Isaiah Thomas is among those who had breakout years in 2013-14.
Andre Drummond- C
The Pistons had an absolutely awful season ending with Joe Dumars stepping down after 14 years as the team’s top executive, but Drummond cemented himself as the center of the future for Detroit. Drummond spent more than half of games last year buried on the bench by Lawrence Frank during his rookie season, but in his sophomore campaign he was given the opportunity to shine, and shine he did, contributing 13.5 points on 62.3 percent shooting (2nd best in NBA) to go along with 13.2 rebounds (also 2nd best in NBA), 1.6 blocks, and 1.2 steals in 32.3 minutes per game. While Detroit did very little winning this year, Drummond won the BBVA Rising Stars MVP award. If you’re anxiously awaiting a slight of some sort, here it comes: he needs to improve his free throw (41.8 percent), which is as broken as the BBVA Rising Stars trophy that fell apart before Drummond even got his hands on it. Despite his free throw woes, he’s one of the best young centers in basketball, and his future is undeniably bright.
Anthony Davis- PF
Davis had a sophomore season well worthy of his All-Star selection, and he could have easily taken home the Most Improved and Defensive Player of the Year awards as well. Davis improved his numbers substantially across the board from his rookie year, tallying 20.8 points (51.9 field goal percentage, 79.1 free throw percentage), 10 rebounds, 2.8 blocks, and 1.3 steals in 35.2 minutes per game. He still has to, and will, get stronger, but Davis has cemented himself as the big man of the future in the NBA. If Jrue Holiday and Ryan Anderson are able to make successful returns to the court for the beginning of the season, look out for the Pelicans next year as the Western conference’s dark horse squad, with Tyreke Evans joining them in the starting lineup and Eric Gordon likely headed to another team or into a reserve role.
Gerald Green- SF
Teammate Goran Dragic certainly deserved his Most Improved Player award this year, averaging 20.3 points (50.5% FG, 40.8% 3-point FG) and 5.9 assists per game for the league-shocking Suns. They were picked by everyone under the sun to finish near the bottom of the league, but they nearly made the playoffs in the loaded Western conference thanks to the improvements of the Morris brothers, Eric Bledsoe, and former-Pacers Miles Plumlee and Gerald Green. Green averaged a career high 15.8 points per game in 28.4 minutes per game, playing in all 82 games and starting 48 in Phoenix’s 48-win season. With the Pacers on the verge of implosion, they have to be kicking themselves for trading Plumlee and Green.
Arron Afflalo- SG
Afflalo has gotten better every year he’s been in the league, and this year was no exception. He averaged a career-high 18.2 points (45.9 field goal percentage, 42.7 percent from three) to go along with 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 35 minutes per game. His continued improvement and ability to score more with less shots as well as facilitate the growth of his younger teammates means he’s likely a part of the upstart Magic’s future, though it’s possible he could be shipped with their depth and youth at the wing positions. Still, I think they value the culture that is in place with Afflalo and Oladipo, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Magic have turned down plenty of offers for Afflalo. While the Magic had a rough year, they’re a young team and they also dealt with injuries to Nik Vucevic and Tobias Harris. The versatile Harris missed time early in the season after finishing the 2012-13 season on fire after being acquired from Milwaukee, but really came along this year and could’ve easily had a spot on this team. The upside to their injury woes and youth is that they’ll have a top pick in the draft.
Isaiah Thomas- PG
The last pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas broke out in a big way this year, increasing his averages across the boards with contributions of 20.3 points (45.3% FG, 34.9% 3-pt FG) and 6.3 assists for the Kings. Sacramento will also have a solid pick to add to Thomas and DeMarcus Cousins, who also improved a great deal this year. While Rudy Gay’s future could be in question, it seems likely the Kings will elect to build around Thomas, Cousins, and their other young developing talent. With some lottery luck they could land another All-Star caliber player as soon as June. I remember watching Thomas at University of Washington alongside Justin Holiday. He was fun to watch then and he’s even more fun to watch now. Thomas is living proof that every pick in the two-round NBA draft matters.