Breakout Candidate Watchlist: 4 Players to Keep Your Eyes On

Every season there are players that surprise us with their improvement. Harry Giles, Jonathan Isaac, Caris LeVert, and John Collins are this year's candidates.

Every season there are a handful of players that make the jump from a disappointing or little-known role player to a constant contributor or even a star. Recent seasons have given us the long-awaited development of Victor Oladipo and the unforeseen rise of Jeremy Lin. These breakout players can sometimes be veteran role players that have finally earned minutes but more commonly these are younger players that have earned a larger role and gained comfort with their new career. When I started thinking about who would make the jump this year, the guards from San Antonio, Dejounte Murray, and Derrick White, were clear choices but both of their long-term injuries have disqualified them.  With that said there is still plenty of potential throughout the league. This season, due to health, improved roles, and developed skills, I expect big seasons from Harry Giles, Jonathan Isaac, Carris Levert, and John Collins.

Harry Giles

Harry Giles was the nation’s number one prospect his senior year of high school, but due to multiple knee injuries, his talent has yet to reveal itself. Fortunately for all parties, Giles looks healthy and impressive this preseason. While these preseason games need to be taken with a grain of salt, Giles has shown a lot of improvements that Kings fans should be excited about. Giles’s main strength since high school is his defensive ability. He isn’t the most explosive athlete but his instincts and footwork have made him an impressive defender. During the preseason his raw defensive numbers aren’t the most impressive but that is more of a reflection on the team and the preseason, not Giles himself. He makes the right rotations, doesn’t get blown by, and strongly contests shots at the rim. Even though his defensive numbers look rough, I expect him to be a positive on that end of the floor based on his tape.

The concern surrounding Giles was his questionable offensive skillset. In college, he wasn’t a threat outside of the paint. His post-game was rudimentary and he looked uncomfortable running the pick-and-roll. In his preseason games, it looks like his offensive versatility has skyrocketed. He hasn’t shown much of a post-up game but his comfort when operating out of the high post is encouraging.

If Giles can operate this smoothly from this part of the floor, it will add a dynamic aspect to the Kings offense. After he faces the rim he takes a simple jab step to the right to off-balance his defender. This creates just enough space for him to drive to his left and score using a left-handed hook shot. It was rare to see Giles use his left hand or take defenders off the dribble. His comfort with both of those will make him a real threat on offense.

Here we see Giles receive the ball on the elbow. Their lack of spacing at the top of the arc, likely due to miscommunication on the play, disrupts the play so Giles has to improvise. He takes just one set up dribble to his left and knocks down the long jumper. This isn’t the best shot selection but that isn’t the focus of the play. What should be looked at here is the smoothness of Giles shot. His release point is much higher than it used to be, his lower body works in sync with his release, and he is confident in taking shots outside the paint.

As the NBA game continues to move farther away from the rim, it is important for big men to be an option from outside. Below Giles shows his improved shooting form and comfort from outside. First, he clears out to the corner to create space for the drive. He uses his improved footwork to backpedal behind the arc and get his feet set for the shot. In the second example, Giles comes off a handoff and knocks down the three with no hesitation. In these examples Giles’s release point is high, his lower body works in rhythm with is release, and he has confidence in it.

At the start of the season, Giles may struggle for minutes due to the congestion of their big man rotation. As his offensive game continues to improve and his strong defensive play continues, I fully expect him to become the Kings best big man and a strong Rookie of the Year candidate.

Jonathan Isaac

The Magic are a team in flux that has struggled to nail one of their many recent lottery picks. Last year Isaac was limited to just 27 games due to injury. This was a huge disappointment as his potential two-way versatility had fans excited. His great length projected him as a strong defender but there were massive amounts of concern on if his offensive ability would ever develop. This preseason Isaac has proven that his defensive potential will transfer. The team’s defensive rating when he’s been on the floor was an impressive 96.8. The Magic’s defense could be smothering when the Magic play Bamba, Isaac, and Gordon on the floor together. Below we see the obvious impact Isaac’s length has on the defensive end. He can be a legitimate rim protector as a wing and force turnovers on the wing.

I was optimistic that Isaac would develop his offensive game and this preseason he has shown massive improvements. His true shooting percentage is up to a solid 59 while shooting 50 percent from three on two attempts per game. While this is a small sample size, it is still encouraging. He doesn’t need to be a lethal outside shooter but by being reliable off the catch he can really help expand their offense. The below clips show Isaac’s improved form. As he receives the ball he focuses on getting his feet set. After that, everything else flows smoothly. Even though his release is a bit slow, he is focusing on keeping his form together and a high release point.

Isaac doesn’t need to be a threat shooting off the dribble. His length will make him a force around the rim, rebounding, and on defense. Shooting off the dribble doesn’t need to be a huge weapon for Isaac. If he is able to stay healthy and keep his form consistent, he will have a huge impact on the Magic.

Caris LeVert

Last year LeVert had a solid season with the Nets. He averaged 12.1 points, 4.2 assists, and 3.7 rebounds. This preseason LeVert is posting a higher usage rate of 25.8 while still playing at an efficient level. This increased usage rate is most notable with his three-point attempts. The Nets like to shoot a lot of threes and this preseason LeVert is up to 4.8 attempts per game while shooting an impressive 36.8 percent. LeVert has always been a solid shooter but has needed to improve his strength, ball handling, and passing vision to earn a bigger role as a primary ball handler. This preseason he has exhibited how big of a threat he will be with the ball in his hands.

LeVert’s improved strength and ball handling have made him more effective when attacking the rim. He is now able to finish through contact, instead of around it, but more importantly, pass out of his drives to the open man for an easy bucket. In the below clips this is evident. The below clips show the improvement LeVert has made with his passing vision and patience. He does a great job of getting the defender on his hip instead of in front of him. This makes it possible for him to attack the rim directly and be a threat to score. Since he has beaten his defender off the dribble, the second defender has to make a decision to stay home or rotate and help. Once the defender rotates, LeVert then makes the easy lob, open drop off, or the kick-out to the open shooter. Last year LeVert lacked the patience to make the right decision.

LeVert will be a bigger threat from outside purely due to an increase in attempts. His outside shooting will then open up driving lanes. This offseason LeVert has worked on his strength which will lead to him finishing through defenders at the rim instead of taking off-balanced shots to avoid them. His increased role as a ball handler and his improved vision and decision making will lead to LeVert having a big year.

John Collins

In his last season in college, Collins was one of the most efficient college players we’ve seen. That trend continued last year as Collins was effective around the rim and played strong defense. I expect much more of the same thing this year from Collins. Collins is a freak athlete. His rebounding will improve as he has gotten stronger. He will also benefit immensely from the addition of Trae Young. Most fans know Young for his shooting, but he is also a very gifted passer. Collins has very limited shooting ability. He has shown some improvement but I do not expect Collins to make an impact scoring from anywhere outside the paint. It may sound like I am limiting Collins but I expect him to break out in a mold of player similar to DeAndre Jordan and Clint Capela.

Collins’ freak athleticism is on full display above. Last season Collins was effective in the pick-and-roll scoring 1.133 points per possession as the roll man. Playing with a point guard that is a more talented and willing passer, I expect Collins to perform at an even higher level as the roll man.

Even though Collins’s offensive skill set is limited I still expect him to have a big year. He will thrive off of passes from Young, he will continue to be a strong rebounder, and his defensive impact will be noticeable. Even though the Hawks will likely struggle again, don’t be surprised when Collins averages a double-double.  

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