This list was made as of Nov. 5, two weeks into the NBA season. The list is focused on 2nd, 3rd, and 4th year players (with the exception of 1) and players are selected based off of their potential to contribute at high levels on their current teams. A large portion of players on this list are off to hot starts this season, but they are still included based off of the idea that they will continue to produce at this level on a consistent basis.
Every June NBA front offices are tasked with selecting college players that they feel will be able to be a contributor on their team at the NBA level. Most players will take some time to acclimate to the change of speed and increase of competition at the next level. This NBA season there is already a slew of young players taking the next step in their game, as they are finally ready to contribute to their team at a high level. Young players like Trae Young, Pascal Siakam, and Malcolm Brogden each are off to fantastic starts, but for the sake of the list they will be excluded as they have already been pegged as players that have broken out. Young was second in Rookie of the Year voting last year, Siakam won Most Improved Player a season ago, and Brogden won Rookie of the Year in his first season with Milwaukee. That being said, here are the 10 young players that I believe are about to take the next step in their games and produce for their teams at a high level night in and night out.
Ingram was selected 2nd overall in a talented 2016 draft class where players like Ben Simmons were drafted one spot ahead of him, and guys like Jamal Murray, Pascal Siakam, and Malcolm Brogden were taken after falling in the draft.
Ingram started off slower than the Lakers would have liked during his time in LA. In his three season with the purple and gold, Ingram averaged 14.6 points a night, 4.8 rebounds and 3 assists a night. These aren’t numbers that would make Ingram a bust, but they aren’t what a team would like through three seasons after selecting a guy 2nd overall. The Lakers had an opportunity to make a splash in the offseason, and shipped Ingram to the Pelicans in a package for Anthony Davis.
The change of scenery has benefited Ingram greatly so far this season, as he is adjusting to his new role as the Pelican’s go to guy exactly how planned. Through seven games (in the 6th game of the year Ingram only played 13 minutes as he left with an injury), Ingram is averaging 25.9 points night, 7.1 rebounds, and 4.3 assists, all improvements from his time on the Lakers.
In Ingram’s last game against the Nets, he put an exclamation point on his hot start to the season and showed the league why he was selected so high coming out of Duke. He put up 40 points (a career high), 5 rebounds and 5 assists, and traded buckets with Kyrie Irving all night.
With Zion Williamson out to start the year, Ingram has been able to cement himself as the Pelican’s number one option, and has left people questioning why the Lakers made Kyle Kuzma untouchable and not Ingram this past summer. Even when Zion returns, don’t expect Ingram to let up. Not only can he score at will, but Ingram is also talented at creating for his teammates and is able to still impact a game even if he isn’t scoring 25 points a night. Expect Ingram to sustain these numbers over the course of the season regardless of who suits up for the Pelicans, and I would be surprised if he isn’t a finalist for the leagues Most Improved Player Award, as Ingram is currently taking a similar step in his game to Siakam’s last year.
After his rookie season, many thought that Tatum would take a leap in his second year. Last season the Celtic’s struggled with a lot of chemistry issues, and had a log jam at the wing position that didn’t really get figured out. Tatum only increased his point, rebound, and assist total by a combined total of 3.3, and both his 2pt percentage and 3pt percentage dropped in his second year, having many people jumping on the idea that Tatum may be overrated.
Fast forward to the 2019-2020 season, and the Celtics are having fun playing basketball again. The big star on the Celtics last year was Kyrie Irving, and this year they replaced him with Kemba Walker. Kemba is an All-Star kind of talent, but isn’t regarded quite as highly as Kyrie Irving in most people’s minds. With the movement in team personal, many saw that the Celtics would make Tatum a focal point of the team’s new offense this year.
Now through five games, it is looking like Tatum is ready to tackle the role of being one of the Celtics go to guys. A big knock on Tatum last season was his inefficient shot selection, as he shot long twos at will. This season we have already seen change. Tatum is limiting his deep mid-range attempts and shooting the majority of his shots from behind the three-point line and at the rim. Last year 16.3% of Tatum’s points came from the midrange, and this year it is down to 5.5%. 49.1% of Tatum’s points are coming by way of the three ball, and 40% at the rim.
