Marcus Thornton, New Orleans Hornets – It's easy to stop watching a team like the New Orleans down the stretch of the season when the star point guard is hurt and they're nowhere near playoff contention, but those that tuned out missed the blossoming of then-rookie guard Marcus Thornton, who proved pretty convincingly that he'll be the full time starter at shooting guard this season. He averaged 14.5ppg as a rook—clearly a respectable number—but what really pops is that he dropped 20 or more points 14 times after the All-Star break, including twice when he went over 36. This is a team that has needed a legit two-guard for a while, and now—finally—it looks like they've got one.
Darren Collison, Indiana Pacers – As good as he is, Thornton's former teammate in New Orleans wouldn't be on this list had he not been moved. As a Hornet he'd be perennially stuck behind the great Chris Paul, but as a Pacer he's the immediate favorite to become a starter. In Paul's two extended absences last season, Collison surprisingly put up numbers comparable to the league's top point guards. If he were to play 35 minutes a game (compared to the 27mpg he logged, a number bloated quite a bit by his 37 starts for Paul), he could potentially a top 5-7 assist guy in the entire league. He honestly couldn't have found a better situation for himself, and it should mean big things for his development as a starting NBA point guard.
Anthony Randolph, New York Knicks – We've heard "This is the year!" in regards to Randolph's imminent breakout almost more times than we've heard Cubs fans say it about winning the World Series. But it's very, very possible that this is the year for him, finally, because he's about to play for an offensive-minded coach who won't bury him at the end of the bench like in Golden State. Depending on how Mike D'Antoni fleshes out his lineup, Randolph could even end up a starter, which means his tremendous length and athleticism could finally come out to shine in the league's most historic basketball city.
Jrue Holiday, Philadelphia 76ers – Holiday was the youngest player in the entire league last season, and at the start of things no one expected him to flourish and grow as quickly as he did. By year's end, he was clearly the starting point guard and was dishing out more and more assists every game. Turnovers were a huge problem for him all year, but with age and experience comes a better sense of how to protect the ball, and those should go down this year while all the rest of his numbers go up. New head coach Doug Collins really believes his team is in contention for an Eastern Conference playoff berth, but if that's going to happen Holiday needs to have a huge year. Luckily for both Collins and Holiday, that's far from being out of the question.
Terrence Williams, New Jersey Nets – It's no secret that Williams struggled adjusting to just about everything related to professional basketball early last season, but his ability to figure out a respectful sleep and practice schedule and to figure out the actual ins and outs of the NBA game show that he's a young man that can take criticism and make adjustments quickly. Struggling through that horrific season in Jersey last year hopefully served as something of a learning experience, and with both Chris Douglas-Roberts and Courtney Lee getting shipped out this past summer, his opportunity to see the floor more will make him one of the better sophomores out there in 2010-2011.
JaVale McGee, Washington Wizards – So he didn't make Team USA's World Championships roster. So what? The mere fact that he was even considered proves that he's a big man on the cusp of breaking out, and if his performance with the national team and in the most recent summer league are any indication of what's to come for him this season, it's very possible that he bumps himself up an echelon or two in the NBA hierarchy. Add the top overall pick John Wall—who is sure to keep him involved offensively—and you've got a perfect storm of ingredients leading to what should be McGee's best season as a pro.
Paul Millsap, Utah Jazz – The argument could easily be made that Millsap "broke out" two seasons ago, when he started almost half of Utah's games with Carlos Boozer out due to injury. That year he averaged a career-high 13.5 points and 8.6 rebounds per game, and that led to a pretty lucrative contract offer from the Portland Trail Blazers the Jazz matched, who expected Boozer to leave in the summer of 2009 via free agency. He didn't, and Millsap's numbers took a dip last year. Boozer is finally gone, however, and Millsap finally will be given the reins to the starting four spot—for good this time. It will be interesting to see what he does with all those extra minutes, but it will be exciting to see him get the opportunity to do it every night for the first time in his career.
Reggie Williams, Golden State Warriors – If you missed Reggie Williams last season, don't be ashamed. He joined the Warriors in early March as a rookie free agent after averaging 26 points and 5.7 rebounds per contest for the D-League's Sioux Falls Skyforce and then saw quite a bit of success in the 24 games he played with the team. He started 10 games and scored over 20 points eight times, failing to play fewer than 40 minutes only once in the month of April. Now that Golden State has shipped off Corey Maggette, Williams will see more time at the three, meaning he could quietly become one of the league's better-scoring role players. You may have missed him last season, but you'll be hearing about him this season.
There are other players that could potentially jump from role player to star player—Anthony Morrow in New Jersey and Serge Ibaka in Oklahoma City are two that come to mind—but the players on this list seem mostly likely to make the largest leaps this upcoming year.