Promising NBA Players Who Need Bigger Roles Next Season
Looking for the next NBA star? Or at least players who could make a big leap toward becoming one?
Sometimes all it takes is the right opportunity, including an increase in minutes, usage and overall role.
The following five players have shown flashes of breaking out, but none have had the consistent opportunity to do so yet.
As a general rule of thumb for this list, we're looking at players who are still quite young (22 or younger), averaged roughly 20 minutes or less last season and had a usage rate of under 25 percent.
These five could break out if given bigger roles next season.
Joshua Primo, G, San Antonio Spurs
Joshua Primo was the youngest player in the NBA this past year, playing 37.8 percent of the season as an 18-year-old.
Because of this, he wasn't very good. The Spurs likely expected this when they selected him 12th overall in 2021, banking on his sky-high potential to break through in a few years.
The breakout could come as early as next season, as Primo was used far more down the stretch following the Derrick White trade (27.3 minutes over his final 12 games, all starts).
His physical profile is the first thing that jumps out. A 6'6" guard who can play on or off the ball, Primo is a good athlete who can slice his way through a crowded defense before unleashing a violent slam on his opponent. He also ranked in the top half of all NBA players as a cutter (1.31 points per possession), finishing 62.5 percent of his attempts.
Essentially splitting his court time with Dejounte Murray on the floor, Primo received far more opportunity when the All-Star guard sat. He averaged 12.4 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists per 36 minutes with Murray on the bench, compared to just 8.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists when the two shared the floor. Learning how to pick his spots and when to attack/defer alongside Murray will be key to Primo's (and the Spurs') success next season.
Primo is also in a far better position to succeed than most young prospects. Murray is one of the best defensive guards in the NBA to study and Gregg Popovich is arguably the greatest coach of all time. San Antonio has long been a premier destination for player development, with Murray and White serving as recent examples.
Primo isn't going to be a star next season, and he won't even turn 20 until Christmas Eve. He should, however, continue to see his role increase and carries some of the highest potential of any player on the Spurs roster.
Don't be surprised to see Primo in an All-Star Game in a few years if he can stabilize his shot mechanics, continue to develop as a passer and become a lockdown defender like his backcourt partner.
Aleksej Pokusevski, F, Oklahoma City Thunder
Now two years into his NBA career, it's still difficult to envision what Pokusevski will ultimately become.
Weighing just 190 pounds at 7'0", Pokusevski has the height of a center, the weight of a point guard and a skill set somewhere in between.
Extremely raw as a rookie, Pokusevski showed some nice improvements in his second year even while seeing his playing time cut from 24.2 minutes down to 20.2
The 20-year-old increased his scoring efficiency from inside the arc (49.8 percent up from 40.3 percent), while Pokusevski's rebound, assist and steal percentages all bumped up. Perhaps the most encouraging sign was his impact on winning, even for a Thunder team that often tried to lose. Following a swing rating of minus-9.5 during his rookie year (13th percentile), Pokusevski jumped all the way up to plus-8.3 (90th percentile) this past season, per Cleaning the Glass.
His passing is often a wild adventure to go on, as for every jaw-dropping dime there's a "what was he thinking?" attempt at an assist. More time on the floor will only help Pokusevski differentiate between the two and cut down on his turnovers.
Pokusevski offered some rim protection as well.
While opponents shot 68.5 percent against him at the rim as a rookie, Pokusevski cut this number down to 59.3 percent this past season.
With three first-round picks this year (including Nos. 2 and 12 overall), the Thunder shouldn't bury Pokusevski and his potential on the bench even if they bring in another big wave of young talent.
After averaging 12.0 points, 6.9 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 0.8 steals and 0.8 blocks on 44.5 percent shooting over his final 25 games, it's time to increase Pokusevski's responsibilities on both ends and see what he can become.
Cam Reddish, F, New York Knicks
The oldest member on this list at 22, Reddish still only has 133 total games under his belt three seasons into his career.
