Along with the crowning of a champion, naming of award winners and record-breaking performances, the thing that fans love to see every season is the breakthrough of new stars in the league. Whether it be becoming an NBA all-star, an MVP candidate, or a key piece to the future of a franchise, new stars rise every season in the league. With that being said here are 10 guys who are poised to make a leap this upcoming season.
10. Bam Adebayo, C, Miami Heat
With the era of Dwyane Wade over in Miami, the Heat for the first since 2003 will be looking for the young players on their roster to take steps forward to bring this team back to the playoffs. Aside from their lone all-star player, Jimmy Butler, the team has no other definitive above-average player.
That’s not to say they don’t have guys that aren’t close. Justise Winslow had the best season of his career last season and could become their starting point guard. Tyler Herro is a nice young player but it’s unfair to expect a rookie to step in and make a big impact so soon. So that leaves the big man for the future, Bam Adebayo.
Adebayo, who was viewed as a project pick when drafted, showed a lot of progress in his second season. His points and rebounds per game averages went up as did his field goal percentage and playing time. With Whiteside gone Adebayo will be elevated to the starting role in the lineup, and the organization is behind him.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra praised Adebayo for how he finished last season, and Pat Riley has always been high on Adebayo. Now he will get the chance to show that he can handle the pressure.
Adebayo will have a chance to build off of last season, as he got more playing time, he proved he could stay on the court. He is a career 73% free throw shooter and showed he could shoot mid-range shots, unlike Whiteside. Bam also showed he has good passing instincts for a big man, as he averaged 2.2 assists per game. While he still has to improve defensively, the pieces are certainly in place for Adebayo to have a great season for the Heat.
9. Jonathan Isaac, PF, Orlando Magic
Another player who was a project coming out, Isaac proved to be a useful piece for a Magic team that made a surprise playoff appearance last season. After only playing in 27 games his rookie season, Isaac played in 75 during the 18-19 season while starting 64 of them. Similar to Adebayo, Isaac made massive strides for himself in year two.
He averaged upped his scoring to 9.6 points per game and his 5.5 rebounds were third on the team. However, his biggest strides were at the three and on defense. Being healthy for a full season showed that Isaac has the tenacity and instincts to be a good defensive player. Combine that with his 6’10” height and his 7’11” wingspan, and you have an intriguing combo.
Isaac also made massive strides at the three-point line, where he was only able to attempt 46 his rookie season, he took 266 threes and shot 32.3%. While not amazing, there is plenty of room for improvement. Add in his strength and weight gains he’s had in the offseason and the Magic looking stable for the first time in seasons, and Jonathan Isaac could easily be a candidate for the Most Improved Player of the year award come the end of the 19-20 season.
8. John Collins, PF, Atlanta Hawks
John Collins showed last season that he is the perfect fit for the future of the Atlanta Hawks. He is a young and athletic power forward who fits well with the shooting and passing of franchise point guard Trae Young.
An intriguing prospect coming out of the draft a few years ago, Collins has fit well with the Hawks new direction. Taking away the first few games of last season when he was recovering from injury, Collins averaged 20-10 on the season. While he may not be a three-point shooter unlike some of the Hawks other players, but his skills fulfill other roles on the team, especially when it comes to his rebounding.
With more young players such as Cam Reddish and De’Andre Hunter, Collins will now take up more of a leadership role as the Hawks will look to make some progress this season. While they are unlikely to make the playoffs, a better record than last season is very much possible.
Collins still has much progress to make. He had fewer blocks in year two than his rookie season so he can stand to improve a lot on defense. He also has to cut down on the turnovers, as he has more career turnovers than assists. However, if he can make those improvements, he will have a phenomenal third season.
7. Lauri Markkanen, PF, Chicago Bulls
The Chicago Bulls have arguably the best collection of young talent in the league. They have young players at all five positions who have all yet reached their peaks. Even shooting guard Zach Lavine could take his play to another level. However, their new breakthrough that they will have this season will be Finnish power forward Lauri Markkanen.
