Five NBA players poised to break out in 2023, including Knicks’ Quentin Grimes and Thunder’s Jalen Williams
The flipping of the calendar from December to January affords a new opportunity for players from across the league’s landscape to make their mark. Here’s a look at five players who will look to build off of the momentum they’ve established so far this season and parlay that into a breakout year in 2023.
Quinten Grimes started in just six games as a rookie last season, and he also began this season in a reserve role. But, in late November, he was shifted into a starting spot, and he has done his best to take advantage of the opportunity. He’s averaging career highs across the board and has had three 20-plus point performances since being inserted into the first five. He’s a prototypical wing in today’s NBA, as he can space the floor on offense, and he’s shown real promise as a perimeter defender.
It’s not a complete coincidence that the Knicks went on a season-long eight-game winning streak shortly after the move to start Grimes was made (although they’ve recently come back down to Earth a bit). New York’s top two lineups statistically both feature Grimes, and he has the third-best efficiency differential on the team behind Mitchell Robinson and Immanuel Quickley, per Cleaning the Glass. In 2023, his role could continue to swell as he continues to come into his own as a player.
Jalen Williams hasn’t received the same amount of hype and attention as some of the other players drafted ahead of him in the talented 2022 NBA Draft, but he has quietly been having a solid rookie season in Oklahoma City. On the season he’s averaging 11.2 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while shooting over 50 percent from the field. Though he needs to improve his 3-point percentage (28 percent on the season), he has shown some real touch around the rim, where he’s finishing 71 percent of his shots. His quick bounce and athleticism help there.
His role early in the season fluctuated between starter and reserve, but he has been a steady starter over the past couple of weeks while playing nearly 30 minutes per game and he has appeared to grow increasingly comfortable out on the floor. In the latest edition of our Rookie Rankings, Jasmyn Wimbish had this to say about Williams’ upward trajectory:
He has such a great feel for the space around him on the floor, and likely already knew that he could pull off that spin move and elevate for the dunk, which is probably why he was smiling while running back on defense. Williams continues to shine the more opportunity he’s given to create for the Thunder, and if he continues in this direction it can only lead to good things for his career and OKC’s future.
There’s a lot of young talent in Oklahoma City, but in 2023 Williams should have the opportunity to really distinguish himself.
After one season in Phoenix and three in Memphis, De’Anthony Melton is thriving during his first season with the Sixers. He has started in 24 games due to injuries to James Harden and Tyrese Maxey, and he’s averaging career highs across the board: 11.8 points, 3.2 assists, 4.7 rebounds and two steals in 30.2 minutes per game. He’s proven to be an ideal complement to Harden and Joel Embiid as a player capable of providing reliable floor-spacing on one end and tough perimeter defense on the other. An active defender, Melton is second in the NBA in steals per game and third in deflections.
He’s played so well in the starting spot for Philadelphia that there’s a case to be made that he should continue to start even when the team is at full strength. Even if Melton is ultimately bumped back to a reserve role, he will still play an integral role in any success the Sixers are able to attain for the remainder of the current campaign. In the process, he’ll have the opportunity to continue to establish himself as one of the league’s better two-way players.
Sengun is one of the more promising young big men in the entire NBA. He’s averaging 14.3 points, 8.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists in 26.4 minutes per game while shooting 55 percent from the floor for Houston. He has solid footwork and good touch around the rim, and he has already improved as a passer from his rookie to his sophomore season. As a result, he has caught the eye of some of the league’s top players with his promising play.
“The man is talented,” reigning NBA MVP Nikola Jokic said of Sengun. “He can pass the ball, post up, has the touch and is a good finisher around the rim. I think they should play through him more.”
Don’t worry, Nikola. As long as Sengun continues to play at the level that he has so far this season, more minutes — and recognition — are in his future.
Brandon Ingram’s extended absence due to injury has opened up an additional on-court opportunity for Trey Murphy III this season, and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s playing twice as many minutes per game as he did as a rookie last season, and all of his counting stats have doubled as a result. He’s shooting 42 percent from beyond the arc on the season, which makes him an excellent fit alongside guys like Zion Williamson and CJ McCollum, as he serves to space the floor for them. He also has the requisite size and athleticism to be an impact defender, and he’s making strides on that end.
Even if Murphy returns to the bench when Ingram returns, he has clearly established himself as an important piece of the rotation in New Orleans, and he could be in store for a big 2023 as a result.