. Other than predicting an NBA champion, the biggest question mark is—who’s gonna make the leap this year?
Last season we saw the likes of Goran Dragic, Damian Lillard, DeMar DeRozan, and Kyle Lowry jump into the NBA forefront. But there was no bigger breakout than from super-duper-star Anthony Davis (as I, and others anticipated). Davis exploded for 21 points and 10 rebounds per game, proving to be an MVP caliber talent for years to come. I don’t think we’ll see a breakout quite that big this upcoming season, but still, here are a few players I can see making “the leap.”
Unlike several of the breakout players from last season, Kenneth Faried actually isn’t all that young for NBA standards. Faried is already 24 and will turn 25 in November, and we’ve already seen him play three NBA seasons. So what’s missing?
After watching Faried play in the FIBA World Cup this summer, I am convinced there’s more to the Manimal than we’ve seen so far.
Faried averaged 12.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game on 63% shooting from the field in nine contests. Faried was far and away the most consistent big man for Team USA, outshining the likes of Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Andre Drummond.
It wasn’t all that surprising how Faried put the ball in the basket—scoring mostly in transition and on dunks—but what was surprising was his feisty defense and endless energy. He’s always been known as an energy guy, but his commitment to keeping up that engine for 48 minutes has been in question.
Faried looks like he’s worked on his conditioning and even more importantly, his defense.
He’s never been a guy to block a ton of shots or force turnovers, but at 6’8,” he doesn’t have a whole lot of length to work with on that end. He’s showed renewed commitment on that end of the court, staying in front of defenders and fighting in the post against opposing bigs.
I’d be foolish to base a breakout season over just a nine game sample size, but that’s not the case here.
Faried was already showing glimpses of stardom post all-star break last season, averaging 19.2 points and 9.8 rebounds per game in March and 21 points and 13 rebounds per game in his final eight games of the season.
Despite finishing in the top ten in PER among power forwards for the second time in three seasons with a 19.90 PER, Faried was only 27th among power forwards with a 19.7 usage rate.
According to Basketball-Reference, usage rate is an estimate of the percentage of plays used by a player when he’s on the floor.
That usage rate was actually a career high for Faried. The only power forward who finished top ten in PER with a lower usage rate than Faried last season was Brandon Wright. Wright is really more of a center, and isn’t going to see a huge increase in his role any time soon.
Faried has never played more than 28.1 minutes per game in a season—after signing a 4-year, $50 million deal last Tuesday, he’s due for more playing time.
Faried averaged 18.1 points and 11.3 rebounds per 36 minutes last season. With a boost in minutes and a new investment for coach Brian Shaw, 20 and 10 isn’t out of question for the Manimal.
Andre Drummond already made a leap last season, increasing his scoring and rebounding by 5.6 per game—but I think he’ll reach new heights this season.
Drummond has proved nearly everyone wrong since falling to the 9th pick in the 2012 draft.
He led the league with a 22.3 rebound rate and 5.4 offensive rebounds per game. Drummond has regularly been donned DeAndre Jordan with a higher ceiling. This season his name should become synonymous with another big man.
Before I reveal who that big man is, let’s play a little game. Which one of these players is better?
Player A: 17.1 points and 13.5 rebounds per 40 minutes, 19.37 PER
Player B: 16.7 points and 16.4 rebounds per 40 minutes, 22.65 PER
Player B is Drummond from last season, Player A? None other than Superman himself, Dwight Howard, from his sophomore season.
Their numbers are actually unbelievably close, which is awesome for Drummond.
Dwight may have his issues, but he’s been on eight All-NBA teams and five All-Defensive teams.
One of the intriguing differences between Dwight and Dre’s sophomore numbers is usage. Howard had a 19 usage rate—a jump from 15.1 his rookie year. Drummond’s usage rate stayed at a steady 15.6 for both of his years in the league so far.
There’s no guarantee Drummond will evolve his game beyond put backs and dunks, but if he does, he could be the best center in the league soon enough.
It also helps that Drummond will now play under a new head coach, Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard from 2007-2012.
Van Gundy ran the Orlando offense inside-out through Howard, with Dwight either scoring in the post, or passing out of double teams to find shooters.
It won’t help having Josh Smith on the perimeter, but shooters Brandon Jennings, Jodie Meeks, and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope should help create space for Drummond.
Like Faried, Drummond should see an increase in minutes and usage. 17 points and 15 rebounds per game isn’t of the question.
The only player to average at least 17 and 15 in the last 22 years? Kevin Love in 2010-2011.
It’s Drummond time.
After two subpar seasons since being taken in the lottery by Phoenix, the taller Morris twin finally turned his potential into production.
Morris was one of the most improved players last season, improving his PER from 12.66 to 18.48, but he was overlooked by the rapid development of his teammates.
Goran Dragic, Eric Bledsoe, Gerald Green and even brother Marcus all had career years as well. That’s not to say that Morris didn’t benefit from their improvement.
Phoenix jumped from 29th to 8th in offensive efficiency last season playing at the 8th fastest pace in the league.
Morris averaged 13.8 and 6 rebounds in only 26.6 minutes per game, and saw his minutes slowly increase throughout the season. Morris’ efficiency shot up as well, as he improved his field goal percentage from 40.7% to 48.6%.
Keeping up with the same theme, like Faried and Drummond, Morris will see an uptick in minutes and responsibility.
Last month Morris signed a 4-year, $32 million extension after Channing Frye unexpectedly left for Orlando earlier this summer.
The only other power forwards currently on the Suns roster are Anthony Tolliver and Shavlik Randolph. Rookie T.J. Warren as well as Marcus Morris should also see some playing time at power forward, but clearly Markieff is the likeliest Frye replacement.
Morris is only a 33.3% career three pointer shooter compared to Frye, who’s shot 38.5%, but Frye wasn’t always a sharpshooter.
It’s hard to believe, but Frye made 20 career three pointers in four seasons prior to joining the Suns. In his first season in Phoenix, Frye made a career high 172 three’s shooting 44%.
It’s unlikely Morris’ shooting numbers will ever reach the height of Frye’s, but at the very least, he should see a huge improvement in those numbers with his new role.
Two of Morris’ most frequent lineups, in which he played 244 minutes, were alongside Frye.
Morris will benefit from playing a full season at power forward and he’ll likely attempt a career high for three’s. Even though Morris has struggled for three so far in his career, he’s actually shot 18/42 from deep from the top of the key—an area where Frye made 46 three-pointers last season. With teams adamant on stopping Dragic and Bledsoe off pick and rolls, Morris should get plenty of good looks from that area this season.
In his first season as a full-time starter and with the Suns emerging from pretenders to contenders, Morris could average close to 18-8 with an improved jumper.