Every NBA fan knows how to keep tabs on their favorite star players when they’re on the court.
However, heading into next season there are some players flying under the radar that are worth paying attention to. This week at Basketball Insiders, we’re going to give you, the fan, a division-by-division rundown of which players could come out of their shells next season and catch your eye.
After already tackling the Central Division, next up are six players from the suddenly intriguing Atlantic Division.
So, while the stars in Boston and Toronto are running the division and the unicorn’s in New York and Philadelphia are making headlines, these players have the opportunity to get the job done without the spotlight.
Isaiah Whitehead — Brooklyn Nets
Entering his second season with his hometown Brooklyn Nets, Isaiah Whitehead is looking to build off his solid rookie campaign as a key bench contributor.
After playing in 73 games last season, and starting 26 of them, Whitehead got a legitimate taste of the NBA life. There were some good and bad moments for the rookie point guard, as is the case for most rookies, but overall the Seton Hall product displayed some solid playmaking and scoring skills.
With the addition of players like D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe who can score off of the ball, Whitehead should be able to seize the opportunity off of the bench next season to help make plays with the elevated talent that will be around him.
By adding a full NBA offseason under his belt, and a familiarity of what he long pro schedule feels like, Whitehead can hopefully improve his shooting percentages from the field. After being known as a long ball threat in college, Whitehead connected on just 29 percent of his three-pointers during his rookie season.
The Nets have a lot of improved talent heading into next season; with the correct preparation, Whitehead could be among that group.
Damyean Dotson — New York Knicks
All of the focus on draft night for the New York Knicks was the point guard the franchise chose eighth overall. However, the shooting guard the team took in the second round could be the rookie that winds up stealing the show.
Damyean Dotson showed an impressive array of shooting and scoring abilities down in the Orlando Summer League that suggested he may be able to pack a punch in the Big Apple next season for the Knicks. During his senior season at the University of Houston, Dotson lit it up on the court, averaging 17.4 points per game while shooting 44 percent from three-point range. He translated that ability immediately to a pro court when he shot 48 percent from deep during summer league on five attempts per game.
The Knicks will be in the headlines no matter what the news is, but if the early returns on Dotson are legitimate, there could be more positive news coming out of Madison Square Garden next season than anticipated.
Richaun Holmes — Philadelphia 76ers
The hottest ticket in the NBA next season is arguably one that features the Philadelphia 76ers.
With Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, and finally players that actually resemble a legitimate supporting cast, the Sixers look primed to make some waves throughout the league.
While all of the focus will be on the big name young stars, a third-year center out of Bowling Green should continue to make plays when he’s called upon.
Richaun Holmes has quietly been the center to survive the front court log jam in Philly over the last two seasons. At 6-foot-10 with impressive bounce and a reliable jump shot, Holmes has the ability to play the perfect backup role to Embiid due to his athleticism and shooting ability.
Alongside Dario Saric in the second unit, Holmes provides a unique ability to play interior defense and block shots (averaging nearly two blocks a game per-36 minutes for his career), while also being able to stretch the floor on the other end for Saric’s playmaking ability (Holmes shot 35 percent from downtown last season).
Last season, in the 17 games that he started, Holmes averaged 14 points and 7.2 rebounds, proving the most effective player on the court between himself and Jahlil Okafor. If (or when) the Sixers decide to move on from Okafor, Holmes should fill the role nicely as a second unit contributor on a team looking to make a playoff push.
C.J. Miles — Toronto Raptors
With the NBA continuing to evolve in a three-point shooting league, the Toronto Raptors made a move this summer to ensure they had more long range shooting for next season.
In a trade that sent Cory Joseph to the Indiana Pacers, C.J. Miles was sent north of the border to Toronto where he’ll play as complement wing player alongside the all-star duo of Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
After connecting on 41 percent of his shots from downtown last season, Miles will look to provide that same level of efficiency beyond the arc next year for the Raptors. For as great of a scorer as DeRozan is, he shoots just 28 percent from long range for his career. Adding Miles to the mix gives Toronto another option in terms of spacing the floor, and opening up the midrange game for the team’s biggest scoring threat.
After moving on from DeMarre Carroll and losing PJ Tucker in free agency, the Raptors had a clear need and plenty of space to bring Miles in for loads of minutes next season.
As the Raptors look to continue their run as an Eastern Conference heavyweight against a depleted field next season, Miles could certainly provide a new threat for opposing teams with the way he shoots the ball.
Jayson Tatum — Boston Celtics
In Boston next season, Gordon Hayward will be the main attraction on the wing for the Celtics. But don’t sleep on the third overall pick out of Duke.
Jayson Tatum put on an absolute show for the Celtics during summer league, displaying an array of advanced offensive moves and a smooth shooting touch that should prove most valuable off the bench for Boston as they gear up to make a run at the Finals.
While all eyes will be on Hayward and the talk will surround the improvement of second year wing Jaylen Brown, Tatum will be in a position to take opponents by surprise when he hits the court.
At just 19 years old, Tatum possesses an offensive repertoire of a player well beyond his years. That, coupled with the level of talent that will surround him, should make Tatum an easy bucket in spurts for the Celtics.
As the season goes on, Tatum should have the look of a key bench scorer for Boston, especially in moments when they want to give Hayward and Isaiah Thomas a chance to grab a breather on the bench.
Despite being a rookie on a loaded championship contending team, Tatum has the makings to pack a serious scoring punch for the Celtics.
Robert Covington — Philadelphia 76ers
Just like Holmes, Covington is about as under the radar as it gets in Philadelphia. With so much buzz surrounding his teammates, Covington brings to the table a legitimate skill set that could make or break it for the Sixers next season in terms of reaching their full potential.
As noted before, Covington truly defines what it means to be an X-factor for Philadelphia.
While Covington will most likely start for the Sixers next season, he will also most certainly avoid the headlines when he comes to the buzz around the team’s potential success.
With the vibrant personality of Embiid or the storyline of back-to-back top picks playing together, the fourth-year undrafted wing player won’t necessarily be clogging the news cycle. However, that won’t stop Covington from doing his job.
If the injury bug avoids Philadelphia next season, and the team lives up to the expectations of competing for a playoff spot, Covington’s quick hands and smooth shooting release will be a big part of the overall team success.
Next season the Celtics and Raptors should continue their stranglehold on the Atlantic Division, but after some interesting additions and developments this summer, this division could be poised to be one of the most interesting divisions in the entire league that boasts plenty of sleeper player candidates.
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