NBA Draft Guide: Third Year Breakout Candidates

  • Cade Cunningham could be poised for a breakout third season

    The Third Year Effect

    Many people consider the third season to be a pivotal moment in an NBA player’s career, especially for those who are drafted in the first round. At this stage in their careers, not only have they gotten a couple of seasons under their belt to adjust to the grind of the NBA but they are also eligible for extensions on their rookie scale contracts next offseason. Their respective front offices have gotten a chance to assess their assets, but this also means that there is ample scouting out on them around the rest of the league. Teams believe they have the data and scouting they need to decide whether to invest in these players long term or cut bait, which means we as fantasy managers have to keep close tabs on. That being said, their draft position and the teams that they end up on has a direct correlation on their growth and maturity in the league. Top or early lottery picks typically play for rebuilding teams which means they may often see a larger role earlier on in their careers. Players drafted later on in the first round may see smaller roles or taken as more developmental projects given that these teams are typically more competitive. Let’s get into it and take a look at players from each range of the 2021 draft to highlight their pathways to breakout seasons for fantasy managers in their third season.

    Jalen Johnson (F, ATL)

    After perpetually spending several years in and out of trade rumors, the Atlanta Hawks finally traded John Collins away to the Utah Jazz this offseason and it always felt like a foregone conclusion. His production and efficiency had slid every year since his respective third season in the 2019-20 season and put up his worst categorical statistics across the board this season since his rookie campaign. His exit gives Jalen Johnson, the Hawk’s first-round pick in 2021, a real opportunity to take a leap under Quin Snyder. After spending much of his time in the G-League during his rookie season, he played a more consistent role off the bench in his sophomore season appearing in 70 games and averaging 14.9 minutes per game. After Snyder took over the coaching reins from Nate McMillan mid-season, Johnson’s playing time jumped 20.6 minutes per game towards the end of the season and he took advantage. He averaged 11.6 pt/4.8 reb/3.2 ast/1.4 blk/1.8 stl on very efficient shooting.

    Early starting lineup projections have Saddiq Bey penciled in as the starting power forward this upcoming season, but I don’t think that Snyder and the Hawks front office are fully bought in. Johnson is a better playmaker and more efficient than Bey, who is better suited coming off the bench as a three-point threat. Johnson has a chance to leapfrog him in the rotation as the season progresses especially if he improves his outside shot even just a little from his 28.8% clip over his two seasons in the league. His 6 ‘8” frame makes him a primary candidate as a power forward but he has the agility to play on the wing and he could see as much as 25 to 27 minutes per game splitting time between both forward spots. An even bigger role awaits if the Hawks actually pull the trigger on a deal to move De’Andre Hunter down the line this season.

    ESPN ADP: 140.0
    Fantrax ADP: 154.0

    Corey Kispert (G/F, WAS)

    Corey Kispert is a prototypical, sharpshooting wing who was drafted as an older prospect by the Washington Wizards after four years at Gonzaga where he made the 1st team All-NCAA in 2020-21. Many people expected him to be one of the more NBA-ready players in his draft class and they have not been proven wrong. Kispert has adjusted very rapidly to the long-distance shooting in the NBA after his rookie season and ended his sophomore campaign shooting 42.4% from three which ranked 10th in the league. He has quickly found success as an elite catch-and-shoot player who thrives with drive and kick playmakers, hitting his corner threes at a 48.8% rate with 98.2% of his 3-point shots coming from assists. His number was called upon more consistently with Bradley Beal sidelined more often than not with injuries and he found a lot of success playing with Monte Morris who has established himself as a pass-first point guard coming from his backup role in Denver. 

    The Wizards continue to be one of the more perplexing teams in the league because they never seem to be able to cross the hump between irrelevance and contention. After shipping away both Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis to the Phoenix Suns and the Boston Celtics respectively, they brought in Tyus Jones and Jordan Poole as well as re-signing Kyle Kuzma in what looks to be a rebuilding year. Although Poole projects to be a high-usage player on the new-look Wizards, Kispert has demonstrated he does not need high usage to succeed. Jones is a clear upgrade over Morris at the starting point guard spot and will be looking for Kispert to be open behind the three-point line. Kispert’s defensive deficiencies will keep him as a 30-minute-per-night starter but if he works on his playmaking over the offseason, he should enjoy statistical success in his third season.

    ESPN ADP: 140.0
    Fantrax ADP: 158.6

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