There’s been a great deal of change in the NBA this offseason. With plenty of stars changing teams, and even more seemingly primed to do so, the opportunity is there for some lesser known players to grab the spotlight on their team and have a breakout campaign. With situations constantly changing, there is a similar opportunity afforded to coaches and team executives to make a name for themselves as well.
Here are some of these names to look out for in the Southwest Division:
Dejounte Murray – San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray played sparingly during his rookie season for Gregg Popovich’s San Antonio Spurs squad, appearing in only 38 contests and bouncing between the Spurs and the D-League roster. However, come playoff time, Murray was thrown into the fire due to an injury to longtime starter Tony Parker, playing in 11 of 16 total games, including two starts. He impressed early, leading to a minutes boost—he averaged over 20 minutes per-game afterward. With those extra minutes, Murray averaged a line of 7.7 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game while holding a plus/minus of +14. Not bad for an inexperienced 20-year-old.
While I’m sure Parker is highly motivated to return to form, Murray proved that he can make an impact at the NBA level and should see a significant bump in playing time from last season. A talented ball handler with good vision and the versatility to play either guard position, Murray has a real chance to carve out a role on one of the deeper teams in the league. Popovich will certainly have no problems making use of him, so don’t be surprised if Murray is making a notable impact come season’s end.
Clint Capela – Houston Rockets
Clint Capela has a chance to make some real noise on the Houston Rockets this season. Under head coach Mike D’Antoni and with James Harden running the point, Capela saw an across-the-board improvement, finishing the season with averages of 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks per game with an offensive rating of 122.
And now, the Rockets have added Chris Paul.
While the viability of a Harden-Paul combination on the court is still questioned by some, Capela can only stand to benefit from playing with another top point guard in the NBA. Paul worked wonders with Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan in Los Angeles and he should have no problem doing the same with Capela, who is extremely athletic and explosive near the basket. His general year-to-year improvement, on top of another year in D’Antoni’s system and now playing with major talents in Harden and Paul, it’s easy to see next season as a breakout opportunity for Capela.
Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans
Jrue Holiday is underrated.
With a lone All-Star appearance which occurred during his final season in Philadelphia in 2012, Holiday has seemingly faded into the background due to a combination injury troubles and the New Orleans Pelicans’ lack of relevance in the league. Over his four seasons in New Orleans, Holiday has averaged 15.3 points, seven assists, 3.6 rebounds and 1.5 steals. While many will say that is a great stat-line, Holiday has a chance to improve even more and establish himself as a top-shelf point guard.
With a full offseason to work talented big man DeMarcus Cousins into the offense, the Pelicans, overall, should be better next season. With Cousins and superstar Anthony Davis on the floor together, pick-and-roll opportunities should be abundant for the Pelicans, likely leading to a major bump in assists for Holiday. Sharing the floor with recently signed Rajon Rondo is seemingly a boon for Holiday as well, as it will increase his scoring potential. It shouldn’t strike anyone as a surprise to see quite a few 20-point, 10-assist outings from him.
Nerlens Noel – Dallas Mavericks
Nerlens Noel hasn’t had many chances to make an impact throughout his three years in the NBA. The oft-injured big man missed the entirety of the 2013-14 season after being drafted with the sixth overall pick in the 2013 draft. Since then, Noel has seen his minutes steadily decline, bottoming out last season at 1,047 total minutes—an average of just over 20 per game across 51 games. However, the numbers suggest that Noel can be a real difference maker in the league and he should have every chance to prove as much on a Dallas Mavericks team that likely will be on the outside looking in come playoff time.
Splitting time between the 76ers and the Mavericks last season, Noel averaged 8.7 points, 5.8 rebounds, one assist, 1.3 steals and one block. However, looking at him per-36 minutes, Noel’s numbers jump out of the stat sheet. Noel averaged 15.3 points, 10.1 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per-36 minutes last season—impact numbers, to say the least. Working with one of the best coaches in the NBA in Rick Carlisle and having a lot more playing time on a bad Mavericks team, Noel will have every opportunity to hone his skills and have a breakout campaign.
Troy Daniels – Memphis Grizzlies
In a league that is more and more about shooting every day, Troy Daniels is a sharpshooter. Daniels played a limited role last year for the Memphis Grizzlies, averaging a paltry 8.2 points per game. However, on over five attempts per game, Daniels hit 38.8 percent of his three-point shots and had an effective field goal percentage of 51.3.
With Vince Carter gone and the futures of Tony Allen and JaMychal Green uncertain, there is seemingly some vacancy in the starting lineup. Daniels can bring a scoring punch that any lineup could make use of. At the very least, he has a chance to break onto the scene as a spark plug sixth-man off the bench for David Fizdale’s squad next season.
Alvin Gentry – New Orleans Pelicans
Alvin Gentry hasn’t had the best run as a head coach in the NBA. Injuries and bad luck have often plagued his teams, leading to an overall record of 399-470 and back-to-back underwhelming seasons in New Orleans. That should change this year, however.
With a roster with as much talent as the Pelicans currently have, it will be hard for Gentry to not be the league’s breakout coach. Between Cousins, Davis, Holiday and the other pieces on the roster, the Pelicans have the making of a dominant team, especially on the inside. If Gentry can lead them to the playoffs in a brutally tough Western Conference, he’ll receive some well-deserved recognition among his peers as well as NBA fans.
There are plenty in the Southwest Divison who can make the jump next season and breakout for their respective teams. The opportunity is apparent, now it’s just about those people stepping up and taking advantage of it.
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