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NBA Breakouts: Underrated Ballers

Some breakout candidates for the 2014/15 Fantasy Basketball season...

Worst hair in the NBA? Probably. Breakout candidate this year? Absolutely.
Worst hair in the NBA? Probably. Breakout candidate this year? Absolutely.
Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports

"That's what I love about these high school girls, man. I get older, they stay the same age." -Matthew McConaughey's character in "Dazed and Confused"

Ah, scouting.

It's that time of year where every Fantasy Basketball manager sees opportunity in every NBA scrub.

Last year's 10-day contract is this year's Most Improved Player. Last year's rookie is this year's MVP.

Well, sorry to break your hearts (again), but it's always better to go proven player instead of this year's "magical find" (in 1-year leagues anyway). The attrition rate is so high among NBA draft picks, try Googling all the draft picks from even a few seasons ago... While some years are obviously better than others, most of the names have you going: "Who the hell is that?"

(Answer: He was a "sleeper" 2 years ago. He's still asleep.)

With that said, players DO break out. Not all of them. I mean, there are only 450 NBA jobs at any given time - with only about 150 or so that matter at all to most Fantasy Basketball managers. But it's pretty tough to secretly find the next big thing in our era of Fantasy sports tweets and bookmarked blog content.

But I'll give you what I got, pimps.

I've tried to find guys that aren't overhyped - and I don't believe Drummond/T-Jones/Henson can fairly be called 'breakout candidates'. They're pretty much broke already. (Broken? Broke out? Breakouted?)

But here are a few young players I like that have not put up the numbers I see for them yet. I expect all to make significant stat jumps this current season.

While the names will be familiar to all hardcore NBA fans, there are some great tips for the more casual (but competitive) Fantasy b-ball GMs out there.

I stand behind my picks, but should none of them actually pan out, I reserve the right to delete this article.

So roll up your sleeves, prep that Watch List and let's take a look at some NBA youngsters who seem destined for greater 2014/15 things...

The Breakouts:

1. Kelly Olynyk, BOS, C

One thing I always look for when evaluating rookies is progression from month to month. Check Kelly's PPG from Dec - April: 6.1, 6.3, 8.4, 9.6, 16.6! In 8 games in April, Kelly's minutes went up to 25:46/game, 16.6 PPG, 54.7 FG%, 1.1 3PM, 80 FT%, 7.3 rebounds, 2.3 APG. Get in on this kid now - before he costs you an arm and a leg. There's opportunity in Boston...

2. Cody Zeller, CHA, PF/C

While Cody Zeller's month to month progression was not as pronounced as Olynyk's, he still showed marked improvement post All-Star game. While the counting stats were similar, Cody averaged 5.0 PPG at 38% FG in the first half. In a similar number of minutes in the 2nd half, Zeller averaged 7.7 PPG shooting 50.7% from the field. That is a HUGE adjustment. 55.8 FG% in March, 51.3 FG% in April. Cody's putting up numbers this year. Don't say I didn't warn you...

3. Terrence Ross, TOR, SG/SF

Dropped 51 in a game, then disappeared in the playoffs. That pretty much describes where T-Ross is at these days: Heaps of unrealized potential, but flashes of brilliance. Take a look at the difference between his rookie season and his sophomore season in a few key stats though: MPG (16:58 year 1, 26:39 year 2), PPG (6.4 year 1, 10.9 year 2), 3PM (0.9 year 1, 2.0 year 2), 3PT% (33.2 year 1, 39.5 year 2), FT% (71.4 year 1, 83.7 year 2). While the other counting stats aren't great, I expect them to go up across the board as his usage increases. The Raptors locked up their core for the next 2/3 years, and there's plenty of room for a swing to put up numbers. Ross is in an ideal position to break out this year...

4. Mason Plumlee, BKN, PF/C

One of the most efficient PLAYERS (not rookies) in the NBA last season. Effective FG % of 65.9 and true shooting % of 67.0, put him in ELITE TERRITORY. While his usage was obviously limited, he still averaged 18 MPG on a contending ball club as a ROOKIE. Not into advanced stats? Check out his traditional stats last April: 79% FG % (that's FIELD GOAL, not free throw %), 6 RPG, 2.5 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.7 BPG in 24:37 MPG. This kid is for real. You're welcome.

5. Trey Burke, UTA, PG

Future leader of their team. While his FG% will likely never be great, check out his April stats last season (in his ROOKIE year): 38:17 MPG, 15.6 PPG, 1.4 3PM, 100% FT (Trey is an ELITE FT shooter), 3 RPG, 9 APG. The kid played THIRTY-EIGHT minutes per game by the end of the season. His assist % was close to top 20 in the league at 29.4, and his USG % was 21.8 (very high). Burke might be the star Utah builds their entire team around. I'm expecting big things out of Trey this year. He could flirt with 20/game, elite FT % and lots of PG counting stat goodies...

6. Giannis Antetokounmpo, MIL, SG/SF

First of all, The "Greek Freak" is the best nickname ever. While I'm usually a stat head, sometimes you really gotta look at anecdotal evidence. Kid is still a TEENAGER (turns 20 in December), is one of the longest GUARDS in the league, and reportedly GREW 2 INCHES since he was drafted. You're talking about a 6'11" guard. And who knows? WHAT IF HE GROWS EVEN MORE? I've seen the kid play, and his nickname is well-earned. One of the most athletic (if raw) talents I've ever seen - especially at the swing position (rumoured to be learning PG). And check out his rookie stats: 24:38 MPG, 6.8 PPG, 0.5 3PM, 34.7 3PT%, 4.4 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.8 SPG, 0.8 BPG. Perfectly respectable rookie numbers with elite counting stat potential. Take into account the fact that he's still learning the North American game after playing overseas, this guy could be a monster. And it could happen this year. (He's an absolute MUST HAVE in dynasty leagues.)

7. Avery Bradley, BOS, PG/SG

While he's not a "breakout" in terms of coming out of nowhere, I expect Avery to put up All-Star calibre numbers this year. Check out his April last year: 22.4 PPG, 47.1 FG%, 3.6 3PM, 92.3 FT%, 4.2 RPG, 2.2 APG, 1.4 SPG. Nuff said. Go get this guy.

8. Tim Hardaway Jr, NY, SG

Tim was pretty solid last year (as a rookie). While he didn't have an increase in efficiency/counting stats as the year progressed, his value was pretty steady all year. That's hard to do as an NBA rookie, and check out what he accomplished: 23:09 MPG, 10.2 PPG, 1.6 3PM, 36.3 3PT%, 82.8 FT%. That's pretty great as a baseline for a freshman. As a trusted part of the rotation already, look for Tim to take the next step up in terms of stats this season.

Honourable mention:
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, DET, SG

While an underrated aspect of KCP's game is that he led the NBA in turnover % last year (5.4) as a rookie, he lit up Summer League in July averaging 24 PPG (also 7.4 RPG and 1.8 SPG). His role is uncertain, but there is upside here.

Otto Porter Jr, WAS, SF

While his rookie season didn't show much, last year's #3 overall pick has a chance to get some minutes this year. Paul Pierce is gonna need piles of rest, and OPJ might get the valuable development time he needs. Far from a guarantee, but there is loads of potential here...

So those are my picks, Fake Teamers.

I hope they all pan out, but pragmatism says they all probably won't. But follow splits closely from month to month to spot the breakouts for yourselves before everybody knows about them, and always target the guys with the most upside. Once they're broken, their price goes up exponentially...

Until Monday, all. Go watch some NBA preseason.