We see guys break out every season, and for the most part, there are warning signs. You knew Anthony Davis would erupt this year. It’s not that surprising that Klay Thompson has become one of the game’s elite scorers.
But some guys seemingly come out of nowhere and thanks to the breakout their teams are now in the playoffs. Now, we’re not talking about a one-season breakout or just a spurt lately, these are guys that have played better than anyone could have predicted when they were in college.
Some of these guys are early in their career while at least one person on this list is a grizzled veteran in the NBA. For whatever reason, these players were passed in the draft or just didn’t have a great collegiate career but are soaring in the NBA.
- Zach Randolph – Memphis Grizzlies via Michigan State
Zach Randolph was a decent player at Michigan State. He put up just over 10 points and six rebounds a game during his one year in East Lansing. He was the 19th overall pick in the 2001 NBA Draft behind the likes of Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol and Joe Johnson. The Blazers took him, which resulted in nothing but bad news.
After a couple of years on the ‘Jail Blazers’ Randolph ended up on the Knicks. Shockingly this is where Randolph started to turn his game around, getting into shape under the tutelage of Mike D’Antoni before heading to Memphis where he became an All-Star. He’s now one of the three best players on a great Memphis team and has stayed away from the off the court stuff that he was notorious for during his time in Portland.
Randolph averaged over 16 points and 10 rebounds this year, his fifth year averaging a double-double in six years at Memphis.
- Khris Middleton – Milwaukee Bucks via Texas A&M
Khris Middleton is one of those young guys who is playing better than anyone could have guessed coming out of Texas A&M. He was the ninth pick in the second round of the 2012 draft that produced Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard and Draymond Green.
He averaged just over 13 points per game this season, but was averaging closer to 20 points per game once Brandon Knight got traded to the Suns. He’s poised to be one of the better free agents heading into this offseason, which is saying a lot for who he was coming out of Texas A&M.
He wasn’t known as a shooter as an Aggie, never shooting over 36 percent from behind the line during his three years there. This past season he shot over 40 percent from deep. His rise after being almost buried on the Pistons bench is one to keep an eye on.
- Danny Green – San Antonio Spurs via North Carolina
Danny Green, yes the same Danny Green who did nothing but dance at North Carolina and with the Cleveland Cavaliers is now a vital player for the best organization in the NBA. In theory this shouldn’t be shocking as Green put up 1,000 points, 500 rebounds, 250 assists, 150 3’s, 150 blocks and 150 steals during his time at UNC – the only player in ACC history to put those numbers up. However, Green did nothing but dance and hype up LeBron during his first year in Cleveland.
Like most people when they go to the Spurs, Green found new life. He found a niche as an outside shooter and defender, while also providing youth to a veteran team. He’s now one of the staples on the roster playing alongside Tim Duncan, Manu, Parker and Kawhi Leonard. He’ll likely never be an All-Star, but he’ll play for a long, long time in the NBA.
- Jimmy Butler – Chicago Bulls via Marquette
This shouldn’t surprise anyone as Jimmy Butler has been the biggest surprise in the entire NBA this year. He’s emerged as the go-to option for the Chicago Bulls, even when Derrick Rose is on the court.
Butler wasn’t even an All-Conference player at Marquette, including when he had his best year as a junior putting up 15 points and six rebounds. He played three years for Buzz Williams but never blew anyone away, which makes sense for his 30th overall draft selection in the 2011 draft.
He’s now an All-Star who averaged 20 points and over five rebounds per game this past season. If you believed Butler would be this good, you’re either related to him or just like his name.