To succeed in the NBA, two key things are needed: a lot of talent and an opportunity. Sometimes, players with a lot of talent aren’t able to live up to their potential because they land with the wrong team or the team isn’t willing to invest in their development.
A lot of new players are going to burst into NBA relevance in 2019-20 due to their improving talent and/or a situation that is more ideal for their success. Let’s look at a few players who are strong candidates for a breakout season.
Lonnie Walker, San Antonio Spurs
Walker’s rookie year with the Spurs probably didn’t go according to his plan. The 2018 first-round pick tore his meniscus in training camp and didn’t ever secure steady minutes with the main team after recovering. Instead, San Antonio elected to play him mostly with the Austin Spurs to hone his skills.
By the beginning of this month, though, Walker was slicing up defenses to the tune of 24.8 points per game in his four Summer League performances. His athleticism and shooting touch, especially from the midrange areas, really wowed spectators.
There’s a good chance Walker will end up a staple in San Antonio’s rotation next year. While he will need time adjusting to a smaller offensive role, he has the work ethic, talent and skill set to become a strong player on both ends of the floor.
Bam Adebayo, Miami Heat
Adebayo is a starting center at the NBA level. He was last season and maybe even the year before that when he was a rookie. Hassan Whiteside has gotten in the way of playing time for the young big man both seasons, limiting him to 47 starts in 151 career games. Now, Whiteside is a Portland Trail Blazer.
At a brawny 6’10” and 255 pounds with surprising quickness and deft passing ability, Adebayo is going to be a very strong player for the Heat in a more featured role this season. The former Kentucky standout is definitely a work in progress with his offensive skill set, and he needs to be a more fearsome rim protector, but you should definitely expect Adebayo to average a double-double this season.
Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets
Monk just scores. It’s no surprise he has 10 20-point games in the NBA already despite playing more than 28 minutes in a contest just once.
Charlotte’s young combo guard probably doesn’t have the all-around turn into a big-time player on a good NBA team. On a Hornets team lacking in talent, especially on offense, Monk is going to put up sizable scoring numbers. Remember, the Hornets only have two double-digit scorers from last season: Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams (10.1 points per game apiece).
The 2019-20 season will be painful to watch for Hornets fans. However, Monk’s dazzling shooting and ball-handling abilities make things a bit more interesting.
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Kentucky theme here is not on purpose, I promise. Gilgeous-Alexander, like fellow Wildcat alumni Adebayo and Monk, really is a strong candidate for a breakout campaign.
SGA had a surprisingly productive rookie season last year for the Clippers, averaging 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game to go with solid defense. By the time the playoffs rolled around, the lanky guard was arguably the team’s fourth-best player, after Lou Williams, Danilo Gallinari and Montrezl Harrell.
With the Thunder, the 21-year-old rising star should remain a starter, even though OKC will have a tough time making the playoffs. He will tag-team well with elite defensive wing Andre Roberson on the perimeter, and veteran point guard Chris Paul will teach him lots of tricks on both sides of the ball.
Luke Kennard, Detroit Pistons
It has been a long time since the Pistons have really had a dangerous offensive threat from the perimeter. The last Detroit guard or wing to crack 20 points per game was Richard Hamilton in 2005-06 (20.1).
It’s definitely a stretch to predict that big of a jump for Kennard, but he’s definitely going to be a much more consistent and productive scorer for Detroit this season. Kennard led the team in minutes per game (33.3) in Detroit’s four-game playoff series loss to the Milwaukee Bucks. That’s definitely a sign of his priority to the team.
Kennard isn’t a big-time athlete, but he is very good as a three-point and midrange shooter and is ambidextrous as a dribbler and finisher. He’s also very crafty with fakes and stepback jumpers.