Every year in the NBA, several players have breakout seasons. They stand out from the crowd and take that next big step towards becoming an elite basketball player.
C.J. McCollum did it this year and Jimmy Butler the year before that. These seasons are unpredictable and are something that makes this sport so fascinating.
But who are the players primed for a breakout campaign next year? There are some obvious names, like Karl-Anthony Towns and Giannis Antetokounmpo, but who are the less expected players ready to improve in a way further removed from this natural progression?
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Victor Oladipo - Orlando Magic
Oladipo came into the NBA as the second pick in 2013 but is already one of the leaders of a young and upcoming Orlando team with all the talents needed to be a star in the backcourt.
He is explosive offensively, with the swagger to bring fans to their feet, and rugged defensively. He can play at the one or the two as a scorer and a playmaker and has tremendous length and speed. Vic truly has everything.
As a starter in his sophomore year, the 24-year-old seemed to be on course to becoming an All-star with 17.9 points, 4.1 assists, and 1.7 steals per game.
This season was more of a struggle and Oladipo lost his place as a starter for 20 of his 72 games. There was no rise. His stats fell to 16 points, 3.9 assists, and 1.6 steals as he struggled for consistency.
Still, he refined his game; improving his assists and steals per turnover while shooting better. The stats might be slightly down but he seems to be developing.
After he exploded for what he called a “life high” 45 points against the Cavaliers in March, people noticed his improvements as well and he gained the plaudits even from greats like LeBron James.
The thing that has driven his polished game is the same thing that will let Oladipo become a star - his work ethic. “I’m working so hard and I work hard all of the time,” he told John Denton of NBA.com.
Coach Scott Skiles also provides testament to Oladipo’s efforts, telling Denton that “Victor works really hard on his game.” Nothing is more important than that.
Oladipo can do everything and has a tremendous mindset. He has every weapon a star needs and, if he can get consistency, the 2016-17 season might finally be the one when he realises his potential.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist - Charlotte Hornets
Another second overall pick, MKG’s short career has been somewhat ravaged by injuries. In fact, he has only played 62 games over the past two seasons but has already established himself as an extremely effective defender and has worked endlessly on reconstructing the hideous jump shot he came into the league with.
MKG is athletic and strong and has to be one of the most tenacious rebounders in the small forward position and is improving all the time.
In 55 games last term, Kidd-Gilchrist averaged 10.9 points and 7.6 rebounds and he hinted at progression this year averaging 12.7 points over seven games.
The 22-year-old's shot reconstruction is incredible and is nothing short of a basketball miracle, something he works on every day. He enjoyed significant improvements from both the field, where he shot at .541, and from behind the arc, where his non-existent threat became a .429 clip.
MKG’s potential to break out relies heavily on his offensive game continuing to blossom but there is a lot more to his game that new shot has unlocked. Former teammate Gerald Henderson told Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer about this, saying:
“He’s not worried so much about his jump shot. So now he’s very comfortable in how he can affect the game at both ends. It’s freed him up to be the natural leader that he is; a leader in talking and how he plays.”
Kidd-Gilchrist’s leadership is very well noted. In Kentucky, he personally saw to his teammates putting in extra effort and practice and Bonnell notes that many Hornets players already see him as their defensive leader.
Charlotte is progressing and Kidd-Gilchrist could be a big part of that, especially if he fits alongside Nicolas Batum. The young forward wants to be great and told Bonnell about his growth, “I’m just getting older and getting a lot better. Better and better and better,” he said.
If he stays healthy, next season might be the one where he proves himself as a worthy second overall pick.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope - Detroit Pistons
KCP, like Kidd-Gilchrist, is already a very good defensive player and has become one of the premier three-and-D players that have become so valuable in today’s NBA.
He came into the league with a highly-fancied three-point shot but it is his defence that has made him an effective player already. He has great size and speed for his position and has a similarly great defensive awareness that allows him to shut down any opponent, holding top offensive talents like Bradley Beal and Paul George to really substandard shooting games.
Kentavious’ two-way game was a very important part of the Pistons' surprise spot in the playoffs and this is where his star potential lies.
But let’s not forget his variety of offensive weapons. He can shoot from downtown and from mid-range, putting up 14.5 points this campaign, and he has room to improve in terms of efficiency. Stan Van Gundy has a history of making players better and KCP could be a beneficiary of his wisdom.
The 23-year-old is a terrific two-way talent but it is his consistent health, missing only eight games over his first three years, and improved playoff performances that are so promising.
Anyone familiar with NBA 2K might have heard Clarke Kellogg saying that Caldwell-Pope “screams potential at you” and it is hard to disagree. Get ready for the shooting guard to become elite.
Dennis Schroder - Atlanta Hawks
Dennis Schroder's hopes of a breakout season rely on one key factor: becoming a starter. Atlanta has two starting point guards and the time for a decision between them is coming up fast.
Schroder is a blur on the court and uses that to his advantage on both ends of the floor. His shooting could be better but is still good enough and he is an impressive playmaker, drawing comparisons to Rajon Rondo and Tony Parker.
The German averaged 11 points and 4.4 assists this year as a bench player and even gained some recognition in the Sixth Man of the Year race.
He does not work particularly well in tandem with Teague in the backcourt but can be an efficient floor general as he proved in the Rising Stars game last year. He has made consistent improvements to his game, getting better from three-point range to dispel one of his biggest similarities to Rondo.
The secret behind Schroder’s improvements and potential is his confident, tough and feisty character, which often sees him involved in confrontations and barking matches on the court.
It is also what drives him, as he told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Last year was really hard on me,” Schroder said. “I think I’m good because they keep pushing me and yelling at me when I do something wrong. That’s a big reason I improved this year.”
When the 22-year-old becomes a starter, prepare for him to develop into a star point guard with playmaking skills and speed to burn. “I’m never going to be satisfied,” Schroder said to Vivlamore. “I want to get better every day and don’t try to waste my time. I did a great step from last year to this year. I still want to get better and one day be a starter.”
With an attitude like that and the skills to match, Dennis will be a starter one day, maybe next year, and a great one at that.