Luka Doncic, Jayson Tatum lead 11 NBA players who have improved their stock with breakout 2019-20 seasons
We've seen plenty of players take a leap during this shortened season
The NBA is a league of adjustments, and some of the most entertaining adjustments to watch are those that players make as they progress in their careers. Adding a skill, confidence, consistency or all three can take a player to another level in a span as short as one season.
We have seen several players make the leap during the 2019-20 season (as the voting for Most Improved Player will likely reflect), and they came at all different levels. Players who were barely in the rotation have suddenly become essential to their teams. Some have fulfilled the potential we all thought was there but had yet to tap into. And others have surprised us by reaching heights that were never supposed to be in their future, and they've done it quickly.
Here's a look at 11 NBA players who have made drastic leaps in status this season, organized by their level of progression.
Star to Superstar
Doncic already looks like the future face of the NBA, ready to take the throne once the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry have retired or passed their primes. And it's not just projection with Doncic, either. With a historic season (only Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook have put up season averages of 28 points, nine rebounds and eight assists per game), Doncic is a top-five MVP candidate and has led the Mavericks to secure playoff position. In his rookie year, Doncic was in the 66th percentile in offensive efficiency (including assists) at 1.249 points per possession, per Synergy Sports Technology. This season he's skyrocketed to 1.346, which puts him in the 85th percentile. More than the numbers, virtually every NBA player praises Doncic's skill set and feel for the game, while fans already idolize him with a . In his second NBA season, at just 21 years old, Doncic has become an NBA superstar, plain and simple.
Good to Star
Tatum's ascent has been well-documented, as he has clearly established himself as the No. 1 option on a deep, talented Celtics roster. In his third season, he's improved his scoring by nearly eight points per game and is shooting 40 percent 3-pointers while making nearly twice as many per game as he did in each of his first two seasons. He's also improved his efficiency in the pick-and roll, partly due to his impressive pull-up 3-point shooting. Tatum is in the 91st percentile (1.041 points per possession) as a pick-and-roll ball-handler, per Synergy, while last season he was in the 71st percentile (0.91 points per possession). An analytic dream compared to last season, Tatum is averaging fewer mid-range shots, more shots at the rim, more free throws and more 3-pointers, and has clearly made the jump from a good rotation player to a star.
After Ingram came over from the Lakers in the Anthony Davis trade last summer, we weren't sure if he was even going to be part of the Pelicans' future plans. Needless to say he's secured that spot with an All-Star season, and now helps form what looks like a devastating one-two scoring punch with exciting rookie Zion Williamson. Ingram improved his scoring by six points per game, along with his assists and rebounds, but his 3-point shooting has truly taken his offensive game to the next level. He's nearly tripled his previous career high in 3-pointers made while shooting 38.7 percent, and has made huge strides as an off-ball weapon. Last season Ingram was in the 18th percentile with 0.847 points per possession in catch-and-shoot situations, per Synergy. This season that has swelled to 1.191 points per possession, putting him in the 76th percentile. A restricted free agent this summer, Ingram will likely get a max or near-max offer, and it will be surprising if the Pelicans don't match it.
We thought Siakam made "the leap" last season, when he took home Most Improved Player honors after increasing his scoring average by nearly 10 points, but he's taken another monumental step this year after Kawhi Leonard's departure. Siakam has upped his scoring average another seven points to 23.6 per game, 15th in the league, while drawing considerably more attention from opposing defenses. His shooting percentage has taken a hit with the extra responsibility, but he's one of the main reasons the Raptors have exceeded all expectations this season. One of the biggest improvements in Siakam's game is his off-the-dribble 3-point shooting -- he attempted just eight all of last season, and has made almost one per game this season at a 34 percent clip, per NBA.com. It's clear that Siakam is, at worst, a strong No. 2 option on a title-contending team, and at his current age (26) and improvement rate, he could easily progress into a No. 1.
Adebayo's emergence as an All-Star goes much deeper than him simply getting more minutes due to Hassan Whiteside being traded to Portland. Not only is he averaging a double-double, but he's also become one of the team's best playmakers with 5.1 assists per game. He'd be a tremendous player just based on his offensive contributions, but when you factor in defense he goes to another level. He's in the 75th percentile per Synergy, allowing 0.876 points per possession defensively, and his impact goes well beyond numbers. His ability to switch on the perimeter as well as protect the rim is the key to Miami's defense. At just 22 years old, Adebayo is one of the brightest young stars in the league.
Good to Very Good
VanVleet has carried over all the momentum he developed from last year's championship run to turn in a career season, increasing his scoring average over six and a half points while also improving his assists, rebounds and 3-point percentage. He's become one of the best perimeter defenders in the league despite his lack of size, partly evidenced by his 1.9 steals per game, good for fourth in the NBA. Sure he's getting more minutes than last season, but that doesn't always lead to improved, efficient production. VanVleet has become one of the top free agents in the 2020 class and has likely driven up his asking price with a breakout season.
All last season, the Clippers were telling anyone who would listen how much they loved Gilgeous-Alexander, and now we're seeing why. Traded to the Thunder as the centerpiece of the Paul George deal, SGA has immediately become the leading scorer on an OKC team that has surprised most with the ninth-best record in the NBA. He's averaging 19.3 points, up from 10.8 last season and has more than doubled his rebounding average at 6.1 per game. Despite ceding most of the playmaking to future Hall of Famer Chris Paul, Gilgeous-Alexander has still matched last season's average with 3.3 assists per game. His mid-range and runner game make him an excellent pick-and-roll scorer (83rd percentile, per Synergy), and he's also increased his 3-point volume on a respectable 35 percent. At 21 years old, Gilgeous-Alexander gives the Thunder a versatile piece to either win now or build for the future.
Below Average to Good
Nobody would blame you if you couldn't name what team Graham played for before this season. A former Big 12 Player of the Year at Kansas, he averaged a modest 4.7 points in less than 15 minutes per game as a rookie last year. He's seized the extra opportunity with a rebuilding Charlotte team to become their main offensive weapon, averaging 18.2 points and 7.5 assists per game on 37 percent 3-point shooting. Graham's also done this on tremendous 3-point volume, as he's set to join James Harden, Damian Lillard and Stephen Curry as the only players in NBA history to average over 18 points, 7.5 assists and 3.5 3-pointers per game. The 39.7 percent 2-point shooting needs to improve, but it's clear that Graham is a foundational piece for a Hornets team looking to gain some momentum for the future.
Robinson went from playing in only 15 NBA games last season to having one of the most prolific 3-point shooting seasons in NBA history for one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders. Talk about a glow-up. Are you ready for the list of NBA players who have made more than 3.7 3-pointers per game on 44 percent shooting? Stephen Curry and Duncan Robinson. That's it. (Curry made 5.1 per game on 45 percent shooting in 2015-16 ... simply absurd). Robinson's marksmanship has made him one of the most efficient offensive players in the league at 1.249 points per possession, per Synergy, and he's especially flourished in hand-off situations, where he's in the 97th percentile at 1.348 points per possession. Any way you slice it, Robinson is an elite NBA shooter and a vital part of the Heat's offensive attack.
If we're going to laud Robinson's shooting accomplishments, we have to mention Bertans, who is having a similarly stellar season from beyond the arc. Unleashed in Washington, Bertans is shooting nearly twice as many 3-pointers as he did last season with the Spurs, while staying right around the same accuracy. His 3.7 3s per game on 42 percent shooting puts him alongside Robinson and Curry (three times) as the only players in NBA history to do it. Bertans has one of the quickest triggers in the league, and at 6-foot-10 with a high release, he rarely has his shot affected by defenders. He has increased his scoring average this season from 8.0 to 15.4 points per game, and is set to get a strong contract as an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Those in the fantasy community are familiar with Wood's per-minute statistical heroics, but in the second half of the season he's proven that he can sustain those numbers in greater minutes. In the 13 games after Andre Drummond was traded to the Cavaliers in early February, Wood averaged 22.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and a block in 34.2 minutes per game while hitting 40 percent of his 3-pointers (1.7 per game). He also appears that he could be more than just a good stats/bad team guy, as the Pistons are an overwhelming plus-27.3 in net rating with him on the court over those 13 games. They're still bad with him on the court (minus-1.6), but they're atrocious when Wood is on the bench (minus-28.9 ... yikes). A 6-foot-10, 24-year old who can shoot 40 percent from 3-point range on decent volume is a hot commodity in the league, and Wood has proven, albeit in a short sample size, that he's a legitimate rotation player -- maybe more -- after bouncing around for his first NBA five seasons. He'll be an intriguing player to watch on the unrestricted free agent market this offseason.
CBS Sports HQ Newsletter
We bring sports news that matters to your inbox, to help you stay informed and get a winning edge.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The mural was created at an elementary school in Gradiška, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Young reportedly dropped 43 points in front of a packed gym in Oklahoma
A rundown of what to know about how the NBA Draft is affected by moving to October
And don't think we forgot about Stephen Curry's off-the-dribble prowess
The biggest winner of the NBA's return to Disney is a team that won't even be playing there
The risk of COVID-19 is much greater for those over 65 years old