Blakely's five wing players poised for breakout season

Blakely's five wing players poised for breakout season
September 3, 2014, 3:15 pm
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BOSTON — When you see highlights of your favorite NBA team, wing players tend to dominate your viewing pleasure.

These are the high-flyers with the pogo-stick hops who can also shoot from the perimeter or take someone off the dribble and finish plays with finesse and creativity.

But for them to take their game to the next level, they have to become more than just a one- or two-play wonder.

They have to develop more consistency, the kind that showcases them as being more of a complete player.

And that requires them to eventually transform themselves into something much greater than who they are currently.

It means ballin' hard, something the following five wing players are poised to do in what should be a breakout season for them.

5. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Charlotte

2013-2014 stats: 7.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 0.8 apg. Shot 47.3 percent from the field, 11.1 percent on 3s.

Kidd-Gilchrist was arguably the best high school player in the class of 2011, and cemented himself as an elite prospect during his lone season at Kentucky (which ended with a national championship). A couple of months after cutting down the nets with the Wildcats, Kidd-Gilchrist was selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA draft.

It's far too soon to consider him a bust, but Kidd-Gilchrist -- still only 20 -- isn't at a level of play many anticipated he'd have reached by this point.

While some might believe the addition of Lance Stephenson to the Hornets will hurt Kidd-Gilchrist's growth, look for just the opposite to happen. Stephenson is a terror for defenses in transition with his playmaking skills, and Kidd-Gilchrist should be one of those who benefits the most.

Kidd-Gilchrist is an extremely tough cover in transition because of his size, speed and strength. Look for Stephenson and the Hornets to do a better job of taking advantage of those opportunities.

4. Terrence Ross, Toronto

2013-2014 stats: 10.9 ppg; 3.1 rpg; 1 apg. Shot 42.3 percent from the field, 39.5 percent on 3s.

Ross can be an explosive, dominant scorer, as folks saw last season when he compiled a franchise-tying 51 points in a 126-118 loss to the Doc Rivers-coached Los Angeles Clippers. (After the game, Rivers told reporters, "We left our defense at customs.")

The potential emergence of Ross was in part why the Raptors were comfortable in trading Rudy Gay to Sacramento.

Like most young players, Ross' biggest weakness has been consistency with his game and overall focus. He has shown a tendency at times to just go with the flow of the game, rather than establish himself as a force.

Now that he has a couple years under his belt, look for Ross to deliver more big-time scoring games for a Raptors squad that's on the rise.

3. Tobias Harris, Orlando

2013-2014 stats: 14.6 ppg; 7 rpg; 1.3 apg. Shot 46.4 percent from the field, 25.4 percent on 3s.

After limited playing time in Milwaukee, Harris has shown the ability to score when the pressure hasn't been all that intense. Now that Arron Afflalo is gone, much of the scoring load from the perimeter at least, will fall upon his shoulders.

And Magic fans have to love the fact that, in addition to his perimeter touch, Harris can also put the ball on the floor and score around the basket in traffic.

His continued growth has to include steady improvement in what most scouts believe is his greatest weakness: Defense.

At 6-foot-8, he is a tweener who can play both forward positions, although small forward provides the best opportunity for him to be an impact performer.

2. Chandler Parsons, Dallas

2013-2014 stats: 16.6 ppg; 5.5 rpg; 4 apg. Shot 47.2 percent from the field, 37 percent on 3s.

Parsons was, at best, the No. 3 option in Houston behind Dwight Howard and James Harden, but still put up strong numbers.

He joins a Dallas team, coached by former Celtic Rick Carlisle, that will allow him to continue in that role for a variety of reasons.

Dallas was among the NBA's leaders in passing the ball, ranking sixth with 23.6 assists per game. The Rockets were a less-than-stellar 18th (21.4 assists per game).

For a player whose success relied so heavily on others getting him the ball, it's not a stretch to envision Parsons averaging more than 20 points per game this season and the Mavericks emerging as a legit challenger out West.

1. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee

2013-2014 stats: 6.9 ppg; 4.4 rpg; 1.9 apg. Shot 41.4 percent from the field, 34.7 percent on 3s.

"Potential" and "upside" are terms thrown around much too loosely by NBA experts when it comes to evaluating young talent.

But for anyone who had a chance to watch Giannis Antetokounmpo play this past season, it's hard not to look at him and think, "Damn, that dude has potential" or "Damn, the upside with that kid . . . !"

Antetokounmpo, 19, is going to be a star in this league. It's not a matter of if, but when that day will come.

Will it happen this year?

Probably not.

But the groundwork was laid last season, and the Greek teen will only build on that this season.

Much of his struggles last season stemmed from everything being so new, from the team to the level of play to living in America. He won't have those kind of issues to worry about now, and can focus solely on becoming a better basketball player.

So while rookie Jabari Parker will get most of the headlines and attention in Milwaukee, rest assured he won't be the only attraction the Bucks will trot out on the floor this season.