NBA: Western Conference Breakout Players
By: Mike Moreau
The Western Conference All-Breakout Team has a different look with players who all have already played vital roles, rookies ready to step up, and players who had potential breakout seasons derailed by injuries or circumstances. (Check out the East picks here.)
Andrew Bynum: 13.1 Points, 10.2 Rebounds, 28 Minutes
By the time the Lakers were in the playoffs, many fans outside of L.A. had forgotten just what a monster year Bynum was putting together before his January injury ended his season. He had been on a steady improvement curve: from 11.4 points on 59% shooting in November to 13.9 points on 66% shooting in December to January's 17.3 points on 70% shooting.
Bynum was beginning to dominate, as illustrated by three games over a 20-day period in which he had 24 points and 11 rebounds against the Sixers, 28 and 12 against Phoenix, and 25 and 17 against Milwaukee – on 31 of 37 shooting. That's 83% from the field. His field goal percentage of 63.6 for the year may just be the tip of the iceberg.
Whether catching lobs, dunking offensive rebounds, or scoring all over the place in the low post, there is no telling how different the NBA Finals would have been if Kendrick Perkins and P.J Brown would have had to deal with Bynum.
If he's healthy, he's an All-Star. Superman better hold onto his cape when the Lakers come to Orlando on December 20th.
Randy Foye: 13.1 Points, 4.2 Assists, 32 Minutes
After making the All-Rookie Team in 06-07, Foye's second season was derailed with a pre-season knee injury keeping him out of the line-up until late January. His 15 points per game on 52% shooting in the last month of his rookie year were probably a good indication of what was to come.
Foye shot 41% from three as a rookie, and shot 43% last year in his 39 games. His assortment of pull-up jumpers and runners give him a variety of ways to score. He got things going toward the end of last season, averaging 18.4 points per game in April on 45% shooting.
Although he has been more of a scorer than a facilitator, the additions of Mike Miller and Kevin Love give Foye more weapons around him, which could lead to more assists, more efficiency and more wins for the T'wolves.
John Salmons: 12.5 Points, 4.3 Rebounds, 31 Minutes
Salmons blew out of the gates last year, averaging 20.7 points per game in the first 7 games of the season. Call this the "Pre-Ron-Ron" phase. In Ron Artest's first game back, Salmons got four shots and the breakout season skidded to a halt.
Then Kevin Martin went down with an injury in December, missing 17 games, and Salmons was back on a tear – averaging 19.5 points per game during that stretch. Call this the "Without Kevin" phase.
Once Martin returned and got his legs back, Salmons went back to single-digit shot attempts and playing time in the 20's, although he did finish the season averaging 19.6 points on 50% shooting in the last five games of the year.
Salmons is a slashing, attacking scorer, who statistically still had the best season of his career last year. With Artest now gone to Houston, Salmons and Martin could make up one of the most explosive scoring tandems in the NBA next season.
Last year's January 14th 122-120 win over Dallas could be a preview of things to come. In a game that Artest did not play, Salmons and Martin combined for 61 points with Salmons hitting the game winning runner at the buzzer. Expect more of the same this season.
Jeff Green: 10.5 Points, 4.7 Rebounds, 28 Minutes
With all of the attention given to Kevin Durant, Green was the forgotten man on a dreadful team but laid the groundwork for what could be his breakout season.
His scoring average climbed and production rose from 11 points in February to 12.8 in March to 15.9 in April. His 35 points against Denver and 27 points against Golden State the last month of the season showed that he can score against teams that don't defend, but better production and efficiency will come in his second season.
Wildly athletic and versatile, he must finish plays more consistently. He has already shown signs he is ready for a big year, as he averaged 22.8 per game in the Orlando Summer League, made the First Team, and had a presence and demeanor fans in Oklahoma City should love.
Al Thornton: 12.7 Points, 4.5 Rebounds, 27 Minutes
He was a bright spot on a bad team, and showed glimpses throughout the year of the potential scoring explosions to come.
Thornton had games of 25 points against San Antonio, 33 against Atlanta, and 39 against Memphis, and averaged 26.0 points over a four-game stretch in March on 51% shooting and 26-29 from the line.
Thornton can score off a one- and two-dribble attack, can face up, post up and aggressively finish in the lane and around the basket.
With Corey Maggette gone, all of the small forward minutes belong to Thornton. If the chemistry is there with Baron Davis, Thornton could be prepared to wreak havoc on the league this season.