I'm taking a brief break from History Week in order to participate in SBNation's theme week. This week's theme asks each team site which player they think is poised for a breakout year (or perhaps a hidden gem). I actually came up with this idea myself because I'm curious to hear what other site managers think is their breakout player this year.
Last year guys like Rudy Gobert, Draymond Green, and Jimmy Butler emerged as stars. To a lesser degree, Jae Crowder emerged as an unlikely solid contributor for the Celtics. Our own Kevin O'Connor picked Jared Sullinger as the guy that could break out this year, but I'm going with Marcus Smart.
Last year's number 6 overall pick had some of the usual growing pains for a rookie, and seemed to be limited by a nagging ankle injury. But he really started finding his groove later in the year as the team started steamrolling toward earning a playoff berth.
Smart was streaky behind the 3-point arc last season and shot only 33.5 percent from distance overall. He was more confident with that shot this summer and, combined with a more aggressive approach to attacking the basket to create for himself and others, should lead to a bump in his offensive production.
I'm not sure if Smart will suddenly become a knock-down 3 point shooter, but as he gains more confidence with his shot and picks his spots better, I think he'll be able to keep defenses more honest. Also, if his summer league performance is any indication, he should be attacking the basket more this year, which in theory should open up more space for him to launch open shots.
I think his playmaking lagged a bit last year, but that's hardly surprising for a rookie point guard. I'm very much looking forward to seeing him operate in the pick and roll with David Lee and even Amir Johnson this year. It will be interesting to see what role he plays in the offense when he shares the court with Isaiah Thomas.
Of course, one area where he already excels is on defense, and much of that has been pure grit and effort. As he continues to learn the NBA game more and study under Professor Stevens, he could become scary good on defense.
So yeah, I'm expecting great things from Marcus Smart in his sophomore season.