2012 has been one of the most memorable NBA years in the history of the league. Between LeBron James’s successful capture of his first championship, superstars like Dwight Howard, Steve Nash, Ray Allen, and James Harden finding new homes, veteran teams showing no remorse, the emergence of Kevin Durant, and a new wave of electrifying rookies, the NBA is nearing its peak. As we enter the beginning of the 2012-2013 NBA season, fans and critics tend to throw around names that either live up to the hype, or fail to even match it. In this article, we will be taking a look at three NBA players who I predict will have breakout years in this upcoming season.
1. O.J. Mayo - Dallas MavericksFirst off, O.J. Mayo has been one of my favorite players since he first emerged on the scene during his senior year at North College Hill High School in Ohio. Described as a “high school phenom,” Mayo drew in crowds comparable to LeBron back when he played at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School. In fact, LeBron and Carmelo Anthony even attended a few of his games. After an incredible amount of publicity just in high school, Mayo then committed to USC (University of Southern California) to become the star of there basketball team. After spending just one season at USC, Mayo ran into trouble with the NCAA for receiving improper benefits. Nevertheless, Mayo was still selected with the 3rd overall pick of the 2008 NBA draft by the Minnesota Timberwolves. Within a day, he and Kevin Love headlined a trade with the Memphis Grizzlies that sent him to Memphis. In his rookie season he came in second for Rookie of the Year behind Derrick Rose. From then on, the Grizzlies lost trust in Mayo, and decided to build there team around UCONN forward Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol, and Mike Conley. Mayo was virtually shut out of the system, and played an unnecessary sixth man role for the Grizzlies. Fans and critics questioned the Grizzlies for shutting down such a promising talent, and it became evident that Mayo’s time in Memphis was about to expire. The Dallas Mavericks, who although won the championship two years ago, lost most of its starting core outside of Dirk Nowitzki, which made them clear out a ton of cap room to try and go after superstar point guard Deron Williams. Mark Cuban and his Mavericks failed to acquire any big name players. Instead, they signed two skilled veteran big men, Elton Brand and Chris Kaman, traded for up and coming Indiana Pacer point guard Darren Collison, and eventually signed Mayo.
Now under a starting role at the shooting guard position, O.J. Mayo is currently headlining a Dallas Mavericks squad that includes point guard Darren Collison, small forward Shawn Marion, power forward Elton Brand, and center Chris Kaman. With Dirk Nowitizki injured for the beginning of the season, and Vince Carter, Brandan Wright, and Troy Murphy coming off the bench, the Dallas Mavericks are a dark horse team this year. Before I explain why Mayo will be so successful, let me explain to you what makes the Mavericks such a good team this year, even without Dirk. In a Western Conference that fears Dwight Howard and the Lakers, the Mavericks have two big men in Brand and Kaman that can help lock down “superman.” They have a young frontline that can push the ball, and they have big named veterans who can help win games in close, tough situations. Mayo’s ability to create shots for himself, and make plays happen around him will be fully exposed in this new offense. He will be able to make more plays without having the stress behind him of Rudy Gay, and he will have a team that stands behind him. This new-look Maverick’s team is committed to winning, and Mark Cuban will take the right steps to put talent around Mayo, not replace him like they did in Memphis. I expect big things coming from Mayo this year, including over 20 points per game, a potential all star slot, and a possible comeback player of the year award. Watch as O.J. Mayo creates big things for himself this year, and helps make the Mavericks a deep threat in the playoffs.
2. Kemba Walker - Charlotte BobcatsLast year Kemba Walker was my pick for rookie year. And if you may have forgotten who Kemba Walker is, here’s a little refresher for you: Kemba Walker was the star point guard of the UCONN Huskies, where he led them to a victory in the 2011 NCAA tournament. Kemba was drafted in the following year with the 9th overall pick. Kemba’s athleticism, speed, killer crossover, and outstanding leadership allowed him to be one of the most popular players in college basketball. In his rookie season, he fell short to the Cavaliers’ Kyrie Iriving, and the Timberwolves’ Ricky Rubio. Although, the Bobcats record setting terrible season may have contributed to the destruction of his rookie of the year campaign. Kemba showed some promise near the end of last season when he began to record multiple double digit scoring games. You may also not have known that last season Kemba became only the third player in Bobcats history to ever record a triple-double. Coming into this 2012 season, he has earned his shot to take over as starting point guard. With D.J. Augustin gone, the point guard who took a lot of Kemba’s minutes last year, Kemba is coming into a completely refreshed offense. Also Kemba received some help in this years draft when the Bobcats selected Kentucky’s star leader Michael Kidd-Gilchrist with the 2nd overall pick.
Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Bobcats have a completely new look after the past two drafts and some trades. As Kemba Walker takes over the starting point guard position, and becomes the leader of this team, he has finally received some assistance that will help the Bobcats recover from their horrific 2011-2012 season. Besides Michael Kidd-Gilchrist at the small forward position, Kemba now has experienced shooting guard Ben Gordon, a multitude of weapons at the power forward position that include Byron Mullens, Tyrus Thomas, and Hakim Warrick, centers Brendan Haywood and sophomore rebounding machine Bismack Biyombo, and backup point guard Ramon Sessions. Kemba now has some weapons to work with. And on top of his new and improved team, the even better news for this determined rookie is that he is now the leader of this team. With guys who want to win, I expect Kemba to become a double-double machine. I can see Kemba averaging around 20 points per game, and also having about 7 assists per game. Kemba has the leadership, and possibly the talent around him to finally lift the Bobcats record of over .500. As Kemba’s numbers continue to increase, there is potential for the Bobcats to maybe, just maybe, get the 7th or 8th seed this year in the playoffs.
This former Webber State University point guard has jumped into big shoes as he attempts to help fill the missing pieces in the Trail Blazer’s pursuit to make the playoffs. Damian Lillard was selected with high hopes as the 6th overall pick in this years NBA draft. The first point guard to be taken off the board in the 2012 draft, Lillard can mostly be noted for his great ball handling, and spectacular game in the pick and roll offense. The pick and roll offense has become a pivotal aspect of the NBA game, and Lillard’s potential in this offense is through the roof. Lillard comes into a Trail Blazer team that is filled with a ton of questions marks, except for there all-star power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is a monster on the boards and in the post. Last year he averaged a career high 20.8 points per game, and tied his career rebounding average with 7.5 rebounds per game. His game is only getting better, and ESPN ranked him the 20th best player in the league overall. Some analysts even go as far to call Aldridge the “most underrated player in the league.” If Aldridge wants to climb the rankings even higher, he needs a point guard of Lillard’s caliber. Lillard and Aldridge have the potential to run one of the NBA’s most lethal pick and rolls. Lillard is far more than just an excellent ball handler and deadly accurate passer, he can also shoot. With Aldridge who can score in the post, and hit the mid range jumper, so many things can happen through this offense. One of the most important things that will spell either success or failure as a rookie depends on the setting they come into. Lillard couldn’t come into a more perfect setting, and I can see a lot of great things happening in the Trail Blazers offense. A possible 7th or 8th seed, the Trail Blazers really have a year or two more before the pressure is on them. But there is nothing to suggest that the Trail Blazers success can’t start now. With Lillard and Aldridge getting better together every single night, not only may you see these two all over the highlight reel, but you may see the Trail Blazers find there niche and sneak into the playoffs.