Training camps are starting, and now that the Damian Lillard saga has concluded, all eyes turn to James Harden's holdout. Since he's not reporting to the Sixers, I'll refocus the attention on players poised to break out this season in fantasy basketball. In this series, I'll discuss why certain players fit the breakout profile, and today, I'm kicking things off with the breakout guards.
The term "breakout" is defined differently across the fantasy community. I'm using breakout to describe players who have yet to finish in the top 75, should exceed their average draft position (ADP) and see a boon in minutes and opportunity. You won't see players like Anthony Edwards, Desmond Bane or Tyrese Maxey because they don't meet the criteria.
OK, so if I'm not going to rep those guys, who's left?
Cade Cunningham, PG/SG, Detroit Pistons (39.3 ADP)
Tyrese Haliburton and Anthony Edwards were two popular third-year breakout candidates last season. They didn't disappoint, as Haliburton finished ninth in per-game value, and Ant-man finished 43rd. This year's third-year breakout is Cade Cunningham. I was high on him last year, but injuries prevented what could've been.
He's a stat stuffer who generates a ton of counting stats on offense and defense. It's wild to think that he was one of six players in NBA history to average at least 17 points, five rebounds, five assists, one steal and 0.5 blocks in their rookie season. I'm not saying he's going to be Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan or LeBron James, but he has the profile of a top-20 fantasy player in points and category leagues — and if he improves his field goal percentage with a reduction of turnovers, possibly better.
He only suited up for 12 games last season, but in those games, he raised his points (19.9), rebounds (6.2) and assists (6.0) from his rookie campaign. That's encouraging, but I also like that he's had a usage rate of over 27% in his first two seasons — a trend I expect to continue and grow.
And by the way Cade looked this summer, this guy is someone you'll want to draft within the first three rounds. It might seem high, but it might undersell his potential with a revamped Pistons' roster, plus the addition of notable HC in Monty Williams. At 22, he's already dictating the pace and flow of the game, gets to his spots and uses his size to take advantage of smaller guards. Bold prediction: Cade Cunningham is a breakout and an All-Star in Year 3.
Jordan Poole, PG/SG, Washington Wizards (50.4 ADP)
It doesn't matter what Poole said to Draymond Green that would eventually get him shipped to Washington — he's now the highest-paid player on the Wizards and in a position to become one of the league's top bucket-getters.
Poole's had success as a starter when given the opportunity, averaging 21.3 points, 3.2 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.9 3s and 0.9 steals per game with a 28% usage rate and 43/35/90 shooting splits across 115 contests in his four-year career. Of course, that includes last season's 26-game run with Stephen Curry out of the lineup, where those numbers jumped to averaging 26 points with five assists, three boards, three triples, 34% usage rate, and 42/31/88 shooting splits.
The Wizards have no shot creators outside of Kyle Kuzma, so Poole will have the greenest of lights, play 33+ minutes per night and have the ball in his hands significantly.
— Golden State Warriors (@warriors) August 10, 2022
The Wizards' depth isn't great either, and presumed backup SG Landry Shamet will miss 2-4 weeks with a toe injury. He's going to be great for points leagues and even if he struggles with his efficiency and turnovers, he should still be a valuable contributor for category formats with his scoring, 3s, assists and free throw percentage. The Wizards aren't a good basketball team, but Poole will average at least 25 points with five assists this season and have his best fantasy campaign yet.
Jalen Green, PG/SG, Houston Rockets (78.2 ADP)
There's been a lot of turmoil in Houston that's impacted Green's development. While his production indicates some areas of improvement from Year 1 to Year 2 (higher points, rebounds and assists) — he played more minutes, but his efficiency dropped and he didn't do much defensively.
Well, it's a new season, and the stars are finally aligning for the three-year pro. Green has a new defensive-minded head coach; he gained valuable experience playing for the USA Select Team this summer and will be playing with a veteran and former champion in the backcourt this season — Fred VanVleet.
Everything here screams maturation and growth, so I'm projecting a breakout for Green. He's been solid for points leagues because he's a microwave bucket and three-level type of scorer, but he's been inconsistent for category leagues. He averaged five more points from his rookie to sophomore season. Yet, he's never eclipsed the top 190 in category leagues because of his inefficiencies and inability to generate consistent counting stats. While some are down on him, the upside is bright. He was second in free-throws attempted and made per game amongst SGs last season, and as much as he's labeled a chucker, he's a competent passer when he's under control and not settling for contested shots.
Ime Udoka on Jalen Green next season:
“(Jalen Green’s) a natural scorer but we want him to do everything.
We want a guy that’s as talented as him to be more well rounded and that’ll be the challenge for him.”#Rockets pic.twitter.com/mxipRoxXMr
— Bradeaux (@BradeauxNBA) October 2, 2023
Effort sometimes goes a long way. I legitimately think he was checked out and going through the motions in a lost season where Houston was vying for a high-draft pick. But that changes with Ime Udoka in town. The Rockets made a concerted effort in free agency and the draft to bolster their defense. And that commitment to defense will be big for Green's fantasy stock. For Green to take the leap I'm anticipating, he'll need to shoot at least 45% from the field, and average 24 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists with a steal. That puts him in the Zach LaVine territory and a top-60 player. We could be looking at the Most Improved Player if this occurs.
Devin Vassell, SG/SF, San Antonio Spurs (72.0 ADP)
Victor Wembanyama is rightfully getting much of the attention in San Antonio. However, the player that will benefit the most from Wemby's arrival is Devin Vassell, who the Spurs agreed with on a $146M extension on Monday. He's entering his fourth NBA season and has largely flown under the radar because the Spurs have been awful since he arrived in 2020-21. He's one of the few Spurs who can create his own shot and is also an underrated defender who's averaged 1.5 stocks over the past two seasons.
He's quietly improved offensively year-over-year, raising his scoring average by nearly six points each of the last two seasons (up to 18.5 ppg last season), along with gradual increases in his efficiency with increased volume. He's a three-level scorer, but there's room for improvement if he can draw more fouls and get to the line. If he does that, he'll crossover the 20-point threshold easily.
The scoring potential is evident, but I'm more excited about how his playmaking will factor into his breakout. His usage rate was over 24% last season (second on the team), and even though he appeared in only 39 games (32 starts), he succeeded in the limited time he was on the court as a facilitator.
His assists jumped from 1.9 in 2022 to 3.6 last season, and he impressively maintained a relatively low 1.5 turnover rate per game. He tied with Devonte Graham in points per possession (1.02) as the pick-and-roll (PnR) ball handler and did it at the second-highest frequency on the team, behind starting PG Tre Jones. And that was with a suspect frontcourt — imagine him running PnRs with Wemby and Zach Collins for an entire season.
Given his elite shooting on the wing (39% on 3s with seven attempts per game), ability to handle the ball and defensive prowess, he's nearly a lock to outperform his ADP. Factor in playing with a young and talented team like the Spurs and Vassell is on track to put up the best numbers of his career and potentially a top-60 finish.