Culture of Hoops

2020-21 NBA Rookie Breakout Candidates

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The 2020 NBA rookie class features tons of talent, with skillful and unique players at every position. When it comes to the big men like James Wiseman, Onyeka Okongwu and Jalen Smith, their ability to knock down shots, stretch the floor to fit the modern NBA and be defensive power houses are truly special. Then you have top guards like LaMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, Tyrese Haliburton, Killian Hayes, and Devin Vassell, who are all pro-ready and can provide an instant impact for their new teams; whether that’s by facilitating the ball or scoring from multiple areas on the court. As for forwards like Obi Toppin, Patrick Williams, Isaac Okoro, and Deni Avdija, you have guys who are all capable of being motors on their new teams due to their incredible size, athleticism, shooting, and versatility. 

There’s a lot of impressive talent in this draft class, but which newcomers will shine the most during their rookie campaigns? In no particular order, here are the top NBA rookie breakout candidates to watch in the 2020-21 NBA season.

LaMelo Ball, PG, Charlotte Hornets

Unlike his fellow draft classmates, LaMelo Ball’s journey to the league was an interesting one to say the least. Ball was pulled out of high school when he was sixteen years old, went to Lithuania to become a pro, came back to the United States to play in his family created league– the JBL, went back overseas to Australia and finally ended up in the NBA. And through this journey, Ball’s game improved each step of the way. He was this immature highschooler, who became a man and now approaches the game with a winning and smart mentality. Ball has become one of the most unique prospects we’ve seen; being a 6’8” point guard, with incredible court vision and an average jumpshot. He’s turned into a well-rounded player and will surely have an instant impact on the Hornets this season. We were able to get a glimpse of how special Ball can be with his unique craftiness when it comes to finding his teammates in Charlotte’s first two preseason games against the Toronto Raptors. The scoring will take some time to fully develop for Ball, but there’s no doubt he’ll be quite impressive in year one.


James Wiseman, C, Golden State Warriors

The Warriors filled a big hole in their team at center by selecting James Wiseman in the draft. Wiseman will bring a strong presence down-low for a Warriors team that has been lacking a true defensive anchor for years now. His versatile defense will elevate the Warriors to new heights, even without Klay Thompson suiting up for this upcoming season, due to a torn ACL. Wiseman is a talented player and you can make a legitimate argument that he should’ve gone number one over Anthony Edwards. Having a player who can be intimidating on defense down-low, rebound the ball well, stretch the floor with his shooting, and has a great basketball IQ and feel for the game is a coach’s dream. Head coach Steve Kerr will certainly utilize Wiseman in as many different ways possible because that’s how unique of a player Wiseman is. I can’t wait to see what damage he can do during his rookie year. Wiseman is sure to be a highly effective player on this Warriors team and with Stephen Curry and Draymond Green as mentors, he’ll be a special player to watch.

Anthony Edwards, SG, Minnesota Timberwolves

The Timberwolves got a special one in Anthony Edwards, as he was selected number one overall. Edwards is a unique player due to his great size and athleticism for the two-guard spot. Add that to his already impressive shooting and scoring abilities, as well as his great feel for the game, and you have a franchise player in the making. At the beginning of the college season in 2019, Edwards wasn’t the consensus number one pick in the 2020 NBA draft, but he worked his way up to becoming it. He really caught the eye of scouts and NBA executives mainly because of how relentless and determined he is on the court. Edwards has a mentality that no one is better than him and this is a great thing to have as a rookie coming into the league. There’s a lot of second or third year players that struggle with self-confidence on the floor, but look for Edwards to have a strong sense of that heading into the league. It’s not clear whether the Timberwolves will start Edwards alongside D’Angelo Russell to start the season, or have him come off the bench, but he’ll surely thrive in whatever role he’s given this year.

