5 NBA Players Primed to Breakout This Year
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.
Why The Warriors Dynasty Is Not Yet Over
In what may possibly go down as the greatest off-season in history, NBA fans everywhere let out a cry of ecstasy when Kevin Durant announced via Instagram that he was headed to Long Island come fall. Amidst all the speculation that Durant would be sporting a Knicks jersey for years to come, the Brooklyn Nets made a splash just minutes into free agency through a sign-and-trade deal with the Warriors that would pay Durant $164 million over 4 years, establishing him as the focal point of the Eastern Conference.
Coming from a Raptors fan, free agency was gut-wrenching for reasons that need not be explained. But as a basketball fan, as a fan of the NBA, this off-season was something out of a dream. This new-look league looks to prove itself as one of the most competitive in years, as I truly believe that over a third of the league has a legitimate shot at winning the title. The draft class is filled top to bottom with star-studded talent (kudos to Denver for snagging Bol Bol at 44), and I can’t wait to watch what will undoubtedly be an all-out dogfight for the Western Conference.
Arguably the biggest takeaway from the past few months, however, was Golden State’s fall from stardom beginning with Klay Thompson’s game 6 ACL tear (he is expected to miss at least half of the upcoming season) and ending with their loss of the most gifted scorer in the history of the league. The Warriors also traded away 2015 Finals MVP Andre Iguodala and lost veteran guard Shaun Livingston to retirement. Despite the acquisition of incredible young talent in D’Angelo Russell, Warrior fans and Warrior haters everywhere have already eliminated Dub-Nation from championship contention, declaring the dynasty as history.
A casual fan of the game could accept this viewpoint as accurate, as so many have, and jump right on the Lakers or Clippers bandwagon. But I would condemn anyone who, while calling themselves an insightful and knowledgeable viewer, validates this truly ludicrous idea about one of the greatest squads in NBA history. Too often people forget that Steph Curry, with support from Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, led the 2015-2016 Warriors to a 73-9 regular-season record. Better than the ’95-’96 Bulls. Better than the Showtime Lakers. Better than Miami’s big 3, Russell’s Celtics, Shaq and Kobe, or any other of the most dominant basketball teams in history. Of course, I understand that the 2019-2020 Warriors are not the same team that the 2015-2016 Warriors were. But they are by no means a shell of their former selves, in any way shape or form. The core of this team has 3 rings. They know what it means to lead, what it takes to execute, and how winning is done. Let’s truly break down the key components of this Golden State roster to see if they have what it takes to prove their doubters wrong and keep the dynasty alive.
D’Angelo Russell – Coming off a breakout season, deservedly earning his first all-star appearance, Russell will be looking to build on that progress in the upcoming months. He led Brooklyn to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, averaging 21.1 PPG and 7.0 APG on the season, cementing himself as one of the top guards in the league. ‘DLoading’ was a gym rat this summer, constantly putting up shots and honing his craft. Last season, the 23-year-old had career-highs in PPG, APG, RBG, FG%, and 3PT%. His more than capable 3 point shooting, extremely crafty ball-handling, and visionary passing make Russell so exciting to watch and a threat in any pick and roll situation. With Thompson out for a significant amount of time, look for Curry and Russell to be the league’s most skilled backcourt, and a nightmare for other teams to guard.
Kevon Looney – With Demarcus Cousins out for the majority of last season, Kevon Looney’s minutes were significantly increased for almost the entire year. One of the Warriors’ key role players, Looney plays an important part in their game plan by setting hard screens and cleaning up boards. His athleticism and long wingspan make Looney a solid post defender and rim protector. With 3 years of playing alongside Draymond Green – and 3 finals appearances –under his belt, Looney knows the type of energy and mentality that rakes in wins.
Alfonso McKinnie – As an undrafted sophomore, McKinnie played valuable minutes last postseason. He established himself as an efficient shooter during the regular season, hitting 49% of his shots, and 36% on those from beyond the arc. With Thompson out for at least a few months, McKinnie may see a starting role and will look to build on his 4.7 PPG during 2018-2019. The future is bright for the 6’8 small forward.
