Pac-12 Burning Question: Who’s This Season’s Breakout Guy?Posted by AMurawa on October 19th, 2012
It’s that time of week for our Burning Question, as once a week we’ll try to ask the big question around the conference and get answers from all of our correspondents. This week, amidst all the fresh blood around the conference, we’ll try to find out which familiar face is ready to take a step forward.
Which returning Pac-12 player is poised to have the biggest breakout season?
Connor Pelton: I’m going to go way off the board here and pick a surprise player on my surprise team for 2012-13. Aziz N’Diaye has always been a lane-clogging, shot-blocking, rebounding-machine for Washington, but this is the year the senior center puts it all together. He’s not the most agile center in the conference, but he’s athletic enough to be the game-changing seven-footer that Lorenzo Romar’s offense desperately needs with the departure of guards Tony Wroten, Jr., and Terrence Ross. Guys like C.J. Wilcox, Abdul Gaddy, and Scott Suggs are big enough threats on the perimeter to give N’Diaye the space he needs down in the post, and Desmond Simmons (if you’re looking for a super-deep sleeper, he could be another pick) is a big enough threat to take some pressure off Aziz. I think nights like he had last year, putting up 14 points against California, or 13 against Florida Atlantic, will become the norm this year. He had a solid summer exhibition tour as well, his best game coming in a 12-point, 14-rebound performance against Zaragoza.
The key to N’Diaye’s projected breakout year will be avoiding sluggish starts. Just like the double-digit performances that you’ll see peppered throughout last season’s stat sheet, there are the few ugly offensive outings in which N’Diaye struggled early and ended up on the bench for most of the game. To avoid tempting Romar with the option of Austin Seferian-Jenkins, he needs to start each game like he wants to finish it. I think the senior steps up to the challenge, goes for 10/10, and leads the Dawgs to a surprise at-large bid come selection Sunday.
Adam Butler: So first I need to clarify by defining “breakout.” According to Butler-Merriam Dictionary of Pac-12 Hoops, “breakout” is defined as: A player you’ve barely heard of who goes off maybe-not-quite-Brock-Motum-style-because-that’s-impossible-to-predict, but a player who becomes a very impactful contributor when he might not otherwise have been considered a contributor. This scientific definition eliminates some of my favorite already-good-but-poised-for-monster-year players. Guys like EJ Singler, Jio Fontan, CJ Wilcox, Andre Roberson, and Devon Collier. I also don’t want to consider transfers – also known as USC’s roster. But allow me this: J.T. Terrell could very well be a terror and I love the addition of Eric Wise. I think he’ll be a great KO grinder. And while on the subject of transfers, Mark Lyons will be an utter game changer (ask Doug Gottlieb about it) in Tucson.
But back to the question at hand, my selection for breakout player is…Dewayne Dedmon. He’s my pick by the slimmest of margins over guys like Dwight Powell, Nick Johnson, Justin Cobbs, Chasson Randle, Spencer Dinwiddie (high on this guy), Jahii Carson (a year of hype has me a modest believer), Scott Suggs, Kevin Parrom, Aaron Bright, and Abdul Gaddy. Sure, some of these guys may put up bigger numbers than Dedmon, but none of them are bigger than him. Seven-footers are game changers – particularly athletic ones – and with USC’s supporting cast of shooters (Terrell, Fontan, and Ari Stewart) to spread the floor, Dedmon will have the space to flourish. He’ll be a major difference maker for the upstart, castoff Trojans.
Andrew Murawa: The combination of George Dohrmann’s Play Their Hearts Out, his dramatic backstory and his long and winding trip to NCAA eligibility have made Roberto Nelson a pretty well-known name around college basketball circles. But this is the year the Oregon State junior’s game catches up with his reputation. After being stuck behind prolific scorer Jared Cunningham his first two seasons in Corvallis, Nelson not only has the starting two-guard spot for the Beavers locked up, but he looks most prepared and most willing to take over plenty of the more than 12 field goal attempts per game Cunningham leaves behind. Nelson has had a handful of big moments for the Beavs (perhaps most notably his back-to-back threes after losing a shoe last year against Stanford – jump to about 2:20 here), but this season he’ll be a significant offensive threat for OSU. While I’d like to see his three-point percentage (he shot 34.8% from deep last year) take a bump up, he’s capable of improving his midrange game and can even have a positive effect for his team even when his shot isn’t falling as an understated playmaker in the halfcourt. Never one to shy away from a good look at the hoop, expect Nelson to lead the Beavs in scoring, chipping in about 15 points per game while helping out backcourt mate Ahmad Starks in setting up Craig Robinson’s offense.
Parker Baruh: If we’re looking for a true breakout player in the Pac-12 this year, I’m going to have to head to the southwest and put my faith in Nick Johnson from Arizona. Defensively, he’s a tremendous player who can move very well laterally and defend the two and the one. He knows where to be at the right time in Sean Miller’s defensive scheme and he has sneaky athleticism. He also has the ability to score and distribute in transition and the halfcourt set. He averaged 9.0 PPG, 2.4 APG, and 3.2 RPG last year, but those numbers should improve greatly along with his three-point shooting this season. Last year, he showed in the Pac-12 Tournament he could be a primary facilitator and scorer and he will take on that role with more consistent success this year. I expect 13 PPG, 4 APG, and 3 RPG out of Johnson for the upcoming season. All the skills Johnson possess are elite; he just needs more time at the college level to work on his game and with another full offseason under Sean Miller, he’s primed for a breakout year.
Kevin Danna: Please don’t label me a Stanford homer, but I really do think Dwight Powell is poised to have the biggest breakout season. Highly recruited out of high school, Powell has yet to fully live up to his potential. Not to be an apologist, but Dwight’s sub-par sophomore season could be traced back to an ankle sprain he had a couple of days before the season started. That caused him to miss the first two games of the year. As a result, he really struggled out of the gate and it lingered on for much of the year. However, as the season wound to a close — especially in the NIT — he really got into a good rhythm.
You can knock the NIT all you want, but it was extremely helpful for Stanford in getting guys like Dwight Powell extra reps in practice and more minutes in game situations. For Powell, that translated into more confidence on the floor, as he really started to let his athleticism shine. On the season, Powell averaged 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game; during the NIT, he averaged 8.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. This guy can be so silky smooth when he’s 100 percent, he can easily drive past bigs on the perimeter, he has soft touch and he can take you out to 15-18 feet and hit a mid-range or short-corner jumper. Defensively, Powell’s wiry frame and ups allow him to sky for rebounds and he has the ability to guard positions 3-5 on the floor.
With no Josh Owens or Andrew Zimmermann this year, Dwight Powell can’t hide on the front line anymore. He’s going to have to be productive enough so that Johnny Dawkins doesn’t have second thoughts about putting him in the starting lineup every game, because he is by far the best option down low right now. I say he lives up to the challenge, goes for 12/8 and he nabs an all-conference or honorable mention selection.