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Five NBA Players Primed for a Breakout Season

Updated: Oct 24, 2021

Every year, there are a handful of players who exceed expectations and have breakout seasons. Last year, we saw Julius Randle take a massive step from being a starting-caliber player to receiving All-NBA second team honors. Role players like Jermai Grant and Christian Wood went to new teams and emerged as near all-star caliber players. Giannis Antetokounmpo, the reigning Finals MVP, averaged just 6.8 points per game in his rookie year and 12.7 in his sophomore year before becoming a two-time NBA MVP. With the new NBA season fast approaching, here are five players who are primed to break-out this year.

1. Tyler Herro

Sep 23, 2020; Lake Buena Vista, Florida, USA; Miami Heat guard Tyler Herro (14) celebrates after among a layup against the Boston Celtics during the second half of game four of the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2020 NBA Playoffs at AdventHealth Arena. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tyler Herro took the NBA world by storm in his rookie year, lighting it up in the bubble and helping the Miami Heat reach the NBA Finals. In the 2020 playoffs, Herro averaged 16.0 points per game along with 5.1 rebounds and 3.7 assists. Herro became the youngest player in NBA history to start an NBA Finals game. Many expected Herro to take the next step last season, but Herro was not able to replicate his success from the bubble. Herro began the year as the Heat's starting point guard, but he ended up moving to a bench role and was never able to get it going.

A lot of the criticism regarding Herro surrounds his fame and luxurious lifestyle, with people believing that he "took his foot off the gas" in his second year after a successful rookie campaign. Clearly, Herro has been working this offseason to prove the doubters wrong. So far this preseason, Herro has treated every game as if it were the playoffs and has averaged 22.6 points per game on 44.8% three point shooting. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra praised Herro, noting that "he has really improved all across the board" following the Heat's preseason win over the Spurs. Newly-acquired Kyle Lowry also praised Herro, noting "he had been playing his butt off. He’s one guy that has been truly impressive to me.”

From what Herro has shown in his first two seasons, he's undoubtedly one of the most talented offensive players in the league once he gets it going. In every interview Herro has given so far this year, he's repeated that he's ready to work and prove the doubters wrong. Herro has looked more locked-in than he ever has been. In fact, Jimmy Butler, Herro's superstar teammate, had a similar breakout season in 2014. The Heat will lean on Herro's scoring punch this season, and Herro looks determined to have a big year.

2. Michael Porter Jr.

Oct 22, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Denver Nuggets forward Michael Porter Jr. (1) attempts a three point basket over San Antonio Spurs guard Derrick White (4) in the first quarter at Ball Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

This offseason, Michael Porter Jr. inked a 5-year contract worth up to $207 million to stay with the Nuggets. "MPJ" is one of the most intriguing young talents in the league, and the young forward certainly has All-NBA potential at just 23 years of age. For one, Porter Jr. is 6'10 but he handles the ball extremely well and shoots close to 45% from three on over six attempts per game. His shooting efficiency is already off the charts, already at a Kevin Durant level, and his shooting release makes it extremely hard for defenders to block his shot.

The Nuggets are led by NBA MVP Nikola Jokic, forcing Porter Jr. into more of an off-ball, complementary role. But after committing to Porter Jr. long-term with a five-year extension, this could be the year that the Nuggets unleash their young star more often. Porter Jr. has the potential to be one of the league's most dangerous offensive threats if he can emerge into more of a Jayson Tatum role, where he has the ball in his hands more often. While his defense, or lack thereof, limited his playing time in his rookie year, Porter Jr. has made strides defensively and has the athletic ability to become an above-average defender. The talent is unquestionably there for MPJ, it will just be a matter of making the most of his opportunity and staying healthy.

3. Darius Garland

Apr 28, 2021; Cleveland, Ohio, USA; Cleveland Cavaliers guard Darius Garland (10) looks to pass beside Orlando Magic guard Cole Anthony (50) in the fourth quarter at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Although Darius Garland struggled in his rookie year, he really started putting it together in his sophomore year and this could be the year that he truly breaks out. Just 21-years-old, Garland already posted averages of 17.4 points and 6.1 assists per game last season. Garland is a talented ball-handler, which helps him become an elite shot creator and playmaker. After increasing his assist average from 3.9 to 6.1 per game last year, Garland's assist totals should continue to rise. The Cavs bolstered their front court by adding Evan Mobley and Lauri Markkanen this offseason, and alongside Jarrett Allen, Garland should have plenty of opportunities to run the pick-and-roll. Although Garland isn't the fastest or most explosive, his elite quickness that comes with his 6'1 frame helps him blow by taller defenders. In addition, Garland exhibits an effortless jump shot and he is an efficient shooter as he shot 39.5% from three last year.

