Re: ESPN inside request ?
Ramon Sessions, Cleveland Cavaliers
Liberated from a horrendous fit in Minnesota's triangle, Sessions could prove a steal as a third guard in Cleveland. While he uncorked an epic stinker in Friday's 20-point loss in Toronto, he was very good in the Cavs' other two games and should thrive in a system that is likely to place the ball in his hands frequently -- much as he succeeded in a similar environment in Milwaukee.
Group III: Injury timeouts
Because of injury -- either this season, last season, or both -- these players are under the radar in the early part of the season. But keep an eye on them as we get deeper in the calendar, because they could be big stories by spring.
Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks
I still don't know whether Dallas has the stones to blow up its guard rotation and let Beaubois energize what's become a fairly staid offense, but given how well he played last season, the Mavs should seriously consider it. Beaubois averaged 22.7 points per 40 minutes last season and led all rookies in PER -- yes, it was Beaubois, and not Stephen Curry or Tyreke Evans. He broke his left foot over the summer and still hasn't returned, so he'll be trying to burrow his way into an established, veteran rotation. But he might be good enough that the Mavs have no choice.
Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers
Because Batum missed most of 2009-10 with a shoulder injury and then aggravated it in the playoffs, his stellar performance in 37 late-season games (51.9 percent shooting, 17.31 PER) garnered relatively little attention. He's in the lineup from Day 1 this season, and played very well in Portland's first three games before mysteriously getting lifted after 18 minutes Monday night in a loss to the Bulls. He's only 21 and he's a career 39 percent 3-point shooter who will have plenty of opportunities given the attention Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge draw; it's quite possible he scores in the midteens on average.
Anthony Randolph, New York Knicks
Randolph missed much of last year with an ankle injury and then sprained it in preseason with the Knicks. He hasn't played a regular-season game with his new team, and we have to start being concerned about how prone he is to injuries. But the 21-year-old is still one of the most unique players in the league, a Camby-esque shot-blocker who can handle the ball like a guard and score around the basket.
Randolph was a Jekyll-and-Hyde player in Golden State, but one suspects that further maturity and a move away from the Warriors' poisonous environment could help him considerably. PER-wise, he projected to have the league's largest improvement in 2010-11, to a stratospheric 21.48. The minutes are there for the taking in a thin Knicks frontcourt, especially since Amare Stoudemire can easily shift to center.
Group V: Let's be clear what we mean by "breakout"
James Johnson, Chicago Bulls
He's not going to emerge as any kind of star and is trapped behind Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer at the forward spots, so temper your expectations. However, Johnson looks to be in vastly better shape than he was last season and has played very well in his chances, both in preseason and the regular season. The Bulls aren't terribly deep, so he should get opportunities, and he has one other item in his favor: turnovers. Johnson had a shockingly high turnover rate as a rookie, but paradoxically mistake-prone rookies tend to make a lot more progress in subsequent seasons. Johnson appears to be following that trend line.
Finally, three other players -- Sacramento's Darnell Jackson, Charlotte's Derrick Brown and the Clippers' DeAndre Jordan -- warrant mention under this heading. None of them will play heavy minutes, but I've been impressed with the early-season work of each. If my All-Breakout team were allowed three D-League assignees for my final cuts, they'd be on it.