All-Star Analysts

Three players poised for a breakout season

Published September 26, 2023, 9:00 AMIsaac Go

All-Star Analyst Isaac Go highlights three third-year players who could hit their stride this season.

The wait for NBA basketball is coming to a close. We had the excitement of free agency, the hype of the draft, and the FIBA World Cup to satisfy our basketball cravings, but the NBA is different. 

Today, I’m picking the top three third-year NBA players that I am personally looking forward to seeing as I believe they will have a huge impact on their teams and the league this season. 

The reason why I chose incoming third-year players is because usually, this is the time when they hit their stride and transition from being good to great. 

Alperen Sengun

The Turkish big had quite a year last season. There was an incredible jump in terms of minutes per game (20.7 to 28.9) and starts (13 to 72), which led to a significant increase in stats while maintaining his efficiency across the board. Now the team's success didn’t improve just as his stats did, but that is not the focus of Houston in the past two seasons. The team wanted to acquire young talent and give them the chance to develop against NBA competition. The young Sengun showed that he was a savant with the ball, capable of creating scoring opportunities for himself and others. He looked like a poor man’s Nikola Jokic out there for most of the time. There are a lot of things that coaches can do with a big man who can pass. 

Sengun will have a big year because of the new scenario in Houston. First, a couple of young players that he was competing for minutes with—Kenyon Martin Jr., Usman Garuba, and Bruno Fernando—are gone. They aren’t players that have the star potential as Sengun, but the minutes that they used up did affect Penguin’s overall play. You’d expect Sengun to play more than 30 minutes a game with the likes of Jalen Green and Jabari Smith Jr. especially since they viewed him as a cornerstone piece of the team. This season, the Rockets do have some frontcourt depth, adding Jock Landale and Jeff Green and re-signing Boban Marjanovic, but none of them are expected to play heavy roles. Landale would probably have the biggest role as a backup. 

Second, the team wants to win. Acquiring Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks in free agency and the hiring of Ime Udoka as head coach points to the team wanting to focus on winning, and Sengun is going to be a crucial part of that. I do fear that having Jalen Green on top of adding Brooks and VanVleet could reduce the touches that Sengun gets. There’s also a chance that Coach Udoka opts to play small with Brooks at the four and Smith at the five. These are potential hazards for the young big, but I do believe that he has the skills and the experience to overcome them and have a very productive and fun NBA season. 

Josh Giddey

The Aussie has an old soul in a young man’s body. His style of play is extremely straightforward and basic, but that doesn’t mean it's any less effective. What he lacks for style on the court, he makes up for it with substance. 

In his past two seasons, Giddey is averaging 15-8-6. With the Boomers in the recent World Cup, Giddey put up 20-5-4 per game which shows that he can put up numbers across the board and be able to contribute in many ways. 

I do understand that there are hurdles that would prevent him from having a crazy Year 3. For one, two players are joining the squad who could affect his production. Last year’s No. 2 pick, Chet Holmgren, is finally healthy and he could steal a couple of rebounds and shot attempts. Fortunately, Chet isn’t a high-usage player so he won’t dominate the ball a ton. The other player is former Euro League MVP Vasilije Micic. We don’t know how he is going to adjust to the NBA game but he must be good for the Thunder to wait almost nine years for him to come over after drafting him in 2014. He could potentially steal a lot of usage and playing time especially if Giddey doesn’t perform, but I have no fears about that. Giddey has already shown the ability to play with ball-dominant scorers (Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Patty Mills) and still be able to contribute. He loves to crash the glass and create for his teammates which are positives that a coach cannot deny. 

Giddey is also improving as a foul shooter and 3-point shooter. There was a bump in efficiency from his rookie year to his second year following the advice of Thunder assistant coach Chip Engeland, who is known for improving the shooting of Kawhi Leonard and Tony Parker. Working another year with him could allow Giddey to continue his improvement. There’s also the value of adding another ball-handler in Micic which could actually allow for Giddey to have more spot-up opportunities rather than having to create his own shot. Plus, I feel that OKC will be looking to push more towards a higher seed after losing in the Play-In tournament which could mean that the gang in OKC will have to play much better than they did last year.  

Cade Cunningham

My fantasy team got hurt last year when Cade was shut down for the season after dealing with a lingering shin injury. He was expected to make another jump in his sophomore year and in the 12 games that he played, there were small bumps across all stats and volume which showed that he was adapting to an increased workload well. Taken first overall in the 2021 draft, Cade was poised to be the savior of Detroit, to help the city climb out of the bottom and fight for a playoff seat. The first two years didn’t show promise with the team finishing below 25 wins in both years. However, there is a lot of optimism now coming into the 2023-2024 season. 

During his stint with the US Select team, Cade was arguably the best player in that camp. There was even an offer for him to join the main squad, but he felt it would be best for him to spend the summer improving his game.  In the scrimmages that were shown, Cade dominated. His change of speed and composure under pressure showed his maturity on the court. He also displayed a lot of chemistry with fellow Piston Jalen Duren as they connected on a lot of pick-and-rolls and lobs. Having those early repetitions against great talent shows that his leg is healthy and ready to go. 

The team also appointed Monty Williams as their new head coach. We saw the magic that he did in New Orleans with Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday and again in Phoenix with Devin Booker, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul, and Deandre Ayton. We know Williams is an excellent head coach and will be able to draw out the best in this young team. 

This team has a lot of youth and talent with guys like Ausar Thompson, Jaden Ivey, James Wiseman, and the aforementioned Jalen Duren. They also have some veterans in Monte Morris, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Harris, and Alec Burks. I don’t expect this team to contend for a playoff spot this season but expect Cade to have a revenge year as the engine that will drive this team after being robbed of his sophomore year.

All-Star Analyst Feature
Philippine basketball personalities offering their insights on relevant NBA topics specially tailored for Filipino fans.