Tatum has also strutted his clutch gene early this season, something that the best players in the league must possess. In a matchup against the Knicks Tatum got an inbound with 4.7 seconds left on the wing, faced up and ripped through, took a dribble to the right corner and pulled up over RJ Barrett to sink the game winning jump shot with 1.3 seconds left on the clock. Brad Stevens trusts Tatum even in his third year to draw up a play for him in isolation to win the game. So far on the season Tatum is averaging 22 points a night, 7.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists. This stat line is more than sustainable for Tatum going forward, as he is going to continue to keep growing in the Celtics 2nd option behind Kemba going forward.
Bam was my preseason choice for Most Improved Player of the Year, but after two weeks there have been some players that may be more likely to win based off their increase in statistics. Bam’s game goes way beyond the box score, and just because he isn’t increasing his scoring by 10 points doesn’t mean his game is vastly improved.
No Whiteside in Miami means that Pat Riley is all in on the Kentucky center and early this year Bam has shown everyone why the Heat gave him the starting role. His defensive ability and rim running presence has taken another step, and although he was projected to do things like that in the NBA, there is another wrinkle in his game that should be credited.
Bam has shown that his passing skills went unnoticed early on in his career, and so far this season he has been setting his teammates up at a rate of 5 assists a game, second in the league for starts behind Jokic. On a team that doesn’t start a traditional point guard, having other players on the court that are able to facilitate is crucial to having an effective offense. So far it has been working for the Heat, as they’re 6th in offensive rating and off to a 5-2 start.
Adebayo is going to be one of the better rim protectors in the league, and has the rare ability to switch out on the perimeter when playing in the pick and roll. This probably won’t be the season where Bam develops any sort of jumper, but until then the Heat won’t have him on the floor for his offensive ability. Adebayo is in the process of taking that next step and being one of the most versatile young big men in the league.
Thomas Bryant was selected in the 2nd round of the 2017 NBA draft, and spent most of his first season with the Laker’s G-League team before the Wizards claimed him off waivers. With no real expectations, Bryant got inserted into the starting lineup last year and was one of the few bright spots in the Wizards season. He averaged 10.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.3 assists in 53 games started.
To start the 2019-2020 campaign, Bryant is averaging 13.6 points, 9.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists for the Wizards. The biggest part about Bryant improving each year as a professional is his first class intangibles. He is a very high motor player with one of the strongest work ethics in the league, earning everything he has so far in his career.
Bryant may not resemble a modern day big man, but he is a more than able defender and serves as a productive rim runner for the Wizards. Although Bryant may not have the desired inside-out game of bigs today, he has showed an improved jumper this year shooting 30% from three on 3 attempts a game. Bryant is very good inside the paint however. He connected on 77.9% of his shots from five feet or closer, and 68.4% as a whole from the field last year. Bryant has already proved that he is able to improve quickly, and this year with the Wizards roster, he should be able to take yet another step playing off of Bradley Beal.
Luke Kennard has always been a competent shooter for the Pistons, as he is a 40% career shooter from beyond the arc. In his first two seasons for Detroit, Kennard was utilized specifically for his shooting limiting him to a specialist role within the offense. Kennard just averaged 21.4 minutes a game, 8.6 points a game, 2.6 rebounds, and 1.7 assists during his first two campaigns. A lot of people were ready for Kennard to get more of an opportunity, as in his limited minutes early in his career he was able to flash signs that he was more than just a spot up shooter.
So far in the 2019-2020 season, Kennard has finally been given a longer leash. He is averaging 32.6 minutes a game, 18 points a night, 3.7 total rebounds, and 4.3 assists. Though Kennard’s usage rate has risen from 18.1 to 21.6 from last season to now, he has still been able to improve on his efficiency. He is up from 43% to 45% from the field, and up from 39% to 42% from three.
