Predicting the Next Wave of Breakout NBA Stars
Who will be the breakout stars of the 2019-20 NBA season?
Before we answer that question, we need to address what the term means, as both "breakout" and "star" can be somewhat subjective.
For the purpose of this article, we'll use a nice, objective definition: a player who has never been an All-Star who could elevate himself to that level this season. Ergo, "star" means All-Star, and "breakout" means earning that status for the first time.
Each featured player has established his All-Star potential, is 25 or younger and has plenty of room for growth. Furthermore, his team situation has improved, which gives him a better shot at participating in the midseason festivities.
Players are listed here in order of their chances to make the All-Star roster.
5. John Collins, Atlanta Hawks
John Collins has got to be sore because it seems like most of the NBA world has been sleeping on him.
Last season, he averaged 19.8 points and 9.8 rebounds while notching a 62.7 true shooting percentage. The only other players to top 19 points, nine boards and a 60 true shooting percentage percent were Karl-Anthony Towns and the league's reigning MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo.
Yet the big man finished just 31st among Eastern Conference frontcourt players in All-Star voting by fans.
Collins, who will turn 22 on Sept. 23, still has plenty of room to grow.
One big reason is co-star Trae Young, with whom he built chemistry over the course of last season. Before the All-Star break, Young assisted him on 2.4 buckets per game. That number leaped to 3.3 after it.
Overall, Collins' second-half splits featured 20.3 points and 10.3 boards per game. If he can be a 20/10 guy next year while the Hawks get into the playoff hunt in the bottom-light Eastern Conference, he has a real shot at being named an All-Star.
4. Lauri Markkanen, Chicago Bulls
You can just go ahead and start markin' in Lauri Markkanen on your Most Improved Player ballot right now.
The Chicago Bulls have a young core around which they're building, but the player in whom they're putting the most hope is Lauri Markkanen, who has flashed brilliance in his two-year NBA career but had it curtailed by injuries. He missed 14 games in his rookie campaign and 30 last season.
He is the stretchiest of stretch 4s (or 5s), averaging 2.2 threes per game for his career, which is the most among all 7-footers in NBA history by a comfortable margin. The next best with at least 500 attempts is Kristaps Porzingis (1.5 per game), so Markkanen is averaging just over 45 percent more threes per game than every other qualified 7-footer in NBA history.
Last year, the Bulls were discombobulated. Between lineup changes, injuries and a head coach transition midway through the season, they didn't feature a lot of consistency. Yet there was still a stretch in which the Finnisher demonstrated just how good he can be, notching 11 straight games with at last 20 points and nine rebounds. Over those outings, he averaged 26.5 points, 12.6 rebounds and 2.5 treys.
If the Bulls can find some consistency at point guard, which they may have done by acquiring Coby White in the draft and Tomas Satoransky in free agency, that lack of consistency might change. Last year, the depth was nonexistent after Kris Dunn.
Adding Thaddeus Young should also help the Bulls be a more competitive team. They have a better-than-decent chance to get into the playoff hunt. If they do, Markkanen could be an All-Star.
3. Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans
Can Brandon Ingram pull a D'Angelo Russell and break out now that he's not with the Los Angeles Lakers anymore?
If the way he was playing before he went down last year is any indication, he can. Over the last 15 games before deep venous thrombosis in his right arm ended his season, Ingram averaged 23.0 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 56.5 percent from the field, 37.9 percent from three-point range and 75.0 percent at the free-throw line.
Playing with LeBron James was bad for Ingram. He averaged 18.2 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists per 36 minutes when he shared the court with James. Those numbers jumped to 20.7, 6.0 and 4.2 without the King.
While James might technically have been playing power forward, he was still essentially a point forward. That overlapped with Ingram's natural position, so he never quite meshed with James.
Now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, Ingram will be able to play small forward comfortably. He'll also be the second-best player on the team (behind Jrue Holiday). He may even be the best by season's end. For the first time in his career, he's going to be playing with veterans who fit well around him. Holiday should feed him the ball, JJ Redick will provide spacing and Derrick Favors will be an outlet at the rim.
Zion Williamson, the top pick in the 2019 NBA draft, will also command plenty of defensive attention.
All that should mean room for Ingram to operate.
The Pelicans have made a remarkable rebuild in one summer and could legitimately be in the playoff hunt. If they are, Ingram will be a huge reason and, more than likely, an All-Star.
2. Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Some might argue Mitchell is already a star, but he has not been an All-Star. In fact, he shockingly wasn't even close last year, as he finished 12th among Western Conference guards.
Mitchell started last season slowly, which might have been why he was so far behind in the voting. But his per-game numbers over the second half of the season were compelling: 26.9 points, 4.9 assists and 4.6 rebounds. He shot 41.1 percent from deep, and his true shooting percentage was a respectable 56.3.
His ability to shoot 34.0 percent on pull-up threes over that stretch was telling, as was his 50.5 percent clip on catch-and-shoot threes. Surprisingly, very few of the set-up passes came from Ricky Rubio. While Rubio has more of a reputation as a passer, Mike Conley averaged 6.4 assists to Rubio's 6.1 last year, and with less talent around him.
The Jazz's acquisition of Conley is a tremendous move, in part because it will help Mitchell continue to elevate his game. He has the potential to be a 25-points-per-game scorer, and he should be more efficient moving forward because he'll be getting more catch-and-shoot opportunities with Conley helming the team. Since the incoming point guard is a much greater scoring threat, teams will have to play Mitchell more honestly.
While they don't have the two-star attack everyone seems to be pursuing, the Jazz could post the best record in the Western Conference after they got better on both ends of the floor with the Conley addition.
If they're at or near the top of the West, it's a near certainty Mitchell will get his nod this year.
1. Pascal Siakam, Toronto Raptors
Pascal Siakam has not signed a contract extension yet. If he bets on himself becoming an All-Star this year and getting a max offer next summer, he'll probably win.
Siakam is the reigning Most Improved Player, but his game can keep getting better. Unless he gets injured, he'll almost certainly be in the coming year's All-Star Game.
When Siakam played without Kawhi Leonard last year, his per-36 numbers stood at 20.7 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists, indicating he does have the chops to become the Raptors' leading scorer in the absence of the 2019 Finals MVP.
His usage percentage was also higher without Leonard (19.4 percent with and 21.9 percent without). It stands to reason the Raptors will lean on him more in 2019-20, and he should respond favorably considering his history. Part by design and part by growth, he'll be the Raptors' go-to guy next year.
Michael Grange of Sportsnet opined: "In my view, no one on Masai Ujiri's roster is better suited to carry the torch going forward due to his game, personality and the equity he's earned in transforming himself from an unheralded late first-round pick to a borderline all-star."
Coupling the natural progression we already expected from a fourth-year player with the reality that he's now the best player on Toronto's roster and will have more plays run for him, he should average around 22 or 23 points per game. When you combine that with his stellar defense, you get an All-Star.