Markkanen had an injury-riddled second season, the Bulls power forward will look to the 19-20 season to be his breakthrough as a potential all-star candidate. While Markkanens’ shooting numbers stayed even and his points per game increased, his impact was not as profound as it could have been. To be fair, missing 30 games can do that to any player and now Markkanen is coming into the season healthy.
While it is unfair to place lofty expectations on him, Markkanen has drawn comparisons to recently retired legend Dirk Nowitzki. Markkanen has hit 265 threes in only 120 games played so far, translating to over two three-pointers made a game. Add to that the soft touch around the rim and Chicago have their own version of Dirk.
While Markkanen has yet to show that level of offensive potency in Chicago his impact his significant. The Bulls had the worst offensive rating in the league when Markkanen was off the floor, and while they were only 23rd with him, he still means a lot to them.
Like Isaac, stability will give him and all the young Bulls players a chance to get better and play better as well. Jim Boylen, while he may have had a rough start, got control of the team as the season went on. With only Lavine being the other established scorer on the team, Markkanen will have plenty of chances to grow even further offensively.
6. Dejounte Murray, PG, San Antonio Spurs
A candidate for a breakout 18-19 season, Murrays’ season ended due to tearing his ACL. After missing last season Murray figures to build off the success he had in the 17-18 season and establish himself as the point guard of the future for the Spurs.
Murray had a solid 17-18 season offensively, averaging 8.1 points per game. It was on the defensive end where he averaged 5.7 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, en route to an All-NBA Defensive 2nd team selection. That season came after a rookie playoff run where he replaced an injured Tony Parker and showed flashes of what he could become.
Now Murray finds himself in an interesting situation. He’s coming off a season-ending injury and while his rehab went well and he’ll be ready for that start of the season but the situation has changed. Derrick White had a good season for the Spurs and Gregg Popovich won’t willingly give Murray his spot back, Murray will have to earn it.
However, that could be a good thing. With over a year since he last played Murray will need to ease back in, and he could use the extra time to get back in the flow of things. A preseason with seeing some action plus a few regular-season games to fully catch up.
The key to how Murray will do this season will be how quickly he gets used to the Spurs. He will have to gel with Demar DeRozan and Lonnie Walker IV, as well as sharing the backcourt with Derrick White. If all falls right, then Murray will easily be able to find his groove with the Spurs and turn into their longtime starting point guard.
5. Andrew Wiggins, SF, Minnesota Timberwolves
Another season, another time where we get to wonder if this is the year that Andrew Wiggins finally breaks out for the Timberwolves. Wiggins has had one of the rockiest, yet interesting tenures that any No.1 overall pick has had in recent memories. After winning rookie of the year in 2015 and averaging 20+ points per game in his second and third seasons and signing his long term contract, the future seemed bright.
Since then things have gone downhill. The final days of Jimmy Butler era in Minnesota revealed a lot of things to us, one of them being that Wiggins does not have the work ethic of a great player despite the fact that Wiggins had all the tools. While the criticism was pointed and harsh, it is easy to tell that Butler was correct.
Since the 16-17 season, where Wiggins averaged 23.6 points per game, he has averaged below 20 ppg since and has had field goal percentages below 45% in 17-18 and 18-19. Part of this has been too poor offensive IQ, Wiggins is a talented player who if he chose to, could get to rim easily due to his speed, athleticism, and skill. However, Wiggins settles for more long-range two-point jump shots, which are no longer seen as efficient shots in the new three-point heavy era.
So that begs the question, why would the 19-20 season finally be the year Wiggins takes his game to the superstar level that comes with being a number one pick. Well, one reason could be that he is now the definitive number two option again and is no longer a young player. The Wolves have added other young players that last few seasons that would force Wiggins to now be one of the veteran leaders.
