Last season, Jeremy Lin coming out of nowhere (and the ensuing Linsanity) was the perfect headlining story for a crazy, compacted season. Lin was absolutely the breakout star of the year, but we also saw Ersanity (Ersan Ilyasaova) become a thing — at least in Milwaukee, anyway. And Kevin Love’s nightly performances? Just good old-fashioned insanity.
But now it’s time to move on. LeBron got his ring, and a new season with fresh storylines and a new cast of characters awaits us. Which breakout stars will take the league by storm this year? Here’s a look at the 2012-2013 All-Breakout Team:
PG: Jeff Teague, Atlanta Hawks
Where have we seen a player like this before? Blazing speed. Killer floater in the lane. Undersized. Rough as a distributor and distance shooter, but a natural scorer around the rim. That’s right — Jeff Teague is the closest thing we’ve got to the next Tony Parker, and maybe it’s not a coincidence that both players had nearly identical numbers through their first three seasons in every way. With Iso Joe Johnson moved on to Brooklyn, more than ever Atlanta’s offense will revolve around Teague in the pick-and-roll , and he’s got two of the best dance partners you could ask for in Josh Smith and Al Horford. Add in two elite spot-up 3-point shooters to the mix with Anthony Morrow and Kyle Korver, and all of a sudden Teague could be orchestrating one of the league’s most surprising offenses while still putting up big scoring numbers of his own.
SG: Paul George, Indiana Pacers
George is almost too good to be true, isn’t he? It’s like he was created in a factory. Size? George is 6-foot-9 with arms for days. Athleticism? He can jump out of the gym, even when you turn the lights off. Skills? George is so smooth and effortless with the ball that he almost looks aloof before his incredible athleticism just pops up on you, which is eerily reminiscent of another talented big wing, Tracy McGrady. If George can continue his sweet shooting from the outside this season (38.5 percent from deep) and force the action a little more, he could make a potential playoff meeting with Dwyane Wade and LeBron James very, very interesting.
SF: Danilo Gallinari, Denver Nuggets
You’ve probably seen Gallinari’s name on lists like this before, but this is the year it all comes together. The addition of Andre Iguodala (and getting Wilson Chandler back) may scare some away, but Iguodala is a natural distributor who should help free Gallinari for more open looks than he’s seen in previous years. This is also a vote of confidence in George Karl, who will have the Nuggets play at a breakneck pace and may even toss Gallinari at the 4 for extended periods, where he’ll be a foul-drawing machine with his quick first step against slower big men. Already a solid defender and scorer, Gallinari just needs to get his shot dialed in to make the leap to the next level. While the 44 percent clip from behind the arc he posted in his rookie year is probably unreachable, Gallinari may be the Nuggets top outside shooter this season — meaning we’ll see lots of 3-point attempts supplemented by the usual steady diet of trips to the line. There’s no quicker path to a hefty PPG average than that.
PF: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors
Bargnani came out of the gates smoking hot last year, scoring over 30 points in four of his first 13 contests while — and you might want to sit down for this — putting in solid effort defensively. That’s the thing with Bargnani — his value is always hotly contested, as he routinely gets killed for what he’s not (a passable rebounder or defender) instead of praised for what he is (an incredible shot-creator) just because of his height. While those arguments won’t subside anytime soon, Bargnani is quietly gearing up to finish what he started at the beginning of last year. Fortunately, Toronto has an improved team defense (12th in defensive efficiency last year) and he’ll get lots of help with Jonas Valanciunas next to him, a true big that lives for rim runs and paint protection. Throw in Kyle Lowry, the first player Bargnani has played with who can actually draw in a defense, and the Raptors could be a playoff team. And if that happens? It’s going to be awfully hard to ignore the guy scoring over 20 points per game — shoddy rebounding or not.
C: DeMarcus Cousins, Sacramento Kings
Cousins is almost cursed with too much talent — instead of making things easy for himself at the rim, he’ll often attempt a tougher, more skilled move and as a result wind up taking a more difficult shot. With that said, quick feet, soft hands, and great vision aren’t bad things to pack on a 6-foot-11, 270 pound frame, and it’s just a matter of time before Cousins harnesses his wide set of skills to dominate the league. Cousins already does dominate in a few categories — he led the league in offensive rebounds and offensive fouls drawn, which may surprise some people who think he’s just a big, lazy lug. The opposite is true — Cousins plays the game with relentless fire and has rivalries brewing with, oh, just about half of the Western Conference. If he can simply learn to stay out of foul trouble and convert more easy chances at the rim, the “Griffin or Love?” question will suddenly have to include Cousins.