1 Player on Every NBA Team to Get Excited About in 2019-20
There are dozens of players around the NBA prepared to outproduce their value or make a significant jump. It may happen next year or later down the road, but buy stock now while it's lower.
Some of these players are rookies who'll prove to be steals. There are sophomores ready to break out. Others are veterans in great situations that can lead to career years.
We picked the player for every team whose stock will rise the most in 2019-20.
Atlanta Hawks: Kevin Huerter
Prediction: Eventually becomes Atlanta Hawks' dangerous third option
Don't sell high on Trae Young. Instead, buy more into Kevin Huerter's rookie flashes.
The Hawks just drafted two wings in the top 10, but last year's first-round pick is the team's top weapon outside of Young and John Collins.
Huerter's floor as a shooter could be 38.5 percent from three. With 6'7" size, picturesque mechanics and the ability make jump shots off movement, his shooting upside is monstrous.
But he also has untapped shot-creation and playmaking potential. He's a good ball-handler and passer, as well as a bright team defender.
Huerter went off a couple times as a rookie with 27 points against the New Orleans Pelicans in March and 29 points over the Philadelphia 76ers in January. He's going to be a dangerous third option for a rising Atlanta Hawks team likely to ask more of him in 2019-20.
Boston Celtics: Grant Williams
Prediction: Immediate contributor, long-term piece in Boston
Buy stock into Grant Williams' future with the Boston Celtics. We're betting on him sticking around for a while, with the front office and coaching staff likely to heavily value/admire his defense and intangibles.
No. 16 on Bleacher Report's Final Big Board, Williams jumps out as a 6'7", 240-pound outlier to bet on. A below-the-rim power forward who made 30 career threes (104 NCAA games) and doesn't face up or handle, he is going to defy the traditional rules of scouting.
Williams has special defensive instincts and anticipation. That will be his calling card and what his NBA identity revolves around. But he's also a skilled post player and passer. He may not be a creator, but last year he graded in the 97th percentile in post-ups, 94th in putbacks and 87th in cuts. And despite his college percentages, he did make 15 threes during his final season, 7-of-19 in summer league and two in his second preseason game against the Orlando Magic. Shooting potential exists.
Either way, Williams' overall maturity and basketball IQ will earn him minutes this year, as well as a long-term future with the franchise. He's the type of big who'll be a reliable role player from year No. 1 to year No. 15.
Brooklyn Nets: Caris LeVert
Prediction: Emerges as viable No. 2 option, takes another step toward star status
The Brooklyn Nets' stock skyrocketed after free agency. But among players on the roster, it's Caris LeVert who'll improve his reputation most in 2019-20.
He's on track to emerge as Brooklyn's No. 2 star next to Kyrie Irving while Kevin Durant sits. Since returning from a foot injury just before the All-Star break, LeVert steadily improved each month, having averaged 8.9 points in February, 10.6 points in March, 15.8 points in April and 21.0 points against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the playoffs.
He's poised to bring up his three-point mark to over 35.0 percent for the first time this season. And he should continue expanding his off-the-dribble game as a shot-creator and playmaker.
LeVert got better every year while at Michigan, raising his player efficiency rating each season from 2012-2016. He figures to follow suit in the NBA with a strong supporting cast and positive vibes around the team.
Charlotte Hornets: P.J. Washington
Prediction: Second-team All Rookie
There is hope for a Malik Monk breakout. Expectations call for Miles Bridges to make a jump. But buy the most stock in rookie P.J. Washington. He'll be the Charlotte Hornets' most valuable player-asset by season's end.
A different player last season at Kentucky from the freshman scouts saw the year before, Washington made significant improvements to his jumper and body/conditioning. He converted 47.7 percent of his total jumpers (42.3 percent 3PT), raised his rebounding rate to 10.3 per 40 minutes (from 8.3) and ranked in the 71st percentile in transition (from 51st).
He'd previously made a name for himself in the post, where he has the tools (236 lbs, 7'2" wingspan) and skill level to continue executing in the NBA. But Washington will now start scoring off more fast breaks, spot-up threes, putbacks and even the occasional face-up move attacking a closeout.
Coach James Borrego will presumably find ways to use him at multiple positions, both for his offensive and defensive versatility.
