Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Many expected the Indiana big man to break out last season after showing a ton of promise down the stretch of his rookie season, and while he certainly improved, there is still room for the breakout season we want from Myles Turner. Few can match his athleticism inside, and with Paul George being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Turner looks primed to take on the role of the featured player on offense. Expect the athletically-gifted big man to take advantage of his new role.
Jamal Murray, Denver Nuggets
After a rookie season that saw him improve as the campaign wore on, Jamal Murray looks poised to do big things in his second professional season. Look past the poor shooting percentage and you’ll see an explosive young guard with dynamic handling and a certain smoothness to his game that resembles some of the top guards in the league. Be prepared for a star turn from Murray for a Nuggets team that could be dangerous.
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Towards the end of his rookie season and into the NBA playoffs, Jaylen Brown finally started to look like the guy the Boston Celtics wanted when they selected him No. 3 overall in the 2016 NBA Draft. An elite athlete, Brown plays with an aggressiveness and edge that is a bit reminiscent of somebody like Patrick Beverly. Although Gordon Hayward and Jayson Tatum may take away offensive opportunities that may have otherwise been Brown’s, expect him to convert when he’s expected to and continue to fulfill the immense potential he came into the league with.
Skal Labissiere, Sacramento Kings
While at Kentucky, Skal Labissiere was a big disappointment, looking nothing like the player that had scouts drooling before his freshman season. Despite the lackluster collegiate campaign, Labissiere entered the 2016 draft anyway and the Sacramento Kings took a risk on him, hoping he could return to his pre-college form. After the DeMarcus Cousins trade, that risk really started to pay off for the Kings as Labissiere showed a scoring touch and quickness that few others at the position can match. He might not reach his full potential this season, but I expect a breakthrough for a player that looks like he might have a star future as a stretch-five.
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets
The Los Angeles Lakers shocked everyone when they traded D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov to the Brooklyn Nets in exchange for what essentially was Brook Lopez and cap relief. Although the young guard can be enigmatic at times and the Lakers secured Lonzo Ball, there’s no doubt that he is one of the NBA’s more promising young players and it was an incredibly surprising move. That said, Russell will head to Brooklyn as the likely alpha-dog on offense- a role that he could thrive in given coach Kenny Atkinson’s style of play. Don’t be surprised to see Russell garner some all-star consideration as he looks to prove the Lakers made a mistake in shipping him away.
Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
Although it’s been a drama-filled off-season for the New York Knicks and Porzingis, the third-year man looks primed to take a big step in his development this coming season. The Latvian big-man took a step forward last season but with Carmelo Anthony likely to be traded at some point during the offseason, Porzingis looks likely to take on an even bigger role for New York this season. Even with Anthony in tow, Porzingis could put up huge numbers as he possesses the “unicorn” qualities NBA teams covet. Expect a huge year as he asserts himself as the true star for the Knicks.
Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Dejounte Murray’s rookie statistics don’t leap off the page with averages of 3.4 points, 1.1 rebounds, and 1.3 assists, but those stats don’t tell the full story. Tony Parker is a year older, injured, and coming off his worst season, and while Patty Mills is a decent player he doesn’t project as a long-term starter, making Murray the Spurs best option to run the point. He showed solid scoring touch as a rookie and really shined on the defensive side during the playoffs. With extended playing time, Murray could be the latest Spurs player to come out of nowhere and put up big production.