12 NBA players who could have breakout seasons in 2021-2022


  • Each NBA season produces a few surprise players.
  • We picked 12 young players ready to leap and make a big impact on the court.
  • Our roster includes players from the Knicks, Nuggets, Spurs, Cavs and more.

A few players come out of the woodwork every NBA season and become key pieces of their teams, fan favorites, and even step into the national spotlight.

Heading into the 2021-22 season, we took a look at 12 players who have the potential to leap and make an impact this season. Most of them are young players who made progress last year and look set to continue growing this season.

Tyrese Maxey, G

Tyrese Maxey dribbles the ball during a match.

Tyrese Maxey.

Images by Matt Slocum / AP

Team: Philadelphia 76ers

Age: 20

To live: 1 year

Statistics 2020-21: 8 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 46.2% FG, 30% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: With Ben Simmons wanting to leave Philadelphia, suddenly there’s a hole in the point guard for the 76ers. After seeing his minutes soar in the playoffs, Maxey played with the starters in training camp. The quick and limp Kentucky guard will look to follow the lead of other Kentucky guards like Jamal Murray, Devin Booker and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander who have all made giant strides in their second seasons.

Nassir Petit, F

Team: Portland Trail Blazers

Age: 21

To live: 2 years

Statistics 2020-21: 5 points, 3 rebounds, 46.7% FG, 35% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Little has caught the attention of the Blazers coaching staff this offseason with his hard work and improvement, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic. The third-year forward told Quick that new Blazers head coach Chauncey Billups wanted him to focus on his role as a 3-and-D player off the bench. Little also said he’s often confused about his role under former head coach Terry Stotts. The Blazers desperately need depth and one of their home players, and Little will have the opportunity to prove himself this season.

Darius garland, L

Team: The Cleveland Cavaliers

Age: 21

To live: 2 years

Statistics 2020-21: 17 points, 2 rebounds, 6 assists, 45.1% FG, 39.5% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Garland has already recorded impressive stats in the NBA, but a third-year jump looks possible. According to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.comGarland is almost “untouchable” for the Cavs, while teammate Collin Sexton has been the subject of trade rumors. The Cavs might see Garland, with his reboundless shooting ability, as deserving of more touches and a better fit in today’s NBA. NBA Veteran Journalist Jackie MacMullan recently said that Garland has a fan in Stephen Curry, who thinks the third-year guard is destined for stardom.

De’Anthony Melton, soloist

De'Anthony Melton is standing with his hands on his hips.

De’Anthony Melton.

Rick Bowmer / AP Images

Team: Memphis Grizzly

Age: 23

To live: 3 years

Statistics 2020-21: 9 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 44% FG, 41% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Melton will be looking to build an important third season in which he increased his percentage by three points from 13 points and became a valuable part of the Grizzlies’ rotation. Known for doing a little of everything, Melton helped the Grizzlies outscore teams by an average of 6 points per 100 possessions while on the ground, the highest score of any regular member of the rotation. With Grayson Allen and Tyus Jones more on the roster, playing time has opened up for Melton this season.

Miles Bridges, F

Team: Charlotte hornets

Age: 23

To live: 3 years

Statistics 2020-21: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 50% FG, 40% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Thanks to his thunderous dunks, Bridges is already fairly established. But he’s more than just a thief. Bridges reached a career high of three last season with 4 attempts per game. He also developed as a passer and played a few more minutes as a small ball center last year, giving some glimpses of a role for Draymond Green in attack. If he makes another jump this year, he could be a marginal All-Star.

Emmanuel Quickley, G.

Emmanuel Quickley

Sarah Stier / Pool Photo / AP Images

Team: New York Knicks

Age: 22

To live: 1 year

Statistics 2020-21: 11 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 40% FG, 39% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Quickley was the surprise of the draft last season and has an obvious way to improve: make more than two points. “IQ,” as it’s called, has a strong float but struggled to complete other hits in the paint, shooting just 40% to two. If he feels more comfortable finishing on the rim, it will unlock his offensive play, which includes a three point distance deep off the dribble. The Knicks simply played better with Quickley on the pitch last year, and he should have the chance to play as a first guard and second guard alongside Kemba Walker and Derrick Rose this season.

Malik Monk, soloist

Team: the Los Angeles Lakers

Age: 23

To live: 4 years

Statistics 2020-21: 12 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 43% FG, 40% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Monk was a somewhat under-the-radar acquisition in the midst of the Lakers’ lively offseason. Although he had a career season last year, Monk never really got a foothold with the Charlotte Hornets. While there are plenty of big names on the Lakers’ roster, there is a gaping hole on the wing in athletics and players who can extend the floor and create their own shot. Monk might not be playing much right away, but the Lakers could possibly have a hard time keeping him off the ground.

Michael Porter Jr., F

Michael Porter Jr. runs during a game.

Michael Porter Jr.

Carlos Osorio / AP Images

Team: Denver Nuggets

Age: 23

To live: 3 years

Statistics 2020-21: 19 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 54% FG, 45% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Porter as a “breakout” candidate is fair to laugh at, given his success already in the league, but he probably has another leap to make – from very good to excellent. The recent recipient of a five-year, $ 207 million extension, the Nuggets will rely heavily on Porter this year to fall behind as Jamal Murray recovers from a torn ACL. After the All-Star break last season, Porter shot a record 56% from the field and 46% from three, averaging 23 points per game in 33 minutes per game. If he keeps up that pace, he could be a Western Conference All-Star.

Saddiq Bey, F

Team: Detroit Pistons

Age: 22

To live: 1 year

Statistics 2020-21: 12 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 40% FG, 38% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Much of the attention in Detroit will be given to No.1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and 7th overall pick from last year, Killian Hayes. But it’s Bey who just wrapped up an All-Rookie team season and could thrive with a year under her belt. Bey has shown improvement in ball handling and shot creation in the Las Vegas Summer League to complement her 3-and-D skills. With a better team around him, Bey could take a leap this year.

Kevin Porter Jr., G

Team: Houston rockets

Age: 21

To live: 2 years

Statistics 2020-21: 17 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists, 43% FG, 31% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: Porter appears to have found a home in Houston where he was allowed to test his skills at will. It wasn’t always pretty for Porter – the Rockets were beaten by 12 points per 100 possessions with him on the ground last season – but there were some shining moments, like a 50-point explosion and 11 assists against the Bucks in April. Porter needs to master his game a bit and contribute to the victory, but in a young and talented Rockets team with no expectations, he will have the opportunity to hone his skills.

Keldon Johnson, F.

Keldon Johnson dribbles the ball down the field.

Keldon Johnson.

Eric Gay / AP Images

Team: San Antonio Spurs

Age: 21

To live: 2 years

Statistics 2020-21: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 48% FG, 33% 3FG

Outlook 2021-22: With the departures of DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, Johnson is going to have a chance to shine for Spurs. The third-year forward was a surprise selection for the Olympic team (Gregg Popovich, team coach, no doubt helped) and this experience can help young players make a jump. Johnson crashes into the paint with borderline reckless abandon, but has other parts of his game to unlock. Spurs are going to need someone to score the ball and make plays, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see Johnson move from role player to top man this year.

Daniel Gafford, C.

Team: Wizards of Washington

Age: 23

To live: 2 years

Statistics 2020-21: 7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 block, 68% FG

Outlook 2021-22: Gafford came on at the end of the season last year amid injuries to the Wizards’ big men and has proven to be effective. Wizards general manager Tommy Shepard has since suggested that Gafford would be the starter. A tall, athletic man who runs on rims, Gafford offers vertical spacing and rim protection and looks capable of producing plenty of double doubles for a deep Wizards team.