Through two preseason games, he's averaging 14.5 points in 20.1 minutes on 4-of-8 from three. Borrego may play Cody Zeller and Marvin Williams earlier in the season, but it shouldn't take long for Washington to establish himself as an equally effective big right now, as well as the team's top long-term prospect for the future.
Chicago Bulls: Wendell Carter Jr.
Prediction: Eventually unlocks Chicago Bulls' potential as playoff team
Lauri Markkanen and Zach LaVine will continue to carry the scoring load for the Bulls. But it's Wendell Carter Jr. who unlocks the team's potential.
He just has to stay healthy. Carter lasted 44 games last season, and he's been banged up this summer. Once he can build some momentum, he's going to change the team's identity with his physicality and presence around the basket.
At full strength, Carter is a strong finisher, rebounder and shot-blocker. And eventually, after he builds up reps and confidence, the shooting touch we saw at Duke should resurface in Chicago. Carter's jump shot fluidity is convincing, even if he struggled last year from behind the arc.
He won't turn 21 years old until April, so at this stage, put more stock into his production, efficiency and flashes of skill, and less into some inconsistent execution and foul trouble. The Bulls are on the right track, and once Carter fully arrives with his scoring and defense, this team could become a regular in the playoffs.
Cleveland Cavaliers: Kevin Porter Jr.
Prediction: Draft steal
The Cleveland Cavaliers put heavy stock into Darius Garland by drafting him No. 5 overall. Kevin Porter Jr.'s stock wasn't as high, having slipped to No. 30. Buy low like Cleveland did. He'll enter steal-of-the-draft conversations after his bench role at USC limited his freedom and chances to build rhythm.
At 6'6", 216 pounds, Porter possesses textbook tools and athleticism for a 2-guard, as well as advanced shot-creation and shot-making skills. He'll benefit from more of the NBA's space and a greener light with a team expected to prioritize player development over winning.
Porter gets his own shot off nifty ball-handling moves to drive or separate into step-backs or crossover jumpers. And he shot 41.2 percent from three last season, showing believable range/touch and fluidity on his form.
He won't be known for playmaking or being a stopper, but his skill level and movement will result in pretty passes and impressive defensive plays.
It will all start coming together later during his rookie contract. He'll make mistakes with his shot selection and decision-making as a rookie and sophomore. Buy stock now, however, because the first round's last selection will eventually start scoring and producing like a lottery pick.
Dallas Mavericks: Delon Wright
Prediction: Breakout starter
Keep buying stock in Jalen Brunson, but the payoff with Delon Wright will come faster. He's about to go from backup to valued starter for one of the Western Conference's most interesting cores.
Sent to the Memphis Grizzlies last season, Wright finally had a chance to play full-time minutes (30.8 per game), and he capitalized despite a weak supporting cast, finishing with averages of 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds, 5.3 assists and 1.6 steals.
The game should start to come even easier alongside Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis. Attention paid to those two stars will lead to more open looks and an improved three-point percentage for Wright, a slithery driver, good passer and tough defender whose scoring upside has been limited by a shaky jumper.
Wright seems poised for his best shooting season, as well as his most productive one altogether sharing a backcourt with Doncic. He'll delay Brunson's full breakout, but he'll also play a key role in lifting the Dallas Mavericks back to relevance. Wright should emerge as an important, two-way role player in the Western Conference.
Denver Nuggets: Michael Porter Jr.
Prediction: Revives stock, positions himself to start in 2020-21
Twelve 2018 lottery teams (Los Angeles Clippers twice) chose not to buy stock in Michael Porter Jr. A handful may regret it after 2019-20, even if he hasn't fully broken out by then. A breakout will appear on the horizon by this time next year, as long as he stays healthy.
He'll use the season to remind scouts what initially fueled so much hype before a hip injury limited him to 53 NCAA minutes and zero last year in Denver. Porter looks spry in preseason, and his 6'10" size and perimeter skills pop the way they used to.
His height and coordination should keep translating to easy finishes around the basket. And though the preseason sample size is small, he's hitting the pull-up that scouts were hoping he'd confirm was in the bag at Missouri.
The early flashes are similar to the ones that led to scouts thinking he was a No. 1 overall talent out of Nathan Hale.
Don't count on tough defense or many assists from Porter, but he's now in position to play to his strengths and focus on scoring for Denver's second unit. His playing time and production will be inconsistent. A bright future will reappear, however, and Porter will be viewed as a starting forward for 2020-21 on one of the premier NBA teams.
