Picking the best under-the-radar breakout candidates in the NBA this season

Wendell Carter Jr
Wendell Carter Jr is in a better situation with the Magic. Photo from SportsBuzz.

Looking at NBA breakout players in 2021-22, obvious names jump out. OG Anunoby and Michael Porter Jr are among the early favourites for Most Improved Player, as is Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Gilgeous-Alexander has already broken out. While Anunoby and Porter Jr have further levels to ascend, they are also established near-star level players. In our preseason look at potential NBA breakout players this season, we’re looking a tier or two below.

NBA breakout players 2021-22

These players fall into the category of fantasy sleepers. Some might make a push for Most Improved Player, but even if they fall short of award consideration, they have the circumstances and talent to enjoy a breakout campaign which changes the outlook for their franchise.

Here are five possible breakout players in the 2021-22 NBA season.

Darius Garland

The combination of Cleveland drafting Evan Mobley, extending Jarrett Allen, signing Lauri Markkanen and the never-disappearing Collin Sexton trade rumors has left Darius Garland as a bit of a forgotten man in the Cavaliers’ young core.

Garland stock remains high. While still raw, there were legitimate signs of improvement last season which give hope for him as a breakout player in 2021-22.

He jumped from the 17th percentile in points per shot attempt to the 50th percentile. There was a more gradual, though encouraging, improvement in his assist to usage rate, too. His three-point shooting popped from a middling level as a rookie to just under 40% as a sophomore.


The fit of this Cleveland roster doesn’t look great. Garland and Sexton don’t look like the long-term answer in the backcourt, particularly if Isaac Okoro ends up being a two rather than a three.

There’s still room for Garland to flourish this season, though. He can spot up when Mobley has the rock, and there should be opportunities aplenty as a pick-and-roll ball handler with the two-big lineups.

Wendell Carter Jr

Injuries, coaching changes and a trade at the deadline last season have disrupted Wendell Carter Jr’s professional career. He’s still limited as a shooter, which was the area of growth most expected when he was drafted in 2018.

A change of scenery should benefit the former Duke center. Where the Bulls were trying to win as they developed their young talents (which they have now moved away from), the Magic are clearly deep in a rebuild. Orlando has a coach who is invested in this process, and they are in no rush to win games. Carter has space and time to grow.

His numbers were around the same after the trade. Perhaps that suggests he’s not a leading candidate to be among the top NBA breakout players in 2021-22.

Much has changed on this Magic team since the end of last season, though. Jalen Suggs will make his teammates better. Markelle Fultz and Jonathan Isaac are on their way back.

Carter should be the starting five from opening night. He’s not a guy who will put up huge numbers, but having already sat at 10 and 9 last season, he’s well set to show what a good NBA player he can be.

Kevin Porter Jr

Having dropped 50 on the eventual champions, Kevin Porter Jr is hardly an unknown. He’s yet to prove himself as a consistent performer over 82 games, though, and he’s got a prime opportunity to do just that as the Rockets’ point guard in 2021-22.

John Wall will not be playing. Houston is handing the keys to Porter Jr, who will be joined by second overall pick Jalen Green in the backcourt.

The 21-year-old averaged 16.6 points and 6.3 dimes in his 26 games with the Rockets last season. Maintaining that over a longer stretch is a different, tougher challenge. He’s been at the center of NBA drama, and there have been questions about his attitude, but no one should doubt Porter’s raw talent as a playmaker and scorer. There are flashes of good defensive instincts, too.

Houston isn’t going to be good. Porter and Green will still be must-watch all year long. Christian Wood is an ideal complement and will only make Porter’s life easier as he adjusts to lead ball handling duties.

KPJ is going to be one of the most exciting NBA breakout players in 2021-22.

Dejounte Murray

The situation has changed in San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan’s departure opens up opportunities for every guard on the roster – none more so than Dejounte Murray.

Murray is an elite defender, already with an All-Defensive selection to his name. He averaged career-highs in rebounds, assists and scoring last season.

The jumpshot has always been the question, but even if he hovers around 80% from the stripe and low-30s from three, Murray will be the lead creator and scorer for the Spurs this season. His numbers should take a very real leap.

The usage should move into the late-20s. His scoring will improve to north of 15.7 and could easily settle around 22+.

Coming off the back of his most efficient season shooting at the rim, and still only 25 years old, Murray is ready to edge towards the All-Star conversation.

Malik Monk

Malik Monk put up career-best numbers across the board last season, including an eye-catching 40% from three. Monk swapped North Carolina for Los Angeles this summer. An overhauled Lakers roster makes it hard to know where he will fit in the rotation at this stage, but there’s massive upside for LA with this signing.

Monk has always been thought of as a sniper from deep. That wasn’t the case until last season. His 56.9% true shooting was by far the best in his four seasons in the league.

If Monk can maintain a similar efficiency from deep, he should flourish. The Lakers need all the spacing they can get, and he’s destined for plenty of open looks off passes from LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.

Defense might decide if Monk gets enough minutes to put up a big season. With what the Lakers need alongside their stars, though, Monk should get opportunities to prove himself. After some difficult times in his first four seasons, he’s ready to breakout in 2021-22.

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About Sam Cox 704 Articles
Sam is a widely published freelance writer, covering basketball, baseball and a range of other sports. He's still trying to decide if he prefers a rundown shot block or a smooth double play.

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