Willie Cauley-Stein – The 240-pound 7-footer was named to the all-rookie team in 2016 and has been a consistent contributor to the Kings since being drafted. His stats have seen drastic improvements over his career, most recently averaging 11.4 PPG and 8.4 RPG. His length makes him a good defender up high and down low, as he averaged 0.9 blocks and 1.2 steals this past season. The Warriors have plenty of young talent at the 5, and the 2 dynamic big men should complement each other nicely.
Klay Thompson – Klay Thompson is the type of player that any head coach would want on their roster. His calm, cool, and collected demeanour is one thing that makes him a great leader on and off the floor. Over the past 5 seasons, the second splash brother has averaged 20+ PPG, 45+ FG%, 40+ 3PT%, and 80+ FT%. Consistency is his game, and it has earned him 5 straight All-Star appearances and 2 All-NBA mentions. He holds the record for most threes made in a game (14), most threes made in a playoff game (11), most threes made in a quarter (9), and most points in a quarter (37). He is a revered shooter and will most likely finish his career in the all-time top 3 conversation for 3 point shooting. Not to mention his outstanding defence, which earned him a spot on the 2018-2019 All-Defensive team. Klay Thompson is a cornerstone of this franchise, and one of Steve Kerr’s greatest weapons. I have no doubt that Thompson will beat his recovery date and be playing for the second half of the season.
Draymond Green – Draymond Green is the perfect example of someone who embodies the spirit of a warrior. One of the league’s best defenders (2015-2016 DPOY, 5-time All-Defensive team), Draymond is a hustler – a gritty, tough, fierce opponent who will get in your face and make you hate playing against him. Drafted in the second round, the Warriors struck gold with the 3-time All-Star who has proven himself as an undersized power forward whose skillset makes him an integral piece in his team’s success. He can run the floor like nobody’s business, toss and slam lobs, clean up the glass, and keep you honest from three. What is most impressive about his game though is his court vision and ability to always get the open man the ball. Standing at 6’7, Green has averaged 7+ APG for the past 4 years, a stat which doesn’t account for the number of hockey assists he racks up every night. Curry and Thompson have Draymond Green to thank for being a huge contributor to their success, always finding the Splash Bros when open on the 3 point line. We saw a decrease in Green’s point production the past 3 seasons, with so much of the offense running through Kevin Durant. However, I think this season, especially with Thompson missing significant time, Draymond Green will see his numbers shoot back up on a path to another All-Star game.
Stephen Curry – Need I even say anything about him? The Chef, the Golden Boy, the Baby-Faced Assassin. At 31, the man is already a basketball legend. Steve Kerr described him as, “different from anyone else who’s played the game”. Steph Curry is, without question, the greatest shooter the world has ever seen. He is 1 of 8 players ever in the 50-40-90 club, or in other words, to average 50+ FG%, 40+ 3PT%, and 90+ FT% over the course of one regular season. His name titles 5 of the top 10 single-season records for 3 point field goals made, topping the list at a whopping 402 treys in one season. He currently sits in third place for all-time 3 point field goals made with 2483 in 10 seasons, which puts him on pace to shatter Ray Allen’s record of 2973 in 18 seasons. Curry’s off-ball movement is the best in the league, and his ability to run around the defence and find his shots is truly eye-opening. He creates a remarkable type of pull for defences to guard him anywhere on the floor because of his ability to sink shots from the logo like layups. In addition to his 6 All-Star Games, 6 All-NBA mentions and 2 MVP Awards, Steph Curry is the only player to ever unanimously win MVP, in 2015-2016. He is a brilliant leader and has been the Warriors most valuable player during their reign as Dub-Nation. With Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, every play will run through Steph Curry. He’ll be distributing and scoring the ball like he was in 2016. This year, I believe Curry will; finish as the scoring leader, break his own record for threes made in a season, win MVP, lead Golden State to another Finals appearance. When he retires, I believe the 3 best basketball players of all time will be; Lebron James, Michael Jordan, Steph Curry, in no particular order.
Despite what Sports media wants you to think, the Golden State supremacy is not finished. They have the best 3 point shooting team in the league, arguably the best point guard ever (Magic fans will shred me for this), the most successful coach of all time in terms of win percentage, and loads of experience. The Warriors haven’t been underdogs for many years, and one of the greatest basketball empires of all time will be looking to surprise everyone and make a statement in 2020.