As the countdown to opening tipoff for the 2019-2020 NBA season ticks below 48 hours, the basketball community anxiously awaits the return of their favourite time of year. Personally, I’m going to have a field day watching Lowry, Siakam, and the Raptors take the Pelicans to school on Tuesday night. Speaking of which, the Pelicans, among many other teams, boast so much potential for years to come in the form of raw, young talent. Although Vince Carter isn’t seeming to get the memo, the league is getting younger and the young guns are getting better. These are 5 guys who I think will surprise everyone by having a huge breakout season and will only continue to flourish.
5. Bogdan Bogdanović
The 6’6 shooting guard from Belgrade, Serbia made his NBA Debut in 2017 and quickly made his name known around the league after winning the MVP title in the 2018 rising stars game, outperforming the likes of Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Jayson Tatum and Jamal Murray. From his rookie to sophomore season, Bogdanović improved in PPG, APG, RPG, FGM, and 3PM. He’ll be looking to build on those improvements in 2019-2020, as one of the key core pieces on a developing Kings squad. Being the extremely versatile player that he is, new Kings head coach Luke Walton should have no problem integrating Bogdanović into play-calling in as many ways as possible. The kid can toss beautiful passes and make tough shots, drive to the basket with a tight handle, and although the percentages don’t show it, light it up from three. Bogdanović’s game winning 3-pointer against the Lakers last year absolutely blew the roof off of Golden 1 Center. Look for Bogdanović to average 17+ PPG and 7+ APG this season.
4. Jonathan Isaac
Jonathan Isaac perfectly embodies the NBA’s new look big man. Standing at 6’10, the third-year power forward runs the floor like nobody’s business and finishes fast breaks with vicious dunks that are hard not to love. With a very similar playing style to Pascal Siakam, Isaac’s arsenal continues to expand. His perimeter offense is so effective because of his ability to shoot the three-ball, drop the midrange, or take the ball straight to the basket. The quickness he possesses at his size makes him tough to contain on the pick and roll. His 7’2 wingspan makes him a difficult defender to play against, on the outside and as a rim protector (1.3 BPG last year). As he gets stronger, he’ll improve on his 5.5 RPG and 9.6 PPG from 2018-2019. Look for Isaac to show major growth in both aspects of his game and continue to outrun opponents up and down the floor.
3. Mitchell Robinson
After a fantastic start to his career, Mitchell Robinson was deservedly named to the All-Rookie Team after being selected 36th overall by the Knicks in 2018. The 7’1 center modestly averaged 7 PPG and 7 RPG but boasted elite rim protection, averaging 2.4 BPG and 161 blocks total, which ranked second and fourth league-wide, respectively. A rookie who out-blocked the DPOY, expect to see Robinson as a member of an All-Defensive team in the next couple years. As for the offensive production, I have no doubt in my mind that Robinson will be catching lobs from Dennis Smith Jr. and RJ Barrett all season long. Usually, the young guys are all-offense and lack discipline on the defensive end, but Robinson’s defense is hardly a concern. As he matures, so will his offensive game. It’s as simple as that. Robinson will be a star in the league and a cornerstone of the Knicks franchise.
2. Dejounte Murray
The spurs faced a significant setback to start the season last year in that they lost their starting point guard Dejounte Murray to a torn ACL in preseason. Murray is one of the better talents from the 2016 draft class, and I think a setting of San Antonio will be a perfect fit for Murray to have a breakout year, and learn and develop with veterans DeMar DeRozan, Patty Mills, and LaMarcus Aldridge. As someone I believe has a serious shot at Most Improved Player award, Murray’s skill on both sides of the floor will be a huge asset to the Spurs’ game plan this season. At 6’5, Murray’s athleticism is undeniable. It allows him to always be a threat, driving and finishing with the basketball or locking down all-star-caliber guards on the perimeter. He’s a bull on the fast break using his speed and agility, as we’ve already seen from him in preseason. Murray and DeRozan will be a one-two punch that teams struggle to contain all season.
1. Caris LeVert
Many thought we would see Caris LeVert breakout last season, and we may almost have, if not for LeVert’s gruesome foot injury that sidelined him for more than half the year. But it was lucky he returned at all, as many thought it would be a season-ending, career-altering injury. Fortunately, this was not the case, as LeVert made a full recovery and helped the nets reach their first post-season since 2015. Now, especially with Kevin Durant out for the entirety of the upcoming season, LeVert has a chance to show everyone just how much he can impact the game, something we saw a glimpse of at the beginning of last year. He’s been called ‘Baby Durant’ because of the way he can take over the game, scoring in bunches, in a multitude of ways. Because of his scoring ability, the small forward’s passing ability is often overlooked. He is extremely dangerous in the pick and roll with Jarett Allen because he can feed the ball inside just as easily as he can take it to the rim. LeVert should easily average 20+ PPG this season and earn an all-star spot within the next few. If the Nets win a championship in the upcoming years, they will owe a massive debt to the elite talent of Caris LeVert.