Minnesota Timberwolves

Breakout candidates for each team in the Western Conference

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Donovan Mitchell, Andrew Wiggins, Devin Booker (NBA Getty Images)

With the 2018-19 season fast approaching, we're looking at breakout candidates for each team in the NBA. First up were the 15 teams that make up the Eastern Conference. Now it's time to look at the Western Conference.

Dallas Mavericks

Breakout candidate: Dennis Smith Jr.

Smith struggled with efficiency as a rookie, making 30.6 percent of his midrange pull-ups and dishing out only 1.9 assists per turnover. The good news for the Mavericks is the addition of Luka Doncic, whom Dallas selected with the No. 3 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, will take some of the playmaking burden off of Smith's shoulders and the acquisition of DeAndre Jordan, whom the team signed to a one-year deal in free agency, should help him play to his strengths more as an über athletic driver and finisher.

If it's not enough for the Mavericks to be in the playoff race this season, it should be enough for Smith to stake his claim as a star on the rise.

Denver Nuggets

Breakout candidate: Gary Harris

Harris has improved every season he's been in the NBA and had a breakout season of sorts in 2017-18, with averages of 17.5 points per game on a Nuggets team that came within one win of making the playoffs.

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One of the best 3-point shooters and cutters in the league, Harris has developed into the ideal shooting guard to pair with Nikola Jokic, who led all centers with 6.1 assists and 9.4 potential assists per game last season. As Denver continues to climb up the Western Conference standings, the 23-year-old will only get more shine.

Golden State Warriors

Breakout candidate: Jordan Bell

Bell proved to be a steal in his limited minutes on the court last season, and the departures of JaVale McGee, Zaza Pachulia and David West could make him the first or second big man off the bench for the defending champs in 2018-19. He might never be someone who puts up big numbers, but Bell does all the little things - defend multiple positions, attack the glass, move the ball - that contribute to winning.

More minutes on the team expected to win it all again will give Bell more opportunities to showcase his beyond-the-box-score ability.

Houston Rockets

Breakout candidate: James Ennis

Ennis replaces Trevor Ariza and Luc Mbah a Moute in the all-important 3-and-D role next to James Harden and Chris Paul in the backcourt. While he's not as accomplished of a 3-point shooter as Ariza and Mbah a Moute, Ennis has the defensive chops to thrive in Houston's switch-happy system. Working in his favor is that he's previously worked with Jeff Bzdelik, the man who received credit for turning the Rockets into one of the best defensive teams in the league last season.

For two-years and $3.4 million, it makes Ennis the best offseason signing nobody is talking about.

Los Angeles Clippers

Breakout candidate: Montrezl Harrell

Harrell was a different player following All-Star Weekend last season. Whereas he averaged 9.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per game in the 50 games before, Harrell put up 14.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in the 26 games after.

It paved the way for the North Carolina native to a sign a two-year, $12 million contract with the Clippers this offseason.

Harrell is unlikely to start at center for Los Angeles on opening night - that will be Marcin Gortat's job to lose - but he'll have a big role on a team that is looking to make a playoff push in the crowded Western Conference. It helps that he already knows how to play off of Lou Williams, as it gives the Clippers a potent one-two punch off the bench.

Los Angeles Lakers

Breakout candidate: Josh Hart

Speaking of players who made the most of the opportunities down the final stretch of last season: Hart averaged 16.5 points and 7.1 rebounds on 49.5 percent shooting from the field and 39.1 percent from the 3-point line in his last eight games. Hart then carried that momentum into Summer League, where he was named MVP of the league for finishing third in scoring and carrying the Lakers to the title game.

With his 3-point shooting and versatile defense, there's a clear path to Hart making a name for himself next to LeBron James this season. Don't be surprised if he ends up being the Lakers' most reliable option at shooting guard by the season's end, even if he's coming off the bench to begin with.

Memphis Grizzlies

Breakout candidate: Dillon Brooks

The one bright spot for the Grizzlies last season was the play of Brooks.

The 45th pick in the 2017 NBA Draft, Brooks was the only rookie in his class to play in all 82 games. He started in 74 of those games, posting 11.0 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.6 assists per contest.

Mike Conley's return means Brooks won't likely get the same opportunities this season, but there is a need for his shooting and slashing ability in the starting lineup - Brooks averaged an impressive 1.09 points per spot-up possession (76.0 percentile) as a rookie - whether it's at shooting guard or small forward. Depending on how he develops, Brooks could find himself being a difference-maker on a team that is expected to have the biggest turnaround this season.

