By Alex Barutha, RotoWire
Special to Yahoo Sports
A handful of players make The Leap™ every season, whether it be into the All-Star discussion, a starting spot, or a high-usage backup role. Last season’s most notable breakout player was Victor Oladipo, who made his first All-Star game after four seasons of good-but-unspectacular production. Other players like Kris Dunn, Brandon Ingram and Lou Williams, made strides of their own, becoming key players in the Fantasy landscape.
Let’s take a look at some players who could break out, to varying degrees, in 2018-19.
Jamal Murray, PG/SG, Denver Nuggets
Murray was cold for the first two months of last season, shooting 42.4 percent from the field and an abysmal 25.3 percent from deep. The calendar flipping to December seemed to jolt him awake. Murray went on to shoot 46.4 percent from three for the month, scoring 19.1 points per game. From the New Year on, he settled into an average of 17.2 points, 4.0 assists and 2.2 threes while hitting 45.4 percent of his field goal attempts. As he enters Year 3, it’s justifiable to perceive those numbers as Murray’s statistical floor.
In terms of upside, Murray, who has missed one game in two years and is just 20 years old, has already had seven 30-point outbursts. Five of those performances came against playoff teams. He also took at least 20 field goals on eight occasions — second-most on the team behind Nikola Jokic — suggesting both he and the team have confidence in his ability to handle the scoring burden on many nights. While Murray’s assist potential is deflated by Jokic’s atypical role as a distributor, it also frees him up to work more off the ball, looking for high percentage spot-up threes and quick cuts to the rim.
Aaron Gordon, SF/PF, Orlando Magic
After averaging fewer than 13 points in each of his first three seasons, Gordon was essentially handed the keys to the offense in 2017-18. He posted the second-highest usage rate (min. 1000 minutes) on the team behind only Nikola Vucevic and averaged 17.6 points per game. Gordon shot 43.8 percent from beyond the arc on 5.3 attempts per game through the first two months of the season, but eventually cooled down to 33.6 percent overall. Despite the misses, he remained committed to firing away. He also snagged 7.9 rebounds per contest.
Gordon wasn’t always consistent, but he put on several massive performances to offset his poor ones. Just more than a month apart, he posted a 41-point, 14-rebound effort against the Nets and a 40-point, 15-rebound performance against the Thunder. He showed off his full skillset, totaling 16 made free throws, 11 made-threes, six assists, four steals, one block and only two turnovers across the two games. The Magic made no high-usage offseason additions to take shots away from Gordon, so Orlando will continue to lean on the developing 23-year-old, whom they signed to a four-year extension over the summer.
Julius Randle, PF/C, Pelicans
Randle has made steady improvement over the past three years and was able to post a career-high 16.1 points per game last season while upping his field goal percentage dramatically from 48.8 percent to 55.8 percent. He averaged only 23.5 minutes from October through January, but his role expanded during February and March. During those two months, Randle saw 33.6 minutes per game and averaged 21.2 points, 9.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists while maintaining a 57.6 field goal percentage. He’s a solid free-throw shooter for a big man, hitting over 70 percent of his freebies each of the past three years.
After the Lakers chose to renounce Randle’s free agent rights in tandem with the signing of LeBron James, Randle inked a two-year, $17.7 million deal with the Pelicans. It’s not clear if coach Alvin Gentry will start Randle or Nikola Mirotic at power forward, but Randle’s ability to play both frontcourt spots keeps him in contention for starter’s minutes regardless. Randle, Mirotic and Anthony Davis is a strong top three, but beyond that trio the Pelicans are shallow up front, so Randle approaching 30 minutes per night isn’t unrealistic.
Productive Starter Upside
John Collins, PF/C, Hawks
Last year’s 19th overall pick, Collins had an impressive debut season and will look to parlay it into a breakout sophomore campaign. He made the All-Rookie Second Team with averages of 10.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and a combined 1.7 blocks/steals in 24.1 minutes per game. Collins’ workload was oddly restricted for much of last season, but he should see more run this year under new head coach Lloyd Pierce. Collins looked like a more confident player during four impressive summer league performances in July, averaging 19.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. Collins also flashed expanded range, taking four threes per game and drilling them at a 37.5 percent clip after taking just 47 threes all of last season.