Detroit Pistons: Bruce Brown Jr.
Prediction: Becomes key starter
Luke Kennard's arrow is pointing up as well, but Bruce Brown could make the bigger jump.
He'll build his value with playmaking, rebounding and defense—not necessarily scoring. His jumper may never come around, but Brown's versatility separates him, with the ability to run pick-and-rolls, track down boards and force turnovers.
After nearly averaging a triple-double in summer league (13.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, 8.3 assists), Brown has started the first three games in preseason. Coach Dwane Casey is bound to favor the sophomore's motor and toughness, which will create a more competitive identity for the Pistons lineup.
Reggie Jackson and Derrick Rose aren't known for durability. Brown could wind up playing a key role over the next few years on a team that's raised its win total in consecutive seasons.
Golden State Warriors: Jacob Evans
Prediction: Second-unit regular
The Golden State Warriors will start to see results this year from their 2018 first-round pick. Jacob Evans wasn't a factor last season, but he played with a different confidence in his second summer league (14.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists), and based on our predraft evaluation and Klay Thompson's injury, we're betting on Evans' value spiking in 2019-20.
A 39.4 percent three-point shooter over his final two NCAA seasons, he's poised to make more shots with more minutes in 2019-20. As his touches increase, he'll have the chance to show off some ball-screen playmaking skills that flashed at Cincinnati.
He may never be a dangerous scorer, but his role won't call for creating his own shots. Coming off the bench, Evans figures to fit and establish himself by spot-up shooting, passing and defending with toughness.
When Stephen Curry and D'Angelo sit, Golden State will need ball-handling, and Evans could become the next man up. His versatility and defense should earn him a role playing different spots.
Houston Rockets: Danuel House
Prediction: Becomes key rotation player
After putting in work for three separate G League teams, Danuel House surfaced last year in Houston, and now he's in position to earn starts for a Rockets group looking to reach the NBA Finals.
In 39 appearances in 2018-19, he shot 59.5 percent inside the arc, 41.6 percent from three and 78.9 percent from the free-throw line. He registered a 63.9 effective field-goal percentage shooting off the catch.
With James Harden and Russell Westbrook dominating the ball, House makes a lot of sense for his efficiency spotting up, slashing past closeouts and filling lanes in transition. He'll benefit from playing with elite shot-creators and all the attention Houston's guards will draw.
The Rockets will ultimately need House to contribute points and rebounds with PJ Tucker, Gerald Green (broken foot) and Gary Clark being the only other forwards on the roster. It's a good situation for the undrafted wing out of Texas A&M.
Indiana Pacers: TJ Warren
Prediction: X-factor in Eastern Conference
Injuries and the Phoenix Suns' record have cast a cloud over TJ Warren's production. A key role and wins with the Indiana Pacers should help shed more light on one of the league's underrated scorers.
His value is bound to increase now that his 18.0 points per game and sudden 42.8 percent three-point shooting will be for a playoff team. He's also poised to earn more recognition as he's leaned on while Victor Oladipo slowly returns from his serious quad injury.
Playing for a losing franchise in Phoenix, Warren never shot below 48.0 percent from the floor through five NBA seasons. And after totaling 79 threes through his first 218 career games (four seasons), last season, he made 77 threes in 43 games, checking a major box that had been left open since his days at North Carolina State.
He'll slide right into the Pacers lineup, replacing Bojan Bogdanovic's production at the forward spots. Indiana figures to stay playoff-relevant, and Warren should emerge as the X-factor who helps the Pacers apply enough offensive pressure, especially when Oladipo is load managed or less than 100 percent.
Los Angeles Clippers: Terance Mann
Prediction: Becomes a glue-guy for a title contender
The additions of Kawhi Leonard and Paul George headlined the Los Angeles Clippers' summer. Drafting NCAA tournament standout Mfiondu Kabengele was a newsworthy development as well. But taking Terance Mann late in the second round could prove to be another key move for a team that will need some of its lower-paid players to produce.
Mann won't score more than 10 points often, but he won't be asked to. The Clippers will eventually value his versatility to the point where he may even emerge as a second-unit glue guy as a rookie.
Capable of playing positions 1-3, Mann averaged 11.3 rebounds and 5.7 assists on 60.0 percent shooting in summer league. He's not a high-level creator, but he makes good passes, tracks down loose balls and defends multiple positions.
