While it is hard to define a breakout, the Western Conference has nonetheless seen some players emerge from the shadows to make an indelible impression this season. Sure, there are guys like Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins who have taken their games to new heights, but we already knew who they were, as they were making significant contributions prior to this season.
However, the following five players listed here have really made quantum leaps in their games. These players have gone from relative obscurity to prominence. They have put the rest of league on notice that they have arrived and are here to say.
So, without further a do, let’s asses five major breakouts playing in the Western Conference.
Draymond Green, Golden State Warriors
While the “Splash Brothers” (Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson) get all the love in Golden State, it is Green who does the dirty work. His presence on the floor has proven to be immeasurable for the Warriors this season.
I went more in depth here about the season Green is having and what he means to the Warriors. To catch you up, through 39 games Green is now averaging 11.5 points (nearly five more points than his career best), 7.9 rebounds and a surprising 3.6 assists per game, while shooting .439 percent from the floor and .335 from three-point range.
As he heads into free agency next summer (although he will be a restricted free agent), Green is taking his game to a whole new level and likely a new-level pay grade as a result.
Shabazz Muhammad, Minnesota Timberwolves
Muhammad came into this league as an unrefined athlete with potential for greatness. It was thought that if he got coached the right way and worked hard at his craft, he’d ascend to new heights.
Well, through 35 games, Muhammad is starting to tap that vast potential, as he is getting more minutes this year in Flip Saunders’ rotation. He has seen his scoring increase from 8.7 points per game to 13.7 points per game. Muhammad has seen his shooting percentage go from .481 to .488 percent, while also improving from three-point territory, too, as he is shooting .413 this year (he shot .386 last season).
Muhammad should only get better in time, as his athleticism is matching his upside. It is starting to really come to a head for Muhammad this season.
Markieff Morris, Phoenix Suns
It seems each season Morris gets incrementally better. That has been the case again thus far in the 2014-15 season.
Morris continues to contribute across the board. He is averaging career-highs in scoring (15.5 points per game), assists (2.0 assists per game), field-goal percentage (.491), free-throw percentage (.794) and three-point percentage (.339).
As one of the more athletic big men in the league, Morris is thriving in the Suns’ uptempo offense and is starting to become a more recognizable name in NBA circles.
Gorgui Dieng, Minnesota Timberwolves
After playing sparingly in his rookie season, Dieng is starting to raise some eyebrows this season, especially in regards to his effort on the defensive end of the floor.
Dieng is the second Timberwolve listed here, and while the team is struggling, they have some players (also look out for rookie Andrew Wiggins) who they can build around. For the year, Dieng is averaging 10 points, 8.3 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per game. Last year he averaged 4.8 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game.
Granted, the opportunity to succeed was made largely possible because of an injury to Nikola Pekovic, Dieng has let the NBA know he can play in this league. Saunders can make Dieng and Pekovic coexist, and this is not the last you’ll see from Dieng.
Enes Kanter/Rudy Gobert, Utah Jazz
Between Kanter and Gobert, the Utah Jazz have themselves a formidable presence in the post.
Combined, Kanter and Gobert are about 14 feet-tall and weigh a collective 490 pounds while providing a huge intimidating presence in the lane.
Kanter is averaging a career-high 13.5 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He is coming off a terrific performance on Wednesday against Cleveland, in which he scored 24 points, while hauling down 17 rebounds
While it’s true that Kanter played well last year, more people are starting to take him seriously this year.
On the other hand, this is the first time that Gobert is getting extended run after a mostly pedestrian rookie season. For the season he is averaging 6.6 points, 7.0 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game. However, in his last 15 games he is averaging 8.2 points, 9.4 rebounds and 3.1 blocks per game while getting a lot more minutes (especially when Kanter was hurt). If given adequate playing time, Gobert has shown he can be an outstanding rim protector.
Together, this is some imposing duo the Jazz have going for them. Just think how much better they’ll be in, say, four or five years?
Stats complete through Tuesday’s games