Five Future NBA Stars Breaking Out in a Big Way

Five Future NBA Stars Breaking Out in a Big Way
Tue 14th January 2020

With the 2019-20 NBA season almost three months old, we’ve had plenty of time to assess which of the NBA’s future crop of stars has made the leap from “maybe has All-Star potential” to “this guy is a proper stud”.

Some of the below are realizing their draft-day potential, while others have come from the clouds to stamp themselves as possible household names in the years to come.

In no particular order, here are the five young stars beginning to make their mark on the NBA.

Devonte Graham

Graham’s emergence as a bona fide NBA point guard this season has been nothing short of stunning.

In his sophomore season the 24-year-old guard out of Kansas has taken on the bulk of the play-making in Charlotte, which is remarkable given he averaged just 14 minutes per game last season, and put up only 4.7 points, 1.4 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game.

This season, he’s going at a remarkable clip of 18.6 points, 3.7 rebounds and 7.7 assists, while shooting lights out from three (38%) and the free throw line (83%). Graham is shooting the lights out from everywhere on the court, and has led a team most considered to be at the pointy end of the lottery odds to a respectable 15-27 record and just three games out of seventh spot in the East.

It’s not just his scoring which has been surprising though. Graham’s ability as a passer has gone from seemingly non-existent to among the best in the NBA in the space of a single offseason, and with 325 dishes he’s currently got the second-most assists out of ANYONE in basketball – a mere 72 behind LeBron James in first.

The fact that Graham – who split his time between the G-League and a horrendous Hornets team last year – is leading the NBA in minutes played with 1476 is borderline unbelievable, as is the fact he’s second in three point field goals made, with 149 already.

Graham has gone from an afterthought on a nothing team to a budding star with the chance to sneak his team in to the playoffs. Amazing.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

Fresh off becoming the youngest player in NBA history to record a 20-rebound triple-double, how could we not include SGA in this list?

The 21-year-old – funnily enough who also came out of Kansas (something in that?) – isn’t just a one-trick pony though, he’s been outstanding for the Thunder ever since coming across in the famous Paul George trade.

This explosion in to the public consciousness hasn’t exactly come from nowhere, as those in the know projected SGA’s rise from early in his Clippers career, but it has been surprising how quickly it’s happened. After averaging just 10.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 3.3 assists last season as a roleplayer on a plucky Clippers team which got bounced in the first round, Gilgeous-Alexander is now an integral piece of a Thunder roster which believes it can make some noise in the post-season.

While the improvement has come across the board, it’s noticeable how well Gilgeous-Alexander has grown in to his frame, and the confidence that’s clearly given him as an inside scorer. Not only that though, his shooting – which had been considered a weakness – has now improved to the point that head coach Billy Donovan is able to draw up plays to get him open on the perimeter.

The Thunder are currently 23-17 and staking a claim for the fifth or sixth in the West, while the three-man lineup of Gilgeous-Alexander, Chris Paul and Dennis Schroeder has the highest net rating of any trio in the league. Good enough for us!

Bam Adebayo

Heat fans haven’t shut up about Bam for the last three seasons, and finally the rest of the league is starting to see why.

While Adebayo has always been an outstanding shot-blocker and rebounder, up until this season he appeared to be lacking in scoring and playmaking ability. It’s fair to say he’s put those concerns to bed comprehensively.

Adebayo is averaging 14.5 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, and is flashing the kind of court vision very few centres in the league possess – think Draymond Green and Domantas Sabonis, among very few.

Erick Spoelstra is now more than willing to run plays through Bam, and it’s hard to argue he shouldn’t. The Heat have emerged as one of the premier championship contenders in the East, and Bam has had plenty to do with it.

Jaylen Brown

The Celtics have re-found their identity in the wake of Kyrie Irving’s departure, and no one has benefited more from the increased responsibility than Jaylen Brown.

There were a lot of questions being asked around the league when Boston signed Brown to a $107 million extension on the last day before the deadline, but he’s answered them in emphatic fashion.

The 23-year-old seems to have benefitted enormously from his experience with Team USA in the summer, and is putting up career-highs in points (19.9), assists (2.2) and rebounds (6.8). It’s been quite the recovery from a guy who played just 25.9 minutes per game last year after playing nearly 31 the year before. Of all his drastic improvements across the board, it’s been Brown’s ability to score one on one which has been most impressive.

In 10 games over the last month, Brown averaged 21.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.1 steals in 34.0 minutes while shooting ridiculous .568/.431/.780 splits. The Celtics are arguably the most complete team in the East behind the Bucks, and it’s the emergence of guys like Brown and Jayson Tatum which has got them to that point.

Brandon Ingram

No one in basketball has improved so much in a shorter time that Brandon Ingram.

The much-maligned former-Laker has been absolutely lights out for the Pelicans this season, putting up massive career-highs in points (25), rebounds (6.8) and assists (4.2). The team around him – particularly without Zion Williamson – is terrible, but that does not in any way diminish how good Ingram has been.

There has always been a perception that Ingram is the perfect second-fiddle on a good team, but he’s shown in the first 40 games of this year that his true destiny may in fact be as a full-blown star. The fact that he’s playing 34 minutes per game and still shooting an exceptional 51% from the field on 18.5 shots per game is a testament to that.

Ingram’s newfound confidence is likely a result of his enormous improvement as an outside shooter. Last season with the Lakers he shot just 33% from downtown, and consequently opposing teams were willing to sag off and clog the lane. This year, he’s going at an excellent 40.1% from beyond the arc and, more importantly, 86% from the free throw line, which is as sure an indication as any that this is no flash in the pan.

Now, if only Zion could get healthy…

Honorable Mentions

Duncan Robinson

It’s incredible enough that a former Division III player is even in the NBA, let alone playing quality basketball on one of the league’s best team.

Robinson’s story is as good as they come, and the fact that he’s fifth in the NBA shooting 45.6 percent from three should mean he remains in the NBA for a long time.


Evan Fournier

Despite being only 27 years old, Fournier has been in the NBA for eight years, and this season has comfortably been his best.

The French native is putting up 19 points per game and shooting better than 40% from three and 52% from inside the arc. He is going to get PAID this offseason.

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