Something also to take note of Kennard is that he is showing that he is a more improved ball handler and playmaker. Kennard isn’t going to run your team’s offense, but he is now able to catch off a screen and make the choice to either attack the rim or pull up for an open shot. Opposing defenses now are forced to adjust, and can’t bank on the idea of Kennard pulling up as soon as he catches the ball. Kennard was a player that was seen almost daily at the Rico Hines runs over the summer, and there is a pattern of players improving the next season after working with Hines. Pascal Siakam and Montrezl Harrell both have credited a portion of their new found success to Hines and his coaching over the summer. This season Kennard is going to go from three-point specialist, to a pure offensive threat for the Pistons.
Jonathan Isaac was drafted 6th overall by the Magic in the 2017 NBA Draft based off his defensive potential and versatility. Isaac possess capability on the offensive end, but his true value comes on the opposite side of the ball. His rookie season was cut short due to injuries, as he only played in 27 games, but with 64 games started last season, Isaac has been able to consistently improve early on in his career.
Isaac has shown flashes of his offensive abilities early on, going for 24 points in a loss to the Raptors, and 22 points in a blowout win against the Grizzlies. Other than that, Isaac has been inconsistent (12.3 PPG through 9 games). Defensively is where Isaac has flourished early on, as he is finally showing his ability to guard multiple positions on the court. Isaac is listed at 6,11 and 210 pounds, and as he continues to mold his body Isaac will more effectively be able to guard every position on the court.
For now, Isaac is disrupting opposing offenses with his length. Isaac is averaging 1.6 steals a night, and currently leads the league in blocks with 3.1 a night. For a player that was projected as a small forward coming out of college, Isaac has been able to adjust to being a stretch four nicely in the league, giving the Magic needed rim protection next to Nikola Vucevic.
Isaac may not improve on his offensive game greatly this year, but he has been able to unlock his defensive potential which will be valuable for him going forward. Though he is still struggling being consistent offensively, Isaac’s improved shooting numbers suggests that he will be able to turn into a two-way player that impacts the game on both ends. Isaac shot last year 42% from the field, 32% from three, and 81% from the line. This year all those numbers have risen, as he is now shooting a split of 49%, 36% and 90%. This season Isaac is taking a step in his game, and as he continues to improve in all facets of his game, he could find himself as one of the league’s best two way threats for years to come.
Kelly Oubre Jr
Kelly Oubre is finally coming into his own on a flourishing Suns team. After spending his first three and half season with the Wizards, Oubre was moved to Phoenix and immediately contributed. The change of scenery was a blessing in disguise, as it is for most young players. During his time in Washington, Oubre averaged 8.2 points a game, 3.5 rebounds, and 0.7 assists. With the Suns he is averaging 16.9 points a game, 5.0 rebounds, and 1.6 assists which lead to the Suns giving him a 2yr/$30 million contract.
Coming out of Kanas, Oubre was pegged as a potent scorer with lots of offensive ability still unlocked. Though Oubre has finally been able to unlock some of that potential, the knock people had on him is still peeping through the cracks. Oubre is a career 42% from the field and 32% from three, numbers that show that his scoring is not coming at an efficient rate. Through 8 games this year, Oubre is trying to shrug that stigma off and prove that he can score at an efficient clip. He is shooting 49% from the field and 38% from three. If he is able to sustain these numbers, the Suns are going to have no other choice but to extend him after this new contract is up.
Oubre has the bag to be that third scoring threat for the Suns behind Devin Booker and DeAndre Ayton. He is a spark plug that can score in bunches, and is talented enough to keep the Suns in games when Booker is resting on the bench. If Oubre continues to improve on his shooting numbers, the 23-year-old wing is going to play an important role in the Sun’s future as their rebuild continues to speed up.
