Raptors’ Siakam among NBA’s 2018-19 breakout candidates


Toronto Raptors' Pascal Siakam, centre, drives between Boston Celtics' Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris during the fourth quarter of a game in Boston (Michael Dwyer/AP)

The NBA deck has shuffled around once more and by this time of year it seems rosters are more or less set heading into the 2018-19 season.

As a result — be it because of a change of address, newfound roles, the opportunity for more playing time, or natural progression — there are a handful of impressive young players now poised for a breakout season. Here are some names to keep an eye on:

JAMAL MURRAY, Denver Nuggets

Has Murray already broken out? Perhaps. After all, he did start 80 games, average over 30 minutes, and score nearly 17 points per game last season, his second in the NBA.

He showed marked improvement last season, upping his shooting percentages, setting up teammates more often, and doubling his free-throw attempts.

And yet it feels like the Kitchener, Ont., native still hasn’t come close to reaching his ceiling. At just 21 years old, Murray is poised to build off his strong 2017-18 campaign and establish himself as one of the NBA’s bright young scorers.

The arrival of Isaiah Thomas could affect his overall playing time, but will also allow Murray to spend more possessions playing off the ball as a dangerous shooting threat and focus on getting buckets — something the Nuggets will require of him if they want to take a step forward and reach the post-season.

LUKA DONCIC, Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs pulled off one of the summer’s biggest moves when they traded for the draft’s most interesting and accomplished rookie, a move that will prove nearly as significant to Dallas as was the Lakers acquiring LeBron James, or Paul George re-signing in Oklahoma City.

I’m not saying Doncic will have the on-court impact as those players (read: he won’t), but in pulling off arguably the summer’s biggest coup — swapping Trae Young for the Slovenian prodigy — the Mavericks have one of the NBA’s most promising young talents and a future franchise player in the making to build around.

Yes, maybe a rookie can’t technically have a “breakout” year, but given we didn’t see him play at Summer League and most North American hoops fans only saw sporadic highlights if anything from his MVP season with last season with Real Madrid, it feels like the 19 year-old is still being undervalued and falling under the radar. That will change.

PASCAL SIAKAM, Toronto Raptors

One of the several beneficiaries of the Kawhi Leonard trade will undoubtedly be Siakam.

The departure of centre Jakob Poeltl (and no incoming big men – although the Raptors are expected to sign one more forward/centre before the season begins) should help to see Serge Ibaka spend far more time playing at the five, which will open up more playing time for the third-year forward.

Siakam impressed last season. He nearly doubled his minutes from his rookie season and saw major spikes in his scoring and passing numbers, but beyond the stats it was clear that things were really beginning to click for the 6-foot-10 wrecking ball, who proved an instant game-changer with his speed and frenetic energy whenever he stepped onto the floor.

With further improvements to his shot, and another year under his belt he should continue to develop into one of the more dangerous bench weapons in the league. And if these summer scrimmage highlights don’t get you excited…

Summer 18 #humblehustle #doingitforyou @ricohinesbball @hometeamhoops

A post shared by Pascal Siakam (@pskills43) on

DILLON BROOKS, Memphis Grizzlies

The second Canadian on this list (not pandering, I swear), Brooks outperformed his second-round draft position last year to average double-digit scoring for Memphis as a rookie, as questions about his “true position” and how his killer collegiate game would translate to the NBA were quickly put to rest.

The Grizzlies signed Kyle Anderson this summer, which could challenge his playing time, but Memphis will need Brooks’s scoring if they want to remain competitive, setting up what should be a big year for the 22 year-old from Mississauga, Ont.


Markkanen was a borderline revelation in his rookie year, where his near-7-foot frame and deadly shooting touch proved to be a matchup problem for opponents from Day 1, averaging over 15 points and seven rebounds per game.

As the centrepiece of the Bulls rebuild, Markkanen should have Chicago’s offence tailored around him and a player who already has the making of a 20-plus point-per-game scorer could be reaching that total as soon as next season.


Another beneficiary of the Leonard-DeMar DeRozan trade, we all know what Poeltl is capable of thanks to a strong second season in ’17-18.

In San Antonio he joins a team and coaching staff already known for maximizing big men’s abilities, and while an increase in minutes seems a given, he could even challenge for a starting spot.

Poeltl’s stats from last season don’t immediately jump out — 6.9 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks — but he was playing limited minutes backing up Jonas Valanciunas, just over 18 per game. But his per-36 minute averages of 13.4 points, 9.3 rebounds, and a stunning 2.4 blocks per game show that, when on the court, Poeltl produces.

LARRY NANCE JR., Cleveland Cavaliers

LeBron is out, and the Cavaliers will need others to step up in his absence. The team will hand the keys over to rookie point guard Collin Sexton, a Summer League standout, and will lean heavily on all-star Kevin Love, but Nance Jr. is an easy pick as the next man up to take on a bigger role in his fourth season.

BRANDON INGRAM, Los Angeles Lakers

The fact that Ingram’s inclusion was a sticking point in potential Leonard trade talks should tell you something about what the Lakers think of their 20-year-old forward, whom they selected second overall in 2016.

Ingram, who gets his buckets in a variety of ways, showed a lot more aggression in his second season last year and averaged over 16 points per game — and he’s still just scratching the surface of his potential. Playing alongside LeBron James will only open up more opportunities for him to grow his game and benefit from James’ gravitational pull effect on defences.

DEJOUNTE MURRAY, San Antonio Spurs

Despite just being 21 years old, Murray’s reputation as an A-level defender is already established. Last season he became the youngest player ever named to an NBA All-Defense team, but it’s the strides he could make on the other side of the ball that land him on this list.

Murray, who is entering his third pro season, actually regressed as a shooter last season — it remains the biggest area of needed improvement for the promising point guard — but he’ll be given opportunities he hasn’t received so far in his career. With Tony Parker no longer in San Antonio, Murray’s path to a starring role and more playing time could help facilitate a breakout season.


It seems like it was decades ago when Exum was considered one of the top guards in his draft class, but a string of injuries has stalled the former fifth-overall pick’s development thus far.

He’s only played 162 games since being drafted in 2014 and appeared in only 14 games last season. But he looked good, averaging over eight points and three assists on 48 per cent shooting in just 16 minutes of action.

He finally looked confident and comfortable by the post-season, and strung together some strong performances off the bench that opened the door for optimism heading into next season where he stands to play an important reserve role in the backcourt for a Jazz team that looks to gain a foothold among the West’s top four seeds.

MARKELLE FULTZ, Philadelphia 76ers

Maybe the weirdest story in a pretty weird year of NBA basketball was the disappearance of Fultz, last year’s first-overall pick.

A shoulder injury that rapidly evolved into an ol’ fashioned case of the yips saw Fultz completely re-work his shooting mechanics — for the worse — and throw his entire game off as a result. He only played in 14 games toward the end of the season but even with a broken shot managed a triple-double on the last day of the regular season, showing a ton of potential.

His shooting form is supposedly back to normal now, and he is no longer afraid of letting it fly, which could make Fultz one of the East’s biggest X-factors heading into next season.


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