Another reason is that Wiggins has something to build off of from last season, and that would be his defense. Last season he averaged career highs in defensive rebounds per game, and blocks per game and his second-highest defensive win shares. Wiggins has always had the tools to be an above-average defender but hasn’t been able to put it together, probably due to the effort argument. If he can carry over the improvements he made last season than he can establish himself as the new defensive leader for the Wolves.
Ultimately the thing that turns Wiggins career around will be him bringing everything together, which he has shown he can do offensively. While the last two years haven’t been kind, it says a lot that he averaged 20+ ppg twice before turning 22. If he can bring back his offense and finally elevate defensively, will finally see the player that received all the hype coming out in 2014.
4. De’Aaron Fox, PG, Sacramento Kings
The 2018-19 season revealed a lot of things to NBA fans, one of those things being the fact that for the first time in years, the Sacramento Kings have a bright future ahead of them. Led by a core of young players mixed with veterans the Kings went 39-43 and finished as the 9th seed in the western conference. With their best season since 05-06, the Kings have a shot in 19-20 to make it back to the playoffs, and one of the players leading them is their all-star potential guard, De’Aaron Fox.
After a solid rookie season, Fox had a much improved second season last year. The 21-year-old point guard took massive leaps offensively, increasing his scoring to 17.3 ppg and assists to 7.3 per game. What played a key role in his much-improved offense was shooting percentages. Fox increased his field goal percentage from 41.2 to 45.8, but even more shockingly, his three-point percentage increased from 30.7% to 37.1%. Not seen as a shooter coming out of college, Fox taking these steps forward increased his ceiling as a player even higher.
However, what sets him up for a potentially all-star level third season is the improvements of the team around him. Other young players such as Marvin Bagley III, Bogdan Bogdanovic, and Buddy Hield will be a year better, and veterans such as Harrison Barnes and Trevor Ariza will be glue guys on the team. The talent around him will allow Fox to be a better playmaker and open up his scoring as well.
Also working in his favor is new Kings coach, Luke Walton. Despite a failed tenure with the Lakers, Walton is still a praised coach for what he did with the Warriors during their 73-9 season. While the Kings won’t be that good, Walton brings the influence and mind that will allow Fox to really take the reigns this season and be a 20 points and 10 assists per night player.
3. Pascal Siakam, PF, Toronto Raptors
While many will argue that Siakam has already broken out with being named the most improved player of the year last season and for his performance in the 2019 NBA Finals, that was only the beginning of what we will see from Siakam. Entering his fourth season Siakam has made progress in each season in his career, constantly increasing his scoring average and improving his all-around game. Now, the 19-20 season will allow him to put it all on full display for 82 games.
While the Raptors are the defending champions, there is a key difference from their team from last season, Kawhi Leonard left in free agency. With Leonard gone the team lost their superstar player, Finals MVP and number one scoring option. However, Leonards’ absence now opens up the chance for a new number one option, that’s where Siakam comes in.
The playoffs showed that Siakam has the ability to handle the scoring load for the team, as he averaged at least 19 ppg in three of the four playoff series, highlighted by his 32 points in game one of the Finals and 26 points in the title-clinching game six. With the offense going through him, Siakam will get plenty of touches to over the course of 82 games to put up offensive numbers, and his growth from last season will likely garner the coaches vote to the all-star game if he’s not voted as a starter.
Siakams’ biggest benefit that will help him navigate his first full season as the number one option is the team that he has around him. Veterans like Kyle Lowry, Marc Gasol, and Serge Ibaka will help take the load off him at times and allow him to focus and flourish on the other end of the floor. With a smart coach like Nick Nurse there to lead the way and put his guys in the best situations, Siakam has everything going for him to go from fan favorite to a bonafide star player.
2. Jamal Murray, PG, Denver Nuggets
The 18-19 season and subsequent 2019 NBA playoffs only gave us a glimpse into what the future will be like for Jamal Murray and the Denver Nuggets. With Nikola Jokic showing his superstar potential for all of last season the Nuggets will build their core around him, and already have their number two guy in Jamal Murray.
