Terry Rozier: Boston Celtics-
Rozier possesses great athleticism at the point guard position with good size at 6’2”, 190 pounds and blazing speed. In the summer league, Rozier showed an improved jump shot while averaging 19.2 points, six rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. He seemed to have a lot more confidence than during his rookie season, when he rarely saw the floor. Should Rozier continue to play at this increased level, coach Brad Stevens will need to find room for the second year guard from Louisville in the rotation, despite having Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Smart on the roster. Rozier will have to maintain his increased level of play if he wants to see the floor with Boston’s revamped roster setting up the Celtics for a title run.
Jerian Grant: Chicago Bulls-
Grant may be stuck behind Rajon Rondo on Chicago’s point guard depth chart right now; but there is a reason that Rondo’s deal is only for two years. Grant is one of the bigger point guards in the NBA at 6’4”, 195 and has elite athleticism to defend both backcourt positions. In addition to Grant’s athletic ability, he is very smart with the ball, only averaging 2.2 turnovers during his career at Notre Dame. Grant averaged 12.7 points, 2.9 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game during the summer league and is comfortable driving to rim or taking shots at both the perimeter and mid-range. Grant should take a nice step forward in his backup role this season and next before taking over for a departing Rondo in 2018.
Stanley Johnson: Detroit Pistons-
Johnson entered the NBA last season in the mold of a potential Jimmy Butler or Kawhi Leonard type of player. Johnson may never be as good as Leonard, but he possesses the ability to defend multiple positions with his 6’7”, 245 pounds frame. Johnson struggled to finish at the rim and with his perimeter shooting last season, in a similar manner that Butler, Draymond Green, and Paul George did in their rookie seasons. All of those players, including Leonard have worked their tails off to improve their all-around games and are among the game’s best two-way players. Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy has praised Johnson for his work ethic and constant willingness to improve his game. The Pistons are an extremely young and talented team and I think Johnson’s improvement on the offensive end could be instrumental in them taking the next step.
Dennis Schroder: Atlanta Hawks-
Schroder is probably the most likely of the candidates to breakout. The Hawks traded Jeff Teague to the Pacers in the offseason, allowing Schroder to step into the starting point guard role. He averaged 11 points, 4.4 assists, and 2.6 rebounds per game while playing only 20 minutes a game. Schroder should see those numbers undergo a vast increase with Teague out of the picture. Schroder still needs to develop a reliable jumper but his skill set should mesh well with new center Dwight Howard in pick-and-roll situations. Despite the departures of Teague and Al Horford, the Hawks still want to be competitive in an improved Easter Conference and Schroder could very well be the key to their offense taking a step forward despite their losses.
Harrison Barnes: Dallas Mavericks-
Barnes did not have the best of games while up 3-1 in the NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors. As Golden State blew a 3-1 lead, Barnes shot just 5-32. When Kevin Durant left Oklahoma City for the Warriors, it was time for Barnes to go. In Dallas, he will be relied upon to be a number one scoring option for coach Rick Carlisle and veteran Dirk Nowitzki. Barnes was a solid catch-and-shoot player with the Warriors last season, but he won’t have the clean looks he got while playing with Steph Curry and Klay Thompson. At 6’8”, 225 pounds, Barnes has the size and athleticism to be an elite scorer from deep and getting to the basket. If he works on becoming a distributor as well, then he could blossom into an All-Star.