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The Blazers’ ‘Top Breakout Candidate’

Bleacher Report sees a potential breakout for Portland’s new starting small forward.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In less than a week, the Portland Trail Blazers will tip off the 2022-23 NBA season. After a summer of speculation, followed by a lackluster preseason, questions about this retooled roster will be answered in a more definitive way. Among those questions, which Blazers player is primed for a breakout campaign?

Last season, it was Anfernee Simons, who rode a blazing hot stretch and lights-out shooting into a $100 million deal. The year before, it was Gary Trent Jr., who carried over his production from the NBA Bubble and established himself as a bonafide NBA starter. Now, for this upcoming season, Zach Buckley of Bleacher Report is pegging small forward Josh Hart as the next Portland player due for a leap year.

Buckley highlighted Hart for a recent piece in which he predicts one “breakout player” for each NBA team. While Buckley acknowledged Hart may be an odd choice because he’s already a solid pro who’s close to his ceiling, he wrote Hart’s jack-of-all-trades skillset will elevate his production in Portland.

Hart isn’t the most obvious breakout candidate for the Blazers. He’s already 27 years old and a lot closer to his ceiling than many of Portland’s prospects, so he doesn’t have the most upward mobility in that locker room.

What he does have, though, is perhaps the highest likelihood of a leap year.

The Blazers want to win now, and Hart can help those efforts better than most of the Blazers’ role players. He can shapeshift through various roles—sharpshooter, slasher, stopper, secondary playmaker—and always find a way to fit with Portland’s more prominent players.

Buckley also referenced Hart’s uptick in production after coming to Portland from New Orleans in a midseason trade last February. Of course, Hart was aided by a larger role after Portland had cleaned house and embraced the tank, but in 13 games as a Blazer, he showed he could get buckets at a solid percentage.

He also played some of the best basketball of his career after landing with the Blazers at least season’s deadline, averaging 19.9 points and 4.3 assists while posting a 50.3/37.3/77.2 slash line across 13 contests.

The 13-game sample size showed a major jump from Hart’s usual scoring numbers. Throughout his career, he has averaged 9.9 points and 2.1 assists per game, while shooting 34.7% from long distance.

Rip City, what do you think? Is Hart the likeliest Blazer to enjoy a breakout season? Let us know in the comments below!