One of the most rewarding feelings a teacher can experience is when a student finally gets it. After hours, days, and sometimes months of explaining a concept, there's no substitute for the excitement when the lightbulb finally goes on and a student's eyes beam with newfound knowledge.
The same is true for NBA coaches and players. Whether it's the first day of practice or six years into their career, there's always a moment when a player starts to figure it out. A lot of basketball folks describe it as "the game slowing down," but whatever it is, it's usually clear when it happens.
That's the case for a handful of players this season, and we've decided to highlight their leaps in production and impact on winning. The great thing about breakout seasons is that they can happen at any point in a player's career, and this list certainly shows the full gamut.
2022-23 NBA All-Breakout Teams
Claxton went from an intriguing young piece to a bona fide starting center this season, finishing second in the NBA in blocked shots while becoming the third-stingiest rim protector in the league, per Synergy Sports. Claxton also lands second in field goal percentage, as he's become a legitimate lob threat for the new-look Nets.
It's rare to go from a star to a superstar, but it's even more special to make the huge leap from a fringe role player to a franchise centerpiece. The league's likely Most Improved Player, Markkanen became an All-Star in Utah by raising his scoring average by nearly 11(!) points per game while also improving his efficiency to 50/39/88 splits. Picked up in the Donovan Mitchell trade, Markkanen is the main reason for the excitement surrounding the Jazz right now.
You could argue that Gilgeous-Alexander broke out a couple of years ago, but this season he's gone from a borderline All-Star to a potential first-team All-NBA selection with the fourth-highest scoring average in the entire league. The slithery 6-6 guard simply gets wherever he wants on the court, and he increased his scoring average by seven points while taking three fewer 3-pointers per game this season, thanks to his deadly midrange jumper and finishing ability.
The Knicks knew they were getting a good player in Brunson, but not sure anybody saw this coming. After showing glimpses in Dallas, the 6-1 bruiser put his full skill set on display for New York this season, averaging 24 points on 49/42/83 splits while dishing out 6.2 assists per game. Brunson gets to the paint at will, where he punishes defenses with an array of floaters and fadeaways, as he helped lead the Knicks to the No. 5 seed in the East.
One of the most entertaining players in the league, Haliburton proved that he's the floor general of the future in Indiana by averaging 21 points and over 10 assists per game on extremely efficient 49/40/87 shooting splits. He put up such gaudy numbers while taking care of the ball to extreme levels, landing only behind Chris Paul and Mike Conley in assist-to-turnover ratio among guards.
Technically this is a re-breakout, but Lopez deserves recognition for what he did this season on both ends of the floor. A Defensive Player of the Year candidate, the 7-footer led the NBA in total blocks while discouraging countless other shots from even being attempted. On the other end, he logged his highest scoring average since leaving Brooklyn six years ago, shooting a career-high 37% from 3-point range and 64% on 2s. Lopez proved that you can still have a breakout season at the age of 35.
F Mikal Bridges, Brooklyn Nets
Bridges would be a first-team candidate on this list, but his breakout really came after being traded from Phoenix to Brooklyn, where he showed that he's more than capable of being a No. 1 option. Bridges put up over 27 points per game with the Nets on nearly 50/40/90 splits, while continuing his elite wing defense. You know it's a breakout season when you even surprise yourself.
Gordon's stats don't jump off the page, but he was in the All-Star conversation this year due to his all-around contributions to the best team in the Western Conference. He took on the other team's most dangerous perimeter scorer on most nights, while delivering over 16 points per game on a career-high 56 percent shooting. You could argue that Gordon was the second-best Nuggets player this season, and he's essential to what they do.
G Immanuel Quickley, New York Knicks
The Sixth Man of the Year favorite was instant offense for the Knicks this season, boasting career-high efficiency from both 2-point and 3-point range. Quickley opened even more eyes when sporadically filling in for Jalen Brunson, averaging over 22 points and five assists as a starter, including four games of 36 or more points.
Bane not only significantly increased his scoring average and true shooting percentage, but he also stepped up his playmaking with a career-high in assists. Bane is elite as a catch-and-shoot threat, but also shot over 40 percent on more than three pull-up 3-pointers per game this season. He's proven himself to be a viable second scoring option on the No. 2 seed in the West.
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You probably didn't watch much Spurs basketball this season (we can't blame you), so you likely missed a breakout season from a finally healthy Collins. The big man put up career highs in points, rebounds, assists and steals per game, along with 3-point shooting (37%) and field goals (52%). With his playing time still somewhat limited, his per-36-minute averages were impressive at 18.3 points, 10 rebounds and 4.5 assists.
Given their injuries to various stars throughout the year, there's no telling where the Pelicans would be without Murphy, a versatile wing. He went from 15 minutes per game last season to over 30 this year, averaging over 14 points on close to 50/40/90 splits. At a lengthy 6-9, he can guard multiple positions, also possessing the freakish athleticism he displayed in February's dunk contest.
In his third season, McDaniels elevated himself to an All-NBA defender while evolving into much more than a catch-and-shoot offensive threat. He knocked down a career-best 39% from deep but also got to the rim and finished at a much higher clip, landing in the 78th percentile, per Synergy. Minnesota's offense improved by nearly four points per 100 possessions with McDaniels on the floor, in addition to all that he brings defensively.
A great story coming out of Orlando, Fultz established himself as a genuine starting point guard this season, logging 30 minutes per game with averages of 14 points and six assists. The 3-point range still isn't quite there yet, but he shot a career-best 51% from the field and made 78% of his free throws. Most importantly, Fultz played 59 games at a breakneck pace, after logging just 26 total games in the previous two seasons.
You don't need to explain to Laker fans how important Reaves was this season. The second-year guard nearly doubled his scoring average while improving from 32 to 39% from 3-point range and serving as a secondary playmaker. His trajectory is headed in the right direction, as Reaves put up nearly 18 points and 5.5 assists per game after the All-Star break on 58/43/85 shooting splits.