NBA Breakout Players: Wings

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This past season, we all witnessed Giannis Antetokounmpo capture his first career NBA title, while claiming Finals MVP honors for the team that drafted him, the Milwaukee Bucks. Now, two NBA MVPs, a defensive player of the year, and five All-NBA appearances later, the Greek Freak is arguably the best wing in the NBA today, and one of the best all-time.

But it wasn’t always looking this way. Giannis’s career was not on a fast track to stardom, as a matter of fact, his first season in the league left some people questioning if the Bucks had squandered yet another first-round pick when they drafted Antetokounmpo 15th overall in 2013. But Giannis nearly doubled his scoring from year one to year two, going from 6.8 points per game, to 12.7 in his sophomore campaign and up to 16.9 in year three.

Today, I want to take a look at some wings that could take similar leaps this season. Now, this is not to say that any of the guys mentioned in this column will become league MVPs or Finals MVPs, because the odds of that happening is slim to none, but there are a few wings that I think could take a huge step forward in 2021-2022. So without further ado, let’s see who they are.

Patrick Williams- Chicago Bulls

Williams is coming off of a solid rookie season where he averaged 9.2 points on 48.3% shooting from the floor (39.1% from three) with 4.6 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 0.9 steals per game in 21.9 minutes. Now though Chicago got a lot better and a lot deeper this offseason, I think Williams could still have an opportunity to improve upon last season’s numbers especially because of the addition of Lonzo Ball. Ball for his career averages 6.4 assists per game, a number that could climb this season in Chicago.

Perhaps Williams’ best asset is his ability to catch and shoot at 6-foot-7 inches tall. Last season, Williams shot 39.8% on catch-and-shoot three's on just 1.7 attempts per game. This season, you can guarantee that this number will be higher given the personnel that will be surrounding him in Chicago. Therefore, if Williams simply knocks them down at the same rate, he will be able to tack on a few extra points to his average.

In the Las Vegas Summer League, Williams shot 43.8% from deep on five attempts per game, now granite these weren’t all catch and shoots, but if he can knock down his triples at a 40% clip or better in the regular season, Williams will easily see his average increase.

We mentioned Lonzo Ball earlier, but both Zach LaVine and DeMar DeRozan are coming off of seasons where they averaged career-highs in assists. LaVine was at 4.9 per game, while DeRozan was at 6.9 assists per game in San Antonio. If the unselfishness of the Bulls' three guards can carry over into this season, there will be a lot of open shots to go around, and Patrick Williams could very well be the biggest beneficiary.

Isaac Okoro- Cleveland Cavaliers

Okoro is coming off of a strong rookie year where he averaged 9.6 points on 42.0% shooting from the floor and 29.0% shooting from the three-point line with 3.1 rebounds, 1.9 assists, and 0.9 steals per game. It was a solid enough campaign to earn him a spot on the second-team all-rookie squad along with the aforementioned Patrick Williams, as well as Desmond Bane, who we highlighted last week.

The biggest case for Okoro to be on this list is what he showed us in the last month of the season in May of 2021. In nine games, Okoro averaged 16.6 points per game on 42.1% shooting from the floor (30.2% 3-pointers) with 4.3 rebounds, 3.0 assists, and 1.1 turnovers per game in 36.3 minutes. This includes a game against the Suns where he poured in 32 points on 10-of-16 shooting, (3-of-4 3-pointers) with six assists, three rebounds, and one steal. Okoro also ended the season scoring in double figures in twelve of his final 13 games.

It was surely a positive sign to see Okoro turn it on late and end the season on a high note, and Cleveland is hoping that he can carry it over into this year after they selected Okoro with the fifth overall pick in the 2020 NBA Draft. This is a team that clearly has invested in the development of their younger stars like Collin Sexton and Darius Garland, who has battled injuries, and Okoro will be no different as he enters his second year and will look to take the year-two leaps that Garland and Sexton did as both increased their scoring numbers by at least four points in their sophomore campaign. If Okoro can pick up this year, where he left off last year, he too will easily see a boost in production in his second spin around the block.

Luguentz Dort- Oklahoma City Thunder

Dort is someone who took a huge leap from year one to year two after going undrafted in the 2019 NBA draft out of Arizona State. As a rookie, Dort averaged just 6.8 points on 39.4% shooting from the floor (29.7% from three) with 2.3 rebounds, 0.8 assists, and 0.9 steals per game. He appeared in just 36 games for Oklahoma City, making 28 starts, but mainly bursting onto the scene in the playoffs in the bubble.

In year two, Dort built on the confidence that he gained in the bubble, as he averaged 14.0 points on 38.7% shooting (34.3% 3-pointers) with 3.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 0.9 steals per game. The magic number for me was his improvement from 29.7% from three on 2.8 attempts per game, to 34.3% on 6.3 attempts per game. This improvement is drastic in the sense that it shows that Dort made a commitment in the offseason to becoming a threat from distance, after teams in the bubble often elected to not even guard him when he was standing on the perimeter. The improvement in the consistency of his jumper, as well as his improved confidence, allowed Dort to more than double his scoring output from year one to year two, and after the Thunder have moved on from Kemba Walker and Al Horford, the development of their young guys is the clear priority.

Dort will be the second highest scorer to return to OKC, following Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, and if Dort continues on the trajectory that he is on, year three could be his best year yet in the NBA.

Jordan Nwora- Milwaukee Bucks

Nwora has had an amazing summer after winning an NBA title, representing his native Nigeria in the Olympics, and then returning stateside to terrorize the Las Vegas Summer League for a few games. Though Nwora did not get much playing time in the postseason for Milwaukee, he certainly got his reps in the rest of the summer.

Nwora had a coming-out party in the Olympics with the Nigerian national team as he averaged 21 points per game through three contests in group play against Australia, Germany, and Italy. The game against Germany was perhaps the best of Nwora’s young basketball journey as he poured in 33 points on 13-of-20 shooting (7-of-12 3-pointers) with seven rebounds, two assists, and one steal in 30 minutes. He then followed that up with a 20 point performance in his first career Olympic start against Italy.

After getting back from Tokyo, Nwora played four games in the Las Vegas Summer League and averaged 20.3 points per game with 4.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 steals per contest. Now though Nwora’s volume was extremely high, and his efficiency quite frankly wasn’t there, it is the confidence that I think will be the biggest difference for Nwora in year two. With the departure of P.J. Tucker to Miami, and Donte DiVincenzo working back from a foot injury, there will be an opportunity for Nwora to sneak in and earn some quality minutes in Milwaukee’s rotation. The Bucks did add Semi Ojeleye, who will also compete for minutes at the forward spot, but Nwora after the summer that he had, should have the inside track to those minutes. If he can find a way to capitalize, he could be in for a big season in year two.

Terance Mann- Los Angeles Clippers

Mann burst onto the scene for the Clippers last postseason sans Kawhi Leonard, and they will be in the same predicament this season as the former Finals MVP recovers from a torn ACL. We can probably all remember the game that Mann went for a career-high 39 points in Game 6 of the western conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz as the Clippers erased a 25-point deficit to eliminate the Jazz in dramatic fashion at the Staples Center. In that game, Mann was 15-of-21 from the floor, and 7-of-10 from deep and he also tallied two rebounds, two steals, and one assist.

Now, this was a great single-game effort, but to get a better idea of what this season could look like for Mann, let’s look at his numbers for the rest of the postseason, with Leonard out of the lineup. In the last eight games, all without Kawhi in the lineup, Mann averaged 12.8 points on 55.7% shooting from the floor and 44.8% from three on 3.6 attempts per game. He also grabbed 2.9 rebounds per game with 1.1 assists per game and 1.0 steals in 28.6 minutes. Mann averaged just 7.0 points per game in the regular season last year with 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 assists in just 18.9 minutes per game, so given the fact that he should be seeing a lot more playing time, it is fair to assume that his numbers should increase as well.

Similar to why I tabbed Reggie Jackson and Luke Kennard as potential breakout guards last week, Mann will be one of the main beneficiaries of the absence of Leonard and his 34.1 minutes per game as well as his 17.5 shots per game. The Clippers will be filling this void by the committee as they did in the postseason, and Mann should be able to benefit greatly as he heads into his third season in the NBA.