Taurean Prince, SF, Atlanta Hawks
Prince’s pre- and post-All-Star numbers were distinctly different. Before the break, he averaged 12.2 points and 1.7 threes on 10.7 field goal attempts. After the break, those numbers jumped to 19.0 points and 3.2 threes on 15.0 attempts per game, as he was relied upon more following the departures of Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli. Considering Atlanta didn’t make any offseason additions, outside of drafting Kevin Huerter and Omari Spellman, to replace Ilyasova and Belinelli’s production, it’s reasonable to bank on Prince’s volume trending closer to his post-All-Star break numbers.
Buddy Hield, SG, Sacramento Kings
Like many tanking teams, the Kings used the All-Star break as a turning point to turn their young players loose. Hield’s playing time jumped from 23.7 to 28.9 minutes per game, with his production following suit. Post-All-Star break, the second-year guard averaged 15.7 points, 4.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.5 made threes. When the team showed confidence to deploy him for 30-plus minutes, his scoring jumped to 18.6 PPG. While Bogdan Bogdanovic and, to a lesser degree, Justin Jackson showed flashes as rookies, there’s hope the Kings give Hield extended minutes on a more consistent basis, especially since he hit threes at a 43.1 percent clip — the ninth-best mark in the league last season.
Jarrett Allen, C, Brooklyn Nets
The Nets weren’t afraid to experiment at center last season, playing seven different players at least 40 percent of their respective minutes at the position. Six of those players are now elsewhere. Though he only saw 20 minutes per game as a rookie, Allen showed significant upside, posting single-game highs of 20 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks. On the four occasions he played at least 30 minutes, Allen averaged 11.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.3 blocks. He also shot an impressive 77.6 percent from the charity stripe. The 20-year-old is the favorite to start at center this season and has potential to average a double-double with close to two blocks, which would make him a legitimate fantasy asset in almost any format.
Markelle Fultz, SG, Philadelphia 76ers
By now, the story of Fultz’s bizarre rookie year has been well-documented. He played the first four games of the regular season, shooting 33.3 percent from the field before being shut down until late March. Though his shooting form still didn’t look right, Fultz was able to be a legitimate contributor. During the Sixers’ final 10 games, he averaged 7.6 points on 42.9 percent shooting (with no three-point attempts), 4.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.0 steal in 17.7 minutes. He even posted a triple-double in the last game of the regular season. While we won’t know about the progress of his shot until he plays a game, Fultz is certainly worth taking a chance on in the final rounds of a fantasy draft. Even in limited minutes, and without a semblance of a jump shot, he was able to generate value as a passer, defender and rebounder.
Strong Role Player Upside
Kyle Anderson, SF, Memphis Grizzlies
Considering the Grizzlies’ poor wing depth, Anderson may be asked to play more than the 26.7 minutes per game he saw with the Spurs last year. He’s been a low-usage player throughout his career, which is unlikely to change, but another year of development and a new system could give him the bump he needs to be worth a late-round pick. Per-36-minutes last season, he averaged 10.6 points, 7.2 rebounds, 3.7 assists and a combined 3.2 steals/blocks.
Jordan Bell, C, Golden State Warriors
With mystery surround DeMarcus Cousins’ health and potential production one year removed from a torn Achilles, Bell is the Warriors’ steadiest option at the center spot outside of Draymond Green. Bell averaged only 14.2 minutes during his rookie year but he was able to post 6.8 points, 6.2 rebounds, 3.5 assists and a combined 1.9 blocks/steals per game when seeing at least 20 minutes.
Jonathan Isaac, PF, Orlando Magic
A persistent ankle injury kept Isaac out for all but 27 games during his rookie season. He struggled as a scorer, averaging only 5.4 points on 37.9 percent from the field in 19.9 minutes. However, he showed massive potential as a defender, racking up 4.2 combined steals/blocks per 36 minutes. He’ll likely start at one forward spot this season and should be in position for a significant uptick in minutes, provided he can stay healthy. Isaac may not be one of Orlando’s primary offensive options, but his ability to rack up steals and blocks should buoy his fantasy value through what will likely be an up-and-down sophomore season.