New Roles Will Lead to 2017-18 Breakouts for These 3 NBA Players
When a blockbuster trade or free-agency signing occurs, the majority of analysis and focus is on how that star player will fit in with his new team. This offseason was full of major trades and signings, as several All-Stars changed the jerseys they will be wearing next season. The Paul George, Jimmy Butler and Chris Paul trades dominated the news, followed by Paul Millsap and Gordon Hayward changing teams.
Unfortunately, aside from in-tune fantasy basketball participants, not enough people pay attention to those who were traded for star players or who also happened to change cities. Three contributors were able to improve their roles and situations either through trades, free-agent signings or natural growth.
The following three players will see increases in their roles, responsibilities and statistics in the upcoming season for varying reasons. Let’s take a look each of their situations and attempt to predict their upcoming 2017-18 campaigns.
And… we’re back to the Paul George trade. But we’re only going to analyze the return the Pacers got for the star forward, specifically focusing on Victor Oladipo.
People like to write off Oladipo because of his age and contract. Many like to argue that the 25-year-old appears to have shown who he is as a player, while he will go on to make $21 million per year for the next four seasons. However, several signs point to a breakout year from the former Indiana University standout.
First and foremost, the four-year veteran will have the biggest role of his young NBA career. Oladipo will be tasked with creating offense for himself and others, and he should have the ball in his hands more than ever. Last season, his usage percentage dropped to a career-low 21.4 percent playing alongside Russell Westbrook. But if we look back at the 2014-15 season, during which the former No. 2 overall pick posted his highest usage rate (25.2 percent), promising results peek out of his profile.
That year, Oladipo averaged 17.9 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the field on a career-high 15.1 field-goal attempts per game. That was only his second season in the league, and he has grown and developed as a player since that time.
Playing alongside Westbrook allowed the combo guard to improve his play off the ball, evident by him placing above the 81st percentile in off-screen plays and cuts, per NBA Math’s Play-Type Profiles. Making the short, one-year stop in Oklahoma City may have done wonders for Oladipo’s offensive versatility.
In an early-season game against the Washington Wizards this past November, Oladipo showed his ability to navigate through and around screens to create quality looks for himself and others. Specifically pay attention to the shots he takes and creates from 0:44-1:22:
Perhaps most importantly, the 6’4″ guard has improved as a three-point shooter each year he has been in the league. Last season saw a career high in his three-point attempt rate, as 37.8 percent of his field-goal attempts were from beyond the arc. He has also worked to cut down on less efficient mid-range shots, resulting in a career-low 14.4 percent of shot attempts coming between 16 feet and the three-point line.
Now, with Oladipo returning to Indiana to be a focal point and face of the Pacers’ rebuild, his numbers should see significant improvements. It isn’t crazy to expect his usage percentage to jump to around 27 or 28 percent, and we’ve seen in previous years that high usage equals big numbers for him. Oladipo will have plenty of chances to run the Pacers offense and create looks for others, which should also lead to an increase in his assist numbers.
If he continues his improvement as a shooter and continues to work on his shot selection, there’s no reason he can’t average 20 points, five assists and five rebounds per game next season. Although he will (unfairly) be evaluated as the centerpiece of the return for Paul George, Oladipo can entertain Indiana fans while putting up eye-popping numbers during this rebuild.
Tim Hardaway Jr.
In what’s become an annual tradition, the New York Knicks handed out another expensive contract above the player’s true value. This year, Tim Hardaway Jr. was the lucky recipient of a four-year, $71 million contract that sees him return to his old stomping grounds. However, he’ll be rejoining the Knicks as a much improved offensive player, showing signs that he can take another step in his development in the Big Apple.
Last season, the former first-round pick played a career high 27.3 minutes per game and averaged 14.5 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.3 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor. In case you were wondering, yes, those are career highs in every statistic.
The potential for a Hardaway breakout comes as a result of both a further increase in minutes and a higher usage. Per 36 minutes last season, the 25-year-old averaged 19.1 points, 3.7 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. And as the headlining addition to the roster, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him average 33-35 minutes per game.
Then you factor in the increase in usage that Hardaway should see in New York, especially with Carmelo Anthony possibly shipped out of town by the time the season starts. The four-year veteran’s usage percentage was just 22.5 percent last season, and that could very well jump to around 28 percent next season for the rebuilding Knicks.
That increase puts the ball in Hardaway’s hands more frequently, allowing him to create quality looks for others. While he has never consistently displayed good playmaking instincts, he did show flashes last season of being able to balance scoring with ball movement. In a game against the Cleveland Cavaliers last season, Hardaway made the right play for his teammates after bringing the ball up the floor on several occasions. In the video below, pay attention to the passes he makes at the 1:05 and 2:36 marks:
Those plays provide a glimpse of what he can do in New York, especially when running pick-and-rolls with Kristaps Porzingis and handling the ball in transition.
When factoring for his jump in minutes played and usage, Hardaway could average over 20 points and five assists per game next season. While his shooting percentages may suffer, his other statistics should take a big jump as a focal point of the Knicks offense next season.
The final player we will look at today, Clint Capela, didn’t change teams or acquire a drastically different role, but he should certainly take another jump in his development. After the James Harden-Dwight Howard fiasco neared its end, the Houston Rockets were content letting Howard leave in free agency—a direct result of Capela’s potential and the promise he had shown in his first two seasons.
So far, the Swiss big man hasn’t disappointed. Last season, he averaged 12.6 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.2 blocks while shooting 64.3 percent from the floor. And that was in just 23.9 minutes per game! Because of Houston’s great depth at center and Capela’s poor stamina (which is certainly something he must improve upon if he is to have a breakout season), the young big man was limited in his game action.
Translate those numbers to per-36-minute statistics, and you get 19.0 points, 12.2 rebounds and 1.8 blocks. Capela won’t play anywhere near 36 minutes per game, but a jump up to 28-30 should still see his numbers rise steadily.
Capela can be a hit-or-miss offensive option at times, and he can struggle going against bigger, physical big men. According to NBA Math’s Play-Type Profiles, here is how the 23-year-old fared offensively last season:
The three-year veteran essentially placed above the 70th percentile when rolling out of the pick-and-roll, on cuts and in the post. Capela is the ideal center for this Rockets team, as he is more than happy to get shots in the flow of the natural action and on put-back attempts. While he does continue to improve his post play, don’t expect to see any Dream Shakes from him anytime soon. And the Rockets are more than fine with that.
To take the next step, Capela must add strength and improve his stamina, which will allow him to play more. If he can log around 28 minutes per night while maintaining the same production, he would already be in line for a breakout season.
Capela will also be a pick-and-roll partner for two of the best playmakers and passers the league has ever seen: Paul and Harden. The Rockets will have one of these all-time distributors on the floor for 48 minutes, so the developing center should be the beneficiary of endless lobs for alley-oops. Nearly 32 percent of his field-goal attempts were dunks last season, and that number could jump to as high as 40 percent with the addition of Paul.
It shouldn’t surprise anyone when Capela averages 17 points, 10 rebounds, and 1.5 blocks per game next season while shooting close to 70 percent from the floor. As he plays more minutes next season, he will have two “Point Gods” creating quality looks for him at all times.
And there you have it. Whether a key returning centerpiece in the trade for an All-NBA-caliber player, signed a contract that other league executives laughed at, or will simply play more minutes alongside two future Hall of Fame point guards, these players are ready to break out.
This year, watch out for Victor Oladipo, Tim Hardaway Jr. and Clint Capela.
Follow Eric on Twitter @ericspyros.