The Clippers' star-studded lineup should ultimately optimize a jack-of-all-trades like Mann, who can just focus on moving the ball, crashing the glass, making open shots and defending with toughness. There will be points during the season where coach Doc Rivers feels a need to use that kind of role player. Mann is about to go from No. 48 overall to useful reserve on a title contender.
Los Angeles Lakers: Talen Horton-Tucker
Prediction: Becomes rotation piece/building block later in rookie contract
Buying stock in Talen Horton-Tucker will require patience, given he was the draft's youngest NCAA player, and injuries have limited him over the summer. But the Los Angeles Lakers added a first-round talent with the No. 45 pick. He'll eventually crack the rotation and make a name for himself with his unique 6'4", 235-pound frame and versatility at both ends.
A power guard, Horton-Tucker also has intriguing ball skills for driving and perimeter shot-creation. His college percentages didn't match his ability. He converts tough, coordinated finishes at the rim, and he's a competent shot-maker off the catch and dribble.
His strength, giant 7'1" wingspan, quickness and competitiveness point to intriguing defensive potential as well.
There isn't a clear path to minutes right away for the rookie, though with Kyle Kuzma expected to miss time, another injury to a key bench player could open the door. It's still all about Horton-Tucker's long-term potential. Los Angeles only has one player, LeBron James, signed through 2021-22. Horton-Tucker's opportunity will come in a Lakers uniform, and we're betting on him becoming one of the 2019 draft's nice value picks.
Memphis Grizzlies: Brandon Clarke
Prediction: Establishes himself as draft steal, franchise cornerstone for future
Get in on Brandon Clarke now before he's eventually starting alongside Jaren Jackson Jr. Most of the rookie talk this year in Memphis will focus on No. 2 pick Ja Morant. But Clarke may offer even more value relative to where he was drafted at No. 21.
Since 2009, his 37.2 player efficiency rating (minimum 20 games) was the highest of any NCAA player not named Zion Williamson. Clarke has a special mix of athleticism and instincts that translate to easy baskets, blocked shots and defensive reads.
Even if he struggles to add or strengthen any of his ball skills, he figures to still emerge as an impact player for his off-ball and defensive activity. But summer league's MVP flashed more promising signs of shooting, post touch and driving in Las Vegas. And it clearly seems like there is more offensive upside for Grizzlies coaches to unlock.
It's understandable why Memphis brought back Jonas Valanciunas since the team needs some type of reliable veteran. Clarke and Jackson are the future up front for Memphis, however. And while it's already widely acknowledged that Jackson is headed toward stardom, Clarke will use his rookie season to create cornerstone potential of his own.
Miami Heat: Tyler Herro
Prediction: Establishes himself as draft steal, franchise cornerstone for future
Tyler Herro's stock continues to rise during preseason after he averaged 19.5 points during summer league. The production and flash plays are legitimate. He's receiving ball-handling freedom and space he didn't get at Kentucky, showing off shot-creation skills and off-the-dribble offense.
It's starting to remind of Devin Booker's situation and transition from Kentucky to the pros.
Praised for his shooting stroke and confidence entering the draft, Herro will surely give the Miami Heat a shot-maker off spot-ups and screens. He possesses outstanding touch, which showed on free throws (93.5 percent), runners (14-of-26) and pull-ups (44.5 percent). His long-range consistency will presumably build with each year, as will his scoring versatility, playmaking and defense, areas he keeps flashing glimpses of potential in.
How many games he starts as a rookie won't matter. A competitive nature makes it easy to buy into Herro's desire to keep improving. He'll emerge as a cornerstone piece in Miami before his rookie contract expires, and it could become obvious during his first season.
Milwaukee Bucks: Donte DiVincenzo
Prediction: Emerges as bench spark for title contender
The Milwaukee Bucks didn't make many major roster changes over the summer. But they'll get back a healthy Donte DiVincenzo, who was part of the rotation early last season.
Eric Bledsoe's rib injury opens the door even wider for last year's first-round pick. DiVincenzo will take back those reserve minutes he had before suffering from quad and heel issues.
And he's set up to play the energizer role—that his game is well suited for—on a title contender.
Having shot 40.1 percent from three his final year at Villanova, DiVincenzo figures to raise his 26.5 percent three-point mark. He was also one of the most efficient finishers among guards last year (albeit a small sample size), converting 78.8 percent of his shots in the restricted area.
