As basketball season ends and we’re forced to catch up on a host of shows we ignored during the 82-plus game soap opera that is the NBA, it’s easy for June to feel gloomy. Now that summer is over and “apologize to the woman you hurt because you need somebody to help keep you warm” season has returned, we can all celebrate. No more YouTube highlight videos, Drew League streams or hours spent watching the stars of yesteryear compete in the TBT Tournament. The NBA season is finally back. With a crop of new players entering the league, a few teams getting a chance to show off the effects of their offseason makeovers, and the excitement that comes with watching a player on the cusp of greatness morph into a star, there’s much to talk about. Here’s a list of the five players primed for breakout campaigns in 2018-19.
Brandon Ingram, Los Angeles Lakers G/F
I’ve spent countless hours on social media/in real life defending Ingram, begging the Lakers not to trade the young boul and gloating about the player I believe he’s going to be. With LeBron James grooming him to be the next Lakers great, the time has finally come. He gave fans a preview of how special he could be in 2017-18, when he played several games at point guard, looked the part of a shutdown defender (thanks to his otherworldly length) and averaged career highs in points (15.2), field goal percentage (47.0 and 3-point percentage (39.0). After adding muscle to his slender frame and working on his outside shot during the offseason, expect to see the 21-year-old (just turned 21 on Sept. 2) transform from caterpillar to butterfly. LA’s waiting on you, cuzz. It’s your time.
John Collins, Atlanta Hawks F/C
Collins was scary during his rookie season in 2017-18, looking the part of a baby Amar’e Stoudemire by dunking on any opponent in sight and sending ill-advised shots from Phillips Arena to College Park. He returned during the 2018 Summer League and dominated the competition, showing off improvements in all areas, including his outside shot (something that separates his ceiling from Amare’s). With nothing stopping him from playing major minutes in Atlanta and a wide-open system that should produce tons of points, expect Collins to bring hope to an organization whose only claim to fame in the last two years is having Quavo and Young Thug in attendance at their games.
Domantas Sabonis, Indiana Pacers F/C
I’ve been in love with Sabonis since his days at Gonzaga. Like his father, Arvydas, he’s a helluva scorer who possesses the court vision to deliver dimes from the high post and loves to gobble up boards. He looked amazing during the 2018 preseason, crashing the glass, stuffing opponents at the rim and showing off a deft inside-out game. Don’t be surprised if a Pacers player wins Most Improved Player for the second year in a row. Sabonis is that good.
Malik Monk, Charlotte Hornets G
I’m not a fan of writing players off after one season. That stuff is for casual fans and those who take joy in calling people busts. Monk had his struggles of course, but in a destitute situation like Charlotte, there’s not much to expect from a rookie whose minutes are spotty. The Hornets committed to getting better in 2018-19, hiring James Borrego whose up-tempo style of play correlates with Monk’s strengths -- his athleticism and shooting prowess. “In practice, we’ve been playing with 12-14-second shot clocks just to speed it up,” said Monk. With more spacing, open opportunities and an increase in chances to attack in transition, the second-year guard should look like a whole different player. Shoot, he impressed enough during the preseason, tallying 11.0 points and 6.0 dimes.
Zach LaVine, Chicago Bulls G
When LaVine first entered the league, he was known as a Russell Westbrook-type athlete, who like Westbrook didn’t have a defined position. After experimenting as a lead guard in Minnesota, he finally found a home at the 2, a position where he’s allowed to do what he does best -- score. After playing sparingly during his first season in Chicago due to injury and signing a massive contract that’s come under scrutiny during the offseason, the guard looked to be healthy during the 2018 preseason, forcing us to realize that he might be ready to take the leap to stardom. He’s going to get his buckets, there’s no question about that, but if the efficiency and his effort improves on the defensive end, watch out! Another Bruin dominating the L.