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Breakout free agents for 2012-13 [ESPN Insider]

Discussion in 'Houston Rockets: Game Action & Roster Moves' started by moali85, Jul 7, 2012.

  1. moali85

    moali85 Member

    Jun 26, 2008
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    Ah, the pitfalls of NBA free agency. If you target an established player, the odds are that you're paying for production they put up in the past, as a member of another team, not the performance you can expect from them going forward. Then again, take a flier on a young, untested player, and you never know what you might end up with.

    The best-case scenario, though, would be to snag a player right as he's on the verge of a breakout season. You'd be paying for a résumé that still can't command big money, and the player's best years would be in the future. Of course, that's obviously a lot easier said than done -- every GM in the game would prefer to sign players before they break out.

    Fortunately, we can use history as a guide to narrow down the list of free agents and identify potential 2012-13 breakout players.

    First, what exactly is a "breakout season"? Everyone's mileage varies a bit, but for this study, my working definition was the first season of a player's career in which he posted either a 3.5 Value Over Replacement Player (according to Daniel Myers' plus/minus-based VORP system), 8.4 Estimated Wins Added (John Hollinger's wins created metric), or 7.0 Win Shares (Basketball-Reference's individual wins metric). (I picked those thresholds because they roughly correspond to the numbers it takes to rank among the league's top 50 players.)

    Looking at the stats for players who began their careers after 1977, about 60 percent of breakout seasons take place at ages 22-25. Of those, more than half happen when a player is either 23 or 24. Also, 77 percent of breakout years happen in the first four years of a player's career, with 50 percent coming in either his second or third year. And in terms of production that portends a breakout, over 70 percent of breakout seasons were preceded by years with either 2 VORP, 4 EWA, or 4 WS (prorated to an 82-game schedule).

    According to these benchmarks, here are the free agents most likely to break out in 2013:

    Jeremy Lin
    2013 Age: 24 | 2012 Team: New York Knicks
    Interested teams: Knicks, Rockets, Mavericks

    Because he didn't play enough, Lin didn't technically qualify as a "breakout" player last season according to my definition of the term. Subjectively, you can make a great case that Lin has already broken out in a big way, reaching astronomical levels of global popularity after starring for the Knicks in February and March. However, it's also worth remembering that he still has suited up for just 64 career NBA games (just 35 of which were part of his mega-productive 2012 campaign).

    At any rate, if Lin is fully recovered from the torn meniscus he suffered last season, he's all but guaranteed to earn breakout statistical status in 2013. As Nate Silver noted at the height of Linsanity, a stretch like Lin had is almost always indicative of an eventual All-Star caliber player.

    JaVale McGee
    2013 Age: 25 | 2012 Teams: Washington Wizards, Denver Nuggets
    Interested teams: Nuggets

    Among casual NBA fans, McGee is probably best known for his tendency to create humorous YouTube clips, but he's also a prime candidate for breakout production next season. As idiosyncratic as his game is, McGee is an extremely athletic 7-footer who will still be just 25 years old next year (remember, that was one of the most common ages for a breakout season), and he had an impressive 19.9 PER in 2012.

    McGee has his flaws, including a highly questionable basketball IQ, a still-raw offensive game, and a poor defensive plus/minus that belies his reputation as a shot-blocking machine. But he's a great bet to put up strong per-minute numbers and, if given enough playing time, that should allow him to easily crack the breakout list.

    Nicolas Batum
    2013 Age: 24 | 2012 Team: Portland Trail Blazers
    Interested teams: Blazers, Minnesota Timberwolves

    If it feels like Batum has been on the verge of a breakout for several years now, that's not an inaccurate impression, and Minnesota has taken notice, agreeing to terms with Batum on an offer sheet Thursday.

    After missing the entire first half of the season with an injured shoulder, Batum had a strong finish to 2010 and seemed poised to make the proverbial leap in 2011. Instead, he put up solid but unspectacular numbers (for instance, a 14.8 PER) that year, and he was somewhere in between during the lockout-shortened 2012 campaign.

    At 24, though, it's time for Batum to emerge as the player he's been promising to become. He'll never be an elite scorer, and his defense is worse than his physical tools would suggest, but he's a good shooter and remains an efficient offensive player despite gradually increasing his usage rate. Most players who met his statistical benchmarks at a similar age found themselves on the breakout list soon thereafter.

    Danny Green
    2013 Age: 25 | 2012 Team: San Antonio Spurs
    Interested teams: Spurs

    In many ways, Green's breakout came a year ago, when the former Slovenian leaguer emerged as a starter for a Spurs team that made the conference finals and had the equivalent of 62 wins in an 82-game season.

    However, the numbers suggest that there's still room for Green to improve in 2013 -- or at least maintain his per-minute rates in enough playing time to post breakout-level counting stats. Green isn't a go-to guy offensively, but he's a worthwhile all-around player because he's a good shooter who spaces the floor well and plays solid defense. The team that signs him is likely to see the most productive season of his career in terms of total value.

    O.J. Mayo
    2013 Age: 25 | 2012 Team: Memphis Grizzlies
    Interested teams: Indiana Pacers, New Orleans Hornets, Houston Rockets

    Mayo has never really delivered on the potential scouts saw in him when he was the nation's top high school prospect in 2007 (ranking ahead of Derrick Rose, James Harden, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Eric Gordon, among others) and the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft (taken directly before Russell Westbrook). He's produced average-at-best numbers thus far in his pro career.

    Despite that track record, though, Mayo is still just 25 and is coming off a season in which he met the benchmarks that usually precede a breakout year. Granted, you could have said the same thing about Mayo going into 2011 (he instead turned in a mediocre season), but he's a more well-rounded player now, and at the very least, a team will get value from his sheer durability -- he has only missed 11 games in his four-year NBA career. Another bonus is that gaudy recruiting ranking, since there's evidence that a player's standing out of high school does have some lasting predictive power for his NBA ceiling. If Mayo is ever going to deliver on that promise, 2013 is probably the year he starts doing it.

    Landry Fields
    2013 Age: 24 | 2012 Team: Knicks
    Interested teams: Toronto Raptors, Knicks

    Although Toronto's three-year, $20 million "poison pill" offer sheet to Fields looks rather bloated, especially in light of Steve Nash's decision to spurn the Raptors and go to the Los Angeles Lakers, there's a reasonable chance he puts together a breakout year soon. Fields can be drastically overrated by the stats community's radical fringe for his rebounding and -- at least when he was a rookie -- his sky-high offensive efficiency (a number that was propped up by an incredibly low usage rate and the fact that 70 percent of his field goals were assisted), so let's dispel the laughable notion that Fields is a star.

    Having said that, he's also much better than his lifetime 12.9 PER would have you believe. No, he's never going to be a scorer, but his 3-point and free throw shooting numbers should bounce back to more resemble his 2011 form, his defense is above-average (particularly against SFs), and his rebounding does add some value. Plus, like Mayo, he's durable, never having missed a game in his career thus far. At 24, he should continue to improve and peak as an above-average all-around player in the next few years.

    It can be difficult to sign free agents before they have breakout seasons, but history says teams should target players going into their early-to-mid 20s, preferably after they've already established a decent baseline of statistical production in their first handful of years in the NBA. The players listed meet all of those criteria, which make them the best free-agent bets to break out in the 2012-13 season.
  2. chapinha_br

    chapinha_br Member

    Feb 27, 2012
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