His scoring might not pop every game, but buy stock into DiVincenzo surfacing as a relevant player in the playoffs over the next few years with Milwaukee.
Minnesota Timberwolves: Jarrett Culver
Prediction: Becomes franchise cornerstone
The 2019 draft discussion mostly focused on top-three picks Zion Williamson, Ja Morant and RJ Barrett. Jarrett Culver was No. 4 on B/R's final draft board. And he should quickly validate the Minnesota Timberwolves' pursuit and decision to trade up and get him at No. 6.
The arrival of Culver could create more motivation to find a trade partner for Andrew Wiggins. Coaches will want Wiggins' touches to eventually (or even immediately) go to the team's 2019 first-round wing.
An improving ball-handler and shot-creator, Culver also provides playmaking ability and defensive discipline that Wiggins does not.
He might not start right away with Josh Okogie entering his sophomore season. But between Culver's three-level scoring, passing and two-way potential, there won't be debate regarding who'll be the team's second-most valuable asset behind Karl-Anthony Towns. Culver will become the team's long-term starter at shooting guard.
New Orleans Pelicans: Nickeil Alexander-Walker
Prediction: Establishes himself as a steal and trade target for other teams
A rookie's perceived outlook doesn't usually change much from the day he's drafted in June to October. But Nickeil Alexander-Walker has looked like a steal in both summer league (24.3 points, 6.0 assists) and early preseason. And it's become easier to settle on the idea that college basketball's lack of spacing, slower pace and methodical offense masked some of his abilities.
He appears more comfortable with the New Orleans Pelicans, both as a shot-creating scorer and ball-screen playmaker. A textbook combo guard, Alexander-Walker was always a dangerous spot-up shooter (42.4 percent last year) off the ball, but over the past few months, we're seeing his terrific feel as a passer and facilitator that started coming to life during his sophomore season at Virginia Tech (4.0 assists per game).
With a New Orleans backcourt that includes Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball and JJ Redick, Alexander-Walker's playing time might not be there in 2019-20. He'll only flash glimpses during his rookie year, but they should look convincing enough for the league to recognize that the Pelicans have a stud they can't fully unlock with Holiday and Ball starting.
That should lead to teams around the NBA calling to inquire about what it would cost to pry him away.
New York Knicks: Frank Ntilikina
Prediction: Improved third year, but value likely to spike with his next team
A disappointment through two seasons after being drafted No. 8 overall, Frank Ntilikina enters a critical year for both his development and future in New York. The Knicks front office has done little to create a helpful environment, having failed to sign any star free agent, instead adding Elfrid Payton to steal/waste important reps.
With his stock all the way down, now is the time to buy low, even if the payoff comes playing for a different team.
Ntilikina made a lot of noise over the summer in the World Cup, appearing to play with a new level of confidence, particularly in a win over USA he helped seal for France late in the game.
Unless the Knicks are somehow competing for a playoff spot behind a Payton-Dennis Smith Jr. one-two punch, Ntilikina should eventually get another chance to log regular minutes. And a greater sense of urgency will lead to him finally playing aggressive, a potential key toward activating more scoring.
The Knicks have until October 31 to pick up his option, though the lack of commitment by now isn't assuring. The fact they added Payton also highlights management's lack of confidence in the third-year combo guard.
A change of scenery may wind up being the best thing for Ntilikina. A good team should value his passing, defense and capable three-ball that still has room to improve.
Either way, entering his third year coming off a productive World Cup, Ntilikina will look better this season in terms of capitalizing offensively as a driver and shot-maker.
Oklahoma City Thunder: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
Prediction: Establishes himself as Oklahoma City Thunder's franchise player
The most attractive piece Oklahoma City received in the Paul George trade, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander will use the year to establish his value and identity as the new franchise player.
Chris Paul and Danilo Gallinari may be the more consistent players in 2019-20, but long term, there won't be any doubt as to who's the priority.
Unusually tall (6'6") and long (6'11½") for a point guard, Gilgeous-Alexander compensates for a lack of explosiveness, combining size, length, timely hesitations, sharp footwork off the dribble, tight ball-handling and high basketball IQ. He gets to his spots and executes from them, finishing his rookie season shooting 47.6 percent.
