With the season starting there are many players to get excited over. Veterans joining new teams, first-year rookies, retirement tour players and the next breakout stars. Breakout players can be some of the most exciting. Some are expected to take the jump and some take you by surprise. Last year we had it with veteran Victor Oladipo (taking the Most Improved Player award) and with All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo. With a lot of young talent in the league, we have picked four players we have our eyes on in particular.
Ingram is now going into his 3rd year of playing with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that was once in a rebuild with a core of young players. Lonzo Ball, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Kuzma and Ingram were a promising young core on the rise in the tough Western Conference. Magic Johnson and Head Coach, Luke Walton, had a plan to develop them into All-Stars which would lead this franchise back into competitive playoff basketball. Then LeBron James made his decision and joined the Lakers. This not only immediately has the team back in the playoff conversation but now has a huge effect on the development of this once young core. Randle was not re-signed, Nance and Clarkson were traded for Isaiah Thomas, and the team added a strange cast of vets on one-year deals who will all be competing for playing time. But how does this affect Ingram? Easy- he’ll be learning the game and catching passes from two of the best passers in the league- Rojan Rondo and the best player this generation has ever seen, the one and only LeBron James.
If Ingram can take this opportunity at hand and really put the work in, he has a chance to be in the Most Improved Player conversation. Last season he was already a pretty effective scorer averaging 16 points a game, and that was from catching passes from Lonzo Ball. I know it’s only preseason but in 2 out of 4 games he has already had 26 and 31 point games. With another year of development and a team full of playmakers, Ingram could very well be a go-to shooter on the roster. His ball handling skill also gives him the freedom to take players off the dribble or drive to the rim, making him an even bigger threat offensively. And did I mention he can pass? Last year he averaged 3.9 assists per game and was able to initiate good offense for his team while Lonzo Ball was out on injury. Being a small forward that is very lengthy he has an edge up on a lot of players and is able to disrupt passing lanes very easily. He does have a few flaws though. He needs to work on keeping his hands up more consistently on defense and put on a bit more weight. Once he does that he won’t get bullied as much physically. Playing beside one of the best players the sport has ever seen could really affect him in a positive way. All of this combined is why he is on the top of our list for Most Improved Player.
Denver drafted Murray with the 7th pick in the 2016 draft. He had somewhat of a quiet freshman season, but last year showed that he was bound to take the next step in his game, and is capable of being a starting point guard in the NBA. The Nuggets have surrounded him with a solid group of players and one of the better centers in the league, Nikola Jokic.
Jamal took a nice step in his career by playing all 82 games last season while averaging 31 minutes a game. He increased his numbers in just about every category. He brought his shooting up from 9.9 points per game to 16.7 points per game which led all second-year players in scoring. He shot a very respectable 37 percent from behind the arc. He can play off-ball or take players one-on-one. He also has a nice finish around the rim when driving into the paint. He not only proved he can score but is also developing as a playmaker. His assist rate went from 2.1 to 3.4 per game and he learned how to set up offense early in the shot clock last season. Having a healthy Paul Millsap and Nikola Jokic, he should have no problem having a strong front court to play off of. He will also have the mentoring of Isaiah Thomas, and we all know Thomas is one of the better point guards in the league when healthy. If he continues to grow in a positive direction he could be in the conversation for a nod at All-Star weekend.
At age 25, Josh Richardson looks to be a contributor to the success of the Miami Heat. His name has been mentioned in Jimmy Butler trade rumors, but I wouldn’t give up on Richardson if I were the Heat. Over the last three seasons, Richardson has increased his points per game, steals per game, assists per game, and free throw percentage.
In 81-games last season Richardson played an average of 33-minutes per game. Richardson started every game last year after just starting in 34 the year prior. With Miami staying pat during the off-season, an improved year from Richardson would nullify any negative comments on the lack of signings by the Heat.
With Miami’s young talent looking to grow, Richardson might be the team’s most talented player. While Dragic is the veteran presence on this team, Richardson is the Energizer Bunny of the starting five. His ability to get to the basket, while shooting 85% from the free throw line helps open up the offense for shooters like Dragic, Ellington and McGruder.
While Dwyane Wade is in his final season with the Miami Heat, his veteran leadership could play a huge factor in the growth of Josh Richardson. Learning from one of the best guards to ever play the game can only improve Richardson’s skillset. As the Heat continue to develop their young talent, while being competitive in the East, Richardson has the ability to make this team much more improved. His fearless approach to the game is what sets him apart from other up-and-coming shooting guards in the league. This could be a giant year for the 4-year pro.
With an off-season full of yoga, a new diet, and a focus to improve in the post, Turner looks to take a leap for the Pacers this season. Turner enters his 4th season in the league and is a restricted free agent next summer. There is a lot at stake for Turner this season: will he improve into the number two option for Indiana, or will he regress once again this season and find himself watching his team in crunch time on the bench?
In 2016-2017 Turner averaged 14.5 points per game and 7.3 rebounds per game. Indiana was devastated at the time when All-Star Paul George requested a trade. Turner was extremely vocal about becoming the new face of the franchise and being the leader on this team once Paul was traded. Little did we know that Oladipo would step into the role he did, and completely take the league by storm. Oladipo’s success overshadowed Turner’s regression which saw him take a dip in points (12.7) and rebounds (6.4).
Turner admitted at media day that he had been handling his body poorly by stopping at Wing Stop before games and not eating the right types of foods. He said towards the end of games after the All-Star break he felt winded. In addition to that, Domantas Sabonis finished a majority of the Pacers close games while Turner was cheering his teammates on from the bench. Turner is a fantastic teammate and has never shown frustration for his lack of playing time. He just gives it his all and supports his guys. Team winning is most important to Turner.
This is a great attribute to have, but it is time for Turner to step it up. He has taken the right steps this off-season to improve from his 12.7 PPG and 6.4 RPG. The Pacers believe in Turner and are hopeful to see him improve in his rebounding, perimeter defense, and low post scoring. The time is now for Turner and I think this season we will see a motivated player, ready to increase his role.
Keep an eye out on these four players for what promises to be a very exciting season. They could very well be the next generation of All-Stars that keep this league as exciting as it has ever been.
This was a collaboration article between Alex Golden and Stephen Cameron.