Obi Toppin, PF, New York Knicks

The Dayton star was one of the more highly touted prospects coming into the draft, so it was quite a surprise when Obi Toppin fell to the Knicks at the eight spot in the draft. Toppin is a versatile forward, with incredible athleticism and explosiveness; an aspect about his game that will definitely get the crowd on their feet at Madison Square Garden, once fans are allowed back into games of course. Toppin is the oldest player in the lottery at 22 years old, so he won’t have much time as the other picks do to develop and mold into a star. However, I don’t think time will be an issue for Toppin, as the 2020 Wooden award winner has a style of play that will easily translate to the league. He’ll be a great rim-runner alongside Mitchell Robinson in the Knicks front-court, proving for exciting transition plays. Although Toppin is a defensive liability, he can work on it quickly and develop a better sense of court awareness; it also helps that he has a great defensive-minded coach in Tom Thibodeau to learn from. Toppin is also a great catch and shooter, especially from the corners, something the Knicks should use to their advantage when trying to space the floor. Get ready for Toppin to put on a show for fans every night under the bright lights of New York City.

Isaac Okoro, SF, Cleveland Cavaliers

A lot of people questioned the Cavaliers selecting Isaac Okoro with the fifth overall pick during the draft, but I think he’s an excellent fit for this young Cavaliers squad. Okoro is a player who plays with high intensity and energy on both ends of the floor and this is something that could benefit the Cavaliers’ culture and dynamic on the court. His long and athletic frame makes him a tough player to move or score on, making him a strong two-way force for this team. Defensively, Okoro is sharp-minded and rarely shies away from a tough challenge. He has a mentality that no player is too difficult for him to stop and that could go a long way in his development of becoming a top defender in the association. As for his offense, it’s still getting there, but it won’t take too long for him to become a scoring threat for Cleveland. Okoro’s points mainly come from his defense in which he scores on fast-break opportunities, but once he develops a steady jumper, his scoring in the half court can become more fluent. Okoro strikes many similarities to two-time Finals MVP and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, Kawhi Leonard. Cavaliers fans should hope and pray Okoro can become somewhat of the player Leonard is now.


Some honorable mentions that should still get some attention.

Tyrese Haliburton, SG, Sacramento Kings

Who would’ve thought Tyrese Haliburton would’ve fell all the way to the twelfth spot in the draft? It may have been disappointing for him, but Haliburton ended up in the right place when the Kings selected him on draft night. He’s an NBA-ready guard with a great size and frame, who knows how to handle the ball well, can facilitate the ball at a high level, and has a decent jumpshot. Not to mention his stellar perimeter defense, which makes him an exciting player to watch out for. Haliburton in the backcourt with De’Aaron Fox will be so much fun to watch. 

Deni Avdija, SF, Washington Wizards

Deni Avdija is referred to by many scouts as a “poor man’s Luka Dončić” and I could see why they think so. Avdija’s style of play is that of a point-forward who can shoot the lights out when he gets on a nice roll, much like Dončić. With much of the attention on offense going towards newly acquired star Russell Westbrook and star Bradley Beal, Avdija should quietly have himself an impressive rookie campaign in D.C. this season. Avdija truly has the potential to be a star in the NBA.

Killian Hayes, PG, Detroit Pistons

This may be the best fit for a player and team out of all the selections from this year’s draft class. Killian Hayes is a nice two-way guard whom many scouts and executives believe can emerge into a top talent only a few seasons into his career. Hayes is a high-IQ player that can be a threat from the outside as well. He already has a great ability to strongly attack the rim, and if Hayes continues to work on his shot selection and improve his efficiency, he can be an excellent player for the Pistons to build around long-term.

Onyeka Okongwu, PF/C, Atlanta Hawks 

The Hawks already had one of the best young core’s in the NBA prior to the draft, but they got even better by adding Onyeka Okongwu on draft night. Okongwu is a defensive beast and a rebounding machine, making him an asset to any team. He has a solid mid-range shot already, but if he can improve his three-pointer, he can become a lethal big man in the association. He’ll spend a good time coming off the bench this season, as he continues to develop; but don’t be surprised if he ends up starting for this team by the time the 2021-22 season starts.

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