Top Young Breakout Candidates in the 2020-2021 NBA Season

Contributed by Aditya Fuldeore

There are many young NBA players who have the potential to breakout and blossom into stars. Young players that need more opportunities or have been forgotten in the mix of their team can suddenly become diamonds in the rough when given the chance. Players not seen in the following will be stars like Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Zion Williamson, or Jayson Tatum. Recent breakout players like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Devonte’ Graham, or Kendrick Nunn will also not be on here. This article is to analyze and predict which young players, either in the spotlight or overlooked, will breakout in the upcoming 2020-2021 NBA season based on their past production, primarily from the current, paused 2019-2020 NBA season. 

In addition to the regularly used statistics, such as points, field-goal percentage, and minutes, two deeper stats were used throughout to analyze these players: win shares and player efficiency rating (PER). Win shares divide up credit for team success (wins) among individual players. Win shares are calculated individually on both the defensive and offensive side of the ball and adding defensive win shares to offensive win shares equals total win shares. Player efficiency rating, or PER, is a measure of a player’s per-minute performance, summing up their positive accomplishments and subtracting their negative accomplishments. The league average for PER is considered to be 15.00 every season. Offensive and defensive ratings were used to compare a few players. A higher offensive rating means a player produces more on offense and a lower defensive rating means a player allows less production to their opponents on defense. These are not end-all be-all statistics, just an in-depth analysis for some players. All stats were gathered from, and all stats used are from the 2019-2020 season before the March 11th, 2020 COVID-19 stoppage.

Honorable Mentions

Wendell Carter Jr.

21 years old, Chicago Bulls

Wendell Carter Jr. is currently the Bulls’ starting Center and is already a double–double threat every game. Coming out of college in 2018, he showed above average shooting and passing skills for a big man while developing as a shot blocker and rebounder. Injury issues have hampered him and he has not had the chance to develop and use his scoring skills as much on the Bulls because of Lauri Markkanen and Zach Lavine, both players who are scorers first. Bring in another scorer in 2019 draft pick Coby White, and Carter is not left with many shot opportunities. However, he still has 3.3 win shares this season (third on the Bulls), so healthiness combined with a significant injury or trade may lead to a breakout for Carter. Otherwise, he may have already reached a peak in his role with the Bulls.

Terence Davis

23 years old, Toronto Raptors 

Not many people think of Terence Davis when recounting the 2019 rookie class, but the undrafted rookie has quietly produced. Davis primarily played a role off the bench for the Raptors, shooting 39.6% from three-point range and totaling 3 win shares, while playing only 17 minutes per game. He also performed as a solid defender and was overall a well-polished player coming out of college. However, he struggles as a mid-range shooter, making only 14.3% of his shots from 10-16 feet out from the basket. He also played a sizable amount of his minutes in garbage time, so it is yet to be seen if he can be effective as a primary role player. Davis will need to see more significant minutes until he can be considered a breakout candidate and flourish, like another Raptors undrafted player in Fred VanVleet.

Donte DiVincenzo

23, milwaukee Bucks 

The Bucks are one of the best teams from the 2019-2020 season and have a generational star in Giannis Antetokounmpo. Behind him, Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe make up the identity of the Bucks. Amidst these players, Donte DiVincenzo often gets lost in the shuffle. He has 4.5 win shares in the 2019-2020 season, including 3.1 defensive win shares and a 100 defensive rating, third lowest on the Bucks. Offensively, however, he does not get many opportunities as a result of being on a winning team with multiple past All-Stars. He averages 7.7 field goal attempts per game, fifth on the team, and averages 14.6 points per 36 minutes, eighth on the team. While DiVincenzo can excel as a defensive specialist, he needs to develop his offensive skillset further and he may need to be traded to a team with less stars, or wait for one of the Bucks’ primary players to leave in order to get the chance to breakout.

Breakout Candidates

These players have a path to breakout a season in 2020-2021. The following variables are potential catalysts to their development heading into next season: opportunities, tools, and physical development…

Brandon Clarke

23 years old, Memphis Grizzlies

In his rookie season, Brandon Clarke has produced well for the Grizzlies. He averaged 21.7 minutes, 12 points, and 5.8 rebounds per game. His field goal percentage was 62.3%, including 40.4% from three-point range, both best among Grizzlies players appearing in more than 15 games. He put up 4.4 win shares and a 21.8 PER, both good for second on the team in the current NBA season. On top of his high production during his rookie year, Clarke is in line to receive more opportunities next season. He is a better shooter than both Kyle Anderson and Gorgui Dieng, and had a higher offensive rating than both per hundred possessions. Additionally, Josh Jackson will be a free agent in the offseason, and while Jackson did not play in many games, he still took away opportunities from Clarke, shooting 20.3 field goals per hundred possessions to Clarke’s 17.3, and playing 98% of his minutes at the forward positions, where Clarke spent 90% of his minutes. The Grizzlies will use Clarke more often with Jackson potentially leaving in free agency and Dieng and Anderson approaching fringe roster spots. Clarke may not be a starter, as Jaren Jackson Jr. is the starting four man, but Clarke is primed to get significant minutes at least as a sixth man. With the impending increased opportunities, Clarke’s production will be amplified and he is in line to breakout on a Grizzlies team entering the playoff mix.

Tyler Herro

20 years old, Miami Heat

Tyler Herro has spent his rookie season primarily coming off the bench for the Heat. He is seen primarily as a sharpshooter, making 39.1% of his three pointers and attempting 5.4 three pointers per game, fourth among Heat players who played in more than 15 games. Despite his tools as a shooter, he only has 0.9 win shares and a 100 offensive rating this season. The Heat’s offense primarily revolves around Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, leading to the offensive focus being primarily on the inside, where Herro makes 43.4% of his two point shots, tenth among current Heat players who have played in more than 15 games. However, the emergence of guard Kendrick Nunn and fellow sharpshooter Duncan Robinson have led the Heat to develop more of an outside game. With multiple outside shooters and further spacing, Herro will get his fair share of opportunities and open shots. Jimmy Butler only made 24.8% of his three pointers, compared to 49.4% of his two pointers, so Herro will be able to complement the star well with his outside shot. With Butler and Adebayo on the inside and teams scrambling to defend Nunn and Robinson on the outside, Herro will see opportunities as the offense opens up and has the sharpshooting tools to become one of the best shooters in the league.

Jonathan Isaac

22 years old, Orlando Magic

The Orlando Magic have been a borderline playoff team for a couple of years now, but they could easily get catapulted into the middle of the playoff picture with a Johnathan Isaac breakout. Isaac has been predominantly a defensive specialist for the Magic in his three years in the league. Not only is Isaac regarded as one of the best defenders on the Magic, he can be one of the best defenders in the league. Before going down with injury 32 games into the 2019-2020 season, he managed 2.3 win shares, 1.9 of them defensive, and had a team-best 102 defensive rating. His breakout relies on his growth on offense. At 6 foot, 11 inches, Isaac has the versatility to play either forward position and become a matchup nightmare for shorter forwards. Isaac shoots well in the paint, expected for someone of his height. He has also gradually improved his mid range shot, shooting 37.5% from 10-16 feet out from the basket this season, a step up from 32% last season, and 14.3% his rookie year. The Magic’s top players consist of taller players in Aaron Gordon and Nikola Vucevic, and even Evan Fournier is tall for a shooting guard. Once Isaac gets healthy, he can slot into the Magic’s tall lineup to bring matchup issues to defenses and expand upon his growing offensive toolset. Add in Isaac’s top tier defense, and he is ready to breakout into a star.

Michael Porter Jr.

