The upcoming NBA season has several entertaining story lines and subplots. What will the Big 3 in Miami look like? Will Kobe get his 6th ring and tie Michael Jordan? Will Shaq and the Celtics stand in his way? Will Lebron's return to Cleveland get violent? Where will Carmelo end up? In the middle of all this there are 5 players looking to have a breakout season and take their game to the next level. I'm not saying these are players on the brink of winning an MVP, but they are players on the brink of becoming perennial all stars. Here are 5 players to look out for this NBA season.
1. Russell Westbrook. Projected as a defensive specialist coming out of college Westbrook has shown there are other aspects to his game. His athleticism was on display during the World Championships and his point guard skills have improved. He had an impressive playoff series against the Lakers last year and could form a dynamic duo with Kevin Durant for years to come. He still needs to work on his shooting percentage, but look for Westbrook to hover around 20 points per game. It may be tough for him to make the all star team in the point guard heavy Western Conference (Nash, Paul, Williams, Kidd) but he's not far off.
2. Rudy Gay. I was surprised when he re-upped in Memphis for a max deal and even more surprised by his play for Team USA this summer. Before the World Championships I didn't consider him a franchise player, but after watching his game evolve he's definitely a 2nd tier small forward behind Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul Pierce. With his confidence soaring and his Grizzlies being touted as a legitimate playoff contender look for Gay to up his scoring average to 23-24 points per game.
3. Brook Lopez. When I watched Brook Lopez play last year it was almost as if he couldn't believe how easy the transition has been from the college game to the pro game. In his 2nd season he was already going for 18 and 8 on a team that barely avoided the record for most losses in a season. With the addition of Derrick Favors in the draft and the emergence of Terrance Williams Brook has a chance to increase his productivity. I look for Brook to average 21 and 10 next season and earn a spot on the all star team as Dwight Howard's back up.
4. Blake Griffin. It seems like ages ago this talented 21 year old was the most heralded #1 draft pick since Lebron James. After sitting out an entire season with a broken knee cap Blake "The Barbarian" Griffin is anxious to get back on the court and prove he's one of the top 5 power forwards in the league. The upside for this guy is limitless. It won't take long before teams realize he's a physical mismatch every time he steps on the court. 18 points per game this season and 24+ every year after that.
5. Brandon Jennings. Brandon Jennings was able to put the controversies of his past behind him and lead the Bucks to the playoff where Milwaukee scared the Atlanta Hawks half to death. The outspoken and confident guard even went for 55 in his rookie season . I look for Brandon to continue with his development and put the Bucks franchise on his back. They have already started to take on his personality (which is very much like his coach Scott Skiles) and the addition of Corey Maggette and a healthy Andrew Bogut should take some of the pressure off the talented 2nd year man. Look for Jennings to average 21 points per game with an outside shot at becoming an all star.