Projecting breakout players is a dicey proposition at best, but we did it around this time last year anyway. In that piece, we outlined the traits of a typical breakout player:
1. He's entering his second season in the league
2. He's set to play a larger role with his team
3. He's in his early 20s
Goran Dragic, the reigning Most Improved Player, was none of those things. He was in his sixth NBA season. He played in a similar amount of minutes and games as the season before. You could argue his role actually shrunk a bit since he spent so much time on the floor alongside fellow point guard Eric Bledsoe. He turned 28 a couple of weeks after the season ended. Yet Dragic's 10.9 WARP was 47 percent higher than he'd ever posted before. Dragic was an underrated player before last season, but there was no way to foretell that he'd blossom into a third-team All-NBA performer.
We can't tell you who this season's Dragic is going to be, because seasons like that aren't supposed to happen. Part of what makes basketball great is how our baseline expectations are continuously confounded -- how both players and teams alike reveal themselves as wonderful surprises, or sad disappointments. You can point to new Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and his offense-friendly system, and expect one of his players to perform well above expectations, or you could do the same with any number of New York Knicks, who will be playing their first season in Derek Fisher's triangle offense. But you'll probably get exactly nowhere.
For your best chance at predictive success, assume this season's MIP will more closely follow the criteria we've laid out, like Indiana's Paul George did as Dragic's predecessor to win the honor. Using the early returns from this season's SCHOENE forecast, let's look at some players who fit those criteria -- the guys who have the best chance to improve greatly this season, and delight us in the process.