When you think of NBA teams that produce breakout stars "San Antonio" doesn't leap to mind. Their rosters tend to be, let's say, more seasoned than other squads and they've got a continuity fetish too. If you think about it, it's inconvenient in the extreme to have new players on the roster every year. You've got to make new nameplates for their locker, new uniforms (players tend to be real prima donnas about having their own personalized jerseys), you've got to ask all kinds of questions about their families and pretend you really care, it's just exhausting.
Be that as it may, the Spurs had quite a few guys whose contracts were up in the past off-season and they had to let a few go to be able to afford LaMarcus Aldridge. The former Blazer is already 30, and while that's younger than quite a few fellas on the roster, he's already a perennial All-Star and thus not a candidate to break out in any way, except perhaps from the purgatory of fringe contention that he found himself in Portland.
To the younger players then! Kawhi Leonard is only 24 and hasn't made an All-Star team yet, but it would be pretty silly to think of him as a breakout candidate when he's already got a Finals MVP on the mantle and SI.com just ranked him as the 10th best player on the planet. If you can legitimately provoke an "aw shucks, him again" reaction from LeBron James simply by checking back into a game, you're probably a known commodity already.
Danny Green then? Yeah, no. He's already 28 and a six-year veteran. Green shot up all the way from 96th to 50th on the SI.com rankings (still too low imho), but it's difficult to imagine him getting much better at this point since generally people don't learn how to dribble in their 30's. He's very, very good and the four-year, $40 million contract he signed in the off-season is a bargain, but you get the feeling that Green is just about nudging up to his ceiling at this point.
Kyle Anderson would seem to be the most logical candidate. He's only 21 and was recently awarded MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League after leading the Spurs to a championship in that tournament. A former first-round pick, Anderson didn't play much for the Spurs but starred for their D-League affiliate in Austin, earning D-League Player of the Month honors this past February.
It's difficult to be brimming with optimism about a dude nicknamed "slo-mo," however. Anderson is painfully un-athletic relative to his NBA peers. You can time his drives to the hoop with a sundial. He has no lateral quickness on defense. Getting off clean looks is a chore and it's exasperated by his Tebow-esque release. He's crafty no doubt and skilled, with a wicked pump fake. If you watched him in Vegas and squinted, you saw the formative stages of the "old-man game" that's made Paul Pierce a Hall-of-Famer, but Pierce also put up a 19.2 PER as a rookie in Boston.
I can see Anderson evolving into a useful rotation player at some point, but a breakout star? I just can't get there.
How about Johnathon Simmons, Anderson's running mate in Austin and then Las Vegas? He was the MVP of the championship game in Sin City after all and has athleticism leaking out of his ears. Simmons can drive and finish with either hand, he has a nasty "Euro-step" reminiscent of another shooting guard on the roster, and he looks well above-average as a playmaker and defender. It was most difficult watching him in that tournament without experiencing feelings and it will take willpower I simply don't possess to avoid buying his shirsey when it becomes available at the team store.
Simmons is a week-and-a-half shy of his 26th birthday though and has exactly zero minutes of NBA experience. It's not even an absolute lock that he's going to make the team. Gregg Popovich is notoriously loathe to give newcomers much rope --Anderson played all of 358 minutes last season-- though he did make a notable exception for Leonard his rookie season. Leonard was the 15th pick of the draft though, and someone the Spurs flipped the beloved George Hill to acquire. Simmons was a guy they signed off the street and Pop usually holds such people in the same esteem he holds the media.
With great regret, I will hold off on anointing Simmons as a breakout candidate. Let him survive one season with the Spurs first.
That leaves Ray McCallum, 24, who was the MVP of the Las Vegas Summer League championship game the previous season playing for the Kings. The Spurs gave up a future second-round pick for him over the summer to replace the departed Cory Joseph as the team's third point guard.
Except the way the Spurs use third-string point guards is unusual. Popovich prefers to use backup Patty Mills strictly as a sparkplug off the bench, so whenever Tony Parker was injured or otherwise unavailable, Pop started Joseph as his understudy.
McCallum's defensive numbers were simply awful last season in Sacramento. He was the 79th ranked point guard in the league, according to real adjusted plus-minus (Parker was 82nd, by the way). For what it's worth, Akis Yerocostas of Sactown Royalty told me that former Kings skipper Mike Malone once claimed that McCallum was the only defensive-minded player on his roster.
McCallum started 30 games last season and showed modest improvement in several facets of his game. He can get to the rim and finish and has some playmaking skills. Parker has missed at least 14 games the past three seasons and he's not getting any younger. McCallum will get some minutes with the Spurs and so he's the safest bet to break out.
If that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, it's because it's not, but it'll have to suffice. McCallum is not the 24-year old the Spurs are counting on to crush people's souls, and that's okay.