22 years old, Denver Nuggets

When Michael Porter Jr. was drafted in the 2018 draft, he was seen as a steal. Porter had an injury filled college career, and he also missed the 2018-2019 season with an injury. He finally got to play as a rookie (Ben Simmons asterisk) for the Nuggets this season and produced well coming off the bench. Going into college, Porter was highly regarded as a top prospect, and he showed it in the small amount of playing time he got with the Nuggets. Porter shot 42.2% from three-point range, put up 2 win shares, and managed an 18.5 PER, getting only 14 minutes per game. He has scored 26.4 points per hundred possessions, and has a defensive rating of 107, both third among Nuggets players who have played in at least 15 games. Porter has more win shares than forward Torrey Craig and a better on-court plus/minus per hundred possessions than forward Jerami Grant, both teammates who played more minutes than Porter this season. Ultimately, Porter was one of the most effective players on the Nuggets when he was on the court. With Torrey Craig, Paul Millsap, and Mason Plumlee becoming free agents this offseason and Jerami Grant with a player option he may decline, Porter is poised to receive more minutes for the Nuggets next season. He will get the opportunity to breakout next to stars Jamal Murray and Nikola Jokic on a Nuggets team squarely in playoff contention.

Mitchell Robinson

22 years old, New York Knicks 

On a lowly Knicks team, Mitchell Robinson has been a rare bright spot. Playing center, Robinson has been a surprise as a second round pick, providing spark both offensively and defensively. This season, Robinson has put up a whopping 6.8 win shares for a team that has only won 21 games. With defenses focusing on RJ Barrett and Julius Randle, Robinson has quietly shot 74.2% from the field and averaged 2 blocks per game, all while playing just 23.1 minutes per game, sixth among players who have played more than 15 games for the Knicks. He ranks in the top two on the Knicks in field goal percentage, blocks, rebounds, win shares, defensive and offensive rating per hundred possessions, and PER. His 23.5 PER is not only first on the Knicks, but it is fourteenth in the entire NBA. One of the few knocks against him is his inability to shoot from outside the paint. He does not take many mid-range shots, let alone three pointers. However, on a team with a young shot maker in RJ Barrett, and a veteran big man who can make shots outside the paint in Julius Randle, Robinson can slide into the starting center role and wreck teams offensively and defensively in the paint. Fellow center Taj Gibson started the majority of the Knicks’ games and has a team option that the Knicks will need to make a decision on this offseason. Even if they pick it up and bring Gibson back, he is on the wrong side of 35 and Robinson has shown he deserves more opportunity. When he gets more minutes, he will have the shot to breakout into a top tier center in the NBA.

Coby White

20 years old, Chicago Bulls 

In his rookie season, Coby White got off to a slow start, but really skyrocketed after the All-Star break. White has been one of the best rookies offensively, with his 13.2 points per game ranking fifth among drafted rookies who played more than 20 games, while his 25.8 minutes per game is back at tenth. Despite only putting up 0.9 win shares for the rebuilding Bulls, his game shot up after the All-Star break. In 10 games after the February All-Star break, White averaged 24.7 points per game in 33.8 minutes per game while shooting 40.7% from three-point range. The Bulls finally found a spot in the lineup for White to thrive, as he won Rookie of the Month in February 2020. He seemed to be on a trajectory to breakout in the second half of the season prior to the COVID-19 stoppage. On a Bulls team with volume scorers in White and Zach Lavine, and a shooting big man in Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls would benefit from a playmaker to facilitate the court. While White can develop into a playmaker for the Bulls, it is more likely that the Bulls get a playmaker from free agency or the draft to get the maximum benefits of White’s strength as a pure scorer. Additionally, Tomas Satoransky can also be used as a primary passer over White, as he averaged 5.4 assists per game to White’s 2.7. With someone else as the primary playmaker/passer, White is free to become a secondary scorer to Zach Lavine. Now that the Bulls know how White performs best when he is on the court, he can start at point guard, play as the sixth man, or start at shooting guard and have Lavine start at small forward. Additionally, Kris Dunn, Denzel Valentine, and Shaquille Harrison, all of whom spent time at either point guard or shooting guard, are set to become free agents, so White will have a path to more minutes next season. With the progress White made throughout the course of the season, he has the ability to breakout into one of the best shooters on the Bulls and become a young star in the Bulls’ core.

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