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Fantasy sports are always about the big if.

If my center can find a way to maximize his minutes this year and actually develop a touch around the basket, he could be a top tier center.

If my hot shooting small forward can learn to play just enough defense to stay on the floor for extended stretches, he could be a crazy good source of three pointers.

If the grizzled old vet who’s been ahead of my high energy power forward for the last three years finally starts to show his age…

Well, you get the picture. If…

The most important word in any fantasy basketball preseason.

Fantasy Basketball Breakout Candidates

With that in mind, I give you four potential breakout candidates this year, all of them, of course hinging on that most stubborn of all conjunctions: if.

Reggie Jackson, PG, Detroit Pistons

After coming over from Oklahoma City last year, Jackson’s per 36 numbers took a giant leap. His points went up by three and his assists nearly doubled.

With Greg Monroe now in Milwaukee, and a line-up tailor made for Jackson to run pick and roll with Andre Drummond, look for both scoring and assists to continue to go up. Of course, some owners will hesitate because Jackson’s time in Detroit does represent a relatively small sample size.

The Big IF: IF Jackson can carry over his end of the season success in the final months of last year, and IF he can develop pick and roll chemistry with Andre Drummond, he should be poised for a major breakthrough this year, and possibly join the top tier of fantasy point guards in most leagues.

Andre Drummond, C, Detroit Pistons

While Drummond has been flirting with fantasy stardom for the past few seasons, solely on the basis of his prodigious rebounding, this year is shaping up to be the year he finally clears the hurdle between tantalizing potential and top five producer.

Gone are Josh Smith and Greg Monroe, creating the space in the lane Drummond has always craved.

Unfortunately, the 22 year old big man has been poised on the brink before, most notably at the start of last season. Then the season began and all the high expectations for him seemed a little silly. He had not made the leap. If anything, Drummond had actually regressed a little, mostly when it came to field goal percentage and scoring. By the end of the season (sans Smith), he’d cleaned up his game enough to remind everyone of his monster potential.

The Big IF: IF Drummond can continue his relentless pursuit of boards (especially offensive ones) and show marked offensive improvement in Van Gundy’s new one in and four out system, he’ll finally become the fantasy center owners have been dreaming about for years.

Eric Bledsoe, SG, Phoenix Suns

Bledsoe is one of those players who can be electric to watch, combining short bursts of blazing quickness with sometimes jaw-dropping upper body strength. When he makes a move to the hoop, he’s like a pinball bouncing from defender to defender until he’s found just enough daylight to toss up a shot that usually culminates with an and one and Bledsoe picking himself up off the floor (which never fails to make fantasy owners wince given Bledsoe’s, ahem, susceptibility to injury).

Last year he went toe to toe against Russell Westbrook in an epic battle of near triple doubles (Bledsoe missed his by one assist, but did manage to get the win), and flashed moments of brilliance throughout an otherwise somewhat muted and disappointing campaign, marred by personnel problems (what did you expect, Phoenix? Three, ball dominant point guard who all needed minutes? That was one train wreck anyone could have seen coming).

This year, reports from training camp are positive. Bledsoe is more engaged and confident than ever before. Personnel problems (with the notable exception of Markief Morris) seem to be a thing of the past. Is this the year Bledsoe finds his consistency and begins to overpower other point guards, much like Russell Westbrook has been doing for years?

The Big IF: IF reports are true, IF Bledsoe is truly happy and engaged in Phoenix, and IF (hate to mention it) injuries are not a problem, expect Bledsoe will make a major leap this year.

Meyers Leonard, C, Portland Trailblazers

It would be just as easy to drop Meyers Leonard into the sleeper category, and I certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone who did. Call him what you want to call him—sleeper, breakout candidate, potential fantasy stud, or “basketball unicorn” (as Mika Honkasalo of Vantage Sports recently did because of his uniquely rare basketball skill set)–you just better make damn sure he’s own your team.

Meyer’s is 7’1 and deadly from behind the arc. Let me say that again. 7’1 and deadly behind the arc. He’s a high volume rebounder and a great defender who will block shots. And best of all, he’s playing for Portland, and if you’ve been paying attention even a little bit, you know that team is like the wild west: gunslingers will emerge.

The Big IF: IF Meyers Leonard can make the mental and physical leap from being a role player a year ago to one of the team’s main cogs, I don’t really see a downside.

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