Top 3 Breakout Candidates: Eastern Conference

Every year, certain players around the NBA will take a leap up to that next level. Sometimes it's a 2nd-year player who's now adjusted to the NBA game, sometimes it's a player getting a new, greater opportunity. 

And while the NBA GMs poll named several players at the top of their list who arguably have already broken out, like Evan Mobley, Anthony Edwards and Zion Williamson, we're going to have a look at three players from the Eastern Conference who are really set to take it to another level like we haven't seen before.

Cade Cunningham, Detroit Pistons

Last year's No. 1 overall pick started his rookie season slowly. He missed five of the first six games due to injury, and then when he did suit up, he was a little tentative, and just couldn't find his shot. 

But come the second of the season, Cunningham was in a groove. Flashing the potential that allowed the Pistons to nab him with the first pick, he averaged 22.9 points, 7 assists and 5.9 rebounds in the month of March, while shooting 48% on FG. He could be ready to take it to that next, All-Star level, this season.

Franz Wagner, Orlando Magic

He had a fine rookie season last year, making the All-Rookie Team after being the No. 8 pick in the 2021 Draft. He average 15 points and 4.5 rebounds on the season, showing glimpses of some serious upside. 

Then came his eye-opening performance at EuroBasket this summer for Germany. He averaged 15.2 points per game on 53% shooting, while hitting on 46% of his threes. 

If he can bring that improved 3-point shooting to the Magic this season, he'll take a major step forward.

Onyeka Okongwu, Atlanta Hawks

There are a number of factors that could lead to the former No. 6 pick having a breakout season. As noted by ESPN's Tim Bontemps, "between the combination of Danilo Gallinari departing this summer and the uncertainty surrounding the future of John Collins and Clint Capela... the opportunity is there for the 6-foot-8 big man to stake his claim to a far bigger long-term role." 

Okongwu is a versatile defender, a nice pick-and-roll threat (scored a league-high 1./44 points per pick-n-roll possession), and an inside scorer. His per-36 minute numbers last season were 14.2 points, 10.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game.

He could break out big-time this season if he gets the big increase in minutes that seem destined to come. 

Photo: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports