• Arlen Dancziger

NBA's Young Breakout Players for 2021

The NBA playoff bubble was a resounding success, with the Miami Heat surprising everyone, Jamal Murray showing the world he means business, and Lebron and AD taking charge in the end, bringing a championship back to LA.

But considering the short turnaround, the NBA season is just around the corner, and there are many players who look primed to take the next step in their development. With so many exciting young players to choose from, there are some obvious choices, some players that have something to prove if they become stars, some who might’ve already hit their ceiling, and then some true breakout candidates.

Obvious Choices


Luka Dončić (28.8 / 9.4 / 8.8 in 2020)

Luka has been nothing short of spectacular since joining the league in 2018. His playmaking ability is a treat to watch. His scoring touch from everywhere on the floor is impressive. He has that ‘clutch gene’ that almost every superstar has. So what’s left to prove? Look for him to improve his defense and even increase his scoring numbers if his efficiency improves (31.6 3P % in 2020). It’s also time for some Luka magic in the playoffs.

Zion Williamson (22.5 / 6.3 / 2.1 in 2020)

Even after sitting out most of the year due to injury, when Zion made his debut on the court, he was absolutely worth the price of admission. His explosiveness, size, and effort make him almost unstoppable when finishing in tight and on the glass. His jumper might need some mechanical work, but early signs show that he can be effective with it (42.9 3P% in 2020). He’s been tasked with improving his walking and running stride, but increased playing time and overall improvement as a team means New Orleans is ready to make some noise next year.

Ja Morant (17.8 / 3.9 / 7.3 in 2020)

While Zion was on the sidelines, Ja was leading the Grizzlies to the brink of a playoff berth as a rookie. Expect them to be in the hunt again next year, especially if they can free up some cap space and bring a veteran in. Ja has all the tools to be a superstar in the NBA; shooting, handles, playmaking, athleticism around the rim, and the aforementioned ‘clutch gene.’ Look for him to add a few pounds to his 6’3” frame to ensure his effectiveness on the defensive end.

Something to Prove


RJ Barrett (14.3 / 5.0 / 2.6 in 2020)

There was a point in time when RJ Barrett was thought of as the best player in the 2019 draft class, ahead of Zion and Ja. Well, after being drafted by the Knicks, fans expected some growing pains, and here they are. He projects to be a smart shooter and playmaker, but the numbers aren’t there yet (32.0 3P% in 2020). If the Knicks can employ some solid players around him, he can be an all-star one day. But he can’t do it on his own, yet.

Lauri Markkanen (14.7 / 6.3 / 1.5 in 2020)

Lauri had an off year and has had some injury issues. His career numbers are better than last year’s stats would have you believe. That being said, he has his work cut out for him next year to show the world he’s an elite player. He should lean on what he’s good at; stretching the floor and using his big frame to get to the rim when the opportunity arises. The bulls need him to take the next step if they want to contend for a playoff spot.

Hit Their Ceiling

De’Aaron Fox (21.1 / 3.8 / 6.8 in 2020)

Swipa turns 23 this year, and has made improvements every year in all aspects of his game. He’s a star, but it’s hard to tell if he’s a championship caliber point guard.

Devin Booker (26.6 / 4.2 / 6.5 in 2020)

Devin is a bona fide superstar now, at least during the regular season. The Suns seem ready to make some noise in the playoffs; we will see if he can step it up come playoff time.


Donovan Mitchell (24.4 / 4.4 / 4.3 in 2020)

With similar numbers to the year prior, Donovan might have reached his potential (he’s still really good). He looks to be a star on a championship contending team, but might not ever reach superstardom.

Nikola Jokić (19.9 / 9.7 / 7.0 in 2020)

Arguably the best passing big man of all time already, Nikola is showing no signs of slowing down; but no signs of significant improvement from last year either. He turns 26 next season, so it’s hard to see him taking any more big steps.

Kristaps Porziņģis (20.4 / 9.8 / 1.5 in 2020)

One of the best stretch bigs in the game today, Kristaps can score in any situation; whether on the fast break, spotting up for three, or finishing in tight. But with little improvement over the past couple years, he’s a star, not a superstar.

Jaylen Brown (20.3 / 6.4 / 2.1 in 2020)

At times, Jaylen was the best player on the floor for the Celtics last year. He’s a solid second scoring option, with good size, athleticism, shooting ability, and finishing touch. But he doesn’t seem to be the number one guy in Boston.


Joel Embiid (23.0 / 11.6 / 3.0 in 2020)

The Process has made some progress in his career, and now arguably stands atop the NBA’s big men. If Kawhi didn’t drain that famous shot, we might be telling a different story right now. But the shot went in and Joel still doesn’t have much playoff success. If he’s a dominant big man he has to dominate big games. For now he’s one of the only superstars that lacks that ‘clutch gene’.

Karl-Anthony Towns (26.5 / 10.8 / 4.4 in 2020)

The other ‘best center in the league’ seems to be wasting away in Minnesota. If they don’t make the playoffs this year, expect him to get restless. He has all the skill in the world, but seems to lack tenacity on the defensive end sometimes. We’ll see how the D’Angelo Russel experiment goes.

