The ongoing NBA season is finally entering the second half, as teams start to gear up for a chance to enter the postseason. Despite the difficult coronavirus pandemic, the season has still been storied with basketball stars simply chasing greatness. In fact, we’ve seen a handful of players making the most of their opportunities on the court by stepping up their game, as they prove to everyone that they belong in the league.
Breakout players are a welcome sight for any team, as it improves their rotation and increases their championship hopes. Especially with unexpected injuries and covid protocols in place, every team all the more needs unexpected names in their roster to break out of their shell. For this piece, let’s take a look at five players having a breakout season so far.
2019-2020 NBA season: 6.6 points, 4.5 rebounds, 0.4 assists, 0.4 steals, 1.0 blocks
2020-2021 NBA season: 14.2 points, 6.5 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.6 steals, 1.9 blocks
The Toronto Raptors are currently struggling after dropping their five straight games. They currently hold a 17-22 win-loss record, which is only good for 11th seed in the Eastern Conference. However, one of their silver linings is the emergence of Chris Boucher.
In his first three seasons in the league, Boucher has been a reserve big man that hardly saw minutes on the court. Although he has three NBA championships under his belt, he was hardly a factor for those championship teams. However, this season has showed that he can be a force to be reckoned with.
Coming off the bench, Boucher has been a great reliever for Pascal Siakam. Acting as their designated Sixth Man, Boucher has averaged double figures in points this season, which is the first time in his career. The Canadian big man’s ability to stretch the floor on offense, and to become a rim-protector makes him a surprise piece for the Raptors team. In fact, just earlier this month, Boucher fired a career-high 30 points, spiked by five shots from rainbow country, in a loss against the Boston Celtics.
If Boucher can keep up his fine play, not only will he be a strong Most Improved Player candidate, but he can also make some noise in the Sixth Man of the Year race.
Gary Trent Jr.
2019-2020 NBA season: 8.9 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
2020-2021 NBA season: 15.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.5 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.1 blocks
Gary Trent Jr. took a great leap last season during the NBA bubble for the Trail Blazers. However, he has taken his production to another level this season, as he is putting up career highs in points, rebounds, and assists. But more importantly, the Blazers have also been a legitimate contender in the West thanks to his contributions as they currently pose a 22-16 win-loss record, which is good enough for the sixth seed in the West.
Despite the absence of CJ McCollum, Trent Jr. has seamlessly filled in for the team’s second star. He even set the franchise record for most consecutive games with at least three shots made from beyond the arc. Although his historic accomplishment was overshadowed by a loss, there is no doubt that his emergence has been a welcome sight for the Blazers. In fact, Coach Terry Scotts only has good words to say about the 22 year old guard.
According to an interview with NBC Sports, Scotts said “He’s been a big reason why we’ve been able to sustain a good offense when we lost CJ. He’s playing starters minutes, playing 35, 36 minutes, he knows where his shots are coming from. He’s aggressive.”
With Trent’s ultimate breakout, alongside Melo and Lillard’s hot shooting, the Blazers could turn out to be a team the Western Conference should watch out for, come playoff time.
2019-2020 NBA season: 13.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.5 steals. 0.9 blocks
2020-2021 NBA season: 22.0 points, 10.2 rebounds, 1.3 assists, 0.9 steals, 1.5 blocks
At the earlier parts of the season, the Houston Rockets were showered with drama because of the James Harden situation. But with James Harden’s departure to Brooklyn, the Rockets finally let go of their disgruntled star. Fortunately, Christian Wood didn’t fail to live up to the expectations.
After showing everyone a glimpse of his potential in Detroit, Wood is showing everyone that he deserves to play on a bigger role. He is currently having a career season with the Rockets, as he is averaging all-time highs in all categories, including points, rebounds, and blocks. Furthermore, he is slowly becoming of the league’s best bigs today.
Despite Harden’s absence, the Rockets remained competitive with Wood’s breakout play and John Wall’s comeback season. Unfortunately, ever since the 25 year old center suffered a right ankle sprain, his absence has dampened the record of the Rockets. The team is currently posting a lowly 11-26 win-loss card, which ranks them 14th in the West. It is worth noting that they’ve also failed to snag a win in their last 16 games. Fortunately, Wood is showing signs of recovery, as he has started to join the team’s practices again.
It is unlikely that the Rockets will make the playoffs this year, especially with the departure of James Harden and DeMarcus Cousins. Furthermore with Wood’s return timetable uncertain, the team just doesn’t have enough firepower to rack up the much needed wins. However, with Christian Wood’s emergence, the team has a young budding star that can certainly lead them into the future.
Before his injury, Wood even posted a monster double-double in January against the San Antonio Spurs. He registered 24 points and 18 rebounds. Furthermore, his breakout season has placed him in talks of winning the Most Improved Player of the Year Award.
2019-2020 NBA season: 19.5 points, 9.7 rebounds, 3.1 assists, 0.8 steals, 0.3 blocks
2020-2021 NBA season: 23.2 points, 11.0 rebounds, 5.7 assists, 0.9 steals, 0.3 blocks
The New York Knicks haven’t been relevant for a good amount of time. Fortunately, the emergence of Julius Randle is starting to change that. Back in the days, he was marred with multiple injuries that slowed down his career. It also didn’t help that he is relatively undersized for the center position. But fast forward to today, Randle is becoming the star that the New York Knicks have been waiting for.
This season, Randle is averaging a 20-10 statline every game. But more importantly, he also improved his ability to stretch the floor. Last season, he only shot 27.7% from rainbow country. However this year, he is shooting it at an efficient 41.5%, which is a stellar upgrade. Aside from his shooting, Randle has also improved his playmaking which makes him an even more dangerous big man on the court. In fact, the 26 year old lefty even dropped 44 points in a win against the Atlanta Hawks, as he shot an efficient seven out of 13 from beyond the arc.
Due to his improvement, Randle even earned All-Star honors earlier this year which made him the first Knick in three years since Kristaps Porzingis to play in the event. Furthermore, the versatile power forward has also helped the Knicks hold a 20-20 win-loss record, which is seventh in the East. With Randle starting to finally reach his potential, the Knicks might finally have a clear direction in ending their playoff drought.
2019-2020 NBA season: 12.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 0.7 steals, 0.8 blocks
2020-2021 NBA season: 23.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 0.8 steals, 1.1 blocks
Jerami Grant has been known to be a solid role player, who can make an impact on both ends of the floor. We saw him do just that for the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Denver Nuggets, as a reliable 3-and-D player. However for this season, despite a lot of critics believing that the Pistons offered him a contract that was too big, Grant has proved to everyone that he can also thrive on a bigger role as the team’s go-to-guy.
Although the Pistons are currently dead last in the Eastern Conference with a 10-29 record, Grant has been individually great this year. He has produced at least 20 points per game which placed him in the conversation of the Most of Improved Player of the Year Award. Furthermore, his evolution also considered him in the All-Star selection earlier this year. Unfortunately, he was considered to be one of the snubs for the event.
Aside from earning these distinctions, Grant is also gaining attention in the trading block with the Boston Celtics making him as their primary target. With Grant proving to everyone he can be the no. 1 player on a losing team like Detroit, a shift to a playoff contender might increase his chances of winning a championship.
Based on the reports of James Edwards III from The Athletic, he stated “I believe that Boston has offered multiple firsts for him. I don’t know what multiple means, it could be two, it could be three.”
Nevertheless, so far, Grant’s emergence has been one of the best things this season has offered so far. Because of this, it won’t be a surprise if he actually ends up taking home the Most Improved Player of the Year Award.