Roundtable: Who From the East Is Set to Breakout?
It’s post all-star break, and teams and players had a few days to rest. We as writers had a couple days/nights of not knowing what to do with ourselves. So, we hit the drawing board to bring you this roundtable! Players breakout all the time, some being role players, others being stars. It’s playoff-push time for some, it's earning a contract for others and for some it's simply about playing dominantly. In this OTG roundtable we talk about which Eastern Conference players we feel are set to breakout.
Jac Manuell - @TheJManJBT
D’Lo finally got back into the starting lineup the other night against the Charlotte Hornets, his first time starting since he came back from knee surgery. The budding Nets’ star has already had some breakout performances, but has struggled for consistency since returning from injury.
His game against the Hornets is an indication of what pundits can expect from Russell going into the meaty part of the season, having posted 19 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists to go with 3 turnovers. Coach Atkinson and the coaching staff would be relatively pleased with that (bar the turnovers) and even more so that Russell also added a block to his stats’ tally. The defense is certainly a work in progress but the potential, especially on the offensive side, is definitely there.
Brooklyn has no reason to tank and with player development a core part of the Nets’ identity look for Russell to be the face of that going forward. If the man with ice in his veins can get back to levels like this, that he was reaching earlier in the season Nets’ staff and fans alike will be more than happy.
Evan Dyal - @EvanDyal
Give me Joel Embiid. I know he is already an all-star, but he is going to be even better down the stretch. He is off to a good start with a 30 point 13 rebound performance in a win at Chicago last tonight. The reason I am optimistic is Embiid is 100 percent and now is playing in back to backs and heavier minutes. Brett Brown trusts him, and Embiid is rewarding him with monster performances. He also is getting better by the game, he is way ahead of where he was at the start of the year. His defensive impact and rim protection are unreal, his passing is underrated, and we all know he can dominate down low. Philly will run the offense through him, and he will deliver. More encouraging is his three-point shot has returned. He was struggling with it at the start of the season, but he hit three last night and is up to 31 percent for the season. Not great, but it was at 26 percent just two months ago. If he is hitting threes, he is unstoppable. Embiid wants the challenge, and I have a feeling he will deliver a few special performances down the stretch as the surging Sixers can climb to high as fifth in the east. His teammate Ben Simmons is also an acceptable answer to this question. Each gets better by the game and are hitting their stride. Watch out!
Dominic Roney - @Domroney
After the Eastern Conference was shook up by the Cleveland Cavaliers on trade deadline day, teams scrambled for free agents. The Atlanta Hawks chose to buyout Marco Belinelli’s contract, leading to the 3-point specialist signing a contract with the Philadelphia 76ers. With the Sixers in the playoff hunt this season, Belinelli could very easily break out and score big points for the team. In his Sixers debut, he led the second unit with 17 points in a win over the Miami Heat. For the season, he is averaging around 11 points a game and shoots 37 percent from the field. He will prove to be an effective off the bench option behind J.J. Redick. Belinelli has been known for being a relatively consistent scorer off the bench and now the 31-year-old shooting guard is playing an important bench role on a playoff contending team. Now more than ever it looks as though he may have an opportunity to play his best basketball. Only time will tell if Philly’s new addition can step up big in the postseason.
Michael Sanchez - @imlaotino
Larry Nance Jr.
He’s just a kid from Akron that came back home. No, he’s not THAT kid from Akron, but Larry Nance Jr. is still an essential piece if the Cavaliers have any chance of breaking their 1 year championship drought. A return home and sudden playoff aspirations should inspire him to play the best ball of his career. It’s all about opportunity, and in Cleveland, he will have the opportunity to play with the best player in the league. Nance Jr. is an adept rim runner who I can see becoming LeBron’s new favorite pick and roll partner. He is also capable of hitting a shot outside of 10 feet, which is more than Tristan Thompson can say. I could even see Nance Jr. replacing Thompson as their primary small ball 5 even when Love comes back. Defensively, he brings the Cavs some much needed athleticism to allow them to be more aggressive in their pick and roll defense. His hustle and offensive rebounding prowess will earn him plenty of minutes down the stretch as the Cavs look to hit their stride in time for the playoffs.
Kory Waldron - @KWalHoops
The Washington Wizards are tough to understand, they had so many bad losses when healthy. Now with John Wall out, they’ve looked the best they have all season. Why? Well, ball movement has been crucial without question and role players have stepped up. In my eyes, it’s been because of the emergence of Bradley Beal as a leader. “Everybody eats”, it’s a saying Beal has been repeating since the Wizards found rhythm and momentum without Wall. Beal is currently averaging 23.7 points, 4.3 assists and 4.5 rebounds. Wall isn’t back yet, the Wizards could fall possibly out of home court advantage prior to his return. However, when Wall returns, the new found playmaking Beal who already has the lethal jumpshot could see his numbers take a further jump. Wall will take pressure off of Beal on both playmaking and scoring, and will open up the floor further. Beal has further time to gain confidence in himself and his teammates, expect the Wizards to continue to play through him the remainder of this season.