This year has been filled with breakout players and guys who have seized their opportunities – whether it be second chances in the league or getting a crack at rotation minutes and immediately ballin’. The below guys have caught my eye all season long and deserve some serious praise and respect for the work they’ve done to get to this point in their careers.
Dennis Smith Jr. – Charlotte Hornets
It’s been an incredible year in Charlotte for Dennis Smith Jr. – emerging as one of the best perimeter defenders in the league and finding his role on this Hornets team. But his path has been anything but sunshine and rainbows as he’s bounced around the league struggling to find his footing, which makes this success that much sweeter to watch.
Smith Jr. has turned into one of the best point of attack defenders in the league, embracing the role of a pitbull-like presence on defense and excelling at it. DSJ has graded out as a top 10 defender in almost every single advanced metric this year, whether it be rated as the 2nd best defender in the whole league (EPM) or a consistent top 10 defender (RAPTOR). Dennis Smith Jr. will be a free agent this summer and secure the bag from some lucky team looking for a game-changer on the defensive end.
Isaiah Joe – Oklahoma City Thunder
Getting cut in the preseason is always hard, but MAD respect to Isaiah Joe for joining the Thunder and becoming an immediate contributor and solidifying his role with the team for the foreseeable future. Going from the bench/G-League with the 76ers to becoming one of the most dangerous snipers in the game has been a great story.
When talking about best shooters in the league, Isaiah Joe’s name has to be thrown in the list now as he is a versatile shooter who can hit 3’s off spot ups, screens, hand-offs, you name it. When you have a high-volume shooter who can hit 40%+ from 3, you know you have something special, and that is exactly what OKC is feeling.
Jordan Goodwin – Washington Wizards
Coming into the league as a relative unknown is always hard for players who are trying to make a name for themselves, but Jordan Goodwin has made his way to being a top Two-Way contract player and built a reputation as a strong defender (top 50 defender in the league according to FiveThirtyEight) with smart offensive play.
The Saint Louis alum came onto the scene and earned himself the sought-after Two-Way contract with the Wizards and has impressed through out the year. Goodwin’s minutes have been inconsistent through out the year but has developed into a do-it-all kind of guard that can consistently put out a performance of 10 points, 5 assists, and 5 rebounds off the bench with intense defensive pressure. Every single team needs a guy like Goodwin on their roster.
Kris Dunn – Utah Jazz
In a similar path to Dennis Smith Jr., Kris Dunn has fought his way back onto an NBA roster this year after spending the first part of the year in the G-League. Dunn has always been known as a strong defender but injuries and inconsistent shooting/playing time pushed Dunn to the edges of the league.
But Dunn fought back and tore up the G-League with the Capital City Go-Go’s and then played his way through 2 (!!) 10-Day Contracts with the Jazz and then finally securing a multi-year deal. That is such respectable levels of grind and you gotta love it. Now, it looks like Dunn not only has found a roster spot, but he’s turning into a possible starter with the Jazz next year has he has posted some seriously strong numbers for these guys in addition to his stellar defensive play.
Aaron Nesmith – Indiana Pacers
After a couple of years of playing behind Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in Boston, Aaron Nesmith found himself with the opportunity of a fresh start in Indiana and has turned into a LEGIT 3&D wing for the Pacers.
Nesmith came into the league known as a sharpshooter from Vanderbilt and this season he has met those expectations and then some as he has stepped up as a small-ball 4 for the Pacers with his floor-spacing shooting and pretty elite athleticism to boot. Even with Nesmith playing out of position this year, he has still emerged as a breakout player that will secure a pretty nice contract in the near future.