Which players will make the top leaps in their games this year?
HoopsHype polled 20 NBA executives to gauge who will be the top breakout candidates this season. Each executive was asked to list his Top 3 candidates for a breakout campaign.
Most of the talent evaluators prioritized young players who will see an increased role. Others selected younger players who could 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. Below are the results.
1. Tyrese Maxey (Philadelphia)
Share of the vote: 26 percent of the maximum amount possible
Five of the 20 executives polled voted for Tyrese Maxey as their top breakout candidate. The five first-place votes were the most of any player.
“Maxey’s going to be better than James Harden,” one general manager boldly told HoopsHype. “He just keeps getting better and better and will be a huge reason why they have success this season.”
Harden played his first game for the 76ers on February 25. From then through the rest of the regular season, Maxey averaged 18.7 points on an astounding 52.3 percent shooting from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc with 3.5 assists per game.
After a training camp with Harden and an improved roster overall, Maxey could become an All-Star this season, with Philadelphia in contention for one of the top seeds in the East.
“Maxey’s playing with more confidence while being a more efficient scorer from all three levels,” another executive told HoopsHype after observing him in the preseason. “He’s also become a more physical defender.”
2. Tyrese Haliburton (Indiana)
Share of the vote: 22 percent of the maximum amount possible
Three of the 20 executives polled voted for Tyrese Haliburton as their top breakout candidate. Two other executives gave Haliburton second-place votes, while one executive gave him a third-place vote.
After sharing the backcourt with De’Aaron Fox in Sacramento, Haliburton showed promise as one of the best playmakers in the game by averaging 17.5 points and 9.6 assists in 26 games for Indiana.
“I think Haliburton’s ready for the next step,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He’s got all the opportunity now with the keys totally in his hands.”
It’s worth noting that Myles Turner, who’s drawn interest on the trade market in the midst of a contract season for the Pacers, desires to play with Haliburton.
While Indiana is currently in a rebuild mode, Haliburton has positioned himself as the face of the franchise moving forward with All-Star potential.
“The pathway has been cleared for Haliburton to lead this team into its next iteration,” another executive noted.
3. Anthony Edwards (Minnesota)
Share of the vote: 18 percent of the maximum amount possible
A few NBA executives who spoke with HoopsHype believe Anthony Edwards can take another step forward in his development this season and contend for an All-Star appearance.
“Edwards just has the total package,” one NBA executive told HoopsHype bluntly. “He’s capable of being dominant on both ends. Very few people have his tools physically, and he loves to hoop. If he starts to love to compete, look out.”
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Edwards as his top breakout candidate. Four executives voted for Edwards with their second-place votes, while one executive gave Edwards a third-place vote.
In addition to averaging 25.2 points in the playoffs last season, one executive pointed to the addition of Rudy Gobert as a reason Edwards’ game will catapult this season.
“The same reason why Donovan Mitchell had so much success attacking the rim with Gobert setting ball screens and lurking in the dunker spot will help Edwards,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “You get attacking ball handlers who can put that much pressure on the paint. Defenses have to stay honest with a big rolling around the rim, who can shoot over 70 percent from the field if you are forced to help on the penetration. Add to the fact that Edwards is bigger, stronger, and maybe even more athletic than Donovan, and he’s going to be a problem.”
4. Franz Wagner (Orlando)
Share of the vote: 15 percent of the maximum amount possible
Two of the 20 executives polled voted for Franz Wagner as his top breakout candidate. One executive gave Wagner a second-place vote, while two other executives gave him a third-place vote.
“Wagner is huge for his position and competes to win,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “The only weakness in his game is his shooting, but that’ll get better over time with the work rate he has. Defensively, he’s as versatile as you can be when it’s all said and done.”
During Eurobasket this summer, Wagner was one of the top scorers for the bronze-winning Germany team at home, including a 32-point game against Lithuania. Wagner ended up one made free throw away from averaging a 50-40-90 shooting split in the tournament, as noted by HoopsHype colleague Alberto De Roa.
“Franz impacts winning on both sides of the ball,” another general manager told HoopsHype. “He’s got more confidence from the summer playing with Germany.”
5. Jalen Green (Houston)
Share of the vote: 13 percent of the maximum amount possible
Jalen Green had five straight games scoring 30 or more points, which only Allen Iverson also accomplished as a rookie. Green averaged 28.1 points on 48.6 percent shooting from the field and 42.7 percent from beyond the arc in his final nine games.
“The game really started to slow down for Green the second half of last year,” an NBA executive observed. “His athleticism was always there, but his shooting and decision-making all took a jump, and he started to figure things out. Christian Wood’s absence will also create more opportunities.”
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Green as his top breakout candidate. Two other executives gave Green a second-place vote, while two others gave Green a third-place vote.
Others receiving votes
Share of the vote: 12 percent of the maximum amount possible
Evan Mobley (Cleveland)
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Evan Mobley as his top breakout candidate.
“Mobley’s a major focal point of his team,” an NBA executive told HoopsHype. “He had a very good season last year, but with his youth and skill set, he has room for much more upside. Adding Donovan Mitchell will help.”
Share of the vote: 9 percent of the maximum amount possible
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City)
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Josh Giddey as his top breakout candidate. Giddey tied for the seventh-most triple-doubles in a rookie season (4) in NBA history.
Share of the vote: 8 percent of the maximum amount possible
Zion Williamson (New Orleans)
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Zion Williamson as his top breakout candidate, which was a bit surprising.
Share of the vote: 7 percent of the maximum amount possible
Cade Cunnigham (Detroit)
One of the 20 executives polled voted for Cunningham as his top breakout candidate. Pistons forward Marvin Bagley III called Cunningham an All-Star-level player in a recent HoopsHype interview.
Dejounte Murray, James Wiseman, Kevin Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley III
Share of the vote: 5 percent of the maximum amount possible
Murray, Wiseman, Porter Jr., and Bagley III each received one general manager’s top vote for the best breakout candidate.
As noted on a recent HoopsHype podcast on the Warriors, one general manager who voted for Wiseman said, “We just saw the best of him in Japan. They’ll feature him in ways that’ll make his life easy.”
Jaden McDaniels (Minnesota)
Share of the vote: 4 percent of the maximum amount possible
The Timberwolves have been reluctant to include McDaniels in several trade discussions over the years and are banking on a breakout season from the forward as he moves into the starting lineup.
Share of the vote: 3 percent of the maximum amount possible
De’Aaron Fox, Jalen Brunson, Herb Jones, Onyeka Okongwu, OG Anunoby, Terance Mann
No player mentioned in this group will have more responsibility than Jalen Brunson, who signed a four-year, $104 million deal to become the starting point guard for the New York Knicks.
“Brunson is really good on the ball,” one NBA general manager told HoopsHype. “He’s been good for years, but his touches are going to triple, so everyone is going to say he improved.”
Share of the vote: 2 percent of the maximum amount possible
De’Andre Hunter, Desmond Bane
For the Hawks to take the next step as a franchise, they’ll need a breakout season from Hunter, as one general manager told HoopsHype. Atlanta just rewarded the forward with a four-year, $95 million extension and is counting on it.
Share of the vote: 1 percent of the maximum amount possible
Kristaps Porzingis, Davion Mitchell, Devin Vassell
Kristaps Porzingis was in phenomenal shape and was the best player during training camp. He’s primed for a big season ahead as one of the top free agents available next summer in our HoopsHype rankings.
You can follow Michael Scotto on Twitter: @MikeAScotto