Alrighty, we have now put a cap on summer league, the Olympics, and free agency has all but slowed to a stop with all of the major names off the board, save for a few veterans still looking to find a home for next season. With that being said, what better time to begin to look ahead to next season and try to pinpoint some players who could be in for breakout seasons.
Today we will be starting with the guards and then as the weeks go on, we will continue with the wings, and then the bigs to finish it off. Now, these lists will feature a combination of young players who I think could take a leap in their careers, or veteran players, who because of a new circumstance, (injury to a teammate, new team) could have a bigger role than in year’s past.
So, without further ado, let’s dive into the five guards that I think have a great chance to get over the hump this season.
Now I know many people may be confused given that Jackson is an established veteran. But with that being said, Jackson averaged just 10.7 points per game with 3.1 assists per game, which both were his lowest totals for a season since his second year in the NBA way back in the 2012-2013 season, when he averaged just 5.3 points per game with 1.7 assists.
Now in the playoffs, Jackson came alive, especially once Kawhi Leonard went down with his knee injury in Game 4 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference Semifinals. In the eight games after the Leonard injury, Jackson averaged 21.8 points on 48.5% shooting from the floor and 36.9% shooting from deep with 4.4 assists, 3.9 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 2.0 turnovers per game. Given the fact that Leonard will likely be out for the entire 2021-2022 campaign, Jackson will surely have a bigger offensive role this season and should compete with the newly acquired, Eric Bledsoe for the starting point guard spot. Whether Jackson starts or not, he will surely be asked to score and play make more, so even if he doesn’t get to the 21.8 points per game that he averaged in Kawhi’s playoff absence, expect him to see a significant increase in his splits this season.
Bane is coming off of a solid rookie season where he averaged 9.2 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in just 22.3 minutes per game last season. Year two is often when we see rookies take a leap, and given that the Grizzlies dealt away Grayson Allen to the Milwaukee Bucks, it seems like Memphis feels the same as well.
Bane is coming off of a solid performance in the Las Vegas summer league, where he finished third amongst all players with 24.0 points per game on 48.4% shooting from the floor and 69% from three with 4.5 makes per game. The Grizzlies will need to replace Allen’s 10.6 points per game and will have 25.2 extra minutes available to dish out on the wing. Memphis also let Jonas Valanciunas go in a trade that brought back Steven Adams, who is not near the offensive threat that Valanciunas was, so Memphis will be looking for some extra offense all around next season. I think Bane will be the primary beneficiary of these departures, and if he can take advantage of his opportunity, it could lead to a breakout sophomore campaign for the guard out of TCU.
Aaron Holiday– Washington Wizards
Holiday will have a new home this season in the nation’s capital and will slide into a backup point guard role behind Spencer Dinwiddie, who the Wizards also acquired this offseason. Dinwiddie is coming off of a season where he played just three games due to an ACL injury, so there could be a ramp-up period, where the Wizards are a little cautious with his workload. This means Holiday could see a bit more time early on, and throughout the season, should they decide to limit Dinwiddie in any way (sitting him out back-to-backs, etc.).
Last season, Holiday averaged 7.2 points per game in just 17.8 minutes for a Pacers team that was pretty deep at the point guard position with Malcolm Brogdon and T.J. McConnell both being slated ahead of Holiday on the depth chart. In Washington, Holiday will certainly see more than 17.8 minutes per game, and his defensive prowess should earn him a bit of leeway on the offensive end.
“Obviously Aaron is a great player in his own right,” Dinwiddie said in his introductory press conference in DC. “I think he is one of the best backup point guards in the league.”
“I didn’t tell him this prior, obviously because I was playing against him, but I hate it when he guards me, so I’m happy he’s on my team now,” he continued.
Dinwiddie, Holiday, and of course, All-NBA guard, Bradley Beal will assume the majority of the ball-handling responsibilities in Washington, and for a Wizards squad that was third in the entire NBA in scoring last season, there will be plenty of shots to go around in Capital One Arena, so don’t be surprised to see Holiday have the best season of his career up to date in year four.
Tyrese Maxey– Philadelphia 76ers
Maxey did not have a huge sample size last year as he played just 15.3 minutes per game last season. In those 15 minutes though, he scored 8.0 points on 46.2% shooting from the floor, and 30.1% shooting from distance to go with 2.0 assists, and 1.7 rebounds per game. The reason that I am so high on Maxey is that in games where he did see extended time, he produced and in year two, I fully expect him to see more minutes.
During the playoffs, there were three games that Maxey played at least 20 minutes, and in those three games, Maxey averaged 14.6 points per game on 44.7% shooting from the floor and 42.8% from three, and the Sixers won two of those three games. Maxey also started eight games in the regular season and he was amazing in said games. In games where he started, Maxey averaged 18.6 points on 50.0% shooting from the floor and 33.3% shooting from deep with 4.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game in 31.5 minutes. He even exploded for a career-high 39 points on 18-of-33 shooting in a 115-103 loss to Denver in which he played 44 minutes with Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Tobias Harris all out of the lineup.
To put it plainly, when Maxey gets minutes, he produces in great fashion, and the Sixers will likely notice this as well and reward Maxey with a bigger role in year two.
Luke Kennard– Los Angeles Clippers
The case for Kennard is extremely similar to that of Reggie Jackson’s, the only difference being that the Clippers did not bring in an established veteran to compete for minutes with Kennard. Yes, that means, I am off of the Justice Winslow train, even though the Clippers signed him about two weeks ago. They did draft Keon Johnson and Brandon Boston Jr. but I don’t think either will be ready to play and make an impact immediately in the NBA.
Last season, Kennard did not have the season that many expected him to, as he averaged just 8.3 points per game, his lowest scoring output since his rookie season when he averaged 7.6 points per game for the Detroit Pistons. With Kawhi Leonard gone, the Clippers will need to replace almost 30 points per game on offense, and Kennard, along with some other young Clippers, will have as good a chance as any to step in and replace this production.
In 2019-2020, Kennard averaged 15.8 points per game on 44.2% shooting from the floor, and 39.9% from three with 2.6 made triples per game in 32.9 minutes. I don’t expect Kennard to get back to 32.9 minutes per game, but I do expect it to be more than the 19.0 per game that he played last season, and if he can get to about the 26-28 minute mark, I think he could see decent spikes in his production that could mirror that of his 19-20 campaign.