As the 2019-2020 NBA season draws to a close in the coming days, it’s time to start looking ahead to 2021. Every year, a handful of players take massive jumps in their progression that put them on the track toward stardom. This season players like Bam Adebayo and Brandon Ingram made that leap but others showed encouraging signs that 2021 could be the year for them. Here are five potential breakout NBA players in 2021
Malik Beasley’s 2018-2019 campaign was brimming with promise. He played a crucial bench role on a 54 win Denver Nuggets team, averaged over 11 points per game and shot 40 percent from beyond the arc. The 2019-2020 season looked to be the exact opposite. With his shooting stroke nowhere to be found and playing reduced minutes, Denver shipped him out to Minnesota for a first-round pick and a platter of role players.
With the Timberwolves season all but done and Karl-Anthony Towns injured, Beasley had the opportunity to showcase his abilities in over 30 minutes a night. And showcase he did. In the 14 games he played in Minnesota before the season was put on hold, Beasley put up 21 points per game. This was mainly due to his white-hot shooting from deep, over 42 percent on eight attempts a night.
Beasley may not average quite that much next season but he’ll have a chance to be the third scoring option behind Towns and D’Angelo Russell. If his shooting form continues, he could reasonably average 18 or 19 points per game and put his name in the running for the most improved player award.
For a former first overall pick, Markelle Fultz has not had it easy to start his NBA career. Two disastrous injury-riddled seasons in Philadelphia led to him being traded, practically unheard of for a player drafted that high.
But Fultz has found a new home in Orlando and started to find his form. While his three-point shot has yet to return to the form he had at Washington, Fultz has adapted by acquiring a deadly midrange game. Between 3-10 feet from the basket he’s shooting 42 percent from the field, and on long two-pointers from farther than 16 feet, he’s shooting over 46 percent. Those are increases of 13 and 21 percent respectively from his 2018-2019 season, showing the massive jump he’s taken in that regard.
Fultz has shared point guard duties with D.J. Augustin during his time with the Magic. But as Augustin continues to age (he’s turning 33 next season) Fultz should be getting the lions share of the minutes. With the reins of Orlando’s offense firmly in his hands next season, Fultz could surprise a lot of people and finally start to show why he was drafted first overall.
3. Gary Trent Jr.
Gary Trent Jr. wasn’t on many people’s radar heading into the Orlando Bubble but his play during the seeding games certainly turned a lot of heads. During an eight-game stretch, Trent Jr. made 4+ three-pointers on no more than six occasions while showing off his previously overlooked defensive versatility.
The stretch put him on the map as one of the games premier long-range snipers. He finished in the top ten in the NBA in three-point percentage. His play near the end of the year is reminiscent of another Blazers guard, CJ McCollum. McCollum was a bench player for the first two seasons of his career but a great stretch of basketball near the end of his second year was a preview of things to come. The very next season McCollum averaged over 20 ppg and won the Most Improved Player Award. If history is any tell, Trent Jr. may do the same thing just six years later.
Christian Wood is set to be one of the most sought after free agents this offseason and for good reason. After bouncing around the league for several seasons and failing to stick anywhere, Wood finally got his shot in Detroit. He started the season off on the bench but slowly worked his way up into the starting lineup.
After Andre Drummond moved to the Cavs at the trade deadline, Wood saw a huge increase in his minutes and his performances. From the beginning of February onward, he averaged over 21 points and nine rebounds per game as one of the lone bright spots on a weary Pistons team.
Many of the teams with serious money this offseason were near the bottom of the standings last season, and if Wood lands on a team like the Charlotte Hornets he’ll immediately become their primary scoring option. If things go his way he could see a huge spike in his numbers.
Unlike the other players on this list, Collin Sexton was a consistent high-end offensive player last season who averaged north of 20 points per game. His break out would see him truly jump into stardom. We got to see a peak of it during a scorching stretch of form to end the season. Over his last 24 games, Sexton averaged nearly 25 points a contest shooting an obscene 45 percent from three. The only other player to score that much with that level of outside efficiency was 2015-2016 Steph Curry, the unanimous MVP.
It’s looking likely that Sexton will once again be Cleveland’s primary scoring option next season, meaning he’ll have the opportunity to improve on his already gaudy offensive numbers. With even a glimmer of the form he showed to end the year, Sexton has a real chance of making his first all-star game and making his mark as one of the league’s elite scorers.
All stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference and NBA.com
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