A January trade to the New York was supposed to jump-start his career, going from a Hawks team loaded with wings to a Knicks squad desperate for two-way help on the perimeter. Unfortunately, head coach Tom Thibodeau didn't get the memo.
Reddish saw his minutes slashed from 23.4 per game in Atlanta to just 14.3 with the Knicks, with Thibodeau excluding him from the rotation altogether some games. After appearing in just 15 total contests following the trade, Reddish missed the remainder of the season with a right shoulder separation.
While his start in New York was a flop, there's reason to believe in Reddish breaking out next season.
If nothing else, Thibodeau should realize his potential as a defender. At 6'8" with a 7'1" wingspan, Reddish is terrific at anticipating passes and getting his long arms into lanes. His 2.6 percent steal rate with the Knicks ranked in the 96th percentile, per Cleaning the Glass.
While his offense has been extremely streaky, a 90.2 percent mark from the free-throw line last season combined with solid overall mechanics should inspire hope. Reddish also knocked down 38.9 percent of his catch-and-shoot threes on 131 total attempts.
He may never be much of a playmaker and doesn't look to pass when driving, but Reddish has the athleticism to finish around and over bigger defenders on a regular basis.
The Knicks should shop Evan Fournier this summer and open up the starting small forward job for Reddish, giving him a regular role next to former Duke teammate RJ Barrett.
Alperen Sengun, C, Houston Rockets
While Jalen Green received most of the rookie fanfare in Houston this past season, the Rockets got a steal by selecting Sengun at No. 16 overall.
Playing his entire rookie season at just 19 years of age, Sengun showed off the footwork, post moves and passing ability of, well, few NBA players of any age. While most rookies can become predictable by the end of the season for game-planning opponents, there was no telling what was going to happen when Sengun would get the ball in the post.
His 19.2 percent assist rate ranked in the 92nd percentile among all players at Sengun's position, and these weren't just run-of-the-mill passes, either.
From no-look dimes to behind-the-back passes out of the paint to the three-point line and everything in between, Sengun showed outstanding court awareness. If Nikola Jokic is the gold standard for passing big men, Sengun is arguably second-best in the game already with his creativity.
While most of his playing time came behind Christian Wood, Sengun averaged 12.1 points, 8.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 1.0 blocks in his 13 starts. With Wood entering the final year of his contract and facing unrestricted free agency in 2023, Sengun seems destined for an increase in playing time soon, especially if the Rockets shop the veteran big man while they still can.
Sengun's development will also depend on his ability to limit turnovers (ones that often come on his high degree of difficulty passes), an improved outside shot (24.8 percent from three as a rookie) and limiting his fouling.
Rockets fans should be thrilled with what they've seen, as Sengun is one of the most exciting young big men in the league.
Jonathan Kuminga, F, Golden State Warriors
Despite playing under 17 minutes per game for the Warriors this season, it was easy to see what kind of player Kuminga can become in Golden State.
The 19-year-old is the only player on this list still playing, and rarely do we see prospects this good on teams this great. Being around future Hall of Famers like Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green while already soaking up playoff experience is huge for Kuminga's career.
At 6'8" with a muscular 210-pound frame, Kuminga can already make an impact on both sides of the ball. His dunks are some of the most ferocious of any NBA player, and his strength and athleticism help him stick to opponents defensively. Kuminga's springy legs allow him to immediately elevate for blocks or to challenge shots all over the floor.
Offensively, there's a lot to like already as well.
He shot 51.3 percent overall as a rookie and got to the free-throw line at a good rate (41.3 percent). Even Kuminga's three-point stroke looked better than advertised (33.6 percent) after making just 24.6 percent with the G League Ignite last year.
With Andrew Wiggins entering the final year of his contract and the Warriors already loaded with expensive deals, we could see Kuminga filling his role as a starting wing by 2023. Head coach Steve Kerr has already used Kuminga as a starter in the playoffs to help match up with an athletic Memphis Grizzlies team, showing the trust he has in his rookie.
Kuminga will win the Slam Dunk Contest in the near future, and he could be playing in the All-Star Game as well the next day.