The All-Breakout team
Sizing up the best bets to bust loose in 2003-04
Posted: Thursday October 9, 2003 3:45AM; Updated: Thursday October 9, 2003 1:16PM
By John Hollinger, SI.com
Is it me, or was that offseason shorter than Muggsy Bogues? The regular season is three weeks away, believe it or not, so it's time to start looking ahead.
The first question that pops into my mind when a new seasons starts is, "What about this year will be different from last year?" So I'll spend the next couple weeks trying to answer that question before I answer yours down below.
In that vein, this week I'm going to take a look at 10 guys who, either because of increased opportunity or increased productivity, figure to do a lot more damage this year. In reverse order, they are:
10. Amare Stoudemire, Suns and Yao Ming, Rockets (tie) -- Hardly seems worth mentioning these two since they made such a splash a year ago, but both should be much-improved in their sophomore campaigns.
9. Manu Ginobili, Spurs -- Last year, his play took off after his sprained ankle fully healed in the season's second half. This year, his minutes will take off after Stephen Jackson left as a free agent. Ginobili proved his worth in the NBA Finals. He could end up leading the league in steals with his lightning-quick hands.
8. Quentin Richardson, Clippers -- He was injured and ineffective for much of last season, which makes it easy to forget that two years ago he nearly won the Sixth Man award by averaging a point every two minutes. He'll be getting 40 minutes a night this year, and he's still only 23 years old. Do the math.
7. Eddy Curry, Bulls -- Chicago's big man blew up in the second half of 2001-02 and ended up leading the league in field-goal percentage. Playing 35 minutes a night, he's capable of pouring in 20 points a game and keeping that percentage high. He'd rank higher if he played any defense.
6. Corey Maggette, Clippers -- Much like Richardson, he's going to get a lot more minutes than he did a year ago, when Lamar Odom's presence limited him to 31 a game and forced many of them to come at guard. Unlike Richardson, he was still a stud last season, scoring 16.8 a game with five boards. Look for him to score in the high teens and play suffocating defense.
5. Jamal Crawford, Bulls -- Crawford exploded even stronger than Curry in the latter half of the season, scoring 23 points a game in April while cementing his grip on the Bulls' point guard job. The 23-year-old finally is recovered from a knee injury that ended his rookie season, and will get a full campaign to show his many talents.
4. Nene, Nuggets -- The one-named wonder was overshadowed by the hubbub over Stoudemire and Yao, but he is the real deal. He shot 52 percent while averaging 10.5 points and 6.3 rebounds, and most amazingly for a 6-foot-11, 260-pound center, he averaged nearly two steals a game.
3. Andrei Kirilenko, Jazz -- With the Mailman making deliveries elsewhere, Kirilenko finally gets to showcase his awesome defensive skills in the starting lineup. Look for him to finish the year in the top ten in both blocked shots and steals while scoring in the mid-teens for a rebuilding Utah team.
2. Michael Redd, Bucks -- A devastating shooter who nearly led the league in triples while playing just 28 minutes a night, Redd will see more burn now that Gary Payton and Sam Cassell are gone. He should be the first option for a rebuilding Bucks team, which would push his scoring average into the low 20s from last year's 15.5.
1. Zach Randolph, Trail Blazers -- Randolph basically blasted his way into the Blazers' lineup even though they didn't have a spot open for him, proving his worth with an electric playoff series against Dallas, where he nearly led Portland from back from a 3-0 deficit. Like all Blazers, his main obstacle to success is his wayward behavior, but don't be surprised if this burly 22-year-old is the Blazers' primary option instead of Rasheed Wallace.
Just read your recap of the Houston Rockets. You indicate the Rockets should be able to push for the No. 5 spot in the west. Who are the top four?: Kings, Lakers, Mavericks and Spurs? What about the T'wolves? I am willing to bet the T'wolves finish five games ahead of the Rockets. As a matter of fact, I will not be surprised if the T'wolves finish ahead of one of the other four. -- Jim Blomquist, Mankato, Minn.
Basically, I don't see a great deal of separation between the T'wolves and Rockets, despite Minnesota's offseason moves. I'm a lot less impressed with its offseason than some other folks. Between losing Rasho Nesterovic and the emaciated state of their bench, Minnesota had to make the other moves it made just to get back to square one. And while Latrell Sprewell and Michael Olowokandi are big names, look at their production the past two seasons. There's a reason those guys were available. Speaking of Spre....
Your analysis of the Sprewell-Van Horn trade is something I cannot understand. I am very surprised that you call Van Horn "a more accomplished scorer," given that throughout their careers, Sprewell's scored 19.1 ppg to Van Horn's 17.7. You could argue that Sprewell's lost a step, but even last season he beat Van Horn in scoring -- 16.4 to 15.9, despite playing out of position and being the No. 1 option on a poor team, whereas Van Horn only took the shots that were made 100 percent open for him by Allen Iverson. And if we're talking playoffs, Van Horn's career average: 12.3. Sprewell's: 19.7. -- Dave
I got a torrent of emails from Knicks fans about that comment, so let me explain. Sprewell's average is padded by playing an obscene amount of minutes in both Golden State and New York; believe it or not, Van Horn's per minute career scoring average is higher. Additionally, Sprewell's career average was built up when he was in his mid-20s; he's now 33. The fact that he scored 24 points a game in 1996 isn't relevant to what he can do in 2004.
Last year, Van Horn averaged fewer points per game, but did it in so many fewer minutes that he was actually a far more effective offensive player. Scoring 15.9 points a game in 31.6 minutes is a lot better than 16.4 points in 38.6 minutes. If Van Horn gets those minutes this year, his average will approach 20, which Sprewell hasn't hit since 1997. As for Van Horn's playoff efforts, I don't think that's going to be an issue as long as he's with the Knicks.
I would have to say that Mike Dunleavy plays much better defense than you give him credit for. Of all the games that I watched of the Warriors last season, I saw Mike Dunleavy take charges and get steals. This is something Antawn Jamison never did. I don't think Jamison has taken a charge hardly ever. Also, if you saw the first half of the season, you would be correct about Mike. However, the second half, he was completely different. He was more aggressive and played with passion. He was a rookie, so give him a break. If we see the same Mike Dunleavy from the second half play all year long then you'll see. -- Luke Kane
Dunleavy looked so good because you're comparing him to Jamison. Jamison played no defense whatsoever, so the fact that Dunleavy at least stuck an arm out once in a while made him look like Bobby Jones. As far as his second-half efforts, while it's true he scored a season-high 21 in the Warriors' final game, he also shot 39 percent after March 1, and only scored more than eight points in five of the final 24 games, so I'd say he still has room for improvement.
What makes you think that Eddie Jordan will start the older, slower, less athletic Christian Laettner over Kwame Brown? Jordan's style of play is not a offense that allows a player with Laettner's size and shooting stroke to excel; no player his size should be standing still that far away from the basket. Even if Kwame does not live up to expectations for a third year in a row, he will still be function better in the new Jordan's offense rather than the old one. -- Alex Boyce
There lies the peril of writing previews in September -- I have to guess what Eddie's going to be thinking in late October. It wouldn't surprise me if Brown starts ahead of his buddy Laettner, but I feel that the best way to keep a lid expectations while letting Brown develop would be to give him 20 minutes off the bench each night.
John Hollinger covers basketball for SI.com and is the author of Pro Basketball Prospectus. Click here to send him a question or comment.