The 7th overall pick in the 2016 draft was a known scorer coming out of college. As his college coach, John Calipari praised his scoring ability and called him the steal of the draft. Things looked tough in his rookie year when Murray played the shooting guard spot and only averaged 9.9 ppg. However, things really got going in year two, when the Nuggets starting using Murray more as their point guard in lineups, and that’s when he began to flourish.
Murray has increased his points and assists production each season since his rookie year and has become even more involved in the offense since transitioning to playing at the point more. Along with becoming more involved in the offense, the increased time at the point has built up the chemistry between Murray and Jokic, and the Nuggets future is tied to the two of them. As the two have improved the last three seasons, so has the teams’ record.
In Murrays’ first two seasons with the team, the Nuggets finished as the 9th seed, then last year in year three, with Murray and Jokic both having career years, the Nuggets were the second seed in the west last season. Then in the playoffs, after a rocky start to the Spurs series, Murray showed that he can be the teams’ number one scoring option. Murray finished with at least 23 points in three of the last four games of the Spurs series, all three of those games were wins, including the game 7 victory to advance to the second round.
Then against the Blazers, despite the Nuggets falling seven games, he averaged 23.6 ppg, including back-to-back 34 point games. If the 2019 playoffs taught one thing about Murray, it’s that he can score with the best when he’s playing at his best. Now 19-20 brings an interesting opportunity for Murray and the Nuggets as a whole. The Warriors are weaker than the last five years, the Lakers and Clippers have better duos but need to show they can work together and build chemistry, and the Rockets are trying to stay in things. The Nuggets, with rising stars and a cohesive group, can shock the league, and if Murray continues the kind of scoring he showed us to end last season, the Nuggets will have themselves two all-stars and a real shot at the Finals, and Murray will have plenty of say in that happening.
1. Brandon Ingram, SF, New Orleans Pelicans
The New Orleans Pelicans have arguably the most intriguing team going into the 19-20 season. They have the most hyped incoming rookie since LeBron James in Zion Williamson, the high IQ playmaker but injury-riddled Lonzo Ball, another young guard in Josh Hart, and a nice group of veterans. They also have one of the more intriguing young players in the league in Brandon Ingram.
Ingram has been unfulfilled potential since he was drafted 2nd overall in 2016. He was compared to and called the next Kevin Durant because of his frame, and having the potential of being an elite scorer. While he hasn’t done it yet for a full 82 games, in part because he has played less than 55 games each of the last two seasons, Ingram has shown us what he can be.
In the last six games that Ingram played in of the 18-19 season before going down due to injury, he averaged 27.8 ppg, 7.5 rpg. The year prior in 17-18, Ingram averaged over five assists per game in the last month and a half he played before again going down in injury. There’s clearly been a pattern with Ingram, he starts to play well later in the season but can never continue to build on things due to injury. Now he has a clean slate to turn the small sample sizes into a full season.
Included in the Anthony Davis trade to New Orleans, Ingram has a clear lane to be the number one or number two scoring option on the team. Lonzo Ball is a pass-first mentality player, veteran JJ Reddick is catch-and-shooters in schemes, and Josh Hart, while he has some promise, will be in a dog fight for playing time.
The only thing stopping him from being the top option would be Zion Williamson and Jrue Holiday. As massive as the presence of Zion is, he still needs to expand his offensive game. While Holiday is also a good offensive player, Ingram being 6’9” allows him to get his shot up against taller defenders.
All this means is that Ingram is likely the best all-around offensive player on the Pelicans, and now has the opportunity to show the potential everyone believed he had coming into the league. Last season Ingram had to adjust to playing with LeBron James and also got hurt. Now in a more open offense and Ingram making good progress from the injury he suffered, the stage is set for him to burst out offensively, and earn himself a big contract after this season.