Who are some of the top players who will make the biggest individual leaps this year?
To gauge who are the top breakout candidates for the upcoming season, HoopsHype polled 15 NBA executives. Each talent evaluator was asked to list his top three players who will have a breakout campaign.
Most of the talent evaluators prioritized young players who will see an increased role. Some selected an older veteran who switched teams. Others placed a higher value on younger prospects who are striving to become All-Stars for the first time.
After receiving the feedback from the executives, the voting results were tabulated, with the top player receiving five points, the second receiving three points, and the third receiving one point for each ballot.
1. Darius Garland (Cleveland)
Share of the vote: 24 percent of the maximum amount possible
Garland, who was limited to 54 games last season, showed flashes of breakout potential in April when he averaged 20.5 points on 48 percent shooting overall and 38.5 percent from beyond the arc with 7.3 assists for the Cavaliers.
“In theory, you’re picking a younger player who hasn’t broken out yet because of some reason, whether it’s either injuries or team dynamics, and they still have to have untapped upside,” an NBA executive explained. “Garland checks those boxes.”
The 21-year-old guard should thrive in pick-and-roll action with Jarrett Allen and Evan Mobley as rim rollers, while the addition of Lauri Markkanen, who shot 40.2 percent from downtown last season, will help space the floor and open pick-and-pop opportunities.
“I think Garland’s kind of gotten lost in the shuffle in terms of people knowing who he is because of Colin Sexton,” an NBA scout opined. “If he stays healthy, I like picking him.”
2. Jaren Jackson Jr. (Memphis)
Share of the vote: 18.67 percent of the maximum amount possible
Jackson Jr. was limited to only 11 games last season after returning from a torn meniscus in his left knee.
Heading into this season healthy, the executives believe Jackson Jr. will return to his pre-injury form as one of the rising big men in the game when he shot 39.4 percent from downtown with 1.6 blocks per game.
“He’s super talented,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He can shoot threes and has a quick release. When he puts it all together, he’s going to be really good. You have a really good dynamic 1-2 punch there with Ja Morant. Jaren has all the tools to be really good.”
The 22-year-old center is eligible for a contract extension, as colleague Yossi Gozlan noted in a previous HoopsHype article.
3. Keldon Johnson (San Antonio)
Share of the vote: 17.33 percent of the maximum amount possible
“Johnson will have more runway this year with DeMar DeRozan gone,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’ll entrench himself as a starter. When he’s gotten minutes, he produces. He’s vastly improved his shooting.”
According to Basketball-Reference, Johnson started 26 games last season where he played between 30-39 minutes. He averaged 15.9 points on 49.5 percent shooting overall and 38 percent from downtown with 7.7 rebounds in such games.
After spending more time with Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and winning a gold medal with Team USA together in the Tokyo Olympics this summer, Johnson is primed for a breakout season as San Antonio’s starting small forward.
“I’m curious how Keldon is after that summer with USA Basketball and Popovich believing in him even more,” an NBA scout noted.
4. OG Anunoby (Toronto)
Share of the vote: 14.67 percent of the maximum amount possible
Anunoby is considered Toronto’s best defender and improved his offensive game last season by averaging a career-high 15.9 points per game. The 23-year-old small forward also shot a career-best 39.8 percent from three-point range while doubling his attempts from the previous season (6.1 from 3.3).
“With Kyle Lowry gone, they’re going to need to find other ways to score and should lean on him more,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype. “I think he had a good year last year in a crazy situation for them having to play in Tampa, which was essentially a 72-game road trip. I think having a sense of normalcy again being back in Toronto will serve him and all the Raptors well.”
“I think OG can break out because they kind of need him to, and he’s going to get the opportunity,” an NBA scout added. “Someone with the Raptors will, and he’s the most logical one.”
5. Patrick Williams (Chicago)
Share of the vote: 9.33 percent of the maximum amount possible
Headlined by the additions of DeMar DeRozan and Lonzo Ball, the Bulls were an offseason winner, as noted on the HoopsHype podcast, and should position Williams for a breakout season.
“Pat can shoot, and I think that makes him a fit anywhere,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’ll be their best defensive player. They’ll need him for a lot of different roles. He can be that glue guy defensively and guard threes and fours and switch out. They’ve got playmaking around him that’ll get him some shots on offense.”
With Lauri Markannen’s departure to Cleveland, Williams will have an opportunity for more minutes. He was more efficient last season with more playing time and shot 50.8 percent from the field overall and 42.9 percent from beyond the arc in 31 combined games where he played 30 or more minutes.
“Pat will have a better understanding of his strengths as a second-year player,” an NBA executive predicted. “He will benefit from having Ball as a facilitator, learn from DeRozan on how to be a wing with a mid-range game, and have an overall better roster.”
Others receiving votes
Share of the vote: 8 percent of the maximum amount possible
RJ Barrett and Tyrese Maxey
“Barrett has extended shooting range and is more consistent,” as one NBA executive noted.
Barrett considerably improved his shooting at all levels from the field overall (.441 from .402), three-point range (.401 from .320), and at the foul line (.746 from .614) last season. At 21, his shooting and ability to finish in traffic with an improved physique should continue to grow.
Maxey is a player executives are keeping an eye on as a breakout candidate should Ben Simmons be traded from Philadelphia. Maxey averaged 18.6 points on 50 percent shooting from the field in his rookie season in eight games as a starter.
Share of the vote: 6.67 percent of the maximum amount possible
James Wiseman, DeAndre Hunter, Dejounte Murray, Mikal Bridges, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Share of the vote: 5.33 percent of the maximum amount possible
Michael Porter Jr. and Gary Trent Jr.
Share of the vote: 4 percent of the maximum amount possible
Miles Bridges, Jordan Poole, Kira Lewis, Tyler Herro, and Luke Kennard
Share of the vote: 1.3 percent of the maximum amount possible
Deandre Ayton, Anthony Edwards, Jaden McDaniels, Malik Monk, Nickeil Alexander-Walker, Wendell Carter Jr., Patty Mills
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto