Photo: Celtics’ Jeff Green (8) brings the ball up the court. (AP/Chuck Burton)
We all saw how Paul George, Larry Sanders and Greivis Vasquez took the league by surprise by showing huge strides last season. Given bigger roles and more minutes to strut their stuff, the trio showed noticeable improvements and helped their teams survive the tough NBA grind.
Who would be this season's breakout player? We look at 15 players who we think will be given the chance to deliver more for their respective teams as the stakes get higher in the world's biggest basketball league.
11. John Henson, Milwaukee Bucks
2012-13 stats: 6.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 0.7 blocks, 48.2% FG shooting
Projected stats: 12.1 points, 11.4 rebounds, 1.6 blocks, 49.8% FG shooting
Milwaukee isn't one of the teams you'll be watching for this season, but if you stumble upon a Bucks game, then go look for their beanpole of a forward in Henson, who will be pairing up with Larry Sanders to form one of the most exciting young frontcourts in the NBA.
Henson isn't the most skilled big man around, but he is long, athletic and can punish lumbering opponents with speed and power. Matched up against Tim Duncan in a regular season game last season, the North Carolina product impressed with 20 points on 10 of 11 shooting and nine rebounds in just 23 minutes.
In 13 games where he played at least 20 minutes, Henson normed 13.5 points on 51.4% shooting, 11.9 rebounds and 1.8 blocks -- numbers that he would probably be posting more regularly under coach Larry Drew in the next tournament.
12. Jeff Green, Boston Celtics
2012-13 stats: 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 0.8 steals, 46.7% FG shooting
Projected stats: 17.4 points, 6.4 rebounds, 0.4 steals, 45.2% FG shooting
Boston is in full rebuilding mode and looking at the Celtics' roster, there is no other option on offense as reliable as Green. And after gallantly fighting from a heart surgery to return to the NBA, we would all be rooting for the Maryland native to succeed next season.
He will definitely do better than his production last season, and would be given a lot of chances to deliver for new coach Brad Stevens, who might not have a bevy of choices especially with Rajon Rondo's return from a torn ACL still hazy.
Green has sort of rediscovered his shooting touch from downtown and expect him to be the focal point of Boston's offense in a season expected to be one of the worst in Celtic lore.
13. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
2012-13 stats: 8.6 points, 4.0 rebounds, 1.0 steals, 46.7% FG shooting
Projected stats: 13.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.6 steals, 47.5% FG shooting
Butler emerged as one of the most reliable contributors for Chicago last season, especially in the playoffs where we saw him blossom into a primetime performer who can stuff the highlight reel with exciting plays.
He could be more lethal in this coming tournament, with former NBA MVP Derrick Rose ready to essay bullet passes to him in the right spots. He definitely won't lead the Bulls in scoring, but he could emerge as the team's third-leading scorer and eventually make Luol Deng expendable.
After all, Butler still has quite a big room for improvement for someone who has already averaged 14.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 steals in April and 13.3 points, 5.2 boards and 1.3 steals in the playoffs against Miami and Brooklyn.
14. JaVale McGee, Denver Nuggets
2012-13 stats: 9.1 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 blocks, 57.5% FG shooting
Projected stats: 14.9 points, 9.9 rebounds, 2.5 blocks, 54.4% FG shooting
When he was traded to Denver, most thought that McGee would see his numbers get an uptick. But the ultra-athletic pogo stick got his rear end handed to him by Kosta Koufos, who started 81 of the 82 games the Nuggets played last season.
As for McGee? He has just started 5 of the 99 outings he played in since being sent to Denver, averaging 9.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and and 1.9 blocks in just 18 minutes of playing time. That's actually a far cry from his last go-around with the Wizards, when he started 40 of 41 games and scored 11.9 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocks.
With Koufos getting sent to Denver and Timofey Mozgov his remaining competitor for the center slot, McGee would surely get more burn and see his numbers rise for Brian Shaw, who would look for the wiry big man to anchor a frontcourt that also features the Manimal, Kenneth Faried.
15. Evan Turner, Philadelphia 76ers
2012-13 stats: 13.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 41.9% FG shooting
Projected stats: 21.5 points, 6.6 rebounds, 5.5 assists, 41.2% FG shooting
The 2010 second overall pick has steadily risen into a dependable shooting guard for the Sixers. And with the team going full blast with their rebuilding efforts, Philadelphia will look for Turner to deliver more for a squad tipped to end with one of the worst records in the NBA this season.
Last year, Turner saw the second-most minutes for the Sixers behind Jrue Holiday and he did not disappoint by delivering career-high numbers across the board. Holiday is gone and he will now have rookie Michael Carter-Williams as his backcourt partner, a change that might lead to Turner looking to create more shots for himself.
His already mediocre shooting percentage might take a hit but this could be the time when Turner finally breaks the 20-point-per-game barrier and cement his status as a reliable offensive dynamo in the big league.