Breakout players can be extremely difficult to predict. Some people may have foreseen improvements of Brandon Ingram and Bam Adebayo, due to their increased role. However, some are completely out of the blue. For example, DeVonte Graham went from a rare contributor to the Hornets’ most important player. The same could be said for Duncan Robinson. A player going to a worse team where he has a bigger role obviously warrants an improvement. Therefore, making this list before the offseason will allow us to make the predictions without factoring in an increased role. Let’s take a look at five potential breakout stars for next year.
Stats courtesy of basketball-reference.com
No. 5 – Lonnie Walker IV
Despite having been invited to Orlando for the resumption of the NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs look likely to miss out on a playoff spot for the first time in over 22 seasons. Their core is made up of aging players such as DeMar DeRozan, LaMarcus Aldridge, Rudy Gay, and Patty Mills. This could mean a chance for one of the younger Spurs to break out next season. Lonnie Walker IV could easily be that player, as he is still just 21 years old. He took a small step up, averaging 5.5 points in just 14.5 minutes per game while shooting a terrific 41% from beyond the arc. It is likely that Walker could get increased minutes and touches next year, which could lead him to average upwards of 15 points a game. He has also shown flashes of a future lockdown defender. If he continues to improve, he could be a massive part of the Spurs’ future.
No. 4 – PJ Washington
PJ Washington fits the mold of a modern NBA power forward perfectly. He has the size and lateral quickness to defend multiple positions and knocks down the deep ball at an efficient 37.5% clip. On a struggling Hornets team, Washington averaged 12 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 45.5% from the field. With Charlotte expected to struggle for the coming years, the former Wildcat could have a bigger role, and increase his scoring numbers significantly. As teams will focus their defense on Graham and Terry Rozier, Washington will have plenty of good looks from deep.
No. 3 – Marvin Bagley III
Since being selected ahead of Luka Doncic, Jaren Jackson Jr, and Trae Young in 2018, Marvin Bagley’s career has been extremely underwhelming. He has been haunted by injuries so far, playing just 13 games this season, and 75 in his entire career. In that time, however, he has shown flashes of stellar play, with career averages of 15 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, shooting 50% from the field and 29% from three. These numbers were also in limited minutes, just 25 per game, and all but 10 of his appearances are coming off the bench. Luke Walton should show more trust in his former number two overall pick next season. Fulfilling his potential requires an improvement on defense, where he has struggled so far. He needs improvement on this side of the ball and with knocking down the deep ball with more efficiency. Improvement in those areas could see Bagley could become the perfect sidekick, and pick and roll partner to De’Aaron Fox.
No. 2 – Malik Beasley
A trade to the struggling Timberwolves presented the perfect opportunity for Malik Beasley to show his potential. In 14 games for the team so far, Beasley has averaged 20.5 points and 5 rebounds per game, shooting a terrific 47% from the field and 42.5% from three. This was a small sample size, and Karl Anthony-Towns did not play in 12 of those games. However, Beasley has definitely played well enough for the Wolves to prioritize bringing him back this offseason. His exceptional three-point shot and perimeter defense make him the perfect starting lineup fit, and ideal backcourt partner for D’Angelo Russell. Playing a full season with Towns and Russell could see the Wolves take a major step forward. Beasley could get Most Improved Player shouts if he averages over 20, continues to play great defense, and Minnesota makes the playoffs.
No. 1 – Markelle Fultz
Many NBA fans are guilty of ruling Markelle Fultz a bust too soon. The former number one overall pick has had a bounceback year with Orlando, averaging 12 points, 5 assists, 3.5 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game. His season was highlighted by a 21 point triple-double in an upset over the Lakers in Staples Center. He has also significantly improved his efficiency, shooting 47.5% from the field and 72.5% on free throws. His three-pointer continues to be a major concern, shooting 25.5% on nearly two attempts per game. However, his improved free throw and overall efficiency show promising signs that he could continue to develop his jumper. Next season could see an incredible improvement from Fultz if he continues to develop his scoring. His defensive and playmaking ability is already at a very high level, so an improved jumper could see Fultz take a step to be an extremely impactful point guard in the league.