Basketball is back baby! By the time this article is posted we will be at least a game deep in the new season. So many possibilities. So many predictions to make. So many chances to be horribly wrong about things. Someone tweeted @me for my Bold Predictions article with ‘0-3’ and I don’t care because it means someone actually read my article. Time for some more unqualified predictions. Every season we see players take the next step and some become stars. Last season included Pascal Siakim, D’Angelo Russell, and Julius Randle. However there were also players that broke out in a different way. There were also guys that looked like legit NBA players for the first time in their careers. This step may not have granted them MIP consideration, but it was great to see. This article is going to predict those guys in this season and will be broken up into those two groups: breakout stars and stepping onto the scene type of guys. The latter is up first.
Stepping Onto the Scene
Markelle Fultz has been in the news for all the wrong reasons in his first two years in the league. High hopes followed his number one overall selection by the Sixers but he hasn’t lived up to that billing. He has dealt with real and phantom injuries, mysteriously changing his shot, and being traded for scraps (compared to his value one year prior) to the Orlando Magic. However, he has fully participated in training camp for the Magic and figures to receive consistent rotational minutes for what seems like the first time in his career. With a solid developmental coach in Steve Clifford and a massive amount of pressure off his shoulders, Fultz will perform. Remember, he’s still the youngest player in NBA history to record a triple double. The talent is there. However, a lack of shooting and an overflow of distributor options limit Fultz’s upside at least for this season. He may not explode onto the scene but he will look like a legit basketball player for the first time since college.
Man, I loved Frank coming into the draft. A 6’6″ point guard who’s a defensive monster and (at the time) can stroke the three? Sign me up. NBA teams had the same thoughts as he went at #8 in the 2017 draft. You may not know this about the New York Knicks but their player development (in par with everything else) is garbage. The last time the Knicks extended a rookie to a multi-year contract WAS IN 1994. It’s been a quarter of a century! Every player drafted by the Knicks runs the risk of underperforming and being underdeveloped. With that in mind, Ntilikina’s struggles out of the gate make some sense. His billing as a defensive stalwart has come as advertised but everything else has not. He’s shot a gross 31% from three for his career and has been one of the worst offensive players in the league since he came in. But, I’m not putting him as a breakout star this season.
I really think he will be a solid rotational player for the first time. A second year under Fizdale (a reputation for developing players), additional shooting around him, and the best passer (RJ Barrett) he has played with all spell less responsibility for the Frenchman. Speaking of, he was a vital piece in France’s third place finish in this summer’s FIBA WC. Look for Ntilikina to show improvement in his game for the first time. Or maybe, the Knicks will trade him and he’ll immediately play better because….he will not be on the Knicks.
Opportunity is the name of the game for Adebayo. He averaged 13 points, 12 rebounds, and over one steal and one block per 36 minutes last season. He would have been only the fourth player to average that last season. Why did he only play 23 minutes a game last season then? Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside, despite playing much less effectively than Bam, started most games and stole lots of minutes from him. Well Whiteside is gone, traded to the Blazers. And while they added Meyers Leonard in that trade and still have Kelly Olynyk, Bam is lined up for the starting center spot and minutes. And it will be glorious. He fits in perfectly with the rest of the starting unit. Look for him to average something like 16/12/1.5/1.5 for the season and push for Most Improved. This Heat team is a lot more dangerous than it seems and Adebayo is a big part of that.
Did the Hornets massively overpay Terry Rozier? Absolutely. Did it make a ton of sense considering they weren’t willing to max out Kemba Walker and are strapped for cash? Absolutely not. The Hornets have consistently been a bottom three front office that’s saved by the fact that they don’t get the media coverage that the Knicks get. However, Rozier is still 25 years old and started on a team that made the conference finals two years ago. He’s also shot above league average from three for the past two seasons. He is your prototypical point guard in a league that doesn’t have very many of those. Better yet, he’s going to get all the minutes and opportunity he can handle this season. Rozier could flourish under the tutelage of James Borrego. This is going to be a very sad season in Charlotte as they will be in the cellar for most (if not all) of it. Rozier, Malik Monk, and Miles Bridges is a legit young core though, and they could provide some memorable moments. The Hornets won’t win enough for Rozier to win MIP, but he’ll be in the conversation. ALSO: Rozier had 24/8/7 in a preseason win over Memphis. Just teasing it at this point.
We were ROBBED of a Murray breakout season last year. If you didn’t know, he missed all of last season with a torn ACL. The good news is that these days a torn ACL doesn’t project to have long term effects on the players. Should be able to come back good as before. And before was very good for Murray. In his second season (2017-18), he became the youngest player in NBA history to make an All-Defensive team. He led a stout Spurs team as the starting point guard that season. And if he starts next to Derrick White this season, opposing guards may not even attempt scoring on them. Murray is projected to be the starter again this season and will take the leap that we were robbed of seeing last season. The Spurs clearly believe in him as they granted him a four year $64 million extension this offseason. When the Spurs believe in a young player, you listen. Look for him to make another All-Defensive team this season and look much more dangerous on the offensive side of the ball.
That’s it. That’s the article. I easily could have listed guys like Trae Young, Luka Doncic, or Domantas Sabonis. But I didn’t really want to choose second year guys with high draft capital. In Sabonis’ case…I just don’t think he’s going to make a giant leap from his mini breakout last season. If you like these predictions, don’t like them, or have some of your own, don’t hesitate to tweet at me @aguibanezbaldor. That last guy didn’t hesitate, that’s for sure.