Sometimes when you’re putting together an issue it takes on a life of its own. That was definitely the case for Dime #66. Typically this would have been our NBA Preview Issue, looking at all the stars and storylines for the upcoming year. But with the 2011-12 NBA season indefinitely on hold until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place, a central theme began to arise while we were planning.
What we’ve dubbed The Breakout Issue features the rising stars from the NBA, college and high school ranks that are primed to breakout this season. Ever since our first issue 10 years ago, we’ve made it our mission to tell the stories that need to be told â€“ not just the ones that we’re supposed to. And like that first issue with Allen Iverson on the cover, our list is topped by a point guard that is poised to change the game as we know it, and become the NBA’s next breakout star: John Wall.
With that, here are the Top 25 players and teams primed to breakout this season…
25. Josh Selby, Memphis Grizzlies
People forget that Josh Selby was rated the No. 1 player in the Class of 2010 by Rivals before his disappointing freshman season at Kansas last year. That was ahead of guys like Kyrie Irving, Brandon Knight and Harrison Barnes. But with Memphis primed to build on their success from last year, the incoming rookie should make a name for himself as a high-octane scorer coming off the bench. “He’s the steal of the draft,” Zach Randolph told the Memphis Commercial Appeal after Selby slipped to the 49th overall pick in June’s NBA Draft. “The young fella is going to help us.” Just remember that this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
24. Terrence Ross, University of Washington
As a freshman last season, Terrence Ross didn’t make his first career start until the Pac-10 Tournament. He then proceeded to be named to the All-Tournament team after averaging 15.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in UW’s three wins. Filling the shoes of Isaiah Thomas won’t be easy, but if there’s any one that is ready to do it it’s the sharp-shooting sophomore. At 6-6, his size and fearlessness outside makes him a nightmare for opponents, as he is willing â€“ and able â€“ to gun from anywhere at any time. The Huskies can’t be dismissed as a major player for the Pac-12 title, and if they win it, Ross will be the reason why.
23. Mercedes Russell, Springfield High School
Mercedes Russell is the next Candace Parker. At 6-5, the junior center from Springfield, Ore., grew up a guard â€“ that is until she grew six inches the year before high school. Only 16, Russell beat up on everyone in her way en route to winning an Oregon 5A state championship last season, averaging 24.5 points, 15.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks per game along the way. This past summer she dominated the AAU circuit, becoming the Class of 2013’s top recruit and player to watch heading into this year.
22. Jonny Flynn, Houston Rockets
There’s no NBA point guard that’s been talked about less this offseason than Jonny Flynn. And the sixth overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft is just fine with that. Recovering from hip surgery after a stellar rookie season, Flynn never quite recovered in Minnesota last year, averaging an underwhelming 5.3 points and 3.4 assists per game. And after being dealt to Houston in a draft-night trade, he finds himself in a crowded â€“ yet talented â€“ backcourt alongside fellow point guards Kyle Lowry and Goran Dragic. Playing outside the triangle offense for the first time in his young career, Flynn will finally get his chance to shine.
21. Buddy Hield, Sunrise Christian Academy
During the month of July, Buddy Hield saw his stock rise tremendously on the AAU circuit, putting up huge scoring numbers in almost every game he played alongside top recruit Perry Ellis. At 6-4 and 195 pounds, the pure shooting guard from Sunrise Christian Academy (Bel Aire, Kan.) is best known for his consistently accurate jumper, as Hield can light it up from almost anywhere on the court. While first holding a lone offer from Nebraska at the start of the summer, his list of options exploded, leading to a commitment to the Oklahoma Sooners this fall.
20. Ronald Nored & Khyle Marshall, Butler University
Over the past four years, Butler has registered an astounding 117-25 record, including back-to-back trips to the national championship game. But with Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard both gone, can the Bulldogs continue their winning ways? The answer is yes. This season, Brad Stevens will turn to senior point guard Ronald Nored and sophomore swingman Khyle Marshall in their quest for a trip back to the Final Four. Nored, an excellent leader on the court, will have the ball in his hands, while Marshall will pick up where he left off in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
19. Gerald Henderson, Charlotte Bobcats
By the end of last season, Gerald Henderson finally became the player Charlotte knew he was capable of becoming when they drafted him 12th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. Averaging 16.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game in the month of April, the Bobcats felt comfortable enough trading away Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson in order to open up the starting spot for the third-year shooting guard. Oh yeah, and Michael Jordan told the Charlotte Observer that same month he believes Henderson has the upside to be an All-Star in two seasons.