Minnesota Timberwolves

Breakout candidate: Andrew Wiggins

It's got to happen at some point, right?

Wiggins saw his numbers decline across the board in his first season next to Jimmy Butler, which doesn't bode well for the future. He is, however, only 23-years-old and still oozing with upside. He's also shown flashes of what a fully developed Wiggins would look like over his four years with the Timberwolves, and it would be a dynamic offensive weapon.

With this season being the first year of the $146.5 million extension he signed in the summer of 2017 and the last season before Butler becomes an unrestricted free agent, now is as good of a time as ever for Wiggins to break out.

New Orleans Pelicans

Breakout candidate: Elfrid Payton

Payton's job this season will be much easier than it has been in the past. As Rajon Rondo proved last season, a point guard with limited shooting range can succeed in New Orleans as long as they get on the same page as Anthony Davis, who is primed to lead the league in scoring this season. There's a lot to like about Payton's fit with Davis, from his knack for getting into the paint and his play in the open court.

It Payton can become a more consistent perimeter defender, New Orleans will be well positioned to build off of their success in the second half of last season.

Oklahoma City Thunder

Breakout candidate: Dennis Schröder

This won't be Schröder's first time coming off the bench for one of the best teams in the league. Back in 2014-15, the German point guard averaged 10.0 points, 4.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds per game on the 60-win Atlanta Hawks. He did more of the same in 2015-16, and received some love for Sixth Man of the Year for it.

Following two seasons as a starter in Atlanta, look for Schröder to establish himself as one of the best backups in the league again, this time behind Russell Westbrook and potentially alongside him in various lineups. If he can fine-tune his 3-point shooting, he might end up being the missing piece in their backcourt.

Phoenix Suns

Breakout candidate: Devin Booker

There's an argument to be made that Booker has already arrived, though this could be the year he transitions from everyone's go-to pick for the player most likely to have a breakout season to an All-Star.

Coming off of a season in which he averaged 24.9 points per game, the next step for Booker is to do more of the same in a winning environment. The Suns weren't built for much success over his first three years in Phoenix, but the addition of promising rookies Deandre Ayton and Mikal Bridges gives Booker an opportunity to solidify himself as the leader of one of the brightest young cores in the league.

Portland Trail Blazers

Breakout candidate: Zach Collins

If anyone on the Blazers is going to benefit from Ed Davis signing with the Nets this offseason, it's Collins.

What Collins lacks in the rebounding department, he makes up for with his shot blocking and long range shooting. Not only did he block the second-most shots in his rookie class last season, Collins put his shooting potential on full display in January, when he knocked down 41.4 percent of his 3-point attempts.

The combination makes Collins a more natural fit alongside Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum moving forward.

Sacramento Kings

Breakout candidate: Willie Cauley-Stein

We'll leave this one to Kevin Durant and CJ McCollum...

Durant: You know who I like a lot? Willie Cauley-Stein. I feel like he's the next one of those guys.

McCollum: He's springy.

Durant: He's fast, too.

McCollum: He gets off the ground as quick as anyone I've ever seen.

Durant: Once they get better in Sacramento, they're going to see his athleticism. It's just ridiculous.

Maybe this will be the year for Cauley-Stein, whom the Kings selected with the No. 6 pick in the 2015 NBA Draft.

San Antonio Spurs

Breakout candidate: Dejounte Murray

As the youngest player ever to make an All-Defensive Team, Murray already has one side of the court figured out. It's how he develops on the other side that will be worth monitoring this season. The Spurs guard averaged 8.1 points and 2.9 assists per game as a sophomore, doing so on 44.3 percent shooting from the field and 26.5 percent shooting from 3-point range.

Unfortunately, Murray suffered a torn ACL on Oct. 8, effectively ending the 2018-19 season before it could even begin. The Spurs' 22-year-old point guard will look to bounce back better than ever in 2019-20 when he is fully recovered.

Utah Jazz

Breakout candidate: Donovan Mitchell

This one shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who watched the Jazz in the playoffs.

As impressive as he was during the regular season, Mitchell proved to be a superstar in the making in their first round matchup with the Thunder, when he outplayed both Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Every player is expected to improve in some way heading into their sophomore season, but Mitchell is different in that it wouldn't be crazy to see him compete for a spot in the 2019 NBA All-Star Game if his postseason run was a sign of what's to come.

The biggest thing holding him back? A consistent 3-point shot off the dribble. Once Mitchell gets that down, it's over.

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