When we talk about an NBA player taking a “leap” it could refer to a number of things. Depending on the player it could be taking a leap to become an All-Star, or jumping from solid role player to nightly starter. For some, it may mean taking that leap to solidify your place in the league. It’s a general term used to describe when a player has really arrived in the NBA, and it’s often associated with a player’s third year as a pro. It’s not a hard and fast guideline, but it’s a good measuring stick to see how a player’s doing after two seasons of getting acclimated.
Think of Paul George when he went from averaging 12.1 points a night in his second season with the Indiana Pacers to putting up nearly 18 points a night and earning an All-Star nod in his third year. Draymond Green went from solid bench player in his second year to guaranteed starter by Year 3 and doubled his point average.
There are countless examples of the third-year leap, so with that in mind, let’s take a look at five guys entering their third year who are poised to take that leap.
Just to be clear, I’m not expecting Wiseman to put up monster numbers next season, and he’ll have to earn his spot in the rotation after missing so much time. He’s entering a completely different scenario with the Warriors than the one he was drafted into. This team is just fresh off its fourth championship, and it’s not like Wiseman was the missing piece that would’ve gotten them to that end result any sooner. But I do see Wiseman taking a solid leap in his career this season from raw talent to solid rotation player.
It’s fair to question that leap, as many people have already written Wiseman off, especially considering the guy drafted ahead of him and directly behind him are on superstar trajectories with one already earning an All-Star nod. But while Wiseman hasn’t played in an NBA game since his rookie year after missing all of last season due to a torn meniscus, there’s reason to believe that he could be an impact player for the Warriors.
Prior to his knee injury in his rookie season, Wiseman was showing flashes of being a versatile offensive threat. He’s got a smooth jumper that was proving to be automatic from the elbow, and his athleticism gives the Warriors an explosive big in pick-and-roll situations, something they don’t get with a player like Kevon Looney.
Just imagine the Warriors running this pick-and-roll with Curry or Jordan Poole and Wiseman a couple of times a game, which could be virtually unstoppable:
He could thrive in the second unit as a big who can stretch the floor, put the ball on the ground and initiate offense. But aside from his unique offensive skill set, where he might end up being the most useful for Golden State is on the other end of the floor. With Wiseman’s height — seven feet to be exact — he could become a legitimate rim protector and solid rebounder for the Warriors. We saw a bit of that during Wiseman’s Summer League performance, where he was fighting for offensive boards and giving second and third efforts to put points on the board after crashing the glass.
If he buys into this role of staying locked in on defense and rebounding, then the offense will come for Wiseman which will only make the Warriors a more dangerous team to contend with.
I would not be surprised if Haliburton averaged 20 points a game next season. After the Pacers traded Malcolm Brogdon to the Boston Celtics, it should give Haliburton even more of a green light to take control on offense next season, and based on the small sample size we got last season, he should thrive in that role.
Over 26 games in Indiana after being traded from the Sacramento Kings, Haliburton averaged 17.5 points, 9.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds over 26 games, with shooting splits of 50.2/41.6, both of which were career-highs for the young guard. His 1.0 points per possession in the pick-in-roll with the Pacers ranked in the 93rd percentile in the league last season, showing that he’s capable of excelling in a bigger role.
That small sample size with the Pacers last season showed that Haliburton can be a lead facilitator, and his improved 3-point shooting is an encouraging sign that he can be a consistent threat from there going forward. He’s already proven to be a dangerous shot creator who can get to the rim or pull up from mid-range, and he has the length to disrupt shots on defense. Now he’ll be in an environment where he won’t have to concede as much on offense, which should result in a breakout year for the third-year guard.
We saw Achiuwa begin to scratch the surface of his potential during the first round of the playoffs last season against the Philadelphia 76ers. In Game 3 he put up 20 points and six boards, and followed that up with a 17-point, seven-rebound performance in Game 5. He was putting the ball on the deck and showing no fear when attacking Joel Embiid in the paint, though it didn’t always result in a positive ending for the young forward. Embiid asserted his dominance at the rim when Achiuwa tried to attack him, but every so often the young forward caught the All-Star big man on his heels out on the perimeter and blazed past him for a bucket at the rim.
His performance in the postseason was the beginning of what should be a very promising career for Achiuwa, as he falls in line with the lengthy-forward-who-can-defend prototype that the Raptors always seem to be spoiled with. How else could you explain Achiuwa, OG Anunoby, Scottie Barnes and Pascal Siakam all being on the same team? And just like Anunoby and Siakam before him, Achiuwa is next in line to receive recognition for his impressive play.
It’s not just his offense, either. On defense, he’s capable of guarding positions 1-5 and was given the ultimate test in the playoffs by fronting every type of player from the physical dominance of Embiid, to the shiftiness of James Harden. Achiuwa showed a sliver of his potential in the postseason, and if he’s able to build upon that foundation — specifically become a more consistent shooting threat — then I wouldn’t be surprised if he averaged near a double-double next season.
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We’re going to get a whole lot of Devin Vassell next season with the Spurs. When the franchise traded All-Star guard Dejounte Murray to the Atlanta Hawks, it unofficially signified that they were tanking for a chance to land the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, Victor Wembanyama. So that means all the young prospects on the team — including Vassell — will get the opportunity to develop their game with some free reign.
Vassell’s already shown that he can be a threat from 3-point land, knocking down the long ball at a 36.1 percent clip last season. He was primarily used as a catch-and-shoot player on offense, so he hasn’t really been able to fully develop other areas of his offensive game, something that we could see happen in the 2022-23 season. He’ll get a chance to operate more out of pick-and-roll situations, where he’s already shown the ability to utilize screens to score off the dribble, or create space to get his smooth jumper off.
Outside of scoring, where we could see the biggest improvement from Vassell on offense is his passing to create scoring opportunities for teammates. He’s a willing passer, but we could see him improve even more as he gets more comfortable operating with the ball in his hands. On defense, The 21-year-old guard is already becoming a solid defender, using his ridiculous 6-10 wingspan to deflect passes and impact shot selections. So it’s safe to assume that we’ll see some natural growth from him on that end of the floor as well.
We’re going to be talking about how McDaniels is one of the best young defenders in the league next season. The Timberwolves refused to include him in the trade that landed them Rudy Gobert, and for good reason as the 6-9 forward showed signs of being a lockdown defender last season. He’s got the lateral quickness to stay in front of guards on the perimeter, and the size to contend with bigs in the paint.
Oh, and he has a knack for swatting the life out of the ball, whether it’s a big trying to finish an easy basket under the rim, or a guard thinking they can get a floater off with him in the vicinity.
McDaniels will need to stay out of foul trouble to be effective on defense because he won’t be of much use if he’s averaging 3.2 fouls like he did last season. But with Gobert patrolling the paint, McDaniels can act as a free safety, blocking jump shots out on the perimeter knowing a three-time Defensive Player of the Year is behind him protecting the rim.
On offense, he’s shown in spurts that he can be a reliable 3-point threat, and despite having a lanky 6-9 frame he’s shown control when he handles the ball and has a mean crossover to get where he wants to go. He’ll likely be a starter next season after Jarred Vanderbilt was dealt in the Gobert trade, so he’ll have ample opportunity to develop on both ends of the floor. After what he showed in the playoffs last season, where he caused problems on defense and broke out for 24 points in Game 6 against the Memphis Grizzlies, I don’t doubt he’ll rise to the challenge and have a standout year.