Every year, there are seemingly a handful of players that fly under the offseason radar into a productive regular season. While these players may not be stars, they can have a major impact on their team’s success and chances of making the postseason.
Donovan Mitchell, Guard, Utah Jazz
The 13th overall pick in June’s draft, Donovan Mitchell has flashed serious potential on the court for the Utah Jazz. However, still just 20 years old, Mitchell won’t be expected to do much for a Jazz team that is still in a win-now mode following the departure of Gordon Hayward in the offseason. Stuck behind recently-acquired Ricky Rubio and the incumbent Rodney Hood at both guard spots, Mitchell will be hard pressed to find playing time early on as he adjusts to the NBA lifestyle.
However, the NBA is largely a league predicated on talent and Mitchell has more than enough of that. While he may not take a starting role in his first season, Mitchell will certainly find himself making an impact down the stretch as the Jazz hope to make the postseason for the second straight season.
Rodney Hood, Guard, Utah Jazz
Rodney Hood seems to be one of the primary benefactors from Hayward’s departure from the Jazz. While losing a player of Hayward caliber would seemingly make it harder for his former teammates, Hayward’s vacated 21.9 points and 1156 field goal attempts need to go somewhere.
Hood, for his career, has a true shooting percentage of 53.3 percent and shot a career high 37.1 percent from three last season. While it won’t solely fall on his shoulders to replace the production lost with Hayward, Hood should see a significant uptick in his minutes played and field goal attempts leading to a bump in his modest 12.7 points per game from last season. After flashing his potential in the postseason against high-quality competition in the Los Angeles Clippers and Golden State Warriors, expect the Jazz to give Hood every chance to better his numbers from a season ago.
Jamal Murray, Guard, Denver Nuggets
As most rookies do, Jamal Murray took some time to adjust to the NBA game. However, in the second half, Murray seemingly turned a corner for the Denver Nuggets. Across the final 20 games of the season, Murray averaged 13.5 points and 3.1 assists while shooting 46.9 percent from the floor and 35.3 percent from three.
With Emmanuel Mudiay seemingly on his way out after a down year in Denver, 35-year-old Jameer Nelson is Murray’s only obstacle on the path to a starting role. While he may not take the starting spot from him this season, Murray will at the very least provide a scoring spark off the bench for the Nuggets, who just missed the cut for the postseason.
Caleb Swanigan, Forward, Portland Trail Blazers
Caleb Swanigan, like his fellow rookie Mitchell, flashed some major upside in the Las Vegas Summer League. And, with the Portland Trail Blazers seemingly set at only three of five positions — Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic being the only three guaranteed starting roles — Swanigan has a chance to make some noise early in the season.
In his final season at Purdue, Swanigan averaged 18.5 points and 12.5 rebounds across 35 games with an offensive and defensive rating of 116 and 92.7, respectively, per 100 possessions. If he can bring anything close to that type of production to an already offensively potent Blazers squad that really needs to improve on the defensive end, Swanigan should find himself playing significant minutes from the get-go. It may be unfair to expect such from Swanigan in just his first season, but the power forward is talented enough to at least make an impact for the Trail Blazers next season.
Patrick Patterson, Forward, Oklahoma City Thunder
Patrick Patterson has played in a reserve role for much of his career. Now, with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Patterson will get a crack at a starting gig.
After averaging a meager 6.8 points and 4.5 rebounds per game last season for the Toronto Raptors, Patterson should stand to benefit from a major minutes boost. Per 100 possessions, Patterson averaged 14.1 points and 9.3 rebounds with an offensive rating of 114, making him just one of 11 players to hold those averages across at least 1500 minutes played. Other players on that list include LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Giannis Antetokounmpo. While Patterson may not be on the same level as those players talent wise, he’ll have a chance to be a very productive member of a good Oklahoma City team next season.
The Northwest will be one of the NBA’s most interesting divisions next season, with every team seemingly in contention for a spot in the postseason. And while each team’s stars will seemingly carry the day, the bevy of sleepers and productive non-stars each team boasts will make it that much more interesting and competitive.
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