Even if Paul stays with the Thunder, Gilgeous-Alexander should still get enough dribbles and shots from the 2-spot. Buy into the 4-of-8 three-point shooting during his preseason debut for OKC. In spite of the limited attempts, he's been efficient shooting around the perimeter since college (23-of-57 3PT at Kentucky, 51-of-139 with Clippers). And as his age and reps rise, confidence should follow, leading to Gilgeous-Alexander's transformation into three-level scorer, unselfish playmaker and disruptive defender.
Orlando Magic: Jonathan Isaac
Prediction: Elite defensive potential begins to blossom
Long-term potential was always the draw to Jonathan Isaac. He'd lacked polish to consistently execute since high school, but he earned a pass, given the obvious upside tied to his 6'10" size, scoring versatility and defense. This will be the year Isaac's potential starts to blossom and come to life for an entire season.
Healthy and improved since draft night, he's poised for a third-year jump that helps elevate the Orlando Magic.
He'll earn most recognition for his defense, being a big who can match up against centers, guard forwards around the perimeter, switch and anticipate to make plays on the ball. He has seven steals and four blocks through three preseason games.
The way Draymond Green fuels the Golden State Warriors' defensive effectiveness/identity, Isaac can make a similar impact for the Magic, last year's No. 8-ranked team in defensive efficiency.
Assuming he continues to improve his ball skills and jump shot, even if it's baby steps, the former No. 6 pick should still add value offensively. Isaac has started preseason 5-of-13 from three, and it's simply worth betting on his face-up game—pull-ups and drives—to keep getting sharper with added reps and body strength.
Philadelphia 76ers: Matisse Thybulle
Prediction: Becomes three-and-D specialist for Eastern Conference Finalist
Buy stock in both Philadelphia 76ers' reserve wings, Matisse Thybulle and Zhaire Smith, but especially the rookie, who could become one of the league's defensive-playmaking specialists.
He'll prove right away that Washington's zone in college didn't dramatically inflate his defensive stats (3.5 steals, 2.3 blocks per game). Thybulle has absurd instincts and anticipation with the physical ability to react and make plays on the ball.
Given all the offensive talent in Philadelphia's rotation, coach Brett Brown could feel motivated to use the 22-year-old first-round pick right away—especially if his three-point shooting in summer league (39.3 percent) carries over.
He'll wind up playing a three-and-D role for a team equipped for an NBA Finals run. And assuming the Sixers stay atop the standings for the foreseeable future, he's going to gain valuable experience and exposure immediately to start his career.
The Sixers will also end up heavily valuing his contributions on a rookie contract when the team has so many expensive stars.
Phoenix Suns: Ty Jerome
Prediction: Becomes team's top reserve guard
The Phoenix Suns were busy this summer, starting on draft night, when their first move was to trade down from No. 6 to No. 11 for Cameron Johnson (and Dario Saric). They'll receive more credit for their decision to acquire No. 24 overall and select Ty Jerome, however.
Watch him climb the Suns' depth chart and eventually surface in the rotation. He checks the right boxes for Phoenix with his shooting, passing and pesky defense. Jerome shot 39.9 percent from three and averaged 5.5 assists, 1.6 turnovers and 1.5 steals while guiding Virginia to a national championship.
That he can play-make off-ball screens, spot up from three and guard both positions creates versatility and more playing-time opportunities.
Jerome's intangibles, specifically his IQ and toughness, will also shine through and help him earn minutes for a team looking to mature. It won't happen right away, but he'll eventually establish himself as the Suns' first guard off the bench.
Portland Trail Blazers: Anfernee Simons
Prediction: Earns role, begins to establish sixth-man potential
Zach Collins' expected emergence deserves attention, but there is more excitement tied to Anfernee Simons' future and potential.
The Portland Trail Blazers will turn to him this year for second-unit ball-handling and scoring. He'll get that experience for a potential Western Conference finalist at 20 years old. The big payoff with Simons still won't come for another few years, but his rise will start in 2019-20.
Coming off a summer league in which he totaled 66 points on 11 threes through three games, Simons' confidence appears at another level compared to last year, when he was just months removed from high school. While his playmaking remains behind his scoring, Simons' mix of athleticism, creation skills and shot-making is legitimate. And it's going to translate to streak shooting and random outbursts off Portland's bench.
