One of the best parts about the NBA is the potential of its young talent. Each year the NBA Draft is based on one thing largely: upside. What players can franchises draft that may not be where they need to be right now, but could one day (possibly even quickly) become superstar performers?
The dream lives on going into the 2016-17 NBA season, as several teams will hope that their solid young talent they’ve recently acquired could blow up and become consistent, reliable stars in the league.
We may have caught a glimpse of some of these rising NBA stars, but there’s some logic pointing to even bigger years out of them in 2016-17. Let’s break down the players who could be headed for the biggest leaps:
Note: We’ll be excluding rookies from this list and only focusing on players who have flashed potential but haven’t yet blown up in the NBA.
D’Angelo Russell, PG, Los Angeles Lakers
Russell is the title character in our top NBA breakout players piece here, and for very good reason. Not only was Russell an elite scorer at Ohio State, but he displayed his scoring prowess and point guard instincts at times during a rookie season in which Byron Scott blatantly held him back.
Perhaps some of what Scott did will ultimately benefit D’Lo, but it’s fair to argue that incoming rookie head coach Luke Walton will free him and allow him to blossom in his second NBA season. Russell still makes questionable decisions on and off the court, but he’s a lights out shooter from deep who can run an NBA offense and create for himself with ease. With no one holding him back, he’s destined for stardom this year.
Dennis Schroder, PG, Atlanta Hawks
Schroder finally has a direct path to star status, as the Hawks traded Jeff Teague away this summer and handed the German the keys to the offense. The writing had been on the wall for a while, as Schroder had exhibited immense upside as a creator and scorer and was even starting to develop an outside shot.
Schroder has a bright future ahead of him, as the 23- year old can penetrate and dish/score with the best of them already and now that his role is growing, his potential appears to be through the roof. His awareness, decision-making and defense are all still in question, but an enhanced role could quickly help correct his lingering flaws.
Josh Richardson, SG, Miami Heat
Some will point to Miami teammate Justise Winslow as the prime breakout candidate, but Richardson has a much smoother offensive game, and more importantly, an actual jumper. Richardson came pretty much out of nowhere as a rookie last season, converting on 46% of his three’s and giving the Heat an extra scorer in the rotation.
It’s not obvious yet that he’s a true star in the making, but come the 2016-17 NBA season, he probably won’t have a choice. Dwyane Wade left for Chicago and Chris Bosh (blood clots) is probably done as a player, leaving the door wide open for some of Miami’s young guys to step up. Richardson can shoot, but if the rest of his game can evolve quickly enough, he could rise up the ranks and become a star this season.
Devin Booker, SG, Phoenix Suns
You could argue that Booker already busted out, as he took on a big role fairly early as a rookie last year and finished his first pro seasons with a solid 13.8-2.6-2.6 line. His season numbers didn’t pop off the charts, but for a good stretch in the second half, Booker was running the offense and producing at a high level as a scorer and distributor.
Booker still needs work defensively and he could stand to get tougher, but what he did as a 19-year old rookie was beyond impressive. The Suns have a logjam at both guard spots that could slow his development this year, but from a talent perspective, he’s got everything he needs for a serious leap in year two.
Bojan Bogdanovic, G/F, Brooklyn Nets
Bojan is a very interesting player, as he doesn’t defend all that well or really do much at an impressive level other than score. However, he scores the ball very well, having the ability to hit the outside shot with ease (38% from deep last year) and is also adept at penetrating and finishing inside.
We got a heavy dose of Bogdanovic’s offensive upside this summer, when he was one of the effective scorer’s at the Rio Olympics. It’s no guarantee that transitions back to the pros, but the 27-year old bomber has shown a propensity for scoring in the past and will absolutely be needed on a bad Nets team that is starving for offensive help. With more shots and a bigger role on his plate, Bogdanovic could break out in a big way this year.
Harrison Barnes, SF, Dallas Mavericks
Barnes played third or fourth fiddle for years in Golden State, despite having loads of talent and being a former 1st round draft pick. He played his role fairly well for the Warriors, however, which naturally led to the Mavericks to take a chance on him as their starting small forward.
Barnes was a superstar talent at North Carolina and it’s fair to suggest he hasn’t yet been equipped (or even asked) to be the face of a team. That could change going into the 2016-17 NBA season, when Barnes will be tasked with carrying a good chunk of the Mavs’ offense. From a talent perspective, he looks to be capable of that and should enjoy his best year yet as a pro.
Aaron Gordon, F, Orlando Magic
There are few NBA players that are more exciting than Gordon, who has quickly developed a well-rounded game that includes highlight reel dunks, shot-blocking, corner three’s and running fast breaks.
Gordon has the size, athleticism and versatility to be a flat out start right now in the NBA and it will be extremely interesting to see if new head coach Frank Vogel can get the training wheels off. Gordon’s shooting is likely his main drawback at the moment (just 28% shooter from deep), but the more court time he sees, the more consistent he’s likely to become. With a growing role in his third NBA season, the best is yet to come for the flashy Arizona product.
Kristaps Porzingis, PF, New York Knicks
Zinger seemed to hit a wall in the second half of last year, but before he did he seemed to be very much ready for the rigors of the NBA. The fact that this guy produced some highlight reel plays and could average 14 points and 7 rebounds per game at 20 years old is nothing short of amazing.
All the people that thought Porzingis was a draft bust already seem to be wrong, while Zinger’s size, range and overall offensive skill-set make him without a doubt one of the top NBA breakout candidates.
Porzingis still has to contend with Carmelo Anthony and now newly added Derrick Rose when it comes to shots, but his impact isn’t just reserved for the offensive end. With more time on the floor, Porzingis should become a nightly double-double threat and his 1.9 blocks per game of a year ago should be felt even more on the defensive end.
Nikola Mirotic, PF, Chicago Bulls
Things are changing in a big way in Chicago, as Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah are gone and Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo are in. That suggests the Bulls are putting greater emphasis on offense and creating a balanced, well oiled machine.
Mirotic promises to be a huge part of that, as he figures to take over as the starting four and offer plenty of three’s and points on the offensive end. Mirotic definitely still needs work defensively, but his outside shot (39% from long range last year) and overall knack for scoring make him a very interesting rising talent.
Julius Randle, PF, Los Angeles Lakers
Randle enters his third NBA season with only one full year under his belt, having broken his leg after one game during his rookie season. This guy has loads of potential after having his minutes yanked around by Byron Scott last year, and with Luke Walton figuring to give him a regular starting role, the sky is the limit in terms of his upside.
Randle still has to learn the nuances of the game, defend more consistently and hit open jumpers at a better rate, but the athleticism and size are there for Randle to be molded into a star in just his second full campaign. Already a 11 and 10 guy a year ago, Randle should see over 30 minutes per game and slowly develop into one of the better young fours in the game.
Myles Turner, F/C, Indiana Pacers
Slated as the new starting center in Indiana, Turner should be in for a huge leap in just his second NBA season. The Pacers are in full blown “win now” mode after trading for guys like Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young, but the fact that Turner is projected to have a huge role as the main five suggests he’s ready to make a massive impact.
We saw flashes of what Turner was able to do as a rookie last year, as he was able to put up over 10 points and 5.5 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in just over 22 minutes on average. With a starting gig and more time to roam the court, he could be in line to chase down a double-double and dramatically impact Indy’s defense down low.
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