The Spurs’ overcrowded roster currently has 13 returning players from last season, plus two-way player Dominick Barlow. While they still need to find a way to trim down the roster by three guaranteed contracts, how they do that is a topic for another day. In the meantime, I thought it would be fun to take a look at which returning Spurs are most likely to have a breakout performance next season (so this will not include rookies or players acquired in free agency).
For these purposes, the definition of a breakout would be a player showing vast improvement in any given field, having a career-defining season that puts his name on the map, elevates him to another level, and so on. Also taken into account is the probability each player will even get a chance to have a breakout, so the likelihood he is even in the main rotation is a factor in the rankings (which is difficult with such a deep roster). Finally, keep in mind that this is not ranking the players themselves, just the probably that they will take a big leap in their careers this upcoming season. Beginning with the least likely:
14. Doug McDermott: This is not a knock against McDermott, just an acknowledgment that he simply is who he is at this point: a veteran role player who is knockdown shooter with amazing off-ball movement, and that likely won’t change this season.
13. Devonte’ Graham: The same can be said for Graham, who already had his breakout in his second season with Charlotte, where he averaged 18.2 points on 37.3% three-point shooting, but he hasn’t returned to that level in three seasons since. Even though McDermott stands a better chance at making the main rotation, Graham ranks just ahead of him since he has more room for improvement.
12. Khem Birch: Technically, all Birch would have to do to “break out” is step foot on the court — something that never happened last season as he was recovering from injury when the Spurs acquired him. However, the questions about if he will remain with the Spurs heading into the season and depth at the big men positions holds him back.
11. Dominick Barlow: This begins a very crowded middle tier of young, promising players that could go in any order, and Barlow could easily be higher based on his Summer League performance except for one huge factor: his contract. If he’d signed a standard contract, his chances for a true “breakout” season would be higher, but when considering factors such as he’s on a two-way (meaning he will spend time in Austin), depth at his position, and the tiny sample size from the NBA level, he’s lower than others.
10. Blake Wesely: On one hand, Wesley theoretically has nowhere to go but up, so he has a good chance at a breakout next season. The problem is he showed little improvement in Summer League in the areas where he needed to the most (ball handling, control, finishing, etc), so we still need to see more from him. There’s also a decent chance he sees some time in Austin to further hone his skills if he can’t break into the main rotation.
9. Sandro Mamukelashvili: While he’s only played 19 games for the Spurs, Mamu had a bit of a breakout with the Spurs last season while they were “resting” other players down the stretch. Otherwise, he has a deep group of bigs to contend with for minutes, but if he can break into the main rotation, he is certainly primed for a breakout with his explosive play.
8. Charles Bassey: Last season was already a bit of a breakout for Bassey before he went down with a cracked patella, and with Pop saying at the time that he was just “learning how to play”, it seems he felt a bigger breakout was coming as well. The backup center position may still be Bassey’s to lose, although a lot of that will depend on if Pop sticks to his word that Zach Collins will start at center, while Victor Wembanyama starts at power forward. If not, minutes at center may be harder to come by after those two.
7. Zach Collins: Speaking of Collins, he is the center most guaranteed plenty of minutes on this squad, whether its as a starter or coming off the bench. It’s a contract year and his best chance to show what the truly healthy, released monster in him can do, and he’s the perfect compliment next to Wemby since he can stretch the floor while also taking the tougher assignments down low. This should be a big year for him.
6. Tre Jones: Jones is returning to the Spurs on a friendly deal and will be playing to maximize his “prime” contract in 2025. Whether he starts or not remains to be seen, but he will get minutes, and there is one major area he can improve: three-point shooting. If he can become a league-average or higher shooter on a steady number of attempts, his game will be close to complete.
5. Julian Champagnie: Perhaps the breakout is already on. Another late pickup last season, Champagnie shined both in the regular season and especially Summer League, where he showed himself to be a potential two-way force. Depending on how the Spurs narrow down the roster, he’ll have some competition for minutes with veterans such as Cedi Osman and Reggie Bullock, but the Spurs didn’t re-sign him for nothing, and if he keeps this level of play up, he may give Pop no choice but to make him a part of the main rotation.
4. Malaki Branham: Branham already showed plenty of in-season improvement, and he had a similar explosion to Champagnie in SL. His advantage is he likely has a confirmed spot in the main rotation as Devin Vassell’s backup, giving him a better opportunity to break out, and as is the theme for a lot of Spurs this season, what he does from three-point land will help determine if that happens.
3. Keldon Johnson: This may be the hardest one to place. What constitutes as a breakout season for KJ at this point? He was the Spurs’ leading scorer last season with 22 points per game, but the odds of that happening again are relatively low, especially if he accepts a bench role. From a stat standpoint, outside of three-point shooting, it’s hard to see his numbers rising much more, and it’s quite possible they fall. But even so, would him being a Sixth Man of the Year candidate constitute as a breakout? Or if he starts, even if he’s the third leading scorer, would finding his three-point shot again be enough? At this point, it’s hard to say.
2. Jeremy Sochan: There isn’t much to say about Sochan’s massive potential that hasn’t already been said countless times, but he was just starting to tap it in year 1, so what happens in year 2? It’s hard to see him not starting, and all he needs is an improved outside shot to truly break out, but if the Spurs decide to bench Jones and Sochan becomes part of a point-guard-by-proxy system, he will have even more chances to show off his ball-handling and potentially break out even further.
1. Devin Vassell: The Athletic doesn’t even have him in their top 125 players ranking, probably because he only appeared in 38 games last season, so already being overlooked is a huge step towards having a breakout season. That being said, Vassell is the best returning shooter on this club, and had he not been hampered by a knee injury last season, that would have been more obvious to outsiders. If he stays healthy, he should end this season as a candidate for Most Improved Player, maybe even more.