Already 7-of-13 from three in two preseason outings, Simons could have one of the league's best jumpers among players around his age. He obviously won't be overtaking Damian Lillard or CJ McCollum for a starting job; instead, the explosive combo guard seems poised to become a dangerous sixth man in the West.
Sacramento Kings: Bogdan Bogdanovic
Prediction: Becomes one of league's most productive bench players
The Sacramento Kings have become relevant, and De'Aaron Fox appears headed for his first All-Star Game. Now don't sleep on Bogdan Bogdanovic and his potential impact on the team's rise.
He makes this rotation feel deep and the second unit still dangerous. And he'll be entering his prime (27 years old) and third NBA season coming off a huge summer for Serbia at the World Cup, where he averaged 22.9 points and sunk USA with 28 points in the win.
Another step forward with his development, and Bogdanovic figures to become one of the league's most productive bench players. More wins for the Kings should help shed more light on his high-level shot-making and secondary playmaking.
San Antonio Spurs: Dejounte Murray
Prediction: Revives star role-player potential
Buy back stock in Dejounte Murray now that he's recovered from a torn ACL.
His value had been rising before the injury. He'd become a triple-double threat at 21 years old.
Even without advanced perimeter skills, Murray found ways to impact games using athleticism, playmaking ability, rebounding and defense.
The San Antonio Spurs will still continue leaning on LaMarcus Aldridge, DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay for scoring, plus an uptick in offensive production from Derrick White. But Murray can help change/liven the team's identity with his speed and pressure. Just improving his jumper marginally could elevate Murray to star role-player status, assuming he's able to sustain the same level of burst from 2017-18.
Toronto Raptors: Fred VanVleet
Prediction: Reaches starter value
Assuming you already have plenty of stock in Pascal Siakam, buy more into Fred VanVleet's NBA Finals performance.
He's already one of the league's top backups, but he's also going to spend more time playing alongside Kyle Lowry this season. The Toronto Raptors lack sure things at shooting guard, and after losing Kawhi Leonard, coach Nick Nurse will need to find ways to fit his best players into the lineup, regardless of position.
VanVleet has gradually improved his playmaking (4.8 assists) and shot-making (1.8 3PTM) to become more than just a specialist for toughness. He continues to evolve into a threatening offensive player, working both on and off the ball (42.6 percent catch-and-shoot).
Knowing he can factor into an NBA Finals, that his role should grow in 2019-20 and that he'll be entering a contract year, VanVleet should be feeling a dangerous mix of confidence and motivation. On track to position himself for a pay raise by next summer, he'll use the season to build his case as an NBA starter.
Utah Jazz: Bojan Bogdanovic
Prediction: X-factor in Western Conference
Missing a credible No. 2 scorer behind Donovan Mitchell, the Utah Jazz signed Bojan Bogdanovic to a hefty contract. He's not as revered as newly acquired Mike Conley, but Bogdanovic's 18.0 points per game could take Utah's offense to the next level it needs to reach.
Utah already had the NBA's No. 2 defense anchored by Rudy Gobert. Its roster now feels more well-rounded. The new $73 million forward should fit well, with Mitchell and Conley expected to dominate ball-handling duties, and 55.6 percent of Bogdanovic's offense last year coming off one dribble or less.
He's one of the league's tougher off-ball scorers, able to improvise and shot-make from all over.
He may put up similar numbers as last year, but they'll have a greater impact in Utah. We're betting on Bogdanovic giving the Jazz the extra push that's needed while elevating his personal brand.
Washington Wizards: Thomas Bryant
Prediction: Validates last year's "empty" stats
Thomas Bryant surfaced with the Washington Wizards last year after being let go by the Los Angeles Lakers. He wound up starting 53 games and averaging 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.9 blocks in just 20.8 minutes. His performance didn't seem to shake the national radar, however, since he didn't beat out anyone significant for playing time, and the Wizards managed just 32 wins.
Back on a new three-year contract, Bryant will use the season to validate last year's breakout by building on his scoring skills, shooting and sequences of high energy.
He was one of the league's most efficient finishers inside five feet, where he shot 77.9 percent. Becoming a legitimate threat from outside, however, is what elevated his offense and created more scoring opportunities. He shot 40.1 percent on catch-and-shoot chances, making 33 threes on the year.
In a full-time role for the lottery-bound Wizards, he's a good bet to continue converting and cleaning up inside while threatening to average a three-point make per game.