Who’s This Year’s Donovan Mitchell? 10 NBA Rookie Breakout Candidates For 2018-19


The NBA season is right around the corner.

Every new season raises questions. Who is going to win the championship? What about the MVP award? Who are the next breakout stars? Will there be any busts from the draft?

Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell shocked the NBA world last season by breaking onto the scene and leading a Gordon Hayward-less team to the second round of the playoffs. The under-hyped Louisville product exceeded all expectations en route to finishing second in the Rookie of the Year race behind Ben Simmons while averaging a rookie-best 20.5 points per game.

Will there be a rookie this season who can match Mitchell’s Cinderella campaign? Let’s count down the 10 most notable newcomers to keep your eye on:

10. Michael Porter Jr., Forward, Denver Nuggets
Porter has the talent to be right at the top of this list, but there are questions surrounding his durability. The 20-year-old’s ailing back forced him to miss all but three games during his lone season at Missouri. Porter was projected to be a top-five pick before his injury because of his sheer scoring ability. If healthy, Porter not only could make a major impact on a Nuggets team that lacks pure scoring at the small forward position but also could be a Rookie of the Year candidate.

9. Miles Bridges, Forward, Charlotte Hornets
The 2017-18 Wooden Award finalist enters the season as a strong bench piece for the Hornets, but eventually could find his way into the starting line up. Bridges showed he could compete at an NBA level throughout the preseason, averaging 12.4 points over 24.8 minutes per game. The Michigan State product even dropped 23 points in a matchup with the Boston Celtics. The main question surrounding Bridges is his playing time. Once he adjusts and earns more time he could be a major contributor for a Hornets team looking for a spark.

8. Kevin Knox, Forward, New York Knicks
New York fans booed when Knox was picked, but the ex-Kentucky Wildcat could end up playing a large role on the Knicks this season. In his lone season at Kentucky, Knox had a solid all-around campaign, averaging 15.4 points and 5.4 rebounds while shooting 34.1 percent from three. With star forward Kristaps Porzingis set to miss a chunk of time while he recovers from a torn ACL, Knox could see an uptick in playing time. If he is able to produce for the Knicks similar to what he did for Kentucky, New York fans most likely won’t be booing by the end of the season.

7. Jaren Jackson Jr., Forward, Memphis Grizzlies
The No. 4 pick in the 2017-18 draft looks poised to have a solid rookie campaign. Throughout the preseason, Jackson averaged 13.4 points over 20.4 minutes per game while seeing time as both a starter and reserve. The Michigan State product should see a large role on the Grizzlies this season while learning from the great Marc Gasol. He may not put up numbers right off the bat, but once he settles into his role, the sharp-shooting big man could be lethal.

6. Colin Sexton, Guard, Cleveland Cavaliers
With LeBron James no longer donning a Cavaliers jersey, there is a large spot in the offense freed up waiting for Sexton. The University of Alabama product is in a situation most similar to Mitchell’s; in both cases a star forward left the team via free agency, leaving a glaring hole in the offense. With the loss of James, Sexton is going to have a much heavier load to carry from the very beginning, which could lead to inflated stats and potentially put Sexton in the mix for the Rookie of the Year award.

5. Mohamed Bamba, Center, Orlando Magic
Although the Magic have a crowded frontcourt, it is entirely possible that Bamba proves he is the team’s most skilled big man. Bamba dominated in college with 12.9 points and 10.5 boards per game. Although he won’t be head and shoulders taller than most defenders anymore, Bamba has been working to add a jump shot to his repertoire that could extend the floor and make him a huge threat.

4. Marvin Bagley III, Forward, Sacramento Kings
The Kings are another team with a crowded frontcourt, but Bagley is similar to Bamba in the sense that he may already be the most talented big man on his squad. Bagley did it all for Duke last season, averaging 21 points and 11.1 rebounds per game and shooting an impressive 39.7 percent from three. He brings a rare blend of size and shooting ability to a young Kings team that could look to build the offense around his strengths. Bagley could see ample opportunities starting game one and is another guy that potentially could be in contention for the Rookie of the Year award come June.

3. Trae Young, Guard, Atlanta Hawks
The sharp-shooting guard out of Oklahoma will have the greenest of green lights for the lowly Hawks this season. As he showed through his lone college season, Young can shoot and distribute with the best of them, and he already has displayed those skills throughout the preseason. Young averaged 15 points and 5.4 assists per game while shooting 37 percent from three during the preseason, with his biggest highlight being a game-tying 3-pointer from just inside half court as time expired against the San Antonio Spurs. Young is going to have plenty of opportunity and shots as the offense will revolve around him. So, if he can live up to the hype, he potentially could put up very similar numbers to Mitchell’s from last season.

2. Deandre Ayton, Center, Phoenix Suns
The 2017-18 Karl Malone Award winner could have the best career of the many big men from the 2018 draft. Ayton was a monster at the University of Arizona, and it already has begun to carry over to the NBA. Throughout the preseason, Ayton averaged a solid 17.5 points and 8.5 rebounds over just 25 minutes per game. He has drawn Shaquille O’Neal comparisons and if he can play anything like the Big Cactus this season, he potentially could put up huge numbers With Devin Booker missing time to start the season, Ayton is going to be fed the ball early and often and could see huge numbers throughout his freshman season.

1. Luka Doncic, Guard, Dallas Mavericks
The 2017-18 EuroLeague MVP has universally been touted as the most NBA-ready player coming out of the draft. Doncic has reaffirmed this point with very solid play throughout the preseason, averaging 14.7 points, 4.7 boards and four assists over 29 minutes per game. The Slovenian guard should be stuffing the stat sheet for the Mavs this season as he is now the face and future of the franchise. Expectations are sky-high for Doncic and he will have every opportunity this season to overtake Mitchell.

Thumbnail photo via Jerome Miron/USA TODAY Sports Images

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