Ben Simmons (16.4 / 7.8 / 8.0 in 2020)

Perhaps the most interesting player on this list, Ben has been a shutdown defender and premier playmaker his entire career. But if he can’t develop a consistent jump shot in a league defined by the three point line, he may never be a true superstar.

Trae Young (29.6 / 4.3 / 9.3 in 2020)

The polar opposite of Ben Simmons is Ice Trae, a lanky shooter who lacks the build and size to be effective on the defensive end. He may be a superstar already, but you play to win championships, right? His career may end up being an experiment into whether one dimensional players can win in today’s game.

Pascal Siakam (22.9 / 7.3 / 3.5 in 2020)

Entering his fifth year in the league, Pascal has made improvements every year, earning his first all-star nod last year. But with a lackluster performance in the playoffs, he will either come back with less confidence or a chip on his shoulder. At 26, he might just be a great secondary scoring option with solid defensive instincts.


Domantas Sabonis (18.5 / 12.4 / 5.0 in 2020)

Domantas is becoming one of the best bigs in the NBA. He has improved his playmaking and shooting every year, but now at 24, he may not be able to reach Jokić-type levels.

True Breakout Candidates

Bam Adebayo (15.9 / 10.2 / 5.1 in 2020)

Bam has arguably already broken out, but he has another gear. He showed glimpses of it during the playoffs last year, leading the heat to the finals. With some improvement to his jumper, there’s no question that Bam could become an All-NBA caliber player, and a starting center on a championship team.


Jayson Tatum (23.4 / 7.0 / 3.0 in 2020)

Jayson also had a huge 2020 season with his first all-star and all-NBA selection. During the playoffs, he was a bit of a mixed bag, and at times looked careless and slow. Look for him to find his rhythm again in 2021 and assert his dominance in the east. He could be a top 10 player next season and a top 5 player for years to come.

Brandon Ingram (23.8 / 6.1 / 4.2 in 2020)

Another player with a full toolbox, there’s no reason Brandon can’t be a superstar in this league. If the Pelicans can find a way to integrate Brandon and Zion into the offence seamlessly, with Lonzo Ball’s playmaking and defence, this team could be scary. Brandon and Zion could end up forming the Pelicans’ dynamic duo they thought they had with Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins. It’s gonna be fun to be a Pelicans fan.

Deandre Ayton (18.2 / 11.5 / 1.9 in 2020)

Well, it may be hard to live up to the hype due to being drafted before Luka Dončić, but Deandre has quietly put together a solid career so far. Look for him to become more of a bully in the paint and improve his shooting stroke and the Suns have got themselves an anchor at the center position and a future all-NBAer. Suns are also a team on the upswing.

Jamal Murray (18.5 / 4.0 / 4.8 in 2020)

After a relatively quiet but respectable career so far, Jamal set the bubble on fire in the playoffs with multiple clutch performances. Now, all he has to do is bring that energy and alpha attitude every night. Still just 23, he has a chance to be the best Canadian NBA player since Steve Nash.


Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (19.0 / 5.9 / 3.3 in 2020)

Did someone say best Canadian? Shai here, to throw his name in the hat. Shai had a huge breakout year in his second in the NBA. But he has another gear. If Chris Paul is traded and Shai is handed the keys to the offence, surround him with talent and watch him thrive. There aren’t many holes in his game and he just looks smarter than anyone out there, besides Chris Paul, of course.

Tyler Herro (13.5 / 4.1 / 2.2 in 2020)

What do you get when you break the record for youngest player to start in an NBA Finals? Hype, and lots of it. But this kid deserves it. He lacked some consistency at times, but remember, he’s got that ‘clutch gene’. He can make plays and put the ball in the basket. He’s got the attitude. If he can put it all together, he’s destined to be a top 10 player in the league some day.

Jaren Jackson Jr. (17.4 / 4.6 / 1.4 in 2020)

You’d think that having the kind of season Jaren had at age 20 would get you a little more media attention. Expect it to come soon. Jaren and Ja are just getting started, and with the quality young pieces around them, playoff contention is around the corner. This guy is 6’11”, can shoot the three (albeit with slightly funky mechanics), and has some old school bully in him.

Collin Sexton (20.8 / 3.1 / 3.0 in 2020)

Another player quietly building his NBA resume, Collin just needs a couple pieces around him to prove his worth. Perhaps Lebron will come back to Ohio to help? Doubt it, but regardless, look for Collin to build upon another solid scoring season. The Young Bull should look to add some of Kyle Lowry’s tenacity if he wants to remain a star as an undersized guard.


Coby White (13.2 / 3.5 / 2.7 in 2020)

If the Bulls make the playoffs, Coby absolutely has to take a step forward this year. He had a solid rookie campaign coming off the bench. He will be a starter next year, at some point. He’s crafty and agile, and has come up big a couple times to help the Bulls win games late.

Mitchell Robinson (9.7 / 7.0 / 0.6 in 2020)

He broke Wilt Chamberlain’s record for single-season field goal percentage last year at 74.2%. He averaged 2 blocks per game. It may seem unreasonable to have him on this list, but to do that at age 21/22, is impressive. Apparently Tom Thibodeau thinks he can develop a mid-range game and space the floor. Who am I to argue with Tom Thibodeau? We know his defence and rim protection are solid. I don’t think this is as hot of a take as it seems.

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