Eight NBA players who could have breakout seasons with their new teams following a busy free agency period
Sometimes it just takes a change of scenery to unleash a player's potential
Victor Oladipo is the poster boy for a change of scenery leading to suddenly-fulfilled potential. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 draft was solid, but not elite in his first four seasons with the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder. But a trade to Indiana for Paul George unlocked whatever was hiding inside Oladipo, as he blossomed into an All-Star and the unquestioned leader of the franchise.
Stories like his are rare, but certainly not unheard of. The Lakers gave up on D'Angelo Russell, who quickly became an All-Star with the Brooklyn Nets before signing a max contract with the Golden State Warriors this summer. Joe Ingles was waived by the Clippers in 2014 before becoming an essential part of the emerging Utah Jazz.
So who will it be this season?
With so much movement this offseason, plenty of players have a chance to refresh their careers in a new city, with a new system and coach. Sometimes that's all it takes for players, especially young ones, to reach new heights. Here's a look at eight players who could make that leap with their new teams in the 2019-20 NBA season.
There are still people around the league who think Ingram has All-NBA potential, and part of his problem is that he just hasn't been able to stay healthy. Even in a turbulent situation with the Lakers last season, Ingram put up career highs in points per game (18.3) and field goal percentage (49.7). With a fresh start in New Orleans, he'll have very little pressure on him since all the attention will be showered upon rookie sensation Zion Williamson. Ingram may also have a chance to play more point-forward, a position in which he excelled in Los Angeles before the arrival of LeBron James -- in the 17 games James missed due to a groin injury last season, Ingram's averages jumped to 19.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 4.1 assists on 50.6 percent shooting.
The Pelicans will play just as fast as the Lakers did, if not faster, and if Ingram's 3-point percentage gets closer to the 39 percent he shot in 2017-18, he could be due for a monster season heading into restricted free agency next summer.
Similar to Ingram, Ball has missed significant time during his first two seasons in the league, so it's been hard to gauge him appropriately. It's clear that the expectations thrust upon him by his father, Lakers fans and Magic Johnson were a bit premature, but Ball has the potential to be an impact player despite an up-and-down start to his career. Outside the pressure of Los Angeles, Ball's shooting could gain consistency (he improved from 36 to 41 percent field goal shooting, and from 30.5 to 33 percent 3-point shooting last season), and he's with a team that perfectly fits his uptempo, ball-moving style of play. Defensively, he and Jrue Holiday compose a long, stout backcourt which should create problems for opponents.
As we saw with Ingram, playing with LeBron presented its own challenges for Ball. Last season, Ball's time of possession dropped from 5.2 minutes per game as a rookie to 3.4, toward the bottom of the league for guards averaging at least 30 minutes per game. The bottom line is that Ball should have the chance to run his own show in a smaller market with much less pressure -- and for some extra motivation, he's already.
Parker signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Bulls last offseason, but the fit was never quite right with Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and Bobby Portis all in the fold. He was then traded to the tankfest in Washington, where he played exactly zero meaningful minutes, leading to the Wizards declining the second-year option. While his defense and 3-point shooting have been suspect, you can't deny Parker's offensive production. Being on a young, exciting team with a clear vision should only help him carve out a meaningful role for a franchise hoping to regain relevancy. He's never played alongside a point guard with Trae Young's vision, which should help him get much cleaner looks instead of having to consistently create his own offense.
Parker took a massive pay cut from last year's salary to join the Hawks at $6.5 million, and with a player option for next year he'll be looking to prove himself for the 2020 offseason's shallow free-agent class. It's hard to believe, but Parker is still just 24 years old.
Wright already kind of broke out toward the end of last season after being traded from the Raptors to the Memphis Grizzlies in the Marc Gasol deal, but it was just a 26-game sample. The Mavs brought him in on a three-year deal to join their young core of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis, and he seems to be a perfect fit given his size and ability to play both guard positions. Wright is a strong defender, and averaged 12.2 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.3 assists with the Grizzlies, including three triple-doubles in the final four games of last season. His 3-point shooting was down last year, but it's not hard to imagine him getting back to the 36 percent he shot over the first three seasons of his career, particularly given the looks he'll get with so much attention being paid to Doncic and Porzingis.
Grant seems like an absolutely perfect fit with the Nuggets, who should contend for the top seed out West once again. The 24-year-old was a sneaky Most Improved Player candidate last year with the Thunder, bumping up his scoring average by 5.2 points while jumping 10 percentage points in 3-point accuracy to an impressive 39 percent (45 percent in the Thunder's first-round playoff loss to Portland). The idea of the athletic Grant working off of back-cuts with point-center Nikola Jokic is drool-worthy for Denver fans, and he should help their transition game with his speed and finishing ability. That's not even to mention the defensive end where, at 6-foot-9, his length and switchability make him a crucial asset. Grant probably won't be an All-Star, but he should thrive in his new system and could have a breakout season.
OK, so this is a bit of a stretch. Jackson has looked pretty mediocre in his first two NBA seasons, showing glimpses of productivity but overall seeming relatively clueless on both ends. But he's exactly the type of player who could thrive in a new environment, especially considering he's coming from Phoenix -- not exactly a bastion of player development. Memphis will be one of the worst teams in the league, but they took a chance on the former No. 4 overall pick as a 21-year-old hoping he can mesh with their young franchise players, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Ja Morant (Jaren, Ja, Josh? The Triple-J Ranch is moving to Memphis!). As a 34-year-old first-year head coach from the Mike Budenholzer family tree, Taylor Jenkins could help bring out something in Jackson, who clearly has the physical tools to be a good NBA player.
Yes, the Knicks' roster lists five power forwards (not joking), but Portis should be able to carve out a niche despite the traffic jam at the position for one reason and one reason only -- the guy can put the ball in the basket. Used mainly as a spark off the bench with the Bulls, Portis started 22 of 28 games after being traded to the Wizards last season and put up per-36 minute averages of 18.7 points and 11.3 rebounds while shooting 40 percent from the 3-point line. He might come off the bench with the Knicks given his positional redundancy with Julius Randle, but Portis should be able to get near the 30-minute mark on most nights, a jump from the 26 he averaged last year. With the extra minutes his production should increase, which will endear him to Knicks fans and put him on the basketball radar for a much wider audience.
This might be wishful thinking, but it's impossible not to root for a return to form from Thomas, who has yet to make a significant impact on the court since being dealt from the Boston Celtics after an All-NBA season in 2016-17. With John Wall out for all of next season, Thomas seized the opportunity to play a major role for the Wizards -- possibly as their starting point guard. The chip on Thomas' shoulder has ballooned to gargantuan proportions after two injury-riddled seasons, and he said he wants to use this season to prove he can still "play at a high level." The Wizards project to be one of the worst teams in the league, so Thomas should have every opportunity for a feel-good, comeback season.
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