2020-21 Kia Season Preview

Michael Porter Jr., Coby White among 10 potential breakout candidates

The league is filled with young talent that can begin to make a name for themselves.

Michael C. Wright

Michael C. Wright

Coby White talks about his close bond with Bulls rookie Patrick Williams.

Two sets of teammates comprise the list, as well as a couple of other youngsters already coming off breakout campaigns.

With the start of 2020-21 regular season rapidly approaching, we decided to run down, alphabetically, 10 of the NBA’s intriguing young up-and-comers that you need to keep an eye on this season:

Luguentz Dort, Oklahoma City Thunder: Considered one of the breakout players of the NBA bubble, Dort forced his way into the starting lineup as a rookie last season on the strength of suffocating defense, which we saw in the playoffs when he locked down James Harden. Dort averaged 12.5 points, 3.7 rebounds and an assist starting in six of seven games in OKC’s opening-round series loss to the Rockets. Dort pumped up the production in Games 6 and 7 of that series to a 21.5-point average, including a 30 piece in Game 7 to join LeBron James and Kobe Bryant as the only players to score 25 points or more in a Game 7 at the age of 21 or younger.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder: He increased production in virtually every statistical category over his first two seasons in the NBA, and now appears poised to become the focal point of a rebuilding franchise that features more than 10 new players on the roster. Gilgeous-Alexander said he spent the offseason preparing for the increased on-ball opportunities he’ll be afforded with new head coach Mark Daigneault. So, while it’s safe to say the 2019-20 season served as Gilgeous-Alexander’s true breakout season, we’re expecting even more in 2020-21 from the point guard with freakish 6-foot-11 wingspan and the skillset to solidify standing as one of the NBA’s elite two-way players.

Talen Horton-Tucker, Los Angeles Lakers: The 20-year old’s legend seems to grow by the day, and it’s becoming clear that Lakers coach Frank Vogel needs to find a way to play him more minutes in the team’s deep rotation. A second-year player, Horton-Tucker dropped 19 points to go with nine rebounds in the exhibition opener, then poured in another 33 points in Game 2 of the preseason. Teammate LeBron James tweeted lofty praise for Horton-Tucker, and Memphis Grizzlies great Tony Allen even told a hilarious story about his first encounter with the Lakers guard. The truth is we all caught a small glimpse of what’s to come for Horton-Tucker back in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

De’Andre Hunter, Atlanta Hawks: Averaged 12.3 points as a rookie last season, but he shot 41% from the floor and 35.5% from deep; numbers we expect to improve this season, especially after watching Hunter hit 50% from 3-point range over the first two games of the preseason. Considered by coach Lloyd Pierce as Atlanta’s best defender, Hunter still needs to be more consistent in that area. He’s also looking to improve consistency and aggression on the offensive end in a bid to snag the full-time starting job at small forward. So far, so good in that department.

Michael Porter Jr., Denver Nuggets: NBA Twitter quickly commenced to pearl clutching in the aftermath of Porter calling for more involvement in Denver’s offense after its Game 4 loss to the L.A. Clippers. The audacity, they said. But Porter now receives the increased involvement he sought with a spot in the starting lineup, in part, because of the free-agency departure of Jerami Grant. Porter averaged 11.4 points and 6.7 rebounds in the playoffs, hitting 38.2% from long range, but he’s got to become more consistent defensively to stick in the lineup for coach Michael Malone, who said, “Michael’s greatest challenge is understanding the importance of the defensive end, and buying into that on the floor.”

Cam Reddish, Atlanta Hawks: Competing with Hunter for a spot in the starting lineup, Reddish provided solid defense as a rookie last season playing 26.7 minutes per game with 34 starts, but it took a little while for the offense to start flowing. Throughout the preseason, Hunter appears to have gained a leg up for the starting spot at the 3 with solid exhibition performances, while Reddish has played through a sore ankle. As one of Atlanta’s core young players, Reddish has a bright future with the franchise. The only hindrance could be the team’s offseason roster additions.

Collin Sexton, Cleveland Cavaliers: Availability is your best ability, and Sexton hasn’t missed a game in his first two seasons. In each of his first two seasons, Sexton found a way to boost production and finished last season with a true shooting percentage of 56%, while averaging 20.8 points and racking up 30 points or more in five games. Now it’s time for Sexton to grow as a playmaker, and J.B. Bickerstaff should be able to facilitate that for a player that averaged just three assists last season. Sexton and Darius Garland have the potential to turn out to be one of the league’s more dynamic backcourts.

Gary Trent Jr., Portland Trail Blazers: A second-round pick in 2018, Trent became extension eligible this offseason but said he wants to finish out his current deal and head into restricted free agency next summer, which essentially means he’s betting on himself this season after a strong showing in the bubble. Trent’s minutes increased to 21.8 per game last season, after he averaged just 7.4 minutes as a rookie. Trent connected on 41.8% from deep last season, but he truly shined in the bubble with lockdown perimeter defense while averaging 16.9 points on 50.7% from long range. Blazers president of basketball operations Neil Olshey said Trent developed into “the default sixth man to a degree.”

Coby White, Chicago Bulls: The blazing speed is what stood out for White last season as a 19-year-old rookie, who averaged 13.2 points and 2.7 assists in 25.8 minutes per game. In averaging 20.7 points over the first three preseason games on 53.5% from the floor and 57.9% from deep, White has already displayed even more growth and diversity in getting to the rack by throwing in more hesitations. The No. 7 pick in the 2019 draft could see his game grow exponentially over the next few seasons working now as the starting point guard in Chicago with Billy Donovan at the helm.

Christian Wood, Houston Rockets: He’s 25 and on his sixth team since entering the league in 2015. So, immediately, you’d think of Wood as a journeyman. But he’s got the perfect opportunity to stack another breakout campaign on top of what he did last season in Detroit if the drama in Houston doesn’t get in the way. Wood started a career-high 12 games last season and played so well the Rockets extended a $41 million deal.

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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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