18. Isaiah Whitehead, Lincoln High School
Isaiah Whitehead, a 6-4 sophomore combo guard, is the next up and coming New York City star hailing from Brooklyn’s legendary Lincoln High School. After an impressive summer, in which he was actively recruited by the likes of Kentucky, Arizona, North Carolina, Syracuse, St. John’s, Florida, Georgetown, and UCLA, Whitehead has his sights set on winning a city title. And following in the footsteps of Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson, he knows the spotlight will be on him every step of the way.
17. Patric Young, University of Florida
After the graduation of Alex Tyus, Vernon Macklin and Chandler Parsons, one might expect Gator fans to start panicking. Patric Young will assuage those fears. The sophomore center was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50, despite averaging a mere 3.4 points and 3.8 rebounds per game last year off the bench. After a strong showing for USA Basketball this summer, Young is ready to improve upon his SEC All-Freshman status and the Gators’ SEC Championship and Elite Eight run.
16. Paul George, Indiana Pacers
Paul George is a budding young talent. After climbing draft boards last June to go 10th overall to the Pacers, he stepped into his rookie season with a lot to learn. Despite only logging 16 starts, he played well enough off the bench to make the NBA All-Rookie Second Team, averaging 7.8 points and 3.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes a game. After earning a reputation as a strong defender, especially against MVP Derrick Rose in the first round of the playoffs, the swingman will provide Indiana with the scoring and athleticism they need for years to come.
15. Samantha Prahalis, The Ohio State University
Samantha Prahalis is considered the next game changer in women’s basketball. Why? Because the 5-7 senior point guard is changing coaches’ perception of traditional guard play. Widely considered the “Steve Nash of women’s basketball” as she dazzles fans with her flashy plays, Prahalis finished third in the NCAA last season with 6.9 assists per game. Already Ohio State’s all-time assists leader, look for Prahalis to have a monster senior year in Columbus.
14. Joe Jackson, University of Memphis
Last year, Joe Jackson saved his best play for the postseason, averaging 16.5 points and 3.0 assists in four appearances, including the two championship-winning free throws in the Conference USA Tournament title game. As the Tigers’ second-leading scorer, the Memphis native looks to improve upon his stellar all-around play this season as he teams back up again with fellow sophomore Will Barton. Both these guys were named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50, but look for Jackson to breakout.
13. Andrew Wiggins, Huntington Prep
Following in the footsteps of incoming NBA rookies Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Andrew Wiggins will be the latest Canadian making noise in U.S. high school basketball. The 6-7 swingman from the Class of 2014 is by far the best player in his class, and has been getting LeBron James-like buzz for the last two years. After playing his freshman season in his native country, where he averaged 28 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and two blocks per game, the 16-year-old has taken his talents stateside to play at Huntington Prep (Huntington, W. Va.) and is on a mission to be The Next Big Thing.
12. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
As the second overall pick in the 2010 NBA Draft, Evan Turner didn’t exactly live up to expectations last season. Though the Sixers surprised some people with their stellar play late in the year, Turner struggled to get minutes and was seemingly lost in translation. Philly is loaded with solid wing players, but need a guy who can spread the floor and shoot a decent percentage from three; Evan Turner is that guy. After spending his summer working with Hall of Fame coach Herb Magee to tweak his shot, Turner knows that he’ll improve upon his averages of 7.2 points and 3.9 rebounds in 23.0 minutes a game. And with the ability to create for himself off the dribble, look for him to make the leap this year.
11. JaMychal Green, University of Alabama
We can’t say enough about JaMychal Green. Love his game. Love his potential. Love just watching him play. After leading Alabama to the NIT Finals last year, averaging 15.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, Green dominated the World University Games this summer. And while some players might find solace in All-SEC First Team honors after being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament, as well as being named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 this fall, the senior is looking to lead the Crimson Tide to a deep run come March.
10. Perry Jones, Quincy Miller & Deuce Bello, Baylor University
In his first year in Waco, Perry Jones averaged 13.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game on 55 percent shooting for the Bears. And while he would have been a top-5 lock in this June’s NBA Draft, his return gives Scott Drew and company a loaded and talented young core for this season. That’s because along with the 6-11 center roaming the paint on both sides of the court, Baylor will also see major additions in their incoming freshman class with Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello. Look for the Bears to be one of the most exciting teams to watch in college basketball this season.
9. Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
Jeff Teague went from looking like a bust to one of the best young point guards in the game within one series at the end of last season. After Kirk Hinrich got hurt, Teague started all six games in the Conference Semifinals against MVP Derrick Rose and the defensive-minded Bulls, averaging 14.8 points and 4.2 assists a night. It was Teague’s first real look at extended action, and after such a strong showing on the biggest stage, he is clearly poised for big things. The Hawks need to shake things up if they want to break through their ceiling, and Teague is the one that will take them there.
8. Shaquille Johnson, Milton High School
When your name is Shaquille Johnson, you have to be pretty good at basketball. But no one could have predicted this. The 6-4 senior from Milton (Ga.) High School, who has committed to Auburn, looks like he’s following in the footsteps of Chris Porter with the hops he displays every time he hits the hardwood. As one of the most prolific dunkers in Georgia high school history, he added to his legendary status in the Boost Mobile Elite 24 dunk contest this August. While some scouts are still not sold on Johnson â€“ a guy who was the first player off the bench as a junior last season â€“ trust us that he will raise his stock in the Class of 2012 by the end of the year.
7. Thomas Robinson, University of Kansas
While potentially a bit undersized for the power forward position in the NBA, Thomas Robinson makes up for it with length, athleticism and heart. The 6-9 junior scores and rebounds the ball at a high rate (7.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per game while only averaging 14.6 minutes behind the Morris Twins last season), and is a fierce competitor â€“ two things that translate well to the League. After an early exit from the NCAA Tournament, and a spot on the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50, there is no doubt that Robinson is motivated to push Kansas out of its postseason slump and become the face of the Jayhawks in Lawrence.
6. DeMar DeRozan, Toronto Raptors
Raptors fans have to be optimistic and excited heading in to this year after the emergence of DeMar DeRozan. With a solid young core now in place, DeRozan is ready to become the face of the franchise in Toronto. On the season, the second-year wing averaged 17.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game, bumping up those averages to 23.1 and 4.9 in the month of April. Whether or not he becomes the next Vince Carter is still yet to been seen, but his potential seems to have no limits.
5. Skylar Diggins, University of Notre Dame
While Jay-Z declared jerseys dead a few years back, someone forget to tell Lil Wayne. Because when Weezy performed in Indiana this April, he was wearing Skylar Diggins’ Fighting Irish threads on stage. And for good reason. Last season, Diggins led Notre Dame to the NCAA national championship game and their third Final Four appearance. The crafty southpaw made a nearly-seamless transition to the point guard position, averaging 15.0 points, 4.8 assists and 1.9 steals per game. This year, second place isn’t an option.
4. Mitch McGary, Brewster Academy
Every year a kid comes out of nowhere and sets the AAU scene on fire. Last year it was Anthony Davis (currently a freshman at Kentucky); this year it’s Mitch McGary. This kid wasn’t even a starter on his Brewster Academy (Wolfeboro, N.H.) team last season, and now has college basketball’s elite at his school to watch him work out. Oh yeah, and he’s an inch or two away from being a legitimate 7-footer. By the end of his senior year, McGary will become a household name.
3. James Harden, Oklahoma City Thunder
After Jeff Green was traded to Boston, James Harden’s opportunities and aggressiveness increased. So did his stats. Averaging 12.2 points and 3.1 rebounds on the season, Harden stepped up big in the playoffs, shooting 47.5 percent from the field and adding a major boost off the bench. He has too much talent to keep him out of the starting lineup for much longer. Although Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are the stars, Harden showed this summer that he has the skills and drive to take his game to the next level.
2. Jeremy Lamb, University of Connecticut
After a breakout performance in both the Big East and NCAA Tournaments, Jeremy Lamb made a name for himself as an emerging star for the Huskies. Lamb was sensational in UConn’s run to the NCAA Championship, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds while shooting an incredible 58.1 percent from the field. Already with championship experience after just his freshman season at UConn, and as the star during the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Latvia this summer, Lamb is ready to take over the spot Kemba Walker left for him and lead the Huskies to back-to-back national championships.
1. John Wall, Washington Wizards
Four years ago, John Wall was an unknown, unranked high school basketball player who drove 18 hours from Raleigh, N.C., to showcase his talents at the Reebok Breakout Challenge in Chicago. After one season in the League â€“ and a summer of destroying everyone that stood in his way to the rim â€“ Wall has already entered the echelon of NBA point guards that includes the likes of Derrick Rose, Chris Paul, Deron Williams, Rajon Rondo, and Russell Westbrook. Thankfully for all of us, he’s primed to breakout again.
What players and teams do you think are primed to breakout this season?
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