Taurean Prince may not put up mind blowing stats in his new role with the Nets, but he has the ability to play a pivotal role within their team. Prince was brought in to play a similar role that DeMarre Carroll played for Brooklyn last year, and so far he has been doing just that. Prince is averaging 13.5 points a night, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.5 assists. Prince is much younger than Carroll, and that is why he was brought in to Brooklyn, to match up with the team’s timeline to compete once Kevin Durant returns next season.
The Nets need Prince to be an effective three and D player going forward in order to take defensive pressure off KD and Kyrie, and give them a spot up shooter to play off of them. So far this year, Prince is shooting 40% from three, the highest of his career. The Net’s want to see an improvement in this area going forward, but will also ask Prince to continue to develop on the defensive side of the ball. Prince holds just the 105th ranked defensive rating (107.1) out of starters in the league, and moving forward Prince will have to build off this and use his physical tools (6,7 220lbs) to defend opposing teams best offensive player.
Prince is going to have to be the best defender on the court for the Nets in seasons to come if he is going to have the impact he is capable of. With his tools and instincts (1.4 steals a game), Prince has the ability to become an above average defender. The Nets are one of the best teams in developing talent, and since Kevin Durant won’t be playing again until the 2020-2021 season, Prince has all of this year to turn into the player he should be.
Wendell Carter Jr.
Wendell Carter Jr. looks like a seasoned veteran although he is only 20 years old. Coming out of Duke Carter looked like he would fit the mold of a traditional big man in today’s NBA, which may have scared some teams away on draft night. Carter doesn’t have too much of three point shot right now, but he has improved so far raising his 3pt% from 11% to 17%. Good news for Carter however is that he is playing alongside Lauri Markkanen, a forward that is known for his lethal shooting.
Wendell Carter Jr. provides the Bulls with an inside presence that compliments Markkanen when they are on the floor together. He protects the rim very well, and once his minute’s increase Carter can easily be a 20 and 10 guy nightly. This season Carter is averaging just 26 minutes a game, as Jim Boylen continues to insist on playing Luke Kornet minutes at the center position. For the season Carter is averaging 12.8 points a night and 9.5 rebounds, but has shown what he can do when given more minutes. In two games this season where Carter Jr saw close to 30 minutes, he put up 20 points and 10 rebounds in each game.
As Carter Jr continues to make his offensive game multi-dimensional, his minutes are sure to increase. As he becomes more comfortable shooting the ball from the mid-range and from the three-point line, Carter Jr is going to start to become more aggressive in looking for his shot. He is already an adequate rebounder and defender, but once the offensive game comes to him more, Carter Jr is going to turn into a nightly double-double for the Bulls.
With the departure of Kawhi Leonard, the Raptors needed help in filling the void that the Finals MVP left. Pascal Siakam looks like he is taking yet another step in his improved game, but Toronto would then need someone to fill the production of Siakam from a year ago. Insert OG Anunoby, a physical defender that possess many of the same skills that Leonard and Siakam have.
Last season OG Anunoby showed the Raptors his defensive potential, as when Kawhi Leonard was off the court, he was often tasked with guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player. He was effective in this role this year, but this year he is going to have to prove that he is able to shoot enough to keep him on the court. Early on Anunoby is doing just that, shooting the three ball at a clip of 54% on four attempts a game. This may not be sustainable, but if he can continue to shoot above 40%, Anunoby will be an efficient three and D player for the Raptors as he is also shooting 57% from the field.
Being able to defend team’s best players is going to be important for Anunoby and the Raptors, as they will be able to take defensive pressure off of Siakam, as he is their number one option on offense without Leonard. It seems that OG is capable of this tall task, and if he is going to continue to shoot the ball very well, defenses will have to adjust. Once defenses do adjust, it will challenge Anunoby to take the next step in his offensive game. If he is able to then create off the dribble when defenses close out on him hard, he will be able to unlock a part of his offensive game that he may not have had prior. If OG Anunoby is able to do this, the Raptors may have a player that can be Siakam’s sidekick on their roster already.