Toronto Raptors

Third-year NBA players poised for a breakout 2018-19 season

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Brandon Ingram, Pascal Siakam (NBA Getty Images)

For many players, the third season is when they hit their stride in their NBA careers. All the things that were new and overwhelming when they first entered the league start to become routine and they can begin to reach their true potential.

There are many third-year players who didn't make this list but are worthy of recognition. Players like Jamal Murray, Jaylen Brown and Taurean Prince were in serious consideration but just missed out. The players who did make the cut, though, have a great chance to break out this season and emerge as potential stars.

Dejounte Murray - San Antonio Spurs

This will be Murray's first full season as a starter, but he's already made impressive strides over his 56 career starts. While the Spurs struggled to overcome a difficult situation last season, Murray came into his own. At just 21-years-old, he became the youngest member of an All-Defensive team in league history and established himself as a defensive star.

Murray is a quick, instinctive defender with surprising strength for his wiry frame. His 6-foot-10 wingspan gives him forward-esque length to help create turnovers, cause deflections and recover from any rare missteps. If he takes another step forward defensively this season, he'll vault himself into the conversation for best guard defender in the entire league.

On the other side of the ball, Murray's offensive game is still a work in progress. His scoring comes and goes and he hasn't shown confidence in his jumper, but he's a capable passer who keeps mistakes to a minimum with just 2.8 turnovers per 36 minutes. The arrival of DeMar DeRozan should help Murray feel more comfortable. With DeRozan taking more offensive control, Murray will have ample opportunities to thrive as a cutter and develop a more well-rounded offensive game.

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Pascal Siakam - Toronto Raptors

Siakam showed glimpses of potential in his rookie season but made real strides last year. Another super long player, his 7-foot-3 wingspan makes him a defensive terror. While he doesn't rack up a ton of blocks or steals, Siakam is usually in a good position to impact shots. His skillset provides new head coach Nick Nurse a unique option to put on opposing wings, and he could create a devastating one-two defensive punch with Kawhi Leonard.

The next step for Siakam is to improve his jump shot. He got up to 22.0 percent from 3-point range last season after just 14.3 percent as a rookie, but he's still not a threat from the perimeter. On the shots he's more comfortable taking, though, he's become pretty effective. Siakam shot 69.1 percent on attempts within 10-feet and 61.8 percent on shots after one or two dribbles - usually drives to the basket.

As Serge Ibaka enters the latter stages of his career, Siakam will earn more and more minutes at power forward. While Ibaka's the entrenched starter for the time being, their minutes should start to equal out over the course of the season as Siakam finds time in a wider variety of lineups. He's not going to produce eye-popping stats, but Siakam's hidden impact will be huge for Toronto his season.

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Dario Saric - Philadelphia 76ers

Often the forgotten man in Philadelphia, Saric has become vital to the Sixers' success. His defense has come a long way from the start of his career but he - maybe more than any other Sixer - benefits from playing alongside one of the league's best rim protectors in Joel Embiid.

Offense is where Saric's true value lies, however, and he somewhat quietly put up 14.6 points per game last season. He has grown into one of the league's better shooting and driving big men, converting an impressive 39.3 percent of his shots from deep and 66.1 percent at the rim.

It's easy to forget that 2017-18 was the first healthy season for Ben Simmons and Embiid considering how well they played by the end of the year, but there was an early adjustment period. It took Saric some time to learn how to play alongside them, and he adapted. Simmons and Embiid both love to operate in the midrange, so Saric thrived in the other areas, attempting over 70 percent of his shots from the perimeter or at the rim.

Though his production will always be overshadowed by that of The Process and the Rookie of the Year, Saric is an invaluable tertiary option for the Sixers as they gear up for what they hope is the first of many title runs.

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Brandon Ingram - Los Angeles Lakers

After a rocky rookie year, Ingram really progressed last season. He scored 6.7 more points per game and his usage jumped to 22.0 percent as he embraced a bigger role. Ingram's efficiency lagged a bit as he learned how to create good looks for himself, but the arrival of LeBron James puts him in a better position to succeed going forward.

LeBron is one of the league's truly elite passers and will find Ingram for plenty of open jumpers. Those spot-up opportunities have been one of Ingram's strengths early in his career, posting an eFG% of 57.6 on catch-and-shoot attempts last season. His finishing at the rim has also improved as he's clearly gotten more comfortable scoring against NBA-caliber rim protection.

LA was an underrated defense last season but their summer additions should propel them to a top-10 unit. Ingram has become a solid defender, though his biggest defensive weakness is, honestly, his weakness. Where Dejounte Murray can overcome his slight frame as a point guard, Ingram is more susceptible at small forward. But LeBron should help by guarding most of the stronger forwards, allowing Ingram to find matchups that better fit his skill set.

The transition of playing on a "LeBron team" will take time. There are plenty of unknowns for Ingram and the other Lakers that they won't be able to answer until the season starts. Once he finds his footing, Ingram will thrive this season and emerge as one of the best young wings in the league.

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