Five breakout players to watch during 2019-20 NBA season
BOSTON — One of the many rites of passage every NBA season is the emergence of players who take that all-important leap from being pretty solid to spectacular more nights than not. These players are not All-Stars — yet — and haven’t been acknowledged for their improved play with the league’s Most Improved Award.
So for the Toronto Raptors fans out there who wonder why Pascal Siakam isn’t on our list of breakout performers, the hardware he got last season — the league’s Most Improved Player award and of course, the franchise’s first NBA title — is why he’s not on this. Those who are, like Siakam, have aspirations of being thought of as one of the best in the game but aren’t quite on that level yet.
But based on this upcoming season and the role they are expected to play, don’t be surprised if you see a few of these solid ballers elevate both their play and their teams’ success, in spectacular fashion.
Here are our breakout performers to watch for in the 2019-2020 season.
5. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago
The Bulls have a young, evolving group of players but this 7-footer is very much part of their core going forward. He is one of the better shooting big men in the NBA, as he is a career 36.2 percent shooter from 3-point range.
His biggest hindrance has been health, with injuries sidelining him for an average of 22 games in each of his first two seasons. But if healthy, his play would go far in the Chicago Bulls’ efforts to rebuild the franchise which has failed to make the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, and three of the last four.
4. De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento
The end-to-end speed is what catches your eye when you first see De’Aaron Fox go to work. But the more you watch him play, the clearer it becomes that he’s more than just a speedster on the floor. Last season, he averaged 17.3 points per game while averaging 7.3 assists, with an assist-to-turnover that was better than 2:1. And the big weakness to his game — shot-making — showed growth as the 6-foot-3 guard connected on 37.1 percent of his 3-point attempts.
At this point, the talent and upside to his game is undeniable. But can he lead your team to success? Fox has the franchise going in the right direction, having led the Kings to 12 more victories last season than they had when he was a rookie in 2017. A similar improvement this season would not only position the Kings for their first playoff berth since 2006, but also establish Fox as one of the more promising, up-and-coming playmakers in the NBA.
3. Jayson Tatum, Boston
When you look at Jayson Tatum’s numbers from a year, the key stats — scoring, rebounds, assists, shooting percentage — are similar to last year’s Most Improved Player, Pascal Siakam. And yet all you heard most of the offseason — from Tatum and from others — is how his play a year ago didn’t meet expectations. This year, Tatum returns bigger, stronger and more empowered than ever with the departure of Kyrie Irving to Brooklyn.
In the preseason, Tatum was far more aggressive at getting to the rim, more intent on being in takeover mode consistently. He had the highest usage rate (29.8) of any on the team, a trend the Celtics hope he’ll take into the regular season as they look to remain among the upper echelon teams in the Eastern Conference.
2. John Collins, Atlanta
Trae Young may get most of the attention when it comes to the Atlanta Hawks, but John Collins is a budding All-Star in the making. Injuries limited the 6-foot-10 big man to just 61 games last season, and yet he still ranked in the NBA’s top 20 in double-doubles (32). He runs the floor, scoring in a variety of ways at the rim, and like most of today’s big men in the NBA, he can step outside and knock down a 3-pointer from time to time. In addition to averaging 19.5 points and 9.8 rebounds, he also made 34.8 percent of his 3’s last season.
1. Jamal Murray, Denver
If the Nuggets are to take that next step as an organization and seriously contend for a spot in the NBA Finals, the play of Jamal Murray will have a lot to do with it. He came into the NBA as a guy who could get buckets and more nights than not, he doesn’t disappoint. He had a solid all-around season last year, averaging 18.2 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.8 assists.
But the correlation between big scoring nights and big wins for the Nuggets was undeniable. In games that he scored 20 or more points, the Nuggets were 20-9 last year. That stretch included a 48-point explosion against the Celtics in which Murray took a last-second 3-point shot to try and get 50 points after the Nuggets already had the victory secured, That prompted an upset Kyrie Irving to toss the basketball up into the stands, resulting in a $25,000 fine. As the Nuggets look to build off of a strong season last year, the play of Murray will critical to their continued growth.
Myles Turner, Indiana
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City
Montrezl Harrell, Los Angeles Clippers
Kelly Oubre Jr., Phoenix
Mitchell Robinson, New York
Jaylen Brown, Boston
Bam Adebayo, Miami