In the NBA, becoming a star talent is not guaranteed. Many players enter the league as high draft picks and never seem to make an impact on a team, while others are blessed with the ability to compete and play at the highest level. It can be difficult at times to determine what players in the league truly are ready to take the next step and become stars in the NBA. However, some players display traits that make many believe they are going to excel in the league. In this article, I’m going to be highlighting five current NBA players that I think are due for their breakout moment. With that being said, here are my top five NBA players that will develop into stars in this league.
1. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder shocked NBA fans this season by going 40-24 in the shortened season and earning their spot in the NBA playoffs. This success is coming off of an offseason that saw them go into rebuild mode by trading stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George for a plethora of players and picks. The team’s most significant acquisition in the offseason was Chris Paul; however, I believe that their most valuable player gained from these trades is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.
In his rookie campaign with the Clippers, the athletic point guard showed flashes of potential, averaging 10.8 points and solidifying himself as a player to keep an eye on. Since being traded to OKC, Gilgeous-Alexander has quickly realized much of that potential. He improved his PPG average to 19.3 while starting at the two alongside Chris Paul and has been a critical factor in the Thunder’s success this season. Although Paul still has two years left on his contract, I’d love to see what the 21-year-old Gilgeous-Alexander could do starting in his natural position as a point guard. Nonetheless, the Thunder got themselves a future star player that they can build around in the coming years.
2. Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets
Michael Porter Jr. was ranked as the #2 player in the class of 2017 coming out of high school. He declared to play his college ball at Missouri, and many had him slated to be the #1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Many experts compared his game to that of Kevin Durant, as Porter Jr. is a 6’10 forward with excellent ball skills and scoring ability. However, Porter Jr. suffered a severe back injury that sidelined him for his entire freshman season and caused his draft stock to fall. Porter Jr. was selected with the 14th pick by the Nuggets in 2018 and finally made his debut in 2020 after missing the 2019 season with the same back injury.
Porter Jr. averaged 7.5 PPG in 48 games played during his rookie season and showed flashes of greatness throughout the year. On December 29th, Porter Jr. made his first-ever NBA start, scoring 19 points on 8/10 shooting in a win over the Kings. Porter Jr. followed up that performance the very next week by scoring 25 points on 11/12 shooting in a win versus the Pacers. He also shot 42.2% from 3 this season, which was good enough for 10th in the entire NBA. Although there is currently a minimal sample size for Porter Jr.’s play in the NBA, the man is only 21 years old and has plenty of room to grow as a player. If Porter Jr. continues to develop into the star that he can become, watching him and Nikola Jokic on the Nuggets should be a treat for fans for years to come.
3. Dejounte Murray, San Antonio Spurs
Coming into the 2019-20 season, Dejounte Murray was coming off an ACL tear that sidelined him for the entire previous season. The promising young Spurs guard had just had a 2017-18 season that saw him take home 2nd Team All-Defense honors in only his 2nd season in the league before his injury. Murray is a defensive point guard who excels at driving to the paint and isn’t known as a shooter. His lack of shooting was often criticized, as being able to stretch the floor and shoot threes is critical in today’s NBA.
Some analysts were skeptical of how Murray would perform in the NBA if he lost much of his athleticism following his injury. However, Murray certainly silenced any critics with his play on the court this year. Murray’s year away from basketball proved to be quite beneficial for his game, as he improved his PPG from 8.1 to 10.7 and increased his 3P% from .265 to .378 on 1.2 more attempts. Already one of the best defensive guards in the game, adding a 3-point shot to Murray’s game makes him a scary matchup for any team. At only 23 years old, I believe Dejounte Murray still has time to become an All-Star PG in this league.
4. Rui Hachimura, Washington Wizards
When my Washington Wizards selected Rui Hachimura out of Gonzaga with the 9th pick in 2019, I was quite upset. I wanted them to draft Duke freshman Cam Reddish, who was still available at the time. However, after watching Hachimura play this season, I am very thankful that the Wizards decided to draft him. Rui is a 6’8 forward who, despite being a rookie, has an offensive game smooth as silk. He is a very skilled post and mid-range scorer who also has the athleticism to drive to the basket effectively. Hachimura averaged 13.4 PPG in 41 games for Washington this season. His best game came back in December when he scored 30 points in a loss to the Clippers.
Although he has shown that he is a talented scorer, Hachimura needs to develop his 3pt shooting and defense to take the next step in becoming a star in the NBA. I believe that he will improve upon both of these aspects of his game next season, as playing with a healthy John Wall will provide him with better looks on open shots and could inspire some better defensive play. In addition to being a potential future star in the United States, Hachimura already is one in his home country of Japan. Rui represented Japan in the 2019 FIBA World Cup, scoring 13.3 PPG against pro-level talent before he ever stepped foot on an NBA court. Overall, be on the lookout for the 22-year-old Hachimura and this Washington Wizards team next season.
5. Deandre Ayton, Phoenix Suns
Despite being the #1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Deandre Ayton has seemingly slid under the radar after his first two seasons in the league. It is easy to forget about what Ayton is capable of, as he came into the league with Trae Young and Luka Doncic, who have both already solidified themselves as stars in the league. Although he might not be an All-Star yet, I think Ayton is well on his way to becoming one soon.
In his 2nd season, Ayton has averaged 19 PPG, 12 RPG, and 1.7 BLK/G. He has displayed exceptional abilities as a shot-blocker and is an effective post-scorer. Ayton was within the top 12 in field goals within 5 feet of the basket in the league this season without making a single 3-pointer. He already possesses the ability to be a double-double guy night in and night out. If Ayton can average 19 PPG solely from scoring in the post, imagine what the guy could do if he develops a consistent jump shot. The center position in the NBA needs to be able to shoot in today’s game, and Deandre Ayton has all the tools to be the perfect modern-style big man. Ayton has the potential to be a Joel Embiid-like player, and he and teammate Devin Booker could be a scary duo at the Western Conference for years to come.