NBA 2019-2020: 5 Non-Rookie Breakout Stars Under 23

Malik Monk

            The former 11th overall selection in the 2017 NBA Draft is another former one-and-done who has yet to put it together at the highest stage. Monk has only played 15 minutes per game in two seasons with the Hornets, shooting a weak 37% field goal percentage. The Hornets are in the race for the top overall selection in the 2020 NBA Draft after losing Kemba Walker in free agency while seeking the acquisition of future draft picks. Terry Rozier and Monk should shoulder the majority of the scoring load in 2019-2020 under James Borrego. Opportunity and trust were the issues that held Monk since he was drafted, but for an organization increasingly hungry for direction, the former Kentucky Wildcat should get the chance to cement his role as a shooter and off-ball scorer in the association.

Lonzo Ball

            The Ball era in Los Angeles is officially over, and the 6 foot 6, 190 pound multi-talented lead guard is looking to be reborn in New Orleans. Ball did not live up to the hype for the Lakers, but still managed to put up 10 points, 6 boards and 6 assists per game in his first two seasons. Surrounded with a very impressive 2019 Draft Class, Ball is undoubtedly in a much more suitable position to show out. The former 2nd overall selection in the 2017 Draft has built up a defensive prowess in his first two seasons, a trait that was questioned during his draft process. With a newly constructed jump shot and the continued development of his body, Ball’s trajectory is being slept on. With athletes and lob catchers like Zion Williamson and Jaxson Hayes, and newly acquired shooters/scorers in JJ Reddick, Nicolo Melli and Brandon Ingram, all of Lonzo Ball’s headlining skills in, vision, passing ability and basketball IQ, are due to catch attention. If Ball stays healthy, look for Ball to shed the “bust” label.

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

            SGA, at 21 years old, was the core of the return that the Oklahoma City Thunder acquired in the Paul George trade in the 2019 offseason, evident that his stock since the 2018 NBA Draft (11th overall pick) has essentially skyrocketed. In contrast, different than the previously listed young players, Gilgeous-Alexander has already proved himself as an organizational cornerstone with unique playmaking ability and defensive versatility. While the former Kentucky point guard has not quite broken out yet, putting up 11 points and 3 assists in his rookie campaign, there is no organization in the entire NBA will provide as much opportunity the Oklahoma City Thunder will present over the next few seasons. With CP3 and Danilo Gallinari rumored to be back on the trade block and NBA record setting accumulation of future draft picks, Gilgeous-Alexander looks to prove himself and provide direction as a future All-Star playing for the rebuilding Thunder in 2019-2020.

Jonathan Isaac

            Isaac was seen as a long term, high ceiling prospect when the Magic drafted the lanky wing out of Florida State in 6th overall in 2017. Isaac did not have standout statistics in one season for the Seminoles but was sought on for his intangibles and potential. In two seasons with the Magic, Isaac saw his role greatly increase from his rookie to sophomore campaign playing 26 minutes per game and putting up 9.6 points, 5 boards, 1 steal also while blocking 1.3 shots per game in 2018-19. Defensively, Isaac has found his identity as multi-positional stopper who can switch on any screen, defend the rim and jump passing lanes. Isaac’s shooting numbers remain weak with a career 41% field goal percentage and 32% from deep. Now cemented in the Orlando starting lineup, we will see if Isaac remains a defensive tool with length or can put together a unique offensive skillset with the ability to shoot and slash after a massive offseason of work heading into season three. FOG would definitely bet on the latter.

Dragan Bender

            This one is a bit more of a dark horse prediction, but at only 21 years old after two seasons with the Phoenix Suns, Bender looks to find consistency with a more organized and competing Milwaukee Bucks franchise. The former 4th overall selection in the 2016 Draft was pegged as a perfect modern NBA fit with size, at 7 foot 1 and 225 pounds, and shooting ability. Formerly viewed as one of the next best European players in the league, Bender has traded the high ceiling title for the bust title. Bender became an unrestricted free agent in 2019 and had a deal in place to sign with a club in Russia if no one NBA teams put out an offer, but found a 2 year deal with the Bucks. With Brook Lopez and Ersan Ilyasova as mentors moving forward, Bender looks to vault himself into the rotation and regain traction on his professional basketball status. In a different manner than the four previously mentioned former lottery selections, FOG does not see Bender as a future All-Star, but rather a long-term starting big man with offensive versatility. Look for Dragan Bender to discard the bust card for a, “maybe there was a reason he was selected 4th overall” league wide opinion.

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