Every year, before the season starts, we put together a list of players with a chance to take a major step forward during the season.
Sometimes we nail our picks because they’re too obvious to avoid – think Grayson Allen, Ben Bentil and Dillon Brooks.
Sometimes, we actually look savvy, like when we said Patrick McCaw would be the best player at UNLV.
And then sometimes, we ruin all our credibility by saying Malik Pope could play his way into being a lottery pick.
It’s all a guessing game, really, and we’ll call our guesses quasi-educated.
At any rate, here are the 16 players that we think will be 2016-17’s Breakout Stars.
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Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel, Louisville
Mitchell was one of my favorite players in the Class of 2015, and that did not change during the course of the 2015-16 season. He saw limited minutes early in the year, but by the end of ACC play, he was showing flashes of just how good he can be. Mitchell is a perfect fit for the style that Rick Pitino’s teams play. He’s a strong, athletic combo-guard that is a nightmate defensively and can play both on and off the ball offensively. He needs to get more consistent shooting the ball from the perimeter, but if he does, don’t be shocked to see Mitchell play his way into the mix as a first-team all-ACC candidate.
And, believe it or not, Adel may actually be the better of the two. His freshman season was derailed by injuries, but Adel has been one of the best players in Louisville practices since he arrived on campus. One of the reasons that Pitino brought in a pair of grad transfers for the 2015-16 season was that he knew how good that freshman class would be in time while also being aware of the fact that they needed a year of seasoning at the college level. Adel and Mitchell got that last season. It will pay dividends this year.
Jalen Adams, UConn
Kevin Ollie brought recruited Jalen Adams with the intention of turning over the reins of the program to him eventually. Adams, who hails from the same area of Boston that Shabazz Napier grew up, appears ready to take over that role this year. UConn has an impressive amount of talent on their roster this season, but if the Huskies are going to have a chance to live up to the expectations of that fan base, they are going to need Adams to come-of-age this season. He had an up-and-down freshman year, but there were some performances – 19 points at Cincinnati, 22 points vs. the Bearcats in the AAC tournament, 11 points and eight assists vs. Temple – that showed just how good he can be.
O.G. Anunoby, Indiana
Seeing Anunoby’s name on a list like this shouldn’t shock you, not with the way that he played at the end of last season or with the amount of NBA Draft hype that he has entering this season. But here’s the thing about Anunoby: Part of his appeal as a pro is that he’s an ideal role player. Players that have the size to guard a four, the quickness to guard a one, the ability to knock down threes and attack close outs, and the willingness to accept a role are so valuable. That may as well be a scouting report on Anunoby. So while he projects as a very good pro and should prove that this season, it may not be a situation where that shows up in the box score every night.
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Carlton Bragg, Kansas
Bragg is probably the fifth-most valuable starter on the Jayhawk roster. He’s also a good bet to lead the Jayhawks in scoring this season. The way that the Kansas offense works is that the ball gets funnelled to the guy that can score out of the post. That was Perry Ellis the last three seasons, and Ellis led the Jayhawks in scoring in two of those three years. Bragg may not be as good as Ellis just yet, but he is an adequate replacement given how skilled he is offensively. I wouldn’t be shocked if he averaged 15 points this season.
Edmond Sumner, Xavier
Yes, Sumner was a star last season. Yes, he’s already on the radar of teams drafting in the first round. Yes, he was an all-Big East player as a freshman. But Sumner is no where near a national name at this point, and, quite frankly, he is no where near being a finished product. He’s a guy that’s still learning about to play at his size (6-foot-6) and athleticism thanks to a late growth spurt. Sumner still has plenty of room to get better, and that should be scary.
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse
Lydon is the player that Jim Boeheim has been dreaming about for years. He’s a long, athletic 6-foot-9 shot-blocker that can also step out and knock down threes. I’m not sure that it’s possible to find a player that better fits the way that he plays than Lydon. One interesting thing to watch here: How much will Lydon be able to produce on a team that doesn’t have great point guard play? He’s a shot-maker. He’s not a shot-creator.
Ja’Quan Newton, Miami
Jim Larrañaga’s offense is at its best when it is built around a point guard who thrives in ball-screen actions. It was Shane Larkin in 2013, it was Angel Rodriguez last season and it will be Ja’Quan Newton this year. With Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan gone, Newton will inherit the role of Miami’s go-to guy, and he has the talent to be an all-ACC player.
POSITION RANKS: Lead Guards | Off Guards | Wings | Big Men
Chimezie Metu, USC
As a freshman, Metu averaged 6.4 points, 3.5 boards and 1.6 blocks in just over 18 minutes last season, and this year, playing on a team that lost starting big man Nikola Jovanovic, he’ll be asked to play a much bigger role. Metu has the athleticism that Andy Enfield loves in his centers, and he’s also added some weight and a perimeter jumper this offseason.
London Perrantes, Virginia
Everyone knows who London Perrantes is at this point. He’s won 89 games in his college basketball career. His arrival at UVA coincided with the Wahoos becoming one of the ACC’s best basketball programs. But there’s never been a point in time where he was going to be asked to carry as much of the load offensively as he’ll be asked to carry this season. I think we’re going to see a different Perrantes than we’ve become accustomed to with Malcolm Brogdon gone.
Markus McDuffie, Wichita State
No Fred VanVleet. No Ron Baker. It’s a new era in Wichita, and it will be McDuffie that is asked to usher it in. He’s an athletic, 6-foot-7 wing that showed impressive flashes as a freshman on a team that was dominated by upper-classmen. If the Shockers are to repeat as MVC champs, it will be because McDuffie realized his potential.
Isaac Haas, Purdue
Haas averaged 9.8 points in just over 14 minutes this past season, but his playing time was limited because the Boilermakers had a guy on the roster by the name of A.J. Hammons. Haas should be able to see upwards of 25-30 minutes this season, but the major question mark with him is endurance. He’s a 7-foot-2, 300-pound kid that looks like he’s chiseled out of stone. It’s hard work moving that body up and down the floor.
Shake Milton, SMU
Milton is a guy that is all over the radar of NBA scouts because he’s a 6-foot-5 point guard with a 6-foot-11 wingspan that shot 42.6 percent from three. He also averaged 10.5 points and 2.7 assists playing behind Nic Moore. If he can take over the lead guard role in SMU’s offense, he could play his way into being a first round pick.
D.J. Hogg, Texas A&M
Someone is going to have to do the scoring for the Aggies this season, and it might as well be Hogg, who, at 6-foot-8, is one of the best shooters in the SEC. His presence will be important for a team that is trying to create space for the massive Tyler Davis in the paint.
Deonte Burton, Iowa State
I’m torn on Burton. On the one hand, his ability to play a Draymond Green-esque role for the Cyclones will be critical to their ability to survive playing small-ball. He has the talent and the physical tools to do so. But he has yet to prove that he can be consistent at the Big 12 level. Let’s put it like this: If Iowa State turns out to be a top 25 team this season it will be because Burton proved he deserved to be on this list.
Markus Derrickson, Georgetown
The Hoyas have a couple of candidates for this list on their roster – some due to the fact they’ve underperformed for two seasons – but we’re going with Derrickson. He’s had a terrific summer and has the size and shooting ability that makes him a perfect fit in the offense that JT3 runs.