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All-Breakout team

Revealing the 10 players most likely to step up in 2004-05

Posted: Monday October 25, 2004 4:39PM; Updated: Monday October 25, 2004 6:48PM
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Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes
Chandler (No. 2) and Hughes (No. 3) should both make big strides this season.
Noren Trotman/NBAE via Getty Images

Faster than you can say Nikoloz Tskitishvili, a new NBA campaign is upon us. As always, one of the big questions heading into the season is "which little-known players are going to become household names?" I'm here to help.

This is easier to divine in some years than others. Last season, for instance, there were at least three players who were obvious candidates to have All-Star caliber years based on their track records and a likely increase in playing time. The top player on my list a year ago, Zach Randolph, won the Most Improved Player, and the next two guys, Michael Redd and Andrei Kirilenko, made the All-Star team.

I bring those up not just as a cheap way to toot my own horn, but to point out the lack of no-brainer breakout picks in this year's crop. I don't expect anyone in this year's list to approach the numbers that Randolph, Redd and Kirilenko put up a year ago. Still, 10 players come to mind who figure to get a lot more ink this year.

Before we start, here are some ground rules. First, I left out the obvious three guys -- LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwyane Wade -- because a) everybody knows about them and b) they don't have much breaking out left to do.

Second, I also left out Marquis Daniels, Mehmet Okur, Jamal Crawford and anyone else who got more than $40 million this summer. If somebody's going to throw that much money in your direction, I'd say the secret's out.

With that in mind, here's the second annual edition of my top breakout players. After each, I included the player's production per 40 minutes last season. Since a lot of them didn't play that much, it provides a quick indicator of what they're capable of producing if they become full-time starters:

10. Drew Gooden, Cavaliers (17.1 pts., 9.7 reb.)

Merely escaping the mess in Orlando has to be a boost for Gooden, who was relegated to the bench almost immediately last season and kept shuttling between the two forward spots. In Cleveland he'll play about 10 minutes more a game than he did last season, and with passers like James and Eric Snow he should get plenty of chances to finish around the rim. Although he's on his third team, he's only 23 and is still developing his perimeter game.

9. Brendan Haywood, Wizards (14.5 pts., 10.4 reb., 51.5 FG%)

Haywood only played 19.3 minutes a game last year -- I guess Eddie Jordan felt like he just had to get Christian Laettner on the floor -- but Haywood figures to get a lot more burn this year. Kwame Brown's foot injury should leave the door open at the start of the year, and if Haywood does as well as I expect, the rest should take care of itself.

8. Michael Sweetney, Knicks (14.5 pts., 12.7 reb., 49.3 FG%) 

A nightly double-double threat who would rank higher if it was certain that the Knicks will move him ahead of Kurt Thomas, Sweetney is most easily compared to a right-handed version of Randolph. His numbers in his sophomore season should be a big step forward from his rookie performance, especially since he spent most of last year nailed to the bench while lesser talents like Othella Harrington and Clarence Weatherspoon stole his minutes.

7. Jamaal Tinsley, Pacers (12.5 pts, 8.8 ast, 3.4 reb) 

Tinsley played 26.5 minutes a game last year because it took him half the year to take over the starting job. There's no such debate in Indiana this season, so Tinsley's minutes should move up into the mid-30s. As a result, he should finish in the top five in the NBA in assists and average double figures in scoring.

6. Al Harrington, Hawks (17.2 pts, 8.3 reb, 46.3 FG%)

Harrington's a tough case. On the one hand, he figures to do much more statistically because he'll be playing 40 minutes a night and should be the No. 2 option on a Hawks team that's devoid of talent. On the other hand, he's not nearly as good as people imagine. I wouldn't be surprised if he averaged more than 20 points a night, but he might shoot less than 40 percent in the process.

5. Chris Bosh, Raptors (13.7 pts, 8.9 reb, 45.9 FG%) 

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Lost in all the hubbub over James/Anthony/Wade was the fact that at the grizzled age of 19, Bosh played out of position all season, gave up 30 pounds every night, and not only survived but was among the better players at his position. Rafael Araujo's arrival moves Bosh to his natural power forward spot, where he should put up much better numbers in his sophomore season.

4. Dan Gadzuric, Bucks (13.5 pts, 11.0 reb, 52.4%)

The Bucks big man is a human pogo stick who blocked more than three shots per 40 minutes last season and was effective on the glass despite being weaker than Scott Peterson's alibi. The big difference, though, is that Gadzuric has become more efficient on the offensive end, running the floor for dunks and hitting short jumpers in the halfcourt. With Brian Skinner gone, the minutes at center in Milwaukee are his to lose, so his numbers should shoot up accordingly.

3. Larry Hughes, Wizards (22.3 pts, 6.3 reb) 

Hughes' 40-minute scoring average is going to surprise a lot of people -- it ranked right between Amaré Stoudemire's and Randolph's. In other words, he actually broke out last year, but since nobody's gotten the news release yet, I figured it would be OK to list him here again. Hughes is one of the best rebounding guards in the game, he's still only 25, and he's entering a contract year. If the Wizards are as good as I think they'll be this year, Hughes could end up making the All-Star team.

2. Tyson Chandler, Bulls (10.9 pts, 13.8 reb) 

For all the talk about Eddy Curry, Chandler was much more impressive in the early part of last season until a back injury derailed his progress. Even with the injuries, his rebound rate of 13.8 per 40 minutes was awesome, so if he stays in one piece this year, his size and energy could put him in the league's top five in rebounding.

1. Jonathan Bender, Pacers (21.8 pts, 5.9 reb, 47.2 FG%) 

If I had to bet on one guy to win the "Most Improved Player" award (a misnomer which should be renamed "most invisible to beat writers before the season"), this is the one. Bender's sore knee is a concern, but his per-minute numbers from a year ago are so overwhelming that he easily tops this list anyway. Now that Harrington's gone, Bender figures to get close to 30 minutes a night in Indiana. The only thing holding him back is the fact that two All-Stars are playing at forward ahead of him, but if Ron Artest goes fruit loops, look for Bender to explode. Worst case, he'll have a hard time not winning the Sixth Man award.

Honorable mention: Stromile Swift, David West, Samuel Dalembert, Darius Miles, Rodney White