If Garland can continue piecing it together, his combination of creative ball-handling and smooth shooting can make him a premier offensive talent. With ball-handling ability like Kyrie Irving and shooting ability like Trae Young, there really is no limit for Garland. One thing that's holding Garland back is actually his own teammate, Collin Sexton. Many view Sexton as the point guard of the future for the Cavaliers, not Garland. While Sexton is a great scorer, averaging 24.3 points per game last season, Garland is the more well-rounded point guard who consistently distributes, shoots, and defends at a high level. Although Sexton and Garland may share the point guard duties, Garland is ready to have a breakout season and the Cavs could surprise some people in the East.

4. Tyrese Haliburton

Apr 18, 2021; Dallas, Texas, USA; Sacramento Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton (0) in action during the game between the Dallas Mavericks and the Sacramento Kings at the American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Following an excellent rookie campaign, Haliburton looks ready to take the next step with the Kings. After sliding to the Kings at #12 in the 2020 NBA Draft, Haliburton finished third in Rookie of the Year voting behind LaMelo Ball and Anthony Edwards. The aspect of Haliburton's game that stands out most is his outstanding basketball IQ and passing ability. Haliburton possess elite passing instincts and excels in a crowded paint, with a special ability to fit the ball in tight passing windows and squeeze the ball past multiple defenders. Although he's only 21-years-old, he already looks like a seasoned veteran on the court and plays the game at his own pace, setting him apart from most young players.

Although a lot of people worry about Haliburton's jump shot and his slow release, he shot 40.9% from three in his rookie year. While shooting isn't the most prominent aspect of Haliburton's game, he is a dependable shooter and is far from a liability like some feared. On defense, Haliburton has shown flashes of being an elite defender for the Kings. With a lanky 6'5 frame and an even longer 6'8 wingspan, Haliburton is constantly jumping passing lanes and disrupting opposing guards. He has fantastic defensive instincts for a young player, and his tremendous versatility makes him a valuable defensive piece. Now playing alongside rookie Davion Mitchell, the Kings backcourt will wreck a lot of havoc for opposing backcourts. Although he's only entering his second year, Haliburton's deliberate play and phenomenal instincts makes him a strong candidate to have a breakout year.

5. Jaren Jackson Jr.

Oct 23, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; Memphis Grizzlies forward Jaren Jackson Jr. (13) heads down court after a three point basket in the fourth quarter of the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Following an injury-riddled season, Jackson Jr. secured a four-year, $105 million extension with the Grizzlies this offseason and looks to have a big year in store. Although Jackson Jr. struggled in his 11 games last season, he was a special player in the 2019-20 season, and it's clear that the Grizzlies still believe in the young big man.

Last season, Jackson Jr. did not look like himself in his highly anticipated return. On offense, he was used primarily as a spot-up shooter, as if he were being eased back into action. This significantly minimized his impact on the game, and he looked disengaged rather than the game-changing big man he was during the 2019-20 season. This season, Grizzlies coach Taylor Jenkins will need to involve Jackson Jr. more in the offense, whether it be screening for Morant, posting up in the paint, or even orchestrating the offense himself. Now healthy, the duo of Ja Morant and Jaren Jackson Jr. could be one of the league's premier duos of the future.

Jaren Jackson Jr. is the perfect example of a modern day big man. At 6'11, he handles the ball well, shoots nearly 40% from three, and can pick-and-roll or pick-and-pop at a high level. With Ja Morant's rise to stardom, defenses must respect his drive on the pick-and-roll, opening up a lot of opportunities for Jackson Jr. to score. Defensively, Jackson Jr. is tremendously versatile, and his quickness allows him to switch onto smaller players on the perimeter. Combine this versatility with his elite shot-blocking ability, and Jackson Jr. becomes a vital piece for the Grizzlies on both ends of the floor. One of the areas where Jackson Jr. needs to improve is his rebounding. The big man averaged less than five rebounds per game each of his first two seasons, and he had the third-lowest total rebound percentage (8.5) among players 6'10 or taller in 2020. Jackson Jr. improved in his 11 games last season, grabbing 5.6 rebounds per game, but this continues to be a point of emphasis in his development.

The issues that have plagued Jackson Jr. throughout his career have been injuries and foul trouble. As long as he can stay on the court, Jackson Jr. absolutely has the talent and tools needed to have a breakout season for the Grizzlies.

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