The NBA season is back like we’ve never seen it before, and NBA fans across the globe have rejoiced. With so many exciting storylines and so many great teams, this season is shaping up to be one of the most interesting and historic seasons ever. With so many teams on a quest for the NBA title, certain guys are going to have to step up their level of play to help their teams win games.
On the other hand, some teams have an astonishingly little amount of talent, and guys will be able to benefit from the great opportunity. Regardless of what the case may be, let’s look at five players who can seize an opportunity and take a large step forward in their development and statistics.
The Japanese sensation Rui Hachimura has had a fantastic rookie season with the Washington Wizards where he’s averaging 13 PPG and 6 RPG on 48% from the field.
Hachimura will likely be contending for an All-Rookie selection because of his fantastic play on the offensive side of the ball. However, the theme for the Wizards has been all offense, and no defense and Hachimura is no exception to this as he was arguably the worst defender at his position.
However, this may actually help Hachimura’s breakout case. A lot of the Wizards players’ stats have been heavily inflated due to the complete lack of defense being played. To put it into perspective, the Wizards had three guys who were statistically the worst defenders at their position (Bradley Beal, Hachimura, and Thomas Bryant) and they were starting Isaiah Thomas for half the season. This team was an all-offense, no-defense team.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because Hachimura is already a talented offensive player with solid stats for a rookie. The Wizards are without their three best players in Beal, John Wall, and Davis Bertans for the NBA bubble. Hachimura is the de facto number one option for Washington.
With little to no defense being played and all the offensive freedom in the world, you can expect Hachimura to take a substantial leap forward in these seeding games and average over 20 points a game and prove himself as one of the bright young stars in the game.
Royce O’Neale has long been one of the NBA’s most underrated players and has been great for this team despite battling inconsistent minutes and constant lineup maneuvering. O’Neale hasn’t been incredible, but he’s provided a steady 6 PPG, 5 RPG, and 3 APG while shooting 39% from three. He’s also one of the league’s most versatile defenders (83.9 versatility rating) and has been extremely effective when guarding guards and forwards alike.
Bojan Bogdanovic is out with an injury and Royce O’Neale slides perfectly into that starting role. Each year, O’Neale has made steady yet consistent strides in his game to become a great player and has all the tools to become one of the game’s best role players or a breakout threat. Now that he’ll be starting every night and likely to get close to 30 minutes a game if not more come playoff time, he’ll begin to gel with the starting unit and get more shots up.
Most importantly, the Jazz need him to step up. Their roster isn’t great compared to some of the best rosters in the West and are in dire need of a consistent offensive option outside of Donovan Mitchell. O’Neale has been the Jazz’s most consistent playoff performer over the past two years and will likely take another step forward in these playoffs.
If he can understand that the Jazz need him to come into his own in order to compete with the best teams the West has to offer, he’ll be more aggressive offensively and continue his defensive prowess to become a reliable two-way force.
Mikal Bridges is another one of the league’s most underrated players and one of the bright young players that I believe is destined to break out one way or another. He’s the perfect glue guy in today’s NBA and is extremely portable.
Offensively, he averages 8 PPG and 4 RPG with an rTS% of +5.9, but he’s not an effective player on that side of the ball yet. Defensively, he’s one of the best perimeter defenders in the entire NBA. He’s 12th in versatility rating amongst qualified players, 8th in total steals, and he defends the opposing team’s number one option 18.1% of the time.
Bridges has slid seamlessly into the starting lineup for the Suns while Kelly Oubre sat out due to injury. Bridges shined in some of the NBA’s scrimmage games including one where he put up an efficient 26 points against the Toronto Raptors and their 2nd ranked defense. Bridges has an immense amount of talent but has always been stuck behind different guys. Now, he’s going to get consistent minutes and put up consistently good results.
The Suns are not likely to contend for a playoff spot, but we will get to see some of these younger guys play in meaningful basketball games, which will be important for their development. Bridges will show that he’s one of the most underrated players in the game by attacking the basket, knocking down three’s, and playing phenomenal perimeter defense for this team.
I am extremely high on the potential of Lonnie Walker, and I think that he will prove himself as a potential franchise piece for the San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs have been utilizing their underrated youngsters in Walker, Dejounte Murray, Keldon Johnson, and others, and it’s been extremely beneficial for them. However, the best of all of those guys in terms of talent and potential is easily Lonnie Walker.
Walker has proven he can score the basketball, and he’s an excellent shooter (40% career three-point shooter). He’s also been an extremely solid defender who brings lots of energy to the Spurs slow-moving defense. But what’s really impressed me is his willingness to share the basketball and improve his vision. The desire to improve as a young player is extremely important, and Walker has made all the right strides and looks willing to improve his overall skill set.
The Spurs are actually sitting at 10th in the West but have a very real shot to make the playoffs. If they simply embrace their young guys like Walker and give them extensive minutes, they’ll be much more successful, and Walker will breakout offensively. He’s always had the talent but never the opportunity. Now, he’s got that opportunity and will be leaps and bounds better in the volume aspect of the statistics.
The final guy on this list is going to be Shake Milton. Thanks to a new lineup change by Brett Brown, Milton has assumed starting PG duties while Ben Simmons has moved to PF in a move that I was and still am a massive fan of. Yes, Milton did drop zero points in his first game, but he took only one shot and was in foul trouble all night long. It was a rough first night, and it wasn’t a good sign, but I have confidence in Milton to turn things around.
Milton is a lights-out shooter. I first started taking note when he got the starting job after Simmons went down with injury earlier in the year, and Milton dropped 39 points on the Clippers. Milton is an elite three-point shooter and a great shot creator. He’s not a great playmaker, but he doesn’t need to be, as Simmons handles all the primary playmaking duties. Milton fits in perfectly with this lineup and he’s got loads of talent.
The 76ers are a team in dire need of a guy like Milton. As I said, he’s an elite three-point shooter and shot creator that can help close out games if they can’t feed the ball to Joel Embiid in the post. His skill set compliments Simmons and Embiid perfectly and his perimeter defense is solid enough to keep him on the court late in games.
Some people might be worried about his first game but it was his first real game as a starter and he didn’t even get many minutes because he was in foul trouble. Shake Milton is most definitely a name to look out for come playoff time.