There is no shortage of talented point guards in the NBA. Currently standing at the top of the point guard totem pole is Chris Paul, Stephen Curry and Russell Westbrook. After these three players is a mix of veteran point guards that are still in their prime, and young point guards who are just entering their prime, but have already had breakout seasons. Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo, when healthy, are two of the best veteran point guards in the league, while players like John Wall, Damian Lillard, and Kyrie Irving have already established themselves as stars and are looking to continue climbing the totem pole and reach new heights this upcoming season. But there is another group of talented point guards who enter this season with breakout potential and the opportunity to join the group of star point guards in the NBA. Here, we take a look at a few point guards who could have a breakout season:
Ricky Rubio – Minnesota Timberwolves
Rubio is entering his fourth year in the NBA and his first without former teammate Kevin Love. Rubio, who is still just 23 years old, has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that people had for him when he entered the league back in 2011. He has proven to be one of the craftiest passers in the league, and a solid defensive player. But between his poor shooting and the Timberwolves’ continued failure to make the playoffs, the excitement and expectations that surrounded Rubio when he entered the league has significantly faded. However, Rubio enters this season with a new coach, several new, talented teammates and most importantly, the opportunity to become the team’s unquestioned leader and most important player.
Since entering the league in 2008, Kevin Love has been Minnesota’s best player and de facto leader. But Love lost patience with the franchise this offseason, and forced team president and head coach Flip Saunders to trade him, or potentially lose him for nothing after this upcoming season in free agency. Saunders eventually traded Love to the Cleveland Cavaliers, and in return acquired Andrew Wiggins and Anthony Bennett. In addition, the Timberwolves traded guard Alexey Shved for power forward Thaddeus Young in order to replace Love.
Last season, in 82 games played, Rubio averaged 9.5 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.6 assists and 2.3 steals in 32.2 minutes per game. With good size, athleticism and court vision, Rubio is already one of the better passing and defensive point guards in the league. But shooting has always been Rubio’s main weakness. However, Rubio has been working on his jump-shot with newly hired Timberwolves shooting coach Mike Penberthy, which hopefully will help Rubio add consistency to his jumper.
Now Rubio has a pair of uber-athletic wings to run the break with in Wiggins and rookie Zach LaVine (drafted 13th overall out of UCLA). The two have already nicknamed themselves the “Bounce Brothers,” and both have star potential moving forward. In addition, the Timberwolves have a solid mix of veteran players as well, such as Kevin Martin, Mo Williams, Nikola Pekovic and Corey Brewer. This team may not end up making the playoffs this season, but how competitive they end up being will be in large part based on how well Rubio can lead this team.
If shooting is still an issue for Rubio, he may end up having another solid, but unspectacular season. But if his shot is improved and he can get the most out of his young and veteran teammates, he has a chance to have a breakout season and regain the excitement that surrounded him when he entered the league just a few years ago.
Kemba Walker – Charlotte Hornets
The Charlotte Hornets enter this season with high expectations after making the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2009-10 season. A big part of last season’s success was due to the talented Walker.
Drafted ninth overall in 2011, Walker is a talented scorer and solid playmaker. Last season, in 73 games, Walker averaged 17.7 points, 6.1 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals in 35.8 minutes per game. While Walker’s numbers are solid, where he stands to improve is in efficiency. Last season, Walker shot just 39.3 percent overall from the field, 33.3 percent from three-point range and had a 49.9 true shooting percentage (ranking 46th out of 70 eligible point guards).
Fortunately for Walker, he may have a chance to bring up his efficiency numbers this upcoming season with Lance Stephenson joining the team. Stephenson was the Indiana Pacers’ best playmaker last season, and should help draw defensive pressure away from Walker this season. While Stephenson should help Walker’s game overall, it is up to Walker to improve his shot selection. At times, Walker takes difficult shots early in the shot clock, which is a contributing factor to his poor shooting percentages. With more talent around him than ever before, and three seasons of NBA experience, Walker should be able to get his assist numbers up, while improving his shooting efficiency. If he manages to do so successfully, Walker could have a breakout season, and establish himself as one of the best young point guards in the league.
Jrue Holiday – New Orleans Pelicans
When healthy, Holiday has shown that he can be one of the top point guards in the NBA. Last season, Holiday averaged 14.3 points, 7.9 assists, 4.2 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 33.6 minutes per game. Unfortunately, Holiday suffered a stress fracture in his right tibia in January that ended his season early, limiting him to just 34 games. Holiday is now healthy and looking to have a bounce back season.
Arguably the biggest reason why Holiday is primed for a breakout season is because of his teammate, Anthony Davis. Davis has quickly emerged as a superstar, and in just 27 games played with Holiday last season, showed that the two can be a dynamic pairing. Though it was a limited sample size, when Holiday and Davis were on the floor together, the Pelicans outscored their opponents by 4.1 points per 100 possessions. With Davis coming off a strong summer with Team USA, and Holiday healthy, the two enter this season with the opportunity to build off of last season.
Beyond forming a partnership with Davis, at 6’4, Holiday is a solid defensive player and figures to be even better this season with Davis and center Omer Asik behind him. Defense often gets overlooked when evaluating players, but if the Pelicans can turn into one of the better defensive teams in the league, Holiday should earn recognition for being a two-way player, and being able to slow down both opposing point guards and shooting guards.
For Holiday, learning how to be a consistently dynamic partner to Davis and turning that into team success will be the key for having a breakout season. Like last season, health is the biggest obstacle. Let’s hope the two manage to stay on the floor together for more than 27 games this season.
Jeff Teague – Atlanta Hawks
In five NBA season, Jeff Teague has established himself as a solid NBA point guard. But Teague has the skill and ability to be more than just solid, and this year he has the opportunity to prove that.
Last season, in 79 games played, Teague averaged 16.5 points, 6.7 assists, 2.6 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 32.2 minutes per game. These are solid numbers for a point guard, but were only a slight improvement over Teague’s number from the 2012-13 season. But more important than his nightly averages, Teague’s shooting percentages across the board took a dip last season, which he needs to fix this season.
Working in Teague’s favor is the return of Al Horford. Horford only managed to play in 29 games last season because of a torn pectoral muscle, which he is still recovering from. When healthy, Horford is one of the most underrated, and productive big men in the league. Like Holiday, Teague should benefit from playing more with his star big man this upcoming season, and leveraging that partnership into team success. But Teague will also need to put in a more consistent defensive effort as he clearly loses focus at times and has the potential to have more of an impact on that side of the court. Nevertheless, with another season under head coach Mike Budenholzer, the return of Horford and a quietly talented group of teammates, Teague has the opportunity to take the next step in his game and have a breakout season.
Trey Burke – Utah Jazz
The Utah Jazz enter this season with a new coach in Quin Snyder and a roster stacked with young talent. The Jazz have put on an impressive showing so far in preseason, beating teams like the Los Angeles Clippers and Portland Trailblazers (twice). Leading that group at point guard is second year player Trey Burke.
Last season, in 68 games Burke averaged 12.8 points. 5.7 assists, three rebounds, and 0.6 steals in 32.3 minutes played per game. Burke largely went unnoticed last season as Michael Carter-Williams and Victor Oladipo were in a two-man race all last season for the Rookie of the Year award. But Burke finished the season on a high note, winning Rookie of the Month for April while averaging 15.6 points and nine assists.
This season, head coach Quin Snyder is implementing an up-tempo offense that has already proven to be effective. Though it is just preseason, the Jazz already look like a much better team than last season, and have the potential to exceed expectations. In this new offense, Burke has the opportunity to build off of last season, improve his numbers, and prove that he is a long-term option at point guard for the Jazz. Something to keep an eye on is how quickly Burke can gel with heralded rookie Dante Exum, who has the size and skill to play both guard positions.
Eric Bledsoe – Phoenix Suns
For years Los Angeles Clippers fans imagined what kind of player Bledsoe could be if he played starter minutes. Well, in his first season with the Phoenix Suns, Bledsoe showed that when given the opportunity, he has the size, skill and ability to be one of the best two-way point guards in the NBA and the sort of player that can play effectively alongside another point guard. Unfortunately for Bledsoe, he suffered a torn meniscus, which required surgery and kept him out for roughly half of the season. But when healthy, Bledsoe and teammate Goran Dragic proved to be one of the most potent starting backcourts in the NBA.
If Bledsoe manages to stay healthy this season (which is a big if given his history), it will be his first full season playing starter minutes. Many of Bledsoe’s critics argued that he wasn’t worth the contract Phoenix ultimately gave him this offseason (five-years, $70 million), citing to the fact that he is injury prone and largely unproven. Entering this season, Bledsoe has the opportunity to prove his critics wrong and cement his place as one of the best point guards in the league.
Last season, Bledsoe averaged, 17.7 points, 5.5 assists, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.6 steals per game. These are solid numbers for a point guard, but Bledsoe still stands to improve as a playmaker. However, playing alongside Dragic, and newly acquired point guard Isaiah Thomas, Bledsoe may never average more than six assists per game. Still, Bledsoe has the opportunity to prove that he can play a full season, and was worth the large investment Phoenix made in him. One issue to keep an eye on is how quickly he, Dragic and Thomas can build chemistry and play off of one another.
Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics
Leading up to this year’s NBA Draft, many NBA and NCAA analysts pegged Marcus Smart as a leading candidate to win this season’s Rookie of the Year Award. With Rajon Rondo set to miss the opening of the regular season with a hand injury, Smart has the opportunity to step in on day one and prove those analysts were right.
At the NBA Combine, Smart measured 6’3 ¼ in shoes, with a 6’9 ¼ wingspan, and weighed in at 227 pounds. Smart has the physical build of an NBA veteran, and knows how to impose his size on opposing players. Last season at Oklahoma State University, Smart averaged 18 points, 4.8 assists, 5.9 rebounds, and 2.9 steals in 32.7 minutes per game. Smart is a solid scorer, but he needs to improve his shooting as he shot just 29.9 percent beyond-the-arc last season. His shooting mechanics are decent, but he needs to add consistency. Smart is also a good playmaker as he has a talent for driving to the rim and kicking the ball out to open shooters on the perimeter. But, like his shooting, Smart has room to improve in this area of his game. The good news is that Rondo has been working out with Smart, which will hopefully translate into improved point guard play from the rookie.
Rookie players often struggle to be effective players through an 82 game season, but with two seasons of college basketball under his belt, an NBA ready body, and the chance to start at point guard from day one, Smart has the potential to surprise people this